If I was a movie franchise, this is where I would replace Vin Diesel with Ice Cube. Way back on February 16th, in the Year of Our Lord 2012, I outlined what I saw as shortcomings of useful crafting at the top level of MMOs. The key here is “useful at top level”, that’s the focus of this whole thing. I understand that craftsman can always help out lower level people, or people that just begin to step into the end game. That’s not enough to make crafting a full feature, if you ask me. I understand there is a fine line between use and reliance, and you don’t want to overburden your end game base by requiring a plethora of consumables just to participate in the end game encounters. So where does the balance lie? I will first talk about how to make SWTOR crafting more complete, and then extrapolate those lessons into a general list of what I consider some basic necessities for the end game craftsman.
For the love of sexy aliens, let’s focus on making Augments not a complete joke. Right now, you can only insert an Augment into a piece of crafted gear that is created with a critical success. This is a mat, money, and time sink to create a piece of gear that is arguably not any better than a piece of dropped Flashpoint gear or bought with commendations/crystals. One of the core missions with Slicing is to gather Augments. It is of little surprise that no one gives a Sith about these missions. The fix here is a simple one. Let Armormech, Synthweave, Armstech and Artificing all be able to produce consumables that add an augment slot. This keeps Slicing useful top end, it’s not like you need credits at 50 right now, let’s face it, and it makes the core crafting skills desirable. This isn’t anything new or revolutionary, but it is something that really needs to happen.
Right now, there is simply not much gear customization going around, and it’s incredibly hard to build a balanced stat character. The game wants you to be balanced with the various DR points and soft caps, but it’s very hard to find gear that lets you accomplish this. Each tier has a “stat” pair that goes along with it, and mixing and matching the pieces just doesn’t make a lot of sense. This is particularly true when the set bonuses aren’t carried on this one-off gear. The idea of downgrading a tier to pick up some power/accuracy just isn’t reasonable when it tanks your primary and secondary stats. In World of Warcraft, they introduced the idea of Reforging your gear in order to get some stats you desire. Now the conversion rate wasn’t favorable to just do it this way, but it helped you get the stats you want without having to rely on a single piece of gear. However, I think their implementation was poor. Instead of tying it to money and an NPC, why not tie it to the existing craftsmen? It would be easy enough to create Energy Redistribution Kits that would swap secondary stats to other secondary stats. You could make them specific “Alacrity to Accuracy Redistribution Kit”, or you could make them more generic and allow the user to just select it through a confirmation window. This could apply to the base armor, so any further mods you swapped in or out would be affected by the Redistribution Kit, or it could directly apply to a mod. The key here is that this solution allows for craftsmen to play a vital role in gearing at the end level, and raises the customization level to new heights.
Spread Out The Consumable Love
I get it, it makes a certain amount of sense to have stims and adrenals and health packs all in the same trade skill. If you do that, don’t be surprised that people all take Bio-Chem. Having reusable consumables, some of which persist through death, is flat out incredible. There is no reason to not pick this up as your crafting skill of choice right now. That’s the problem. This can be altered by spreading out the love to the different trade skills. There is no reason why you can’t make a “saber overcharge” gadget that increases Force Power for 15 seconds. There is no reason you can’t make a “personal shield generator” that increases absorption for a set period of time or until the damage exceeds a certain number. In this case, these would be on-use item enhancements. The equivalent of tinkering or engineering of blessed yore, almost. Have these items be on longer cooldowns that adrenals or provide alternate stats and effects. There is no need to even link the two together, but you could easily do something like “Force Collator, lowers your GCD by .3 seconds for 15 seconds. Due to the stress on the body, adrenals cannot be used for the next five minutes” or something to that effect. I am not saying that is a balanced effect, just a thematic example of a possible idea. I don’t think simply reskinning the adrenals and spreading them out would be a problem, but I’d like to see a wider range of tactical use items that don’t have overlap. I know this borders on the “too many consumables” line, but if these are all reusable, it’s not a big problem, to me. If it’s linked to mods or gear, you’d still end up buying or making more when you increase your gear.
Bring Back the Fun
If you were to tell me you never once did something in a game for a purely fun or cosmetic reason, I would call you a liar. People love fun, silly items. Every trade skill should have fun items, both permanent and consumable in nature. How awesome would it be to be able to pimp our your speed with lights underneath? What about a flare gun that shoots fire works? Armor that changes colors with a click? What about spray paint that hangs around in an area with a message? These are all things that fit the current skills in SWTOR, without even touching the idea of pets. Making skins for your companions would be pretty awesome, too. The point is, players will absolutely buy fun things like paper airplanes, balls you can throw around, spotlights you can shine around or a juke box that plays Star Wars songs. Bring back the fun and flavor in the craft skills. There is no reason you can’t created these fun items without breaking theme or succumbing to silly. Things that are fun and make sense in the game world are things that the players love. Armor that allows you to personalize your soundtrack, with built in speakers? Screens that provide racial illusions so I can look likea Hutt when I run around? Yes please.
This is a pretty awesome concept. You get base patterns and you can refine them for better versions. The problem is, this is rarely worth it. It’s a % chance to do that, and there are a limited number of patterns. Sure, you get some dropped later on in Flashpoints and Operations, but what if it wasn’t like that? What if you could take a piece of Flashpoint and Operations gear and reverse-engineer it to learn the pattern of that gear. This gear base wouldn’t be quite as good as the original gear, allowing that “it’s the gear you get to begin getting gear” feel. However, when you reverse engineer those pieces, you can make the base gear itself or even slightly better versions of that gear. Using the commendations and currencies you accumulate to power this seems like a great idea to me. You could have crafters outfitting their other raid members in the gear they are learning to make overtime, which allows crafters to remain current if they are producing at-level gear with consistency. Now, the gear grind is important to an MMO, but if you make the mats based on this currency anyway, what’s the difference? It’s another path to gearing with some of the RNG removed. This seems incredibly viable to me, since it puts an emphasis on time, money and resources rather than time and randomization. I understand that for many people the idea is to “raid to get gear”, but there is no way that even with a horde of craftsmen that you could conceivably outfit an entire guild like this. Instead, it just helps the gearing along at a predictable rate. This is win-win, if you were to ask me.
Allow Craftsmen to Apply Set Bonuses
This is pretty self-explanatory, but allowing craftsmen to swap out set bonuses for gear seems pretty amazing to me. This could be tied to the RE solution above, or just a learned pattern from REing set gear. Make these patches you put on base items that allow you to construct whatever type of set you desire. This allows for some interesting hybridization of set pieces, without having to really wear hybrid gear. This is desirable because it helps shore up a player’s play style without really changing game play. A four piece bonus could only ever be created as a four piece bonus, and a two piece bonus could only ever be created as a two piece bonus. This stops undesirable play in its tracks when coupled with the customization options above.
So in conclusion, these are just a few examples to allow crafting to remain desirable at high levels, tweaked for SWTOR. Now I did say I’d have some generic options for games as well, and I have a single, big point that I want to discuss.
Stop giving craftsmen self-only bonuses
Whoa who whoa. What am I playing at? I just spent time discussing how to make craft skills better at higher levels, and now I want to take away the bonuses for being a craftsman? Damn skippy I do. I can hear you now, “FOR THE LOVE OF CHEESE, WHY?!” It’s because of two things.
1. Dissociating personal benefits allows people to focus on crafting. You can now pick up every craft skill that your heart desires. Have a good time! There is no reason to not allow people to do this if they really want to do so. If nothing is craft skill restricted, there aren’t balancing issues with having more than one craft skill. People that want to be craftsmen want to be identified as such. Right now, there is no thought about this. Of course you have to pick up some craft skills. You are shorting yourself if you don’t do this. If you want to compete at a high level, you have to make sure you have the RIGHT craft skills. How is this fun again? Oh wait, it’s not. It’s reduced to a mechanical decision rather than a customization or economic decision. Allowing someone to simply be a master craftsman has no negative effects. It won’t dilute the market and make prices crash because everyone can do everything. In fact, that leads me to point number two.
2. Scarcity of crafted goods. When there is no numerical benefit to crafting other than the benefit and joy of crafting, goods become more scarce. No longer would you have the glut of “leveling goods” or the bevy of “beginner gear”. Crafting would be profitable for those that do it, and people would have to begin to make connections to the existing craftsmen to line up jobs. Sure, the raw goods would increase in price, but with fewer people participating in crafting on the whole, the increase wouldn’t be staggering. This would lead to a situation where the individual gathers materials themselves and finds someone to produce the work. While this occurs now already, it becomes much more prevalent in a “Work on Demand” environment a change like this would produce. Crafting becomes a luxury, rather than a requirement. Craftsmen earn a place of honor and respect in the guild structure, and this limited number of craftsmen means that guilds and social groups are more likely to create an “expert” rather than have the pool diluted.
This, when combined with many of the points I have illustrated above would change the crafting dynamic considerably, and open up possibilities that simply haven’t been pursued. These are certainly not the only options to shift the way crafting is handled at the top end of an MMO, but it does provide a breath of fresh air into an increasingly stagnant and unimaginative realm.