Crew Skills have the potential to be a great crafting system. While it’s a fairly basic process that bears more than a passing resemblance to The-Game-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named in its simplicity (Step 1: Collect required materials, Step 2: Click the craft button), there are some little changes in SWTOR that I like a lot. I’d even go so far as to describe them as “neat”. But not “neato”. I’m not that old.
Some of the little things I like:
- Crafting will use resources from your bags directly from your bank. Genius! The only way this could be better is if you had shared storage with your alts as well.
- Reverse Engineering crafted items returns some of the mats that were used to make it. This lessens some of the futility of the crafting grind.
- Your crew will craft for you meaning you can carry on doing whatever it is you were doing (Questing, PvP, Space Combat, BSOCKing another NPC – whatever you like)
- Crew Missions! I don’t mean just Diplomacy or Underworld Trading but also the resource gathering missions. No more relying on finding resource nodes – you can pay to get mats instead.
- Custom items are awesome. I personally prefer them to an appearance tab à la LOTRO (although I can see pros and cons in both systems and I’m not going to debate them here – for all intents and purposes, the end result is the same, I can more or less wear what I want while levelling.)
But Crew Skills fall short of greatness for at least two major reasons.
The first of these is, absurdly, because of that last point – modifiable custom items. Take my smuggler who has been wearing the same custom jacket since he won it at level 10 in an Esseles run. I haven’t made an effort to find a tame armormech who will be able to craft him a new chestpiece every 5 or 10 levels as he just updates the three slotted items when he needs to (made easier by the fact that he has Cybertech as his crafting skill).
This is more pronounced, I believe, with Armstech because all classes get a modifiable weapon at the end of their starter planet. So, aside from blagging hilts and barrels, why would a player bother bothering someone with armstech for a new weapon? The obvious answer is, of course, to update their companions weapons but as most of them possess a custom weapon when they join your crew (except for the first companion from what I can tell – can anyone confirm?), that’s a moot issue.
What’s my issue? Well, simply put, even though I’m not a big player of the GTN by any stretch of the imagination even I recognise that modifiable custom items are, in all likelihood, going to reduce the demand – and value – of unmodifiable, player-crafted armour and weapons. How can it not when custom items are so easy to come by? (Planetary commendations? Running low level flashpoints?)
There are a couple of counter arguments and not least is that Armormech and Armstech crafters. (What do you call them? Armormechanic? Armstechnician? I’ll have to think on this one.) are able to learn schematics for custom items which are likely to sell. Two other good arguments: firstly, keeping a custom item updated requires upgrading several mods rather than just one item (although mods are freely available and comparitively cheap on most commendation vendors) and, secondly, artifact (purple) level crafted gear can have stats comparable (or better than?) custom items with equal level mods.
These are all good points but lead as nicely as if I’d planned it this way all along into the second major reason why Crew Skills are not as great as they could be:-
The dreaded Random Number Generator.
Reverse engineering a crafted item, in addtion to returning mats, also has a chance to teach you the schematic for an improved version of that item. In the case of Cybertech, Artifice or Biotech, for example, REing a premium (green) item might let you learn a prototype (blue) version of the same with enhanced stats. Subsequently, REing prototypes might let you learn an artifact version that’s even better still. For linear RE progression, this is all well and good.
Then we get to armor and weapon crafting.
From a basic premium schematic, reverse engineering can generate three possible prototype schematics that have an additional stat. Each of these prototype items can be further be REd to give one of five artifact quality items with an extra, fourth, stat – all with different prefixes. Here’s a visual example (via the very good Reverse Engineering guide on the dreaded official forums) using a level 9 synthweaving schematic (but not that although in theory there should be 15 artifact variations, only 14 have been discovered to date and it’s unknown if this is a bug or a feature):
That’s a level 9 item. Note that at level 13 you can get a crafted prototype item (learnt directly from the trainer) with +18 Strength, +8 Endurance that will, unless I’m mistaken, be a far superior upgrade for a character. The issue here is that the relative cost of researching and creating an artifact item is difficult to justify both in terms of time and materials required. Not only is there a (small?) percentage chance of learning the right prototype from the original base item and hoping to get the right (1 in 3) stat but also the small percentage chance of subsequently learning the artifact schematic from REing the prototype and getting the right (1 in 5) stat.
I’m not even going to talk about the crit chance of adding an Augment slot to an item.
Even if you took absolutely no issue with this type of Las Vegas casino slot-machine inspired crafting mechanic, why on earth does it exist for level 9 items rather than solely for level 50, endgame items? The necessary cost of the item to recoup the amount of materials used in learning it (let alone accounting for time spent or making a profit on the GTN) is implicitly prohibitive compared to, for example, the cost of learning and crafting level 13 item that will make the level 9 artifact obsolete anyway. And lets face it, getting from level 9 to 13 neither takes long (even if you level as slowly as I do) nor is it particularly challenging.
Oh yeah – schematics for custom items? They’re not discovered when you RE an item but are gotten from running Underworld Trading missions. They are, as you might predict, entirely dependent on the RNG. (And again, don’t talk to me about augments! They’re returned from slicing missions – but there’s no way of specifying what stat you’re going to get back. But that’s fine because as augment slots only exist on critted items, the odds of anyone actually needing one or there being a market demand for them is also minimal.)
And I think that’s what really irks me about the system: crafting – which semantically implies a level of skill – appears to be entirely driven by and dependent on the Random Number Generator.
So, what would I do differently?
Firstly, I obviously wouldn’t get rid of the RNG element in its entirety. There’s a perverse delight, for example, in knowing that a particular crafting recipe/schematic/pattern/whatever will drop from a particular mob in a particular area. (That misty, nostalgic look in my eye that you’ll have to imagine is based on spending an evening or two grinding away on mobs at the Tower of Althalaxx in Alliance held Darkshore for a Robes of Arcana pattern, required for a Warlocks “Enchanted Gold Bloodrobe” quest in WoW. Also, hunting down spinner blades – and other components but mostly spinner blades – for recycler units in SWG.) Critical successes are always pleasing as well.
Other than that, here are some changes I’d suggest that, to me, keep Crew Skills in line with what they’re intended to be but take ideas and input from other games as examples:
- Add schematics to vendors across the galaxy to encourage exploration and to set apart those crafters who are dedicated to getting out of the way patterns from those who can’t be arsed.
- Adapt the LOTRO method of using items to improve critical success chances (but not the crafting levelling method which was tedious beyond belief)
- Allow Slicers to add augment slots (or even augmentations directly) to items – similar to either SWG smugglers or WoW Blacksmiths adding sockets to items
The biggest change would be to the Reverse Engineering process. I wouldn’t want to get rid of the ability to return some mats from an item – as previously mentioned I think it’s a great way of mitigating the grind – but in terms of creating new items or discovering new schematics then I’d look at the Reverse Engineering method that SWG Shipwrights had. That entailed being able to take several ship components of different qualities and combine them to create a new item that had the best stats of each of the components. Now if you pushed me right now then I couldn’t tell you exactly how this system might be applied to crew skills in SWTOR (how would you get schematics for prototypes/artifact/custom items) but my feeling is that it would add a level of skill and predictability to the process and move away from the RNG dominance.
Who knows, it might even be fun!
*the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field