All Aboard the SWTOR Hype Freighter!
It's a bit surprising to see the in-character dev blog outing Manaan as the next major focus of the game even before Galactic Strongholds has launched, but it's in line with EA CEO Andrew Wilson's June video interview on Bloomberg stating that they wanted to get things in players' hands more quickly and to put the players first. Half the interview discussed the Star Wars franchise, and although Star Wars: the Old Republic wasn't specifically mentioned, one can see how it can certainly ride the coattails of the rest of the franchise and benefit from this notion of releasing information earlier than BioWare has done in the past.
Even if BioWare's recent spate of livestreams and dev blogs weren't a direct result from Wilson's comments, it's certainly a refreshing change. So now that we're all resting comfortably in our hype freighter (complete with non-clickable dejarik table), let's go over some of the newest exciting tidbits to come out of Austin since my last article. Community Manager Eric Musco has been all over the forums and in their Twitch livestreams to answer more questions about the Galactic Strongholds expansion while of course having to skirt a bit of the questions for the Manaan content or any future release information. Multi-game resource site owner Dulfy has taken to transcribing the Q&As in each Twitch chat, and from watching the livestreams, it's easy enough to glean little tidbits hither and yonder to add to the bigger more formal announcements we see on the forums from BioWare themselves.
Also, bear in mind that we have yet to get any more substantial information about guild flagships or the Conquest system that's due to come out next month, but for now, we do know two important features of Strongholds that we didn't know until last week. Since the original announcement went up, two words have tantalized players: Legacy Storage. While everyone has their own favorite portion of the features we know about so far, this was the one that piqued my interest the most. Here is why.
As you can see, I kinda like to do some crafting and use a spreadsheet to keep track of who can do what, and more importantly, who has the mats I need. It would be massively simpler if every production craft used its own specific mats, but alas, the materials procured with the various missions and gathering options can be used by multiple crafts. When BioWare included the phrase Legacy Storage in their marketing materials, I had a flash of hope that this would be the answer to my crafting needs, but also a stab of concern that this would be a very limited option such as how Lord of the Rings Online has a pitifully small set of shared containers in personal and kinship houses. We've been bitten before, so I was cautiously optimistic until Eric Musco answered two of the biggest questions regarding this feature on the game forums:
Can I place BoP items in my Legacy storage?
As of Game Update 2.9, you cannot place or "transfer" BoP items through your Legacy storage. I will say that this issue is something that we will continue to discuss internally and could potentially change in the future.
Can I access my crafting materials from Legacy storage?
Yes you can! The way it will work is that when you go to craft something, your materials will be pulled in this priority order: Inventory, Cargo, Legacy storage.
In one of the livestreams, he also added comments regarding how the Legacy Storage craftable bays will work. He stated that a player would have to acquire the Legacy Storage decoration first, and then the actual 80-slot bays will work similarly to how cargo hold bays currently work. The only real difference is that there isn't going to be a need for two prices for the additional bays. If you remember, buying additional cargo bays with either credits or cartel coins had a single character or account-wide option and the prices were extremely reasonable. Since this is automatically Legacy-wide, I'll be interested to see how they price it out.
Certainly, Galactic Strongholds does seem to finally be putting more options in crafters' hands, a subset of players who have been direly neglected since the onslaught of moddable and Cartel Market gear. I mean, you can see my crafting skills in the spreadsheet above, but I certainly don't bother making crystals with my Artificer or any kind of armor or weapons. I make mods, enhancements (and someone needs to revamp the enhancement recipes so there aren't three enhancements with the exact same stats but different names), barrels, hilts, augment kits, and armor mods. So, other than making sure my increasingly silly number of characters have mods for all of their gear as they level up, crafting hasn't done a lot for me in terms of getting tons of credits. With many decorations being available by being crafted, or the components for same, it once again engages the crafters in a main portion of the game, because plenty of decorations will only be available via the crafting system.
The other major portion of the Strongholds system is the number of Strongholds a player may have. Right now, there are four known Strongholds, and of course the folks at BioWare were dancing around the issue of whether they were going to create other options beyond Coruscant, Dromund Kaas, Nar Shaddaa, and Tatooine. Producer Jack Wood asked the Twitch chat during one of the streams what planet, if BioWare were to do another one, would players want to see a new Stronghold set up. The majority yelled out Alderaan, with the second largest number of folks (the ones who weren't making wisecracks about Alderaan) calling out Hoth. On the forums, Eric Musco clarified that as of right now, aside from the fact they only have the four on-hand, in the future, it will be possible to deactivate a current Stronghold to make room for a potential new Stronghold. He added that it is a technical limitation that prevents a player from having more than four, but that if they came up with a fifth option, they would want to test the system to see if it can successfully juggle five active Strongholds before releasing it into the wild.
Speaking of limitations, I should reiterate that the decorating system is not free-place or free-rotate of items. If you're used to things like Landmark or WildStar's ability to resize, rotate, or free-move any prop, don't look for it here. And again, to be fair, they're a builder's paradise where you could take props and rotate them around and suddenly you have a grand piano made up of hundreds of props or a semi that looks like Optimus Prime. Here, in Star Wars: the Old Republic, BioWare clearly doesn't want people to be able to place a companion so they're hanging upside down from the ceiling or make a jumping puzzle out of paintings tilted away from the wall. I think it better suits the more 'srs bsns' theme of SWTOR, but many might perceive the limitation rather than the possibilities with what options are there. Sure, you can't dye your decorations crazy colors like your armor, but that's intentional based on what I perceive to be BioWare's desire to retain some control over the style of Strongholds. I have a feeling they don't want to encourage fan bloggers like Njessi to start posting a Stronghold of Shame column.
There are still a few more weeks before the launch of the expansion's Early Access for subscribers, so there's plenty of time for BioWare to start dishing on the details for the remaining features they've kept from us such as guild ships and Conquests. In terms of revelations, for an expansion like this that is all about features, it makes far more sense to tell about them up front and set the correct expectations. If it were a story-heavy expansion like the next one, I'd rather not see spoilers. In this case, however, BioWare is doing a much better job of looping us players into what they're doing ahead of time, so we can still give feedback even if there is still an undercurrent in some players' commentary about feeling as if our feedback isn't enough to accomplish more than bugfixes for content already set in stone.
It's not as open or inclusive as other game studios do, but BioWare and its handling of the Star Wars license are a tauntaun of a different color than even their compatriots in Canada with Mass Effect or Dragon Age. Having the additional issue of being a licensed product means that everything still has to pass muster via the Lucasfilm Story Group, so that's a limitation we will just have to continue living with. While we'll never achieve the sort of interactive game development as Carbine manages on WildStar with their famous tagline 'the devs are listening' and being willing to make wholesale changes to their game based on player feedback, I think we'll start seeing a more responsive game design with SWTOR if EA CEO Andrew Wilson's stated philosophy gets put into firm action at BioWare Austin. We shall see.