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Don't Be Surprised If Bonus Customization Is Unlockable

In response to recent comments by BioWare about playable aliens, reader YarekStorn pointed out the possibility that class-exclusive species in Star Wars: The Old Republic might be “unlockable” for other classes with later characters. This immediately made me think of the long-rumored “legacy character” system. Although no corroborating signs have been seen for such a feature, I think it’s an excellent example of how a “legacy” system should work, and is worth exploring.

The original rumor for “legacy characters” came from the old survey leak that has seen many points confirmed since it came out. It was vague but mentioned that subsequent characters will have more options in character creation:

Legacy system. When you reach top level, apparently you have the option of producing an offspring with special bonus traits and starting over…or something to that effect.

{Ahazi.org: “New Star Wars Mmo Coming!!!”}

Then there’s the recent comment in PC Gamer about playable aliens:
[Miraluka] will only be available for Republic classes during character creation, “But that’s not to say you can’t have an Imperial player that’s a Miraluka,” according to [James] Ohlen. Is this a hint that players will be able to change allegiances in TOR?

{PC Gamer, October 2010: “Stay On Target”}

What’s problematic about this quote is that it seems to disagree with itself. The statement that Miralukawill only be available for Republic classes” but at the same time “you can have an Imperial … Miraluka” is a contradiction. PC Gamer seems to think this means faction switching, except that BioWare has come down hard saying that faction switching will definitely not appear in SWTOR:

Fan: I wanted to know … if it’s possible to switch factions during your story. …

James Ohlen, Lead Designer: So actually that’s interesting. … that was in our initial design and then we figured out how ridiculously expensive that was going to be in a storytelling game. So we had to back off on it.

It was, you’re still gonna be able to go, to become evil if you’re on the Republic or to go good if you’re on the Sith, but you’re going to stay within your own faction. … To be brutally honest, it made expansion packs almost impossible … it just wasn’t feasible from a logistics standpoint.

Fan: Alright, well, thanks for trying.

Alexander Freed, Managing Editor: I think it’s worth noting on that point that BioWare Games in general, you never get to, in the middle of the game, join your arch-enemy. In Knights of the Old Republic you could get incredibly evil and do horrible things in order to build up your power base, but you never got to join Darth Malak. … if you’ve enjoyed the way BioWare games handled that sort of thing in the past, I don’t think you’ll miss it.

Fan: Thank you.

{DailySWTOR.com: Comic-Con 2010 SWTOR Panel, @25:54}

There’s the possibility that the interviewer misunderstood Mister Ohlen, or that Ohlen misspoke, but it should also be considered that there’s some sort of unlockable species feature for character creation. Namely, that after reaching a certain point in your class narrative or certain character level, you can play other classes as your original class’ alien species. So, for example, if I play my Twi’lek Smuggler to level 30, I can then make a Twi’lek Trooper. Or if I play my Zabrak Sith Inquisitor up to level 30, I can then make a Zabrak Jedi Consular. Of course, Ohlen might only have been saying that further race-class combination are pending, something Sean Dahlberg clarified in the forums, but I love the idea of unlockable options as the legacy system, especially as SWTOR is going to encourage alts.

By offering these options as unlockables, narrative restrictions on “rare” or archetype-specific alien species are largely maintained, but somebody who really wants to play as, for example, a Chiss Sith Warrior can do so with a little extra effort. This would provide another carrot for players to chase would be a nice sign of player status. Character species is only one example of where this concept of “unlockables” can be applied to character creation for the purpose of implementing a “legacy character” system.

BioWare has done a legacy character system previously. In the original Mass Effect, players could unlock “bonus talents” by completing ability and weapon achievements in the game. When a player completed some achievements and then started a new character, they would have the option of adding one of the unlocked talents to that character regardless of its class. I like this legacy system because it grants the player a sort of “multi-classing” ability. Also, it doesn’t grant any surplus power to the character; they have the same number of talent points and must invest wisely or risk spreading their character too thin. The main benefit of this design is that it provides more customization to the player for their next character, providing greater value to replaying the game.
Some possible legacy unlockables might be character species, class-specific abilities, character titles, starting equipment, novelty items, companions, star-ships and vehicles, and unique areas. These can be broken into three overall categories: hybrid archetypes, vanity-only customization, and fast-start rewards.

Hybrid archetypes would include unlocking alien species and certain class abilities for all classes. This would not be a full form of “multi-classing”, only a bit of flavor from one class in another class. Allowing non-standard “racial talents” and “bonus talents” would provide customization that actually affects how a class is played without necessarily unbalancing the game. For example, a player might wish to experiment with the concept of a Force-sensitive soldier, an archetype not represented by the standard classes in SWTOR. With the proposed legacy mechanic, that player could max out a Miraluka Jedi Knight, unlocking the Miraluka species and certain Jedi Knight class features for other classes. They could then create a Miraluka Trooper with “Force push” as a bonus talent. The result would be a Trooper the same as any other, but with one or two abilities that go outside that archetype. It would be no different than a Soldier in Mass Effect with “throw” as their bonus talent. It wouldn’t be a drastic change from a standard Trooper, but I’m certain some players would love to play this archetype, a sort of Jedi-cherry on top of their Trooper banana split.

Vanity-only customization would be a good “non-impact” way to reward players for completing a character. Perhaps a Smuggler vest for your Jedi Knight? Perhaps a Trooper speeder bike for you Bounty Hunter? Maybe an Imperial Agent’s scout droid as a vanity pet for your Jedi Consular? Race could count for this category if BioWare eschews the concept of species-based abilities, making them entirely about looks and narrative. Unique character titles that nod back to a past character’s class, alignment, or narrative would also be fun. Other possibilities include player housing, player ships, access to non-essential zones specific to your previous class. These would be fun and harmless ways of making you feel like your second, third, and subsequent characters are the next step in play and not “starting over”.

Fast-start rewards would be something that makes it a little easier to get started on your next character and ease the pain of going from your awesome max-level Bounty Hunter to a noobish Sith Inquisitor. Blizzard’s World of Warcraft implemented something similar to this with bind-on-accountheirloom” items that you could give to any new character on your account and they would level up with you. These types of rewards could include bonus starting cash, advanced gear, companion characters normally unlocked later, or the ability to skip the “tutorial zone” entirely and get to the game proper faster than normal. An important caveat to this would be that such “twinking” would have to even out with the power level of first-run characters at a certain point. These bonuses should help you jump into the action faster, not provide extra power in the endgame.
Such a legacy system is not without pitfalls.

Some fans might hate the idea of a “throwaway” character to unlock the features they want for their ideal character. If you buy SWTOR because you want to play as Agen Kolar, but need to max out a Sith Inquisitor to play a Zabrak Jedi, BioWare would essentially be forcing you to play the opposite of what you bought the game for. This system might encourage players to “grind out” disposable characters in order to build their “main” using more unlocked options, ruining the stories for those disposable characters. One need only look at the horrible “Jedi Slot” unlock system in early Star Wars Galaxies to see how such systems quickly become the entire focus of a player’s effort and concern, with narrative concerns pushed aside in favor of the almighty grind.

Additionally, some combinations might be too hard to balance, or some abilities might not be applicable across class lines. Healing abilities, for example, could potentially make non-healer classes entirely too potent. Abilities specific to class gear or a particular archetype might be too incongruous for other classes. For example, a lightsaber deflection ability wouldn’t work for any of the ranged classes. While incongruity can sometimes be awesome, that’s a problem for class archetypes. MMO games are difficult enough to balance without adding cross-class abilities to the mix, even if such would be the lightest form of “multiclassing”.
Unlockables of this sort are probably not likely, and we have not had any confirmation that a “legacy character” system will even appear in SWTOR. While many of the features in that early rumor have proven to be true, such as full voice-over, others have proven entirely false, such as a lack of PvP. It’s possible that a “legacy” feature was considered at some point during development but has since been abandoned, such as the case with faction switching. However, it would explain the ambiguity of Ohlen’s statements about races—assuming that he didn’t misspeak and wasn’t misunderstood—and could be a very fun feature of the game. A legacy system would allow players to play unique archetypes, would provide a sense of prestige and accomplishment, and would encourage playing multiple class narratives. So while it does not seem very likely at this point, it sounds like a hell of a lot of fun.

What do you think of it? Are you expecting any sort of legacy system? Would you want all of your character customization up-front, or would you accept having some options restricted for later characters? Tell us!

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