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LucasArts / SOE Austin
MMORPG | Setting:Sci-Fi | Status:Cancelled  (est.rel 06/23/03)  | Pub:Sony Online Entertainment
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Correspondent - Does Crafting Matter?

By Jef Reahard on August 06, 2008 | General Articles | Comments

Correspondent - Does Crafting Matter?

The crafting game within-the-game of Sony Online Entertainment's Star Wars Galaxies was easily the most complex, rewarding, and intricate MMORPG economic system this side of EVE Online, and it was one of the great tragedies of the infamous New Game Enhancements (NGE) that this sublime system of resource management, trade, and customization was nearly blown away in an attempt to appeal to a larger audience. Happily, all is not lost, as the current Star Wars Galaxies development team has been taking baby steps in the general direction of recapturing the magic of the old system, despite runaway server inflation and the misgivings of some players weaned on the simplistic auction house systems of other games.

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Before we examine the recently released Game Update 5 crafting changes, a little history lesson is in order. With the NGE, Star Wars Galaxies traders were effectively rendered irrelevant, as item decay was removed (meaning that players didn't need to visit weapon or amorsmiths more than once, since their gear lasted forever). Sony also implemented a second character slot for each paid account, and huge numbers of players took advantage of this to roll their own crafters, becoming self-sufficient and removing the demand for specialized crafting. Additionally, the original skill-based crafting professions were consolidated under the catch-all 'trader' profession which featured four sub-tiers: domestics, structures, munitions, and engineering, each combining at least two of the older professions like droid engineer, architect, and chef, and also combining them with abilities taken from the artisan skill trees as well as vendor management tools from master merchants.

The crafting system did retain most of its customization options after the changes (the ability to name items and the sheer number of different wearable/useable items is still unmatched by any other game in the genre), but these characteristics are largely considered 'fluff,' of great use to role-players and immersion enthusiasts but of limited utility in terms of actual gameplay mechanics. While various viewpoints no doubt exist as to the quality of these sweeping changes, what is not open for debate is the fact that the crafting system in Star Wars Galaxies was simplified considerably once the dust had settled.

Fortunately, the developer(s) responsible for this crafting dumb-down have moved on, and to Sony's credit, they have taken baby steps toward restoring some of the complexity of pre-NGE crafting, most notably with the Beastmaster expertise system (a hybrid of the old Bio-Engineer and Creature Handler professions, with a much higher time/materials cost). They also introduced ground-based reverse engineering (shipwrights could already reverse engineer space parts since the Jump to Lightspeed expansion in 2004), a grind-intensive process that allows the various traders to produce stat modifier bits for insertion into armor, weapons, and clothing.

Initially, this new reverse engineering system proved to be a boon for traders, as the bits sold for many millions of credits due to the horrifically repetitive grind required to produce them. Currently however, the profit margins on most servers have declined drastically, as players have turned to third-party applications and bots to automate the bit-grinding process, and thousands have rolled their own RE traders with their extra character slots, resulting in a market flooded with cheap bits.

Into this morass comes a ray of light known as Game Update 5, released to the live servers on July 29. In terms of mechanics, the crafting portions of the update are solely focused on munitions traders, with no changes planned for structures, domestics, or engineering.

Munitions traders will now be able to craft stat-laden weapon components, using a core system much like that of the current armorsmith profession. In lieu of item decay, all newly crafted weapons will be bio-linked, ensuring that players must seek out the services of a smith rather than pass their uber FWG-5 with the kung fu grip down to their alts or guild mates.

Skinning has also been implemented, giving smiths and players a much wider range of choice regarding their weapon aesthetics. Gone are the days of your smuggler toting around the same hair-dryer inspired Lamprey that you see in every other pistol user's hand. Expect to see some old favorites like the T-21, the disruptor rifle, and the scatter pistol returning with the potential for server-capped stats and your choice of elemental damage types.

Finally, the new update features a radical change in the resources required for munitions trading, with an eye toward starting all prospective smiths on relatively equal footing and negating any advantages enjoyed by folks who've been hoarding rare resources for years. That said, it still pays to do your homework, as those crafters who came prepared (by checking out the resource requirements during the Update's time on Test Center) will no doubt make a large amount of credits (and perhaps build a reputation) in the early days of the publish.

Reaction from the player base has thus far been largely positive, particularly among veteran crafters who felt burned by the NGE and the switch to a loot-based economy. "Say goodbye to the factory crate crafter," enthuses Quin'tani of Starsider, "they simply will not be popular with the high end players" who want powerful, customized weapons. "Remember kiddies, trader is PVP with credits," says Archemedes, a launch day veteran who has also crafted extensively in several other MMORPGs. "I can say without a shadow of a doubt that crafting in SWG is the best crafting system I have ever encountered."

Due to the emphasis placed on resource gathering, item decay, customization, and a host of other factors, crafting in pre-NGE Star Wars Galaxies was a very real, and deep, alternative to traditional combat gameplay. Given the radical changes to munitions trading in the Game Update 5, it could be again, given time and appropriate tweaking. Sony seems to be saying that crafting does indeed matter, and, whether or not this signals the start of a complete trader overhaul, it is a large step in the right direction.