There are a lot of people diving into Star Wars: The Old Republic after it switched to a hybrid free-to-play model this past Thursday. Some of those people might have stuck with The Old Republic since its launch almost a year ago, but many are either returning to the game after a time away or trying out the game for the first time.
I fall into the former camp, having played The Old Republic for a few months after launch before dropping my subscription. In that time I took a character to max level, but didn’t feel the need to stick around once I was there. This week I took the opportunity to both re-sub and create a separate free account just to try out all the offerings Bioware and EA added with the transition.
With that in mind, here are a few tips and suggestions from my months playing that may help new and/or returning players.
1. Space bar to skip conversations
When you’re in one of the many, many conversations with NPCs you’ll have while leveling a character, you may feel the need to tell them “Skip a bit, brother.” If you hit the space bar, it will jump that line of the conversation and move to the next one, so you can quickly skip either portions of cutscenes or the entire thing if you prefer.
For brand-new players, I encourage listening to all the conversations the first time through, but I’m also the kind of RPG player who reads all the quest text. So, your mileage may vary.
2. There are only four classes, but many more stories
While there’s no difference mechanically between the Sith Warrior and Jedi Knight, their class stories and leveling experiences couldn’t be more different. One follows the Jedi Knight’s hunt for a group of rogue Sith who stole superweapons the Republic had been working on in secret, while the other follows the Sith Warrior’s rise in the Empire as they seek to enforce the Emperor’s will and contend with a powerful Jedi padawan who opposes him. Both stories are sweeping in scope and epic in the decisions they require the player to make, and play out differently if you choose to follow a Dark or Light Side path.
Whether this makes up for the fact that both characters use the same (albeit reskinned) abilities and wind up with similar combat rotations depends entirely on how much the individual player cares about the story Bioware is telling.
3. “Use the Group Finder, Luke”
One feature that was sorely missing from the launch of The Old Republic was a matchmaking system to allow players to quickly run Flashpoints. World of Warcraft had introduced and improved its Dungeon Finder while The Old Republic was in development, so MMO players were disappointed to find one wasn’t included with the game at launch.
Now, the Group Finder is in the game in time for the free-to-play transition. Having played through a few Flashpoints the other day, I found it easy to deal with as compared to other dungeon matchmaking services, with the bonus of extra commendations for using it to get a group together. Extra commendations are always nice.
Keep in mind, free-to-play players won’t be able to receive these rewards after running their third Flashpoint per week, unless they buy a pass off the Cartel Coin market. Which brings me to my next point…
4. Read up on all the Free-To-Play limits
While this may seem obvious, it can’t be stressed enough. If you want to play The Old Republic for free, it helps to know exactly what you’ll be getting. Some of the limits are purely cosmetic, such as the inability to turn off helm appearance or show titles you’ve earned, but some are more substantial such as the limits on how many times you can run Operations, Warzones and Flashpoints each week. Bioware has a great breakdown of the differences on their website.
Free-to-play characters only have access to three species per class, only two action bars to place abilities and items onto, and can carry a maximum of 200,000 credits while also having to pay more for vendor items, mod removal and augment slot additions.
The species limits at creation aren’t exactly hindering since there’s no mechanical benefit for choosing one species over the other, but it’s also one of the most tempting uses for me of Cartel Coins, the new currency Bioware introduced for their cash shop. The credit cap and vendor prices rankle a bit, but since the Jedi Knight I first leveled to 50 barely cracked 200,000 credits at the end of his class storyline it’s unlikely that it will ever be an issue most free-to-play characters will run into, and points to Bioware’s decision to tailor the free-to-play option specifically for people who only want to run the class storyline and not dive into the other aspects of the game; at least, at first.
The quickbar limits, though, left me more than bit concerned. At max level my Jedi Knight had to have two dedicated on-screen bars just to keep up with the main combat abilities he rotated through, and two additional bars on either side of the screen for longer cool-downs, speeders, Quick Travel and other abilities. With only two bars on the screen at one time to work with, I would anticipate many players choosing free-to-play will get frustrated as they quickly run out of room to put everything. I have two big problems with this; the first is that quickbars seem like a petty thing to make into a Cartel Coin unlock, and the second is that The Old Republic‘s classes have far too many abilities to work with at higher levels, an inherent design issue that needs to be addressed not just for free-to-play but for all characters in the game.
5. Consider Preferred Status
The Old Republic takes a page out of DC Universe Online‘s playbook with their Preferred status. If you spend at least $5 on The Old Republic, be it Cartel Coins, a physical security authenticator, or the Digital Deluxe upgrade, you become a Preferred player with some additional benefits.
First, you get more access to the in-game chat (which can be a mixed blessing) and the ability to list more items on the Galactic Market. You also get a higher credit cap as well as access to the bank and cargo hold of your ship, which free players don’t have. Preferred characters also get access to the Sprint ability, which lets your character move 30 percent faster, from level 1 onward instead of waiting to buy it with credits at level 15. They also have a slight bump in priority when sitting in a queue, behind subscribers, but that only matters if the servers continue to overflow with players.
The $5 Cartel Coin pack gives you 450 coins, which is enough to get a couple of cheap unlocks such as another Quickbar, another species at character creation, or a crew skill, all of which can make your experience more enjoyable while also giving you the extra unlocks Preferred status brings.
The Bottom Line
Some sites have called The Old Republic‘s free-to-play offerings little more than a glorified free trial, and they have a point that some of the restrictions (like Quickbars) seem a little too onerous for players to deal with as they level. In my opinion, Bioware is giving away the best part of their game for free, the class stories from levels 1-50, and they’ve designed the free-to-play experience to let players who only want to go through those stories the ability to do so. However, the trade off is the removal of what makes a game an MMO; access to the game’s community, as well as the commodities and attractions of being part of that community, such as the Galactic Market and Operations.
The free-to-play switch has succeeded in getting another surge of interest in the game, but if there’s nothing compelling enough to hook players into spending money past the (now free) class story, I fear Bioware may have more trouble in their future instead of less.