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Modification Madness Redux

Star Wars: The Old Republic Columns - By Michael Bitton on December 07, 2011

Modification Madness Redux

Back in October, we delved into a bit of a brouhaha occurring over on the official Star Wars: The Old Republic forums. The uproar concerned the comments made about TOR’s item modification system  (in a potentially questionably translated French interview) that led many to doubt BioWare’s commitment to ensuring the game’s mod  system could adequately replace the much desired “Appearance Tab” that the developer has been so staunchly against for as far back as I can recall.

The “modification madness” as we called it, was only able to occur because of the lack of concrete official information coming from BioWare on what exactly the extent and design of the system would be. As it turns out, the system has been in flux for quite some time and while we are just a week out from launch, there still has not been an official “developer blog” or website update detailing the system in full. However, the recent drop of the NDA has mostly made this a non-issue as many gamers are now familiar with what the system can and can’t do.

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Even so, there were a number of significant changes that came to the system just as recently as a few weeks ago and this left many fans still confused about where exactly BioWare wanted to take that system. Eager to shed some light on things, SW:TOR associate lead designer Emmanuel Lusinchi took to the official boards to discuss the past, the present, and the future of the item modification system in great detail.

I’ve personally met Emmanuel, and I can tell you that he is incredibly passionate about the project.  Reading through his post today reminded me of the sort of fairly lengthy candid discussions we had regarding the game when I visited EA back in April. With that said, there were some things that mystified me about the recent changes, namely the change to the new limitations on modifying purple quality items. This change had some serious implications towards the viability of the system in replacing an appearance tab, and so I was more than a bit alarmed to read them. On top of this, the presence of modifiable gear in general didn’t seem as plentiful as I’d like when playing in the beta. Combined, both of these observations really gave me cause for concern over how viable this system would be at accomplishing the goal of replacing an A-Tab at launch.

Reading Emmanuel’s post today, I think my fears have mostly been assuaged.

Given the length of the post, I’m going to distill the information down to the real important points. One of the first things BioWare did recently was add a new “Custom” item type to the game, accompanied by its very own orange colored border. As Emmanuel writes, this change is purely cosmetic, as these orange bordered items simply denote that a blue quality item is fully modifiable (all modification slots unlocked), and this sort of gear is promised to be fairly prevalent throughout the game and obtainable in a variety of different ways.

Of course, the aforementioned change to purple quality gear was also addressed. Simply put, the ability to fully modify purple gear posed a problem as users could basically farm the easier raid content for easier to obtain purple items, extract the mods, and fully deck out their custom gear. The problem, then, is that in making this change, BioWare failed to adequately explain that there is an alternative for those worried they would have to replace their pre-raid customized gear with raid gear at the very top end. The solution is actually quite simple:  drop purple mods in Operations of equivalent power level. Now, I don’t know that this will solve the issue of keeping some really cool looking purple pre-raid level gear up to date, but it certainly addresses the issue of keeping modifiable greens and blues competitive and I’m definitely happy to hear about that.

Speaking of modifiable greens, where’d those go? As it would turn out, BioWare essentially removed them from the game. Sort of. Emmanuel noted that greens were never fully modifiable and so they would never really end up being as competitive as fully modifiable gear or high-end non-moddable items. Like the purple situation above, BioWare wasn’t removing these to limit the potential of the design, but to correct an issue, and didn’t properly communicate the relevant positive changes. Without the full story, I’m sure most players would rather partially modifiable greens than their wholesale removal from the game. Well, BioWare’s doing you one better, as you’ll now be able to acquire all of these green items as fully modifiable custom items from crafting schematics learned via the Underworld Trading mission skill.

So, what have we gained and what have we lost? Let’s tally things up. As far as losses go, we’ve really only lost the ability to keep a lower level purple item up to date and perhaps lower tier raid gear once new raid tiers are introduced.  And this isn’t necessarily a total loss, either. If the skins of at least the pre-raid purple items are available as modifiable blues or greens then the issue is almost moot. If not, I think it’s a fair compromise as we’ve gained a good deal more out of the changes.  Every green item in the game that had a modifiable item slot is now available as a fully modifiable item via Crew Skills, which combined with the promised prevalence of fully modifiable ‘blue’ gear sounds promising for those looking to maintain a unique look.

We’ll have to see how it all ultimately shakes out, but it certainly sounds like there will be many more items available to modify than there are non-moddable items, which is a win in my book. Will it suck if certain purples have unique skins (lower tier raid gear/pre-raid purples)? Sure, but I think I can live with that.

Can you? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager.