I must admit, I lament losing the profession ethic that existed during The Burning Crusade. The decision to gut professions to the area of pointlessness, just to balance them, was one of the most upsetting decisions ever made by the current derp-elopment team on Blizzard’s jabberwocky, World of Warcraft. Gathering professions are always a bit dull, but there was real depth to the crafting game of blacksmithing, leatherworking, enchanting, tailoring and jewelcrafting.
Not only were there rare patterns and plans to go after for the completion-orientated among us, you could specialise in your art to gain access to patterns that only the crafter could make use of. Add to this the ability to upgrade some of your work rather than just wasting it and you’ve got the basis of a very, VERY good profession system that, truthfully, was almost universally good and still had loads of room for iteration and improvement.
For my part, I was a Master Swordsmith (and I even enjoyed the quests to achieve this; the Shadowmoon Valley line for the Illidari blade was also a blast) and I’m comfortable admitting that one of the major draws of the game for me was hitting 375 with my blacksmithing and learning as many plans as I could. I wanted to be that “one-stop shop” for all my guild’s blacksmithing needs.
Then Ghostcrawler and his cronies took the reins and professions, much like everything else in the game, had their trajectory changed to directly relate to endgame performance. Rather than being developed as an enjoyable and fun avenue for those less interested in raiding or PvP, the specializations and customization were removed and they were all balanced in accordance with the stats they could give your character.
“With great power comes great responsibility”. What a shame Azeroth’s current main men saw fit to change that immortal line to: “from great potential, to great failure”. Just for good measure, a heavy dose of RNG gets lumped into any worthwhile crafts thanks to random drops or spawns of certain necessary materials.
It’s with great trepidation, therefore, that we approach Star Wars: The Old Republic and BioWare’s interpretation of what professions (trade skills) should look like. I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting all that much from trade skills considering the direction BioWare have taken with a lot of the game’s features, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Last night I managed to hit 400 on Biochem, Bioanalysis and Investigation; I found it to be a fairly streamlined experience, one that I managed to cap out pretty easily with a good degree of clarity throughout.
The cool thing about trade skills is that you can keep yourself up to date easily with the necessary materials, reverse engineering means those materials go further, and the finding of prototype plans is a nice developmental addition. The fact that you can send your crew to do the dirty work (leaving you to actually play the game), helps this along immensely and removes the tedious grind associated with gathering. The way the materials are ranked also makes it very simple for your companions to be assigned to the right missions, rather than just guessing that they’re spending their time picking up the right stuff.
It’s fair to say I hit the trade skill cap pretty much accidentally which, though proving the system is frustration-free, is the biggest problem I have with it.
I want a crafting system that I can play.
Endgame development for Warcraft professions is tied into raiding. Who’d have thought it? You kill a few bosses and you hope the patterns you need drop (they rarely do). Let’s have a little more RNG with our RNG. Endgame development for Star Wars is practically a 180 degree turn, an effort to remove the RNG and make trade skills far more methodical and formulaic. Essentially, should you want a better version of something specific, you need only make a good number of said items and reverse engineer them for a prototype. Naturally there are some random patterns that can be picked up in boxes/security chests or via other gathering trade skills such as Investigation, Diplomacy or Underworld Trading. But all in all, you know what you’re getting.
Essentially, BioWare have taken the Cataclysm (and latter Wrath of the Lich King) profession system and improved it. They’ve ditched the grind, jettisoned the RNG, made gathering far clearer and found a way to make better use of crafts that would otherwise find their way to the auction house or a vendor.
My gripe is that trade skills could have been so much more, with BioWare’s version of crafting being utterly eclipsed by what we enjoyed in Outland. I’d rather trade skills stopped being a bonus for “real” endgame content and were, instead, their own form of endgame. If you ask a current level cap player what he is in World of Warcraft, you’ll probably get a “lol” from someone who doesn’t understand the question properly. In bygone days they’d be a dungeoneer, a raider, a PvP player, a quest hunter, a collector or a crafter. Nowadays the choice is down to raider or PvP player because everything else is aimed at those two activities (more squarely raiding). The alternative is a series of pointless minigames that have no impact on the larger game world whatsoever.
What’s worrying for MMORPG’s as a genre is the way Blizzard has forced all developers to think. I know this sounds damning and I could be overreacting, but I get the impression that the availability of raids is what everyone is attributing Blizzard’s success to and the more typical MMO staples are being overlooked as a result. Because BioWare has revolutionised MMORPG questing, I had hoped to see them manage something similar with trade skills. I suppose we should be amazed at them defying the impossible and somehow managing to polish a turd, but I’m still feeling a little empty. The goal is to take the frustration out of trade skills, but provide a crafting experience that’s fun, is endgame content in itself, and has a meaningful impact on the rest of the game as a whole.
Despite all of these negatives, there is one overwhelming positive; the potential is there to make trade skills viable endgame without too much internal/code iteration.
My next post will detail how I’d go about this but, for now, how do you think it should be done? Of course, just as importantly, should we even bother about it?