18/11/2016

Back In My Day: Gear

It took me a while to get back to this series, but I haven't forgotten about it. So let's not think about the unpleasant RNG loot boxes looming in the near future for a moment and let's instead take a look at what sort of changes SWTOR's gearing systems have gone through over the course of the last five years, as I continue my look back at the way the game has developed, giving old-timers a chance to get nostalgic and showing newcomers how good they have it in some respects. I started this post thinking that not that many changes have been made related to gear until the recent drama, but while going through the details I realised that there were more of them than I thought.

What We Can Wear

The basics haven't really changed much, if at all. There are five quality tiers of gear: white, green (uncommon premium), blue (rare prototype) and purple (epic artifact), with the orange "custom" gear standing apart as the fifth. I actually remember being confused by this system early on because even though orange gear is highlighted as modifiable, many purple pieces are as well. To be honest I don't know to this day why some are one colour and some another! Also, for some reason the GTN has had a dark purple "legendary" tier since forever but I'm not aware of any such gear actually existing.

There are also still three armour classes: heavy (for troopers, bounty hunters and Guardians/Juggernauts), medium (for smugglers, agents and Sentinels/Marauders) and light (for consulars and inquisitors). Again, these have actually never been completely intuitive. Yes, the heavily armoured knight or warrior vs. the lightly armoured Sage/Sorc in the back makes sense, but I remember as a new player how confused I was by the fact that Shadows/Assassins also wore light armour and even tanked in it. Surely they should at least be wearing medium if they choose that kind of fighting style?

The conversion to free to play and the introduction of the Cartel Market however soon made Bioware realise that they didn't want players to struggle with not all characters being able to wear every purchased outfit, which is why "adaptive" armour was introduced, which can be equipped by any class and will apply the correct armour value for it automatically. Over time, this system has become more and more popular, with certain crafted pieces and endgame drops becoming adaptive too, to the point where I'm just waiting for them to make all armour adaptive and be done with it.

Other restrictions that applied to some of the gear pieces introduced at launch where that they could only be equipped by a certain class (e.g. "requires: smuggler") or required a certain alignment. These didn't seem to be a big hit with anyone though, which is why they are rarely seen anymore these days.

The concept of bind on equip vs. bind on pickup was also shaken up not long after launch by the introduction of legacy gear, which could not be traded to other players but could be moved around freely among different characters on the same account, even if it had been filled with modifications that were originally labelled as bind on pickup. This "legacy gear shuffle" is interesting because Bioware is aware of it and clearly tolerates it, but seemingly they still disapprove of it somehow - else why not simply make all drops bind to legacy and spare us the hassle of constantly having to pull mods out and having to mail gear back and forth? Maybe they like that it serves as a bit of a money sink.

The Look

I think the way we look in our gear is probably one of the aspects that has changed the most, and not because the artists at Bioware do a better or worse job at coming up with armour sets these days than they did at launch.

Originally we were just very much at the mercy of randomness when it came to our looks. I remember that while levelling for the first time as a trooper, I ran into quite a few solid armour sets - the problem was that one had blue stripes, another green markings, another yellow highlights, and somehow you always ended up with different pieces from each set, with the result making you look like a bit of a clown. The only way to keep a consistent look was to wear a full set of moddable armour, but those were quite rare and hard to come by.


The second picture I ever posted on this blog. The colour clash is real, but at the time I was actually praising the game for offering believable and non-sexist gear throughout.

Over time Bioware eased our pain by adding the "match to chest" option, which at least reduced the worst of the colour clash (first for player characters, then for companions), and later there was the introduction of dyes. (Though some dyes are quite offensive to the eye in their own right!)

The free-to-play conversion and the introduction of the Cartel Market were a big deal as cosmetics suddenly became one of game's main money-makers. Not only could you buy entire sets of gear from the CM directly, the random loot from the Cartel crates flooded the market with tons of moddable armour sets - not all great, but you suddenly had a huge selection, making it much easier to build a consistent look.

Of course another big change came comparatively recently, with the introduction of the outfit designer - and while I wasn't too keen on it at release, I've definitely come around to appreciating it. The two big changes it brought to the game was that it reintroduced unmoddable gear into the pool of possible outfit selections and that it completely decoupled your stats from your looks, meaning that you could change either as often as you wanted without necessarily having to worry about adjusting the other.

Basically, I think that we are in a much better place now when it comes to looking the way we want. It's quite noticeable even when I run a low-level pug that almost everyone is usually quite well-dressed and not randomly mismatched. The only thing I do miss sometimes is a bit of consistency in the way the classes/factions look. There is no real difference in the crowds on the Republic and Imperial fleet anymore, and in PvP - at least at the start of a match - it can be annoyingly distracting when an opponent manages to successfully throw off your initial target selection by being dressed in a way that makes them look like a completely different class.

Stats

If you joined the game before Knights of the Fallen Empire, the biggest change that comes to mind here is of course the introduction of Mastery, as for the game's first four years, each base class and its mirror had their own stat: Aim for troopers and bounty hunters, Cunning for smugglers and agents, Strength for knights and warriors and Willpower for consulars and inquisitors. However, this was eventually deemed too confusing, so that all these stats were rolled into a single one called Mastery.

Interestingly, the concept doesn't seem to have fully penetrated throughout the player base, as you can still hear stories of pug raids refusing to give for example items with "Force Lord" in the name to anyone who's not a Force user, even though the stats are now useful to everyone and the name is but a relic of olden times.

The secondary stats at launch were accuracy for damage dealers; power, critical strike, surge, alacrity for dps and healers; and defense, shield and absorption for tanks. Not much has changed about that, though a little: For example surge, which affected the size of your crits, ceased to exist as a separate stat and was rolled into critical strike so that single number would now not just affect your chance to have a crit but also how big it was going to be. The amount of accuracy required to hit the optimal number has been changed more than once. Alacrity used to not affect ability cooldowns, only their cast time. And power used to be treated as equal to the other secondary stats, which caused people to not want anything that didn't happen to have power on it - until it was eventually recognised that it was simply far more important than the other secondary stats so that every item now has a base amount of power on it and then the other secondary stats share the rest of the item budget.

Speaking of things like item budgets, we used to not pay as much attention to the item rating because there was also another number on display, the item level - this was changed in patch 2.7 to minimise the confusion caused by having multiple numbers on the same item. (Fun fact: I initially found this change confusing by itself because I was so used to the much lower item level numbers.)

Another thing that is worth mentioning under this header are changes to set bonuses. Up until 3.0 only five pieces carried a set bonus: head, chest, hands, legs and feet. With the Shadow of Revan expansion, the previously unloved bracers and belts received a set bonus too, with each set gaining a six-piece bonus in addition to the existing two- and four-piece bonuses. At launch, the set bonuses were also tied to the armour shell instead of the armouring, which was not popular as it completely negated the option to transfer modifications to a different outfit if you also wanted to benefit from the set bonus. (I poked fun at how this caused hitting max level to mean transitioning to a ridiculous look in this post.) Set bonuses were moved from shells to armourings in 2.0.

Gear Acquisition

At launch, gear acquisition worked quite differently from how it does now, though it still worked through a combination of drops and currency purchases from vendors. In PvE, you could get set bonus gear both from hardmode flashpoints and from operations. Nightmare mode was initially a bit tacked on and didn't have its own gear tier, dropping only more of the same stuff you already got on hardmode, making it essentially a "for fun" exercise.

PvP was a bit of a nightmare in more than one way, not just because level 10s were getting put up against fully kitted out max-level characters, but because the first gearing system was pure RNG horror. Not only did you have to reach valor rank 60 to even be allowed to equip any of the best gear, it came out of loot boxes at random, making a full set a truly rare sight. This was removed quite quickly and replaced with the classic commendation system that  we all know and love, though there was also more faffing about with getting people geared for PvP by trying to give them free starter PvP gear for a while. This was eventually obsoleted by the introduction of max-level bolster, which also didn't exist until Rise of the Hutt Cartel. After the introduction of ranked PvP, we had ranked commendations for a while, though those were eventually retired again too.

The tier sets from flashpoints disappeared with 2.0, when they became "outdated content" (at the time) and the loot tables were filled with some higher-level non-set pieces instead to help you gear up for the new Rise of the Hutt Cartel endgame. After that the system remained pretty close to what we have today for quite a while though, with three tiers of commendations buying you non-set bonus gear from vendors while the different tiers of set gear could only be obtained from operations, with each step up in difficulty dropping higher level versions.

Crafting deserves a mention as something that used to be extremely profitable as you could reverse engineer high-level item modifications and then craft them for selling to other players, which was a popular pastime among raiders that had already got all the gear they needed out of the operations. To some extent you can still do this today, however it seems to be much less of a thing, and Bioware seems to have had a bit of an on-and-off-again relationship with letting crafters create useful gear, meaning that some tiers could be reverse engineered while others could not. In this respect I actually look forward to what 5.0 will do for crew skills.

Did I forget anything important or was there something you would have talked about in more detail that I glossed over? Share it in the comments! Also, while I do have a couple more ideas for this series, I'm also open for suggestions if there is a topic that you would particularly like me to cover.

3 comments :

  1. Since comms/crystals are going away, do you have any recomended list of vendors to hit up for nice looking items for apperance designer? Particularly any obscure planetary vendors that may have great gear.

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    1. Hm, to be honest I hadn't really thought about those, because I assume they'll stay around to be bought for credits and will probably stay quite cheap since they are intended for lower-level characters. It's the max-level sets that usually go away with expansions.

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  2. There are times when I really miss the older system of gear for various classes, but that's the old school RPGer in me. I'm of the D&D era when a Magic-User wasn't allowed to wear any armor at all and could only wield a dagger or staff, so class restrictions are normal to me.

    Still, the lack of stat issues with gear means that I don't have to be a completionist in order to have the right gear for both myself and my companion(s).

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