Yesterday, a handful of heroes from websites and magazines all over the world got a chance to try the endgame content of the upcoming 1.2 “Legacy” update of Star Wars: The Old Republic. Today, I’m here writing on what a German, two Americans and an Italian can accomplish when faced with a seemingly endless horde of Rakghouls and quite a lot more.
Star Wars: The Old Republic 1.2 is definitely one of the biggest early patches I’ve seen for a MMORPG. Not only does it add a new Operation, a Flashpoint and a Warzone, but it also brings a slew of mechanical changes and improvements that overhaul the game quite radically, and for the better.
The most basic and sweeping change included in the update is doubtlessly the customizable UI. The default one that came at launch wasn’t exactly a prime example of functionality, and the lack of customization options worsened the problem. BioWare’s designers went above and beyond the call of duty to amend that, designing one of the most richly featured UI customization systems I’ve seen in a while, giving the player as much freedom as possible short of letting him actually design the UI by himself with Photoshop and xml spreadsheets.
Every window can be resized, hidden and moved at leisure, but that only scratches the surface of what can be done. Each menu has it’s own unique options that provide a further layer of customization, and everything is very easy, quick and as intuitive to handle as dragging and dropping windows and pulling some sliders back and forth. In the screenshots coming with this preview you can see my own custom UI. You’ll probably notice that it’s very different from the original interface (and much more convenient), and it took me no more than 20 minutes to create.
The ability to save and load multiple setups and to transfer the files between different computers easily turns this feature into one of my favorite additions to the game, together with the option to open as many windows as we want and to move and overlap them at leisure. It honestly makes me wonder what the designers of the original interface were thinking, but trying 1.2 led me to be much more forgiving towards the initial misstep.
The main course of update 1.2 is obviously the implementation of the titular Legacy System. Creating alternate characters is nothing new in MMORPGs, but implementing a system that ties those characters together and unlocks advantages for all of them is definitely an interesting innovation that builds up on the philosophy behind the design of SWTOR: BioWare never aimed to reinvent the core gameplay of the genre, but they brought a lot of fresh ideas to the mechanics around it, creating something that generally plays like your usual MMORPG, but still feels quite different and new.
The Legacy System is a lot of fun to play with. It allows you to decide what ties bind your characters on the same server, whether they are blood ties, familial ties or looser ones like rivalries or alliances. By progressing each of the characters in a legacy advantages can be unlocked for them all, progressively smoothing the leveling process and adding flavor and utility options even for established characters that already reached the endgame.
Getting a quasi-human character to level 50 unlocks its race for use with all the classes, allowing you to create exotic combinations like a Chiss Jedi Knight or a Twi’lek Sith Warrior. If the capped character is human, the advantage is different, providing a +100 bonus to the presence of all characters in the Legacy.
This may seem a marginal advantage, but it really isn’t. Presence boosts the performance of companions across the board, and +100 isn’t a small increment. Unlocking a cyborg will instead make all the class-specific cyber parts available to all classes.
A further layer of unlocks is related to the class of each character. By progressing through the chapters of each story you can unlock special class-related emotes (for instance my Sith Warrior unlocked an ominous dark side aura similar to my out of combat self-heal), the ability to use the group buff specific to that class with the other characters and a special heroic power usable only during Heroic Moments.
That’s an interesting flavor addition, as in the case of my Sith Warrior it will allow all my other characters to use Force Choke. The Heroic Moment requirement is a simple but effective balance check, as it can’t be used without a companion, keeping potentially unbalancing powers out of the way of PvP and endgame raids.
Companion unlocks build over the previous layer, providing sizable stat bonuses the first time a companion belonging to a certain archetype gets his or her affection maxed out, while further unlocks in the same archetype provide a cumulative bonus to Presence which, as I already explained, isn’t exactly unimportant.
More unlocks are bound to the legacy level progression, ranging from a rocket boost to sprint faster for a short while, to several convenience updates for the ship belonging to every character in the legacy, passing by cooldown reductions for the Quick Travel and Fleet Pass features.
A final layer allows to unlock a series of unarmed combat attacks by progressing in the valor ladder, a set of flavor emotes (and quite interesting ones at that, as they include props like binoculars, datapads or welders) by reaching set social levels and two “good and evil” companion-related powers unlocked by reaching the two extremes of the force alignment spectrum.
If you’re interested in this kind of unlocks, i’d advise to start saving your credits, because they don’t come cheap, ranging from the 100,000 of the first stage of fleet pass cooldown reduction to a whopping 2 million for the Rocket Boost.
As a rather interesting icing on the cake the legacy menu also includes a “Coming Soon” section, showing the legacy unlocks that will come with patch 1.3. Here’s a rundown:
- Flashpoint Experience Bonus I-V (This and the two following are rather self explanatory)
- Space Experience Bonus I-V
- Warzone Experience Bonus I-V
- Legacy of Altruism I-III (Gifts given to companions grant more affection)
- Legacy of Persuasion I-III (Conversation options grant more companion affection)
- Legacy of Crafting I-III (Raises the crafting critical chance)
- Legacy of Leadership I-II (Companions sell junk faster)
- Celerity I-II (An Increase to sprint speed)
- Legacy Speeder License (Allows the use of a level 25 speeder at level 10)
- Repair Droid (Summons a droid to repair equipment anywhere on the field)
- Priority Medevac (Grants more health when respawning at the med center)
- Field Respec (Allows to respect one’s talents without returning to the fleet or capital planet)
- Portable Mailbox (Summons a mailbox)
Ultimately the Legacy system isn’t only innovative, but also fun to play with and rewarding. I can’t say I’m not eager to check out the advanced unlocks on my characters when the patch will go live.
Those that reached the end game are probably looking forward to the new operation Explosive Conflict, the new flashpoint Lost Island and the new warzone Novare Coast. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to try the warzone, but I got some good hands-on time with Lost Island and Explosive Conflict.
Lost Island is the direct sequel of Kaon Under Siege, prompting players to invade Doctor Lorrick’s secret base in order to put an end to his warped experiments. It provides some nice closure to the mini-storyline and a definitely palatable challenge for those that consider the previous flashpoints a tad on the easy side.
While it features the usual sequence of hordes of trash mobs and bosses, the mechanics are almost always quite complex and very challenging. Even minor trash mobs require precise coordination between party members in order to overcome the tricks they hold up their sleeves, and players that charge in expecting some dull tank and spank will probably find themselves sent back to the med center in a few seconds. It sure happened to us quite a few times.
To give an example, there are groups composed by Security Droids, Guard Droids and smaller Astromech Droids (of which I don’t remember the precise name). The Astromech Droids can grapple a player, progressively slowing him down to a full stun, depending how many droids are in action. The Security droids drop some energy pools that deal a lot of damage on a fixed area of the ground. The two attacks can prove definitely deadly in combination, and only a well coordinated group will be able to kill the droids efficiently enough to avoid their members getting stunned in the middle of an energy pool and slaughtered.
Bosses aren’t less vicious and require no less coordination, in addition to good reflexes for interrupts and the ability to stay constantly mobile. The fight against the LR-5 Sentinel Droid is one of the most fun I tried in a flashpoint, while the bonus boss Transgenic Sample Eleven is simply spectacular, with its ability to drop massive stalactites from the ceiling on players unable to move out of the way quick enough.
Ultimately tension is kept high for little more than a hour (which is more or less the time required to complete the flashpoint) and the quality is at the very least on par with Kaon Under Siege (which is already excellent), if not superior.
While our brave but ragtag band managed to finish Lost Island, Explosive Conflict proved an impossible challenge, partly because coordinating a raid of eight writers that never played with each other and coming with large differences in their equipment and in their raiding experience isn’t exactly an easy task, but mostly because the Operation is really, really hard.
Many hardcore raiders demanded a higher level of challenge for upcoming content, deeming the current Operations too easy, and BioWare definitely moved to make them happy. Trash mobs come in high numbers and deal quite a lot of damage, risking to easily trample over an unprepared group, and the bosses are simply brutal. Even just the first pair will force guilds to really step up their game in order to be overcome, as they require a very precise tank switching (don’t even think to beat them with a single tank), while damage dealers and haelers will have to be really at their best in order to finish before the enrage timer expires with obvious devastating effects.
One of the most impressive elements of Explosive Conflict is its environmental design. Think of Alderaan, but even more charming, creating a stark contrast between the beautiful planet and it’s slightly alien color palette and the devastating conflict threatening to tear it apart.
A less pubblicized endgame addition is the “Black Hole” series of daily quests on Corellia. The story behind it is definitely pleasing (at least on the Imperial side, as I didn’t have a chance to check the Republic side) and some of the quests include very original mechanics that turn them in some of my favorite features of the patch.
For instance in one of the mission the player will be accompanied by an infrared illuminator droid and will have to navigate a maze. The maze is littered by blinking infrared traps that will be evidenced by the droid and will have to be avoided.
Another quest includes a large radioactive pool that can be crossed only using a rapidly expiring stim. Killing some of the droids walking around the pool will net players more of the precious protective stims, forcing them to balance between moving fast and killing enemies to avoid falling to the effects of radiation.
Both mission create little but very pleasant diversion from the usual “kill and fetch” questing mold, and show that the design team at BioWare definitely doesn’t lack imagination. While dailies tend to be a bit of a chore on the long run (no matter how good the content is, you can play it only so much before it becomes stale), I can see myself taking a lot longer to get bored of the ones I just described.
I also got a chance to test the new guild banks: the system is definitely fully featured, letting guild leaders set a wide array of settings like withdraw allowances for both items and credits. It also includes a full log and the ability to use the guild’s money to repair damaged equipment. That option will definitely please many raiders, as they often find rather unfair differences between the expenses each class has to face in order to keep gear in prime condition.
Moving to cosmetics, Star Wars: The Old Republic 1.2 includes a “Unify Colors to Chest” feature, that will certainly please those that hate walking around with mismatched equipment. Thanks to the Customize Appearance menu it’s possible to change the color of each piece of equipment to match the scheme of the chest piece. The most interesting part of this feature is that it applies an actual color scheme that has been devised for each item by BioWare’s artists, instead of randomly painting an item with a single color like most dye systems, creating a really appealing set of looks that, paired with the extended crafting and modding systems coming with the patch will grant players a really broad spectrum of styles to chose from.
The new Texture Atlasing option contributes to the overall eyecandy effect, improving the quality of character textures tenfold during gameplay. If you were worried about it causing losses in framerate, you might want to rest easy. At least on my system not only the framerate didn’t drop with every option (including Texture Atlasing) maxed out, but it actually improved visibly across the board by at least 10-15 frames per second. I’m not sure how BioWare managed to achieve that, but they did, and the smoother framerate is very noticeable.
Ultimately update 1.2 is a definite improvement for Star Wars: The Old Republic, bringing high quality and challenging content to the game, and a whole array of functional and cosmetic improvements that improve the game quite radically. If you want to get a further glimpse on the visuals and on the content of the patch, just check the gallery below, there should be enough screenshots to satisfy your curiosity.