Star Wars: The Old Republic Crafting (aka Crew Skills) Review

I was one of the lucky folks invited to the most recent "stress test" weekend in the SWTOR beta. For those not familiar, this is a short term invitation that's only good from Friday afternoon to Sunday evening. After that time the servers are shut down and you can no longer access them. As a result, my window of opportunity for testing professions in SWTOR was quite limited.

I determined to make the best of this by restricting my adventuring to the bare minimum and trying to unlock tradeskills as soon as I could. But this is in pretty direct conflict with Bioware's game design. One of the big features they are touting in this game is story: lots of voice acting to enhance immersion and better story-driven questing. While I made a point to search for trainers at every "city" location I traveled through, the first actual opportunity to train professions was not available until level 8-10. Professions in SWTOR are called "crew skills" because they are largely executed by your companions (aka crew).

You'll arrive at Carrick Station somewhere between level 8 and 10 depending on how many quests you complete before unlocking the final "Jedi" chain. When you get there, you'll immediately pick up a quest that sends you to either Coruscant or The Esseles. You can, however, explore Carrick Station and pick up your crew skills here. Or you can travel on to Coruscant and use the trainers there, it's not a huge issue either way. Whichever way you choose, I would encourage you to pick up your crew skills sooner rather than later. It's very easy in SWTOR to get sucked into the next quest cycle, and without gathering skills in place you'll be missing out on valuable materials as you move through various quest areas.

On your map, you can activate an option to mark crew skill trainers so they are easier to find. Carrick Station and Coruscant both contain a full set of profession trainers. Here's a pic I took of the in-game map (you can see where I marked "crew skills trainer" in the lower left):


Unfortunately you are provided with no concrete information about crafting from the in-game documentation. The best way to learn more about crew skills is to "discover" each trainer and have them added to your "Codex". You can read the Codex by accessing your Mission Log (L) and selecting the Codex tab. To unlock the Codex entry for each crew skill, right-click each trainer. They will ask you if you want to learn their skill but just hit cancel for now. Clicking them will add their information to your Codex (along with earning a small bit of XP). Go through the whole Skills area and click each trainer in turn to add all available crew skills to your Codex.

Now you can open your Codex and the "Crew Skills" section of the documentation will be populated (it seems particularly stupid to hide basic information like this). Under each skill is a description of what it can be used for AND its dependencies. This is the important part - you need to see the dependencies in order to make an informed decision on which skills to learn. You can learn three crew skills, but only one production skill. This is a pic of the Codex after I populated it with crew skills data:


For the purposes of my test, I chose Armstech as my production skill. This is a crew skill that allows you to make weaponry. Other crafting skills you can learn are Armormech, Artifice, Biochem, Cybertech and Synthweaving (described in more detail here). The first set of recipes are learned at skill level 1 and for Armstech they include over a dozen recipes. I assume other professions are similar in this way. You won't learn many other recipes until you reach 40 skill, so these dozen recipes have to hold you for a while.

Creating items that have a difficulty rating of orange will give you 2 skill points for each item made. Once a recipe changes to yellow difficulty, you'll generally get 1 skill point for it. The first set of recipes will turn yellow at 20 skill and remain so all the way to 40 skill points. At level 20 you unlock a couple more recipes and then at level 40 another dozen or so. Each wave of new recipes appears to stay orange for 20 skill points, then yellow for 20 skill points and then green. Here's a picture of the crafting window:



The colored dots on the right side of the list denote difficulty rating of each recipe. You can see in the lower right that you can select which companion will execute this activity. You yourself cannot make any items. Each item you make has a time associated with it, which indicates how long your companion will be unavailable. The times get longer for higher level items.

Leveling Crew Skills in SWTOR works very much the way it does in WoW and most other MMO games. You craft an item and hopefully you get a skill point. As your skill goes up, recipes become easier to you and they lose their ability to grant skill points. Eventually you must learn new recipes to continue advancing your skill. I didn't notice anything particularly remarkable in the SWTOR system compared to other MMOs. I was able to level my Armstech skill up to 100, but it's possible that the leveling dynamic changes later on and becomes more diversified.

One nice feature of the production skills is that items you make can be "reverse engineered" as a way to recover some of your materials. With the low level items I made, I was typically getting back 25-30% of the material that went into the item. Apparently you can also discover new schematics this way, as I happened to discover a rare schematic while destroying my other crafted items. You do not get skill points for reverse engineering. You can see in this image that you activate reverse engineering through your Inventory window:



Another nifty perk in SWTOR is that you can add special ingredients to a recipe to improve its stats. I didn't test this because I didn't have the items needed, but it looks like a handy option.

Most of the gathering skills in SWTOR appear to be salvage based. There are four skills: Archaeology, Bioanalysis, Scavenging and Slicing. According to the SWTOR site, you may pick up multiple gathering skills if you wish. Nodes for each gathering ability appear to be scattered throughout the questing zones, but they were a bit more sparse than I would have liked. Even with the seeming scarcity, I was able to collect enough materials to level my Armstech up to 100 skill during my normal questing time. In fact, it's not really viable to gather while avoiding combat unless you significantly outlevel the mobs in the area. Gathering nodes are frequently placed right next to a group of mobs (aka at their feet).

Gathering skills function in a fairly typical manner. From what I could see there were no special tools involved. Your map will show nearby resources, although often I could see the resource before the map showed it. Resources can be difficult to spot at first because they are all the same color. Often they just look like a pile of junk on the ground, blending in with the other piles of junk that are there for aesthetic purposes. Eventually you get used to this and better at spotting the slight color variation that distinguishes good junk from set decoration.

The primary limitation to power leveling a profession will be your character's combat level. Just as in most other MMOs, SWTOR places higher level gathering materials in higher level zones and on higher level mobs. I was not able to collect any of the correct materials to progress from 80-100 skill until my character was able to survive in level 13-15 zones. Prior to that I was only finding the lowest level of of materials.

The crafting process is also fairly expensive for a fledgling player. At my maximum purse I had over 5000 credits(SWTOR currency) from questing. I blew through all of that while pushing my Armstech to 80 skill and had to go back to questing to replenish my pocketbook. Now granted, part of those funds were used to try out the "missions" that SWTOR has to offer. But I would plan to spend a good 3000-5000 credits to level up a crafting skill. The funds are primarily used to learn new recipes from the trainer with a small amount used for vendor materials.

Since I touched on the idea of missions, I should probably explain a bit more about them. Your companions can be sent on missions, freeing you up to continue adventuring. For the most part the missions I unlocked at the earliest levels were gathering or credit-farming activities. The rewards were typically crafting materials of some kind. Here you can see a list of the Scavenging missions currently available to me:


One downside of running missions is that whenever you send a companion on a mission, he or she will no longer be available as a combat assistant. This can be a significant liability at lower levels, I can't say if that changes at higher levels. Another downside to running missions is that each one costs 100-200 credits to start. It can be a bit of a money sink, but I assume as you level up this becomes less of an issue. Luckily you can also collect rare ingredients this way. In the case of Armstech this meant rewards of gems that I could use to create rare-quality weapons. It looked like the missions were not repeatable, but as you completed some missions others were unlocked.

Mission are available for gathering skills as well as something SWTOR is calling "mission" skills. Mission skills appear to be a bit of a catchall category that includes diplomacy and sleuthing abilities. You can learn more than one of these skills and they include Diplomacy, Investigation, Treasure Hunting and Underworld Trading. The rewards for these missions can include companion items, credits and possibly other items at higher levels. This is a pic of some Treasure Hunting missions I had available to me:


Once you have multiple companions, you can choose which companion to send on which mission. Companions have strengths and weaknesses, just like player classes have. My second companion is the steward of my ship and therefore not a good combat companion. He can be used for crafting and diplomacy missions though. My first companion was combat-oriented and generally a poor choice for crafting missions, but initially he was all I had. You can see in this pic that you have a separate interface for controlling your companions. This is where you can access your crafting abilities:


My overall impression of professions in SWTOR is that they closely model WoW crafting. There are a few improvement such as the reverse engineering ability, the enhancement option and crew missions, but the skill leveling and procurement processes are quite similar. They also seem to have the same gated structure to the leveling process that makes crafting prohibitive to non-adventurers in most games. I must say after dabbling in Star Wars Galaxies over the summer, I was disappointed that they seem to have completely abandoned the more advanced crafting model. If you were planning to play SWTOR on the basis of advanced crafting like SWG, you are out of luck.

As for the game itself, I think it mirrors WoW in other ways too. The quests felt very similar - killing mobs, collecting foozles, delivery tasks. The main thing that sets SWTOR apart for me is the voice acting, which improves the immersion factor. I feel that SWTOR as done a better job with quest progression, meaning that each new area you encounter feels like it has an overall theme or story to it. On the other hand, similar changes have been made in Cataclysm, so that design strategy isn't terribly revolutionary at this point. And there are plenty of MMO gamers who don't give a rat's hind end about story, so this feature won't appeal to them.

Another thing I enjoyed about SWTOR was the combat mechanics. They created just enough novelty for combat to feel different and interesting without being too overwhelming. I also enjoyed the combat animations of my character, they seemed more visually engaging. Of course all of these things will likely become boring after few weeks, I don't believe they are different enough to keep players engaged in the long term. In general SWTOR seems to have mirrored the UI controls of WoW pretty closely, I assume to make their game feel familiar to players. I was surprised how often a hotkey in SWTOR was identical to the WoW version (I for inventory, C for character info, etc).

I spent about 20 hours playing SWTOR and was able to level my Jedi Sage up to 14 in the weekend I had available. I received my first companion around level 7, but this acquisition is based on quest progression so it may vary for other players. My second companion came with my ship, which I unlocked at level 14. I believe the ship was intended to be a level 15 reward, as the quests got very hard towards the end and the final mob I had to kill was level 16.

One of the problems I experienced with my first companion is that whenever I sent him on a crafting mission, I was unable to pursue combat activities. This may not apply to all classes, but my caster class truly could not fight solo. The main reason for this is that most mobs come in packs of 2-4 and I was not able to kill that many on my own. I suspect that running crafting missions while adventuring is something that isn't really workable until you have your second companion at level 15.

Sadly, by the time I got my new ship the stress weekend was basically over. I had less than an hour to actually use the ship and visit other planets. As such, I can't really speak to how the game play changes beyond level 15. I assume more information on that will be posted by others who were in the beta longer than I was. At this point I have another SWTOR beta invitation in my email, but I don't know when it will be active or how long I'll get to test. I plan to expand on this information and try other crew skills when I get the opportunity.

Feel free to leave questions in the comments and I'll do what I can to answer them.

7 comments:

  1. Thanks for this excellent overview.

    One question I do have for you is how did it feel to you to have a companion do the missions for you rather than doing them yourself. While I think there is often too much waste in leveling professions in WoW there is a certain satisfaction in gathering all the mats myself and the crafting my own purple gear. The way you make it sound is that in SWTOR the player acts more like a crafting taskmaster rather than a actual crafter.

    The second question is what ability do you have to sell your items on the AH. Is there even one? You don't mention that aspect at all.

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  2. Oops - my bad! They do have an auction house, but during the stress weekend there was very little usage of it. I was not able to even find craft-related items on it. But they had auction kiosks in the same cities that had profession trainers, so the auctions are fairly accessible.

    As to the companion crafting, I'm with you on it. I prefer to make items myself, maybe not smelting or and creating bolts, but certainly final, high-quality items. SWTOR developers seem to think that making the items is a time sink and that we should prefer that our "bots" do it. I often found myself standing around like a numskull while my companion ran off to make items because I couldn't fight without him. Sometimes I would take care of quest turn-ins or visit trainers while he was gone, but that was the best I came up with in terms of multi-tasking.

    You can also let your companions handle gathering for you, but I drew the line there. My Jedi was able to gather, so I did all of that myself. Since you can't loot gathered items while in combat, I didn't see much benefit in sending my companion to the node when combat had already ended. It's my understanding that you can only have one active companion at a time. So even at higher levels I'm not sure it would be practical to send your companion after a node while you fight, if you're one of the classes that needs the companion to assist in combat.

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  3. I keep hoping that TOR crafting was just something that got short changed in the first release and they will go back and add more later.

    1) So if missioning costs that, should I just do gather/gather/craft?

    2) Can I do gather/gather/craft for lower levels and then drop a gather for a craft later levels - i.e. when the rare recipes discussed could be valuable?

    3) No surprise, but leveling a profession is a credit sink? I guess we don't know until we see if the junk-to-level-up sells. Hmm, I wonder if the best time to sell leveling junk is to make it during early access and then sell it on 12/20?

    4) While I am somewhat disappointed in crafting (in the missed opportunities not what it is), I do want to try hard to do crafting well. Do you have any insight on what skills you will be selecting on 12/1x? How would you suggest we decide?

    5) Does geography matter? I.e., is it like WoW where someone puts it on the AH in Exodar and someone can buy it a second later in SW? Or like EVE where the goods are delivered to the buyer where they were put up for sale and you have to transport raw materials from one place to another.

    6) presumably, no class has an advantage at crafting since crew skills don't benefit crafting any more? I.e. still not sure what my 3 skill will be. But it does sort of sound like a self-sufficient tank might have a slight advantage over clothe since they could send their companion away more?

    TIA for all your efforts!

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  4. Actually, the way I'm reading on the forums they actually had something more robust and nerfed it. Unfortunate.

    1) I would recommend sticking with gathering and crafting until you have money to spare or you need a specific item that a mission can get you (rare material)

    2) You can only have one crafting profession, so you would not be able to do a gather/craft/craft setup. You *can* do a gather/gather/gather setup.

    3) I was unable to dabble in the auctions and frankly beta auctions are always borked. This is the kind of thing that will take shape after launch. I think your best bet will be to use early access to jump start crafting and sell your wares after launch. The longer you wait to offload lowbie goods, the longer players have to figure out there's better stuff available :)

    4) I haven't made a firm decision here, I'm hoping to try another crafting skill in next week's beta weekend. I heard that Slicing is very lucrative compared to other gathering skills, but it may be nerfed before launch. I would decide based on typical player behavior. Weapons are generally more valued than armor, so I'd be tempted to go that direction. At low levels the enhancement profs may be ignored but likely pay big dividends once the player base hits the cap. On the other hand, farming mats for other players is a strategy that could work well in the first few weeks. I think it depends somewhat on your goals: cash in early or position for end-game bucks.

    5) I don't know the answer to this, I would need to do more testing with their auction system. I'll see if I can do that in the next weekend test.

    6) It's possible that choosing a more independent class might help a bit. I suspect they balanced mob distribution with companion usage in mind, I rarely saw singles or duo groups of mobs. They were predominantly groups of 3-4, which I'm guessing was done to make sure combat was challenging to all class setups.

    But part of what will determine your 3 skills is the crafting profession you choose. There are recommended gathering/mission skills to support each trade which you will probably need to take those in order to gain access to the necessary rares and such. If you go full gatherer, the self-sufficient class might be more helpful. In that scenario I would take 3 of the 4 gathering skills and completely ignore mission skills.

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  5. A few things in response to the comments on here:

    There are three types of crew skills. Crafting, Gathering, and Mission Skills.

    Gathering skills allow you to gather by yourself in the environment, exactly like gathering in other mmo's. However, you can -also- pay companions to go out and gather for you. This makes the companions disappear just like crafting does. Gathering skills generate the base resources for crafting, you should be able to get all of the materials for 'green' items through a single gathering skill.

    Missions skills are similar to gathering skills, except that there is no in-world gathering involved, it is solely and 100% paying your companions to go do stuff for you. Mission skills provide materials needed for 'blue/purple' items, and these components aren't available anywhere else.

    You are limited to 3 total crew skills, with a cap of 1 crafting skill. If you are trying to be a mostly self-sufficient crafter, you will want to go craft/gather/mission, but that will only make you self-sufficient enough to craft a single type. To take synthweaving for example: you make force armor. Archaeology provides the basic materials for all force armor (light, medium, heavy). Mission skills, however, are divided based on type of armor - so light/medium/heavy components each come from a different skill. So you can max synthweaving by yourself, and you can become self-sufficient in a single armor type of synthweaving, but the other two armor types you are limited to only making greens (or buying components from the AH, or having an alt with the proper mission skill).

    Sending companions out is only really an issue for the few levels where you only have one. At max level, you have 5 or 6, so you can keep all but 1 constantly doing things and still have one with you (you are only allowed to have one with you at a time).

    If you are going for max profit, you will want to take 3 gathering skills, so you can gather 3 types of nodes while exploring/questing. You will be able to keep all of your companions sent out gathering for those as well, so there is no time-loss from not having them busy crafting/mission'ing.

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  6. I'm a little confused by your description of companion gathering. You can only have one companion active at a time, so how would you send multiple companions out gathering? The only way I saw to assign tasks to non-active companions was through the mission system, which didn't appear to offer the same materials as regular gathering will net you. You make it sound as if you can have multiple companions in the field, doing the same node-gathering that you do, but I'm not sure how that can be accomplished. Unless I missed something in the companion system that gets unlocked at later levels?

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  7. I played a good bit this weekend. Companions and crafting are far buggier than the rest of the system.

    But you bring up your companions and then you have an icon for each of your three skills. (usually- beta is beta) If you click on a gathering skill then you get a list of missions and if you are willing to spend the time and credits you can send them both out. Since you can only queue 5 items per companion, you can queue each of them as crafting the junk you will eventually be reverse engineering.

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