So, the big news in the land of Star Wars: the Old Republic, is that we're finally getting housing to play with this summer with the release of Galactic Strongholds. It's a feature that players have been requesting since before launch, but I can see how it's not really something that's on the front burner for a game that had previously been subscription-only. Let's face it, the most readily-viable games these days for housing are ones that have a free-to-play element, because a game studio can easily monetize unlocks on top of everyone having the option of using the shop for décor items or whatever. Other games launched without housing that added it later on, so SWTOR isn't exactly behind the ball on this one.
As is usual when dealing with announcements out of Austin, I've learned to be cautiously optimistic at best, although I more often lean toward wariness these days. For too many times, BioWare has announced new things without any real hard details, and we as players would grab hold of this like a puppy with a brand new toy who promptly proceeds to run all over the back yard with it, heedless of what it might actually be. We get our hopes up and ride the hype train and get all excited... and then disappointed when all the details actually come to light.
On the face of it, new systems are good for a game. Housing and getting to futz with it appeals to a certain number of MMO players, and I can see this being highly popular with the SWTOR roleplaying folks most of all. On the other hand, I maintain a both a kinship and a personal house in Lord of the Rings Online because it was something fun to do when it came out, but I can't remember the last time I bothered to actually go there and use the system because it was so limited in scope. To be fair, LotRO is revamping their system later this year in reaction to player complaints and suggestions. However, my concerns about this new system in SWTOR have yet to be allayed by what few details we've gotten about it yet. BioWare will tell us more when they get darned good and ready to release more information, and that's a source of frustration that many of us have.
We've gotten spoiled by the more open and transparent studios such as Carbine or... whatever this new version of SOE is where EverQuest Brand Manager Omeed Dariani's openly answering meaty questions about Landmark for five hours on a livestream nearly every weekend. Even Turbine's stepped up their game with LotRO Community Manager Rick Heaton's 'Take the Hobbit to Isengard' livestreams where he answers bundles of questions posed in Twitch chat while players are hauling his level 10 hobbit to a level 75 zone hopefully without getting him killed. We're also used to how other games do housing, and while I might like to beat the dead bantha that is 'don't compare this to Star Wars: Galaxies because it isn't!', the simple fact of the matter is that it's the first comparison players will naturally make. Most of the players I've talked to since the announcement went up said straight up that they want an open system like SWG had, not a limited hooks and small storage containers system like LotRO. Personally, I've gotten spoiled by the versatility of Landmark, even though it's a sandbox like SWG and not a questing/leveling MMO like SWTOR. We've also seen a more similar MMO with versatile housing in the form of Carbine's as-yet-unreleased WildStar. So these are the comparisons that players will make and the standards by which BioWare's version of housing will be judged whether any of us likes it or not, the court of public opinion. As much as I prefer to judge something on its own merits, I think it's safe to say that most people who look at this system are not going to do so.
So, let's go over what we've been told so far about Galactic Strongholds through the official site and the brief trailer. For those of you who've listened to or watched George Carlin's Airline Announcements riff, this may seem a bit familiar, only without the harsh mockery and bad language. Let's dissect the trailer first, because it's easier to show than tell in order to explain something. We'll skip over the Trooper flashback which takes up a good chunk of the 1:22 clip. We see an apartment on Coruscant with a shiny Hutt statue, panning out to show a cheering set of possibly other players or companions and a couple of statues. Then there's a shot of a bedroom with a nice carpet. We get what looks like a war room with a cargo bay terminal, and then there's a shot of a living room area with more statues, couches, and someone sitting on a couch by the window. We are told and then shown that we can live on multiple planets including both capital worlds (but don't get to see the inside of an Imperial home), and the clip ends with shots on Nar Shaddaa, whose Sky Palace included a big bar and both cargo bay and guild bank terminals. There's been talk on Twitter that perhaps Corellia is the planet we can see out the window in a couple of the shots due to the starship silhouette in the distance, but I'm not sure I'm buying that notion just yet because Coruscant tends toward sunset lighting as in the shot, while Corellia is more of a midmorning to early afternoon lighting.
Nowhere in the video are we shown how items are placed, whether they can be rotated, tilted, or resized or any UI elements regarding housing. Nowhere are we shown what sort of items come in an apartment by default although we're told all apartments will come with a set of starter items. All we can see are finished houses. The only two things we can infer from the clip is that a player can have both guild and cargo bay access in their apartment just like we can unlock for our ships, and there is a possibility that there might actually for once be properly click-to-use seating in the game other than on the Agent's ship, let the roleplayers rejoice! As a brief overview of 'hey, we're going to have housing!', it works better as a much shorter clip without the flashback. The repeating thumbnail clip on the Galactic Strongholds page actually tells the whole story.
Looking at the actual page, let's go through it section by section, although I'll briefly question the choice of names. To me, 'stronghold' implies you might have some unsavory visitors that you'd need to keep out of your stuff. It harkens to 'fortress' or shall I say it, 'warplot'. I'm not quite sure how you thematically get from 'apartment on overcrowded city-planet' to 'stronghold', but we'll run with it. They're also referred to as 'bastions of personal luxury'... and my light side Jedi characters all just raised their collective eyebrows at that. It works for some classes (if played true to simplified and basic canon) but not for others. For my Sith Lords who have completed their class story, they wouldn't settle for a simple apartment in Kaas City, they'd point to Lord Gratham's estate and say 'I'll have one of those. Now.'
The copy on the website then namedrops an item that's been asked about at every single Cantina Tour so far: guild ships. Nothing more than that, simply telling us something we already knew was coming... at some point. Later in the FAQ section, they specify that guild flagships will be a part of the launch in August.
The next section on the site tells us about cartel coins subscribers will get. It's not exactly clear here, but I believe they mean that if you subscribe early, you get both sets of bonus coins. However the verbiage could easily be construed as the harsher assumption, which is if you subscribe early, you get the smaller amount, and if you subscribe late, you get the larger amount, but not both. Anything involving asterisks makes me raise an eyebrow, and even the disclaimer at the bottom doesn't make it obvious that an early subscriber should get both sets of coins. I think we're also used to the notion of early-bird advertisements offering you a much larger bonus, then a pre-order offering a lesser bonus, and then the regular deal, but a buyer would only get one of the three deals. Given that BioWare considers cartel coins as real money per my discussion with Damion Schubert at PAX East last year, I can see how they wouldn't want to encourage people to subscribe in April, then unsubscribe after getting the big payout and resubscribe again later to try for another payout. Still, it seems a bit clunky to me in terms of verbiage.