Last week, Star Wars: the Old Republic's Senior Producer Bruce Maclean published his revised roadmap for the Summer of SWTOR. In it, he outlined the new plan for Game Update 2.8, now due for June 10. Couple that with his previously-published Producer Letter announcing the delay of the Galactic Strongholds expansion and the reasons for it, we have an overall message that they believe players would rather see a much bigger up-front expansion rather than trickling new features and updates along the road piecemeal.
I for one believe this to be a good move on BioWare's part. One of the things that I noticed last year when they released Rise of the Hutt Cartel and then Galactic Starfighter (which technically officially released this year in February when it finally became available to free-to-play accounts) was a basic consensus that RotHC was an expansion-lite. Galactic Starfighter just barely squeaked past a liberal definition of 'expansion' because it didn't include usual goodies we're used to from other games, such as a level cap increase, new zones available to all playstyles, etc. People wanted something more substantial in one big drop, and there was some trepidation at how the original timeline for unlocks and drops for Galactic Strongholds seemed to be strung out over the course of the entire summer.
We can see more information about what this new expansion will entail by sifting through all of these documents to assemble a singular picture of what BioWare is trying to accomplish here. We can also see how BioWare is doing a bit of damage control in the form of promising more unlocks than they'd originally planned and giving out a pet and an extra title. It's become a standard across the industry when things go awry, game studios start offering up free goodies. Whether you view that as an apology or as a pacifier is up to you. Giving us extra titles and free pets and unlocking additional additional rooms in the Nar Shaddaa Sky Palace costs them nothing, although the latter might have some mild effect on the in-game economy.
So, based on Bruce's letter, we now have more information on the Conquest system, but we still don't know the details beyond a few bullet points. We were previously told that Strongholds would pretty much be cosmetic, but now we're told that we can 'use the power of your Stronghold to dominate these events and earn rewards', with reference to Conquest Events. The next bullet points make more sense in that a guild would take their flagship and plop it in orbit around a planet and then go to town to conquer it in a series of events, but that doesn't jive with how someone could use their Stronghold to assist in it.
While they mentioned leaderboards for guilds, there's still nothing to indicate these Conquest Events would be PVP related. I suspect that it's simply ranked based on how the guild faces PVE challenges, who's got the best time for killing some bad guys, who's getting through content faster or without failing aspects of the events, that sort of thing. Regardless, that whole section is headed up with a comment that the delay will give them time to add these features... which makes it sound like they weren't originally intended for the soft launch. We already knew guild ships would be part of the original hard launch that was going to be in August (now pushed back to October with Game Update 2.9), but this sort of implies that they were planning on a soft launch of guild ships in August without the ability to port groups to your coordinates, buff a guild on the ground, or participate in Conquest Events. So now they will, which means a more feature-rich soft launch in August.
In the meantime, we have Game Update 2.8 looming for a June launch. 2.8 is currently available on the Public Test Server, so if you want to check out the new class balance changes, now's the time to get your feedback in. If you've never been on PTS before, you first have to click on the gears icon on the login screen before you click Play to enable PTS access, then click the branching icon that appears next to the gears to switch to PTS. It will patch with the latest copy of the PTS client. You will also need to copy one or more of your characters to the PTS. To do so, log into your account on swtor.com, click 'My Account', and then use the PTS Character Copy tool on the sidebar on the left, not Character Transfer. It's also a good idea to read the PTS patch notes, so you can see what they're intending to do with things such as class balance. This time, I'm seeing a far greater effort to involve players with testing with several 'focused feedback' threads on the forums, so hopefully that will increase the team's ability to match what players are looking for with class changes. There are currently people on the PTS right now testing through the Nightmare Mode Dread Palace content, so I hope those folks jump into the forums to provide feedback for that as well.
One of the other cool things you can do on PTS is pop open the Collections window and preview some items that aren't yet available in live. With the proviso that things on the PTS aren't guaranteed to hit live, it's good to see that there are more and different animal mounts coming (yes, including a rancor, see below), and other things such as lightsaber crystals, health regenerators, and emotes. In the picture above, you can see the Yellow Core crystal and the Pink Magenta. Folks who love the Jedi Sentinels from Knights of the Old Republic might like Yellow Core one, and I know my sister will adore the Pink Magenta one. Me, I'm sticking with the blues that are on my character in live. The Collections window showed off some new armor, but right now on PTS, many of the art assets aren't in place for icons or even to preview, so tester beware.