The Subject At Hand
I love crafting. It wasn't always so, but somewhere during my long career playing MMOs, I came to realize that crafting was something that was vital to my enjoyment of a game. I don't know what it is, but the mini-game within the game has always been able to make or break an MMO.
Today, I'll take a look at the crafting system in Star Wars: The Old Republic, and see how it draws me in.
Some games clearly have better systems than others for this. WoW's crafting system is boring. They've added several things to make it more interesting, such as enhancements to items that are only available to a specific crafting discipline, but in the end it is boring. You gather materials, pay money to learn recipes, you create items with recipes. Rinse, repeat.
Other games have improved on this system in various ways. Lord of the Rings Online added the Mastery system in, so you can eventually crit on item crafting. Rift allowed someone to take apart an item to gather materials from it. Aion is my favorite thus far, though. Eventually I'll explain why. It isn't the success/failure system, and it isn't entirely the crafting quests to increase the skill. But it is a satisfactory system, and I haven't found one that beats it.
Your mileage may vary.
The Crew Skills system has some innovations, some concepts stolen from elsewhere, and it works to make them into a compelling whole.
In The Details
There are a whopping 14 Crew Skills, SWTOR's version of profession skills. They are split into 4 types of skills: Crafting, Gathering and Mission skills.
Crafting skills are the most obvious type. They take materials that you have in your inventory and turn them into finished goods. They are:
Armormech: This allows the crafter to create armor to be used by non-Force using characters and their companions.
Armstech: This allows the crafter to create weapons for non-Force users and their companions. They will also be able to create Barrel modifications.
Artifice: This skill allows the crafter to create modifications for Force users, likely limited to lightsabers. It does not allow them to create actual lightsabers; those will only be acquired through adventuring.
Biochem: This allows the crafter to create consumable items to heal a character, improve their abilities temporarily, and also to create Implants, an equippable item.
Cybertech: This allows the crafter to create modifications for weapons and armor. It also allows them to create armor for droids and earpieces. Oh, and according to torhead.com, they can create grenades and a speeder.
Synthweaving: This allows the crafter to create armor for Force users. Please note that while some Force using classes can wear heavy armor, it is still this skill that will craft that armor for them.
Gathering skills are as one would expect. They allow you to interact with nodes in the world to gather crafting materials, and other things. They also allow you to send your companions on missions to gather these materials.
Archaeology: This allows you to collect crystals used by Artifice and Synthweaving.
Bioanalysis: This allows you to collect materials from plants and creatures to use with Biochem.
Scavenging: This allows you to collect materials for use with Armormech, Armstech and Cybertech.
Slicing: This skill is a weird one, as it does not collect materials for a crafting skill. Instead, it allows you to access nodes to acquire Cybertech schematics, money, upgrades for vehicles, or even missions for your companions.
Mission skills are where we veer away from the standard MMO crafting systems. They do not give the character any special abilities, but instead open up missions for your companions, with varying effects. Each mission skill will give access to rare materials for crafting, as well as other options.
Diplomacy: Diplomacy missions can return rare items useful for Biochem, as well as items to increase the affection level of your companion. They can also increase your light side and dark side ratings.
Investigation: Investigation missions can return rare materials for Armstech, gifts for companions, and also schematics for all crafts.
Treasure Hunting: These missions can return rare crystals for Artifice. These can also return gifts for companions or lockboxes containing valuable treasure.
Underworld Trading: These missions can return rare materials for Armormech, Cybertech and Synthweaving. Also, gifts for companions.
Your character is able to learn 3 Crew Skills. Only one of these can be a Craft skill. You can easily unlearn a skill and go learn a new one.
Wait. What? How Does This Work?
For each Craft skill, there is a Gathering skill and a Mission skill that will optimally complete the set. You may not be entirely self-sufficient with these combinations, but that's as close as you get. Slicing is the gathering skill that gets ignored if you follow that pattern, though. It is also, according to many, the most lucrative skill. So there you go.
As is typical of any MMO crafting system, you collect materials and create items. But there are some major differences here.
1) You do very little of the work. Beyond gathering from nodes in the world - which will be the lowest source of materials for you - your character is not directly involved in any way in the process. Your companions gather materials through missions. Your companions create the items. You will have at the end of the game 6 companions. You can have 5 sent out at a time on missions or crafting.
2) Time. Crafting takes time. At the most basic level, it takes 1 minute to create an item. As the level of crafting increases, the time will also increase. Currently, they have stated that it might take up to a day to craft the best items. This also counts for missions you send your companions on. These take time as well. At least it's your companion doing the work, so you'll still be able to quest or whatnot.
3) Money. If you are ignoring most of the companion options, you will be able to gather some materials and make stuff for free. This is not the optimum way to function, though. While you are out exploring, pursuing your story, or even raiding, you could be sending your companions out to gather stuff on missions. But it costs money every time. At first, it seems fairly cheap to do so, but more difficult and lucrative missions will cost more money. It is not difficult to find yourself destitute because the missions beckon.
3) Reverse Engineering. This one is fun. With a crafted item, you will be able to reverse engineer it, breaking it down into composite parts and possibly returning some of the materials with which it was made. You also have a chance to learn how to create a better version of this item. This will allow you to make several useless items, break them down into parts, maybe learn to make better ones and have the mats back. This will be the method to learn the best types of items.
Let's Talk About The Process
Because examples are helpful.
You are a dutiful Trooper, and you like making armor. Hooray for you. Now that you are free of Ord Mantell, you have taken up Armormech, Scavenging and Underworld Trading. Part of you rails against being involved with the criminal element just so you can make the best armor, but it saves money on the GTN.
You do not have access to materials yet, but you have dough. You send your loyal companion away to fetch materials on a Scavenging mission, wincing as 95 credits leave your account in the process. One minute later, your companion returns with Stuff. Fantastic! Though you feel like you just bought something off the auction house and had to wait 1 minute longer to get it.
In the mean time, you have started your first Flashpoint mission. Every time you beat up a robot, you discover you can Scavenge from it. Why did you bother sending your companion away? Every time he returns, you send him away to do it again, because this Flashpoint is so distracting.
Finally on Coruscant, you take account of your Stuff. You have much. You discover you can make 7 pairs Lousy Boots with your Armormech skill. That sounds like fun. You instruct your companion to do so, and they leave again. You wonder where they go. Is this a scam? One minute later, they return with a pair of Lousy Boots. Well, that's nice. Didn't you tell them to make 7? Anyway, you send them off to make more boots, assuming they're going to a sweat shop they run on the side.
You now have a pair of Lousy Boots in your hand. They are, in fact, lousy, and the boots you are wearing are better. You decide to reverse engineer these boots, because they're taking up bag space. You do so, get one unit of Stuff back (yay!). Your companion comes back with more boots. You send them away with the materials you just got from the last set of boots. You reverse engineer these new boots, and ... learn to make Superior Lousy Boots! Neat!
You look at your list of schematics and see that to make Superior Lousy Boots requires one unit of Stuff and a unit of Rare Stuff. And then he comes back with more boots. Thinking this is a good opportunity to be rid of him for longer, you send him off to deal with your shady underworld contacts to see if he can obtain Better Stuff. This takes longer, 3 minutes, and you wonder if he's taking a coffee break. Eventually he returns with a unit of Better Stuff while you are talking with the Senator. He's very disruptive.
This continues. You create Superior Lousy Boots, note they're not as good as your current boots, but only barely, and go through the process of reverse engineering those, making new ones, reverse engineering, etc., until you learn to make Optimal Lousy Boots. Which you then make and replace your current boots, only to replace them with boots you receive from a quest.
This may sound odd, but it was actually a great deal of fun. I was able to get a lot of gathering and crafting done while doing missions, and it had a good feel to it. The amount of time involved in sending companions away can be annoying for someone who would be prone to Crafting Sessions. It just isn't a viable option, at least in the early stages when you only have one companion.
The good: it has variability and discovery. This leads to actual fun in the process. When sending a companion off for a mission, you don't entirely know what they'll return with, but there can be a sense of anticipation. Reverse engineering the lowest level items almost always returned the entirety of the materials used to create it.
The bad: it is so not intuitive. When I played the beta, I had no idea what anything made, what it was useful for, anything. The names are not intuitive, nor is the system. I got most of this information from researching on the web after the beta had ended.
I like the system, though. It's different, and that in its own right makes it engaging. With the modification system, it has a great deal of potential to make money. I look forward to playing with it.