Cunning Ambitions: Looking ahead to 1.2 (Part 1)

Cunning Ambitions is dedicated to everything Smuggler and Imperial Agent. If you’d like to see our resident guru Kate cover anything in particular, drop her a line!

I had planned to write about the thing that tends to make or (more often) break opinion about Smugglers and Agents: the cover mechanic.  However, it was starting to grow into something much bigger than what I could handle in a week.  Rest assured, I will talk about Cover soon, but it’s going to need a lot more time and research than I can give it in a week. Luckily, the good people at Bioware have dropped patch 1.2 onto the public test server, and as you may have already noticed, it is MASSIVE.

Here at TOROZ, we’ve got a full listing of the entire 1.2 patch notes, broken down by category.  You can find the major highlights as well as links to each category over here.

At first glance it can be overwhelming, so I’m going to try to sift out the parts relevant to us Smugglers and Agents, to make it a bit more manageable and easier to understand.  It’s also good to remember that the patch notes posted for 1.2 are not final, and that the patch itself is still several weeks away from hitting live servers.  There is every likelihood that some changes listed will not make it into the final draft, especially if issues crop up during the testing phase.

In order to better understand how this update will impact upon Smugglers and Agents, I’ve set up a few characters on the test server, and started to play around with some of the new features. Due to the sheer volume of updates for these two classes, I’m going to start off by looking at some of the more general changes that 1.2 offers.  In the next few weeks, I’ll start to go into a bit more depth about ability changes and the extensive skill tree reshuffles and rebalancing.

First things first: character creation.  Due to the upgrade to the Legacy system, 5 extra races can be unlocked for both Smugglers and Imperial Agents.  In order to unlock these extra races, you must have a level 50 character of that race on the same server (and hence part of the same Legacy).

Smugglers can additionally be created as: Chiss, Miraluka, Rattataki, Sith, and Zabrak.

Imperial Agents can additionally be created as: Miraluka, Mirialan, Sith, Twi'lek and Zabrak.

We all want to make Sith of everything, I know.  However, I am kind of fascinated by the idea of a Chiss Smuggler, and the Zabrak should be able to be awesome at everything.  Also, a gun-toting Miraluka? You can’t tell me that isn’t utterly badass!  Roleplay-wise, I’m sure some great stories can come out of these new options.

In addition, this update might serve to explain the rumours of Legacy-enabled use of Force abilities for non-force classes – I would expect naturally force-sensitive races like the Miraluka and Sith to be able to use them, even if their lives have taken them down the path of the blaster rather than the blade.

Crew Skills

Armourmechs will now be able to learn schematics to make Aim/Cunning/Shield and Absorb augments.

The Cunning and Shield ones will be particularly useful for us as Smugglers and Agents.

Armstechs will be able to learn schematics for Endurance, Surge, Critical, Accuracy, and Power Augments.

Here, Endurance and Critical augments will be of most use.

Synthweavers will now learn schematics allowing the creation of Strength, Willpower, Defence, Alacrity, and Presence Augments.

And here, the Defense, Alacrity and Presence are probably best, though I don’t really recommend Synthweaving if you want to make things for yourself.  Armormech and Armstech are much more useful to us.

In addition to the new schematics, the above three crew skills will also allow reverse engineering of the Augments to give Prototype and Artefact quality schematics (presumably these are Augment schematics, though it is not stated in the patch notes).  As a result of Augments moving to the crafting skills, they have been removed from Slicing as mission rewards. Instead, Slicing missions can now reward tech parts that are needed by the new Augment schematics.

Companions & NPCs

Other than cosmetic changes to some of the Companion codex entries, and fixing a few companion quests that weren’t working properly, the only really important change for us is that Kaliyo’s storm ability has gone from a range of 5-20m, up to 5-30m. (Which isn’t huge, but it is a boost and not a nerf, so hurrah!)

One change that I’m particularly excited about, which I actually haven’t seen listed in the 1.2 patch notes at all, concerns the Smuggler companion Corso Riggs.  If you’ve played Smuggler (or watched Zero Punctuation’s SWTOR review) you’ll know that Corso has an ability called Harpoon Shot, that pulls enemies right up close.  It has to be the most counter-productive skill ever invented for a ranged class.  Luckily, it was possible to switch it off, and since there was a patch that allowed abilities to remain switched off through logging, I haven’t given it another thought until now…

Illegal Jet Pack!  Gone is the useless Harpoon Shot – now Corso flings himself at the enemy, and keeps them far away from you.  Brilliant. Of course, it’d be better on a melee character, but if Corso is happy using a Blaster Rifle at close range to keep the enemies off me, then I’m a happy Smuggler indeed.  Illegal Jet Pack is now pretty much the same skill as Kaliyo’s Storm, and is probably also why Storm gets a range increase in 1.2, as well.

Also note the much more streamlined look to the Abilities window – no more cluttering of tabs across the bottom.  Unfortunately, you can also see here how silly Corso looks.  It seems Companions won’t be getting the rather cool “unify to chest colour theme” option that our own characters have.  Hopefully this is something that will follow soon after 1.2, if it isn’t actually part of it at release.

Strong and Elite humanoid enemies no longer throw grenades at or use Headshot on targets in cover.

This should prevent some horrible wipes from a few enemies that other classes can beat much easier at the same level.  I’m actually finding that I can fight much more level appropriate enemies on the test server than I could with the same-level character on live.  Though, it could also be that I know what I’m doing now, more so than I did when I first started playing SWTOR.

That’s all for this week, so thanks for reading!  Next week, I’ll start to tackle the new abilities and skill tree for Gunslingers and Snipers, and the week after it’ll be Scoundrels and Operatives.  In the meantime, I’ll be levelling on the test server like mad to try and see as much of it as I can.  As always, leave a comment if you have any questions or comments, or if there’s something in particular that you want me to discuss.

Cunning Ambitions: Gunslingers as Team Players

It’s with enormous pleasure we introduce another new column at TOROZ. Cunning Ambitions is dedicated to everything Smuggler and Imperial Agent. It’s a double pleasure introducing this column, as its writer, Kate DiBella, has broken the drought of female writers. Welcome Kate!

Hello everyone, and welcome to the first instalment of Cunning Ambitions – your resource for all that’s Smuggler/Imperial Agent!

According to the most recent stats, Smugglers and Agents are the least popular classes in SWTOR. Of those that do exist I’d be willing to bet that a good majority are alts, and not the main characters of their players. The reasons for this are many and varied, but hopefully I can try to enroll a few more to our sparse ranks through this column. With the launch of SWTOR locally only a week ago, many of you may even see the smuggler as a good class to try out, at least until those much-delayed server transfers come through. 😉

Today, I’m going to talk about a specific Smuggler advanced class: the Gunslinger.

Solo vs. Party Gunslinger

Playing solo as a Gunslinger is great fun, and really suits the ‘feel’ of the character – the lone ranger on a quest for glory and riches, that they’d rather not have to share.  Armed with twin blasters, medium-weight armour, a superior attitude and a trusty agro-magnet companion, you can take on just about anything level-appropriate out in the main universe.   However, to fully experience all that SWTOR has to offer, you’re going to need to team up with other players to take on most of the Heroics, Flashpoints, and Operations (henceforth referred to as “group quests”, for brevity’s sake).

Playing in a team requires a very different mentality to playing solo for the Gunslinger.  Where before, you might have thrown in Thermal Grenades and Sweeping Gunfire throughout the battle (I certainly do, especially the grenades :D), you now have to be a lot more careful about what you hit, and when.

There’s no ‘I’ in Team

The number one consideration (and this is not restricted to Gunslingers) is communication. It is absolutely essential that you establish the roles of everyone in the group before you embark upon the meaty parts of the quest.  You need to decide who is tanking, who is healing, and who will be dealing the damage (DPS). As a gunslinger, you are primarily ranged-DPS, though you can also act as an off-tank (more on that later) in emergencies.

Also important to determine at this stage, is who has what Crowd Control (CC) abilities.  Yours is Slice Droid, and as the name suggests, it only works on droids.  Like all CC abilities, it will incapacitate one enemy for 60 seconds; any damage (splash or direct) will cause it to end early.  Not all group quests feature enemy droids, but there are enough that this can be quite handy.

Once roles are determined, it’s time to get started.  While things may vary dependant upon the classes present in the group and the preferences of each player, there is typically a common sequence I like to follow:

(This strategy assumes that a healer, a tank, a melee DPS and myself make up the group)

– I position myself at a distance where Thermal Grenade and Vital Shot become lit up in my shortcut bar, preferably behind natural cover, but otherwise my Cover Screen will do.

– Usually, those with relevant CCs will pick their targets (ones near the edges are best; ones that are pre-determined and marked are even better) and start using them.

– While those are warming up, the tank will run/leap to the strongest remaining target and use their aggro-pulling moves to get the attacks hitting them.

– As soon as those two things happen, I send a Vital Shot at whatever is attacking the tank directly, then switch to start wailing on the weaker and ranged enemies.

– As soon as they are dropped, I focus on whatever the melee DPS is fighting, then take out the CC’d enemies.

– Rinse. Repeat.

In a group like this, it should be the ranged DPS’ job to get rid of as many of the weaker/ranged opponents as quickly as possible.  Often, when ranged enemies are involved, this can mean that the Gunslinger will draw their fire away from the tank.  Don’t panic!  This is what you’re made for.  Remember how I mentioned off-tanking?  Well, you’ve got a host of tricks up those sneaky, smuggling sleeves.

Early on in the game, Ballistic Dampers will be your greatest defence.  These give you 3 enemy poundings that cause 30% less damage, and they’re triggered by entering cover.  Keep an eye on the amount you have left, and where possible exit-and-re-enter cover to reset them when you run out.  Dodge, Defense Screen and Hunker Down can also protect you should you happen to draw the fire of something beyond what you can handle. If this happens, and the tank is still alive, the best and funniest (I think) skill in the game, Surrender, can be used.  This is exactly what you see Smuggler-trainers doing in town – when they throw up their hands and coins go scattering everywhere.  It drops your threat, and should hopefully send the unwanted enemy back at the tank.

If not…it’s Dirty Kick and Blaster Whip time; and a prayer to the gods of Smuggling might not hurt, either!

This is one type of strategy out of many that I’m sure exist, but it’s an example of a few of the useful things a ‘slinger can do as part of a team.

Top Tips

  • Communication, communication, communication!  Seriously, I can’t stress this enough, especially once you hit level 30. You can’t just rush blindly into most party areas like a bull out of a gate, or your whole group will be slaughtered.
  • Your Skill tree will have a lot to do with your success, even though it may not seem like it does early on.  For DPS, you’ll want to mostly stack points into Sharpshooter especially Cover Screen, Steady Shots and Ballistic Dampers (don’t bother with Percussive Shot, Sharp Aim, and Trip Shot), a few points can go into Streetwise skills, and you really only need Black Market Mods and No Holds Barred from Dirty Fighting (though Mortal Wound and Open Wound could be of use, if you have the points to spare and use Vital Shot a lot).
  • The ideal cover is natural (whether rock/crate/etc.) but the cover mechanics can be finicky until you are used to them.  The best thing you can do is to set ‘Take Cover in Place’ to something more useful than the default of Shift+F  (I reversed the bindings for take cover and take cover in place, they are found in Preferences>Key Bindings>Targeting).  If you have time to set up before a big fight, roll to a decent natural cover position, then take a step back.  Enter ‘take cover in place’, which will bring up your cover screen, now you have the added protection of natural cover, with the bonuses of your cover screen (you did invest in those Ballistic Dampers, right?).
  • Keep an eye on your Energy.  Below 60, it is slower to recover, so try to space out your energy-using skills early in a fight with regular bouts of ‘Flurry of Bolts’.
  • Always upgrade to weapons, mods and armour that improve: 1. Armour, 2. Cunning and 3. Endurance.
  •  Keep an eye on your healer; if they die, everyone dies.  If you see them coming under fire, start attacking whatever is hitting them and draw the fire onto yourself.  It’s easier for a healer to worry about healing you and the tank, than having to also try to protect themselves in the mix.
  • Thermal Grenades and other Area of Effect (AoE) attacks, fun as they are, have no place in most group quests.  They usually end up drawing far too much aggression from the enemies, and can drop crowd control abilities early.  Save them for the end of a battle, or for soloing.

Most of the above I have found through my own research, gameplay and trial and error.  I do not yet have a level 50 Gunslinger, and am in no hurry to get there (fun is in the journey, not the destination, after all).  However, I do hope I can be of some help, especially to those new to the class, or a little unsure how to play them.  I had very little help when I began, and even something as simple as explaining what on earth a CC was and how it affected me would have been great.

Feel free to comment if you have any questions, comments, or constructive criticism about what I’ve said.  Also, please let me know if there’s anything you want me to cover in the future, I’ll try to do my best to accommodate.

Thanks for reading, and stay sneaky! 😉

Sith Warrior vs Smuggler: choose your side a last time

Mere days from launch, Bioware have released the last of its four ‘Choose Your Side’ videos. This time it’s the turn of the Sith Warrior and the Smuggler. Some of Bioware’s leading writers and designers give their take on the two classes:

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Smuggler progression update

Scoundrels and Gunslingers rejoice! The Smuggler Class Progression Video is here. This week Bioware gives us the much anticipated progression Video. The video is an excellent update, one of the better videos. It has it all from Mandalorian bounty hunters, to a fearsome Tanterek:

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Bending a few laws until they squeal

Well, last week we found out a few more things about one of the most beloved classes in Star Wars. The smuggler has always had an odd place in people’s hearts. The rogue has always been a particular favorite in role playing games of all kinds. Everything from the burglar, to the pickpocket, to the tomb raider and the assassin, have been played in all kinds of games. Sometimes they have a heart of gold and sometimes they have a heart of ice. And sometimes, they are both, depending on the circumstances. Smugglers have a place near and dear to the hearts of Star Wars fans, due in no small part to a carpenter who was given an audition on the spur of the moment. The man who defines ‘smuggler’ for my generation, Harrison Ford, the man who played Han Solo.

Everyone remembers Han Solo, the king of all smugglers. Even if he was down on his luck during the original trilogy, he was still (supposedly anyway) the greatest smuggler of the time. He either had the fastest ship in the galaxy or the fastest tongue. No doubt about it, he was an incredible pilot with great luck at times and absolutely abysmal luck at others. Han was always more my favorite character than Luke, because Han would do whatever it took to win. Luke always had those pesky scruples get in his way. Han was always more pragmatic. He lied, he cheated, he stole. And when it all came apart, he pulled his blaster. He was sneaky. Come on, how many of YOU would have imagined to hang your ship on the back of an Imperial Star Destroyer’s bridge tower while trying to escape it? And by the end of Return of the Jedi, he is shown as truly a good man, not just in it for money. Romancing a princess never hurts either.

A lot of thought obviously went into the smuggler class in Star Wars: The Old Republic. Jedi can live in a perfect world, where they can do the right thing every time. Smugglers have to survive however they can. And if that means a few pesky local regulations, or Imperial decrees get ignored or tramped into the dust? Who cares as long as the smuggler gets what he needs? That may be the goods delivered on time, a ‘special’ job done for the Republic, or simply getting out of a cantina alive after a deal goes wrong. Or it may be something more. Why do people smuggle? In most cases, perhaps 90%, it is economics. I have actually met a couple of people in real life who I am almost absolute certain were smugglers. One of them said something to me that stuck.

She said: “The money is good, but the main thing for many people is the thrill. You are doing something that is against the law. Maybe the law is stupid, maybe it isn’t. But what you are doing is against the law. There is no denying the fact that there is a thrill involved in pulling it off, in showing that your skill is more than the skill of the law enforcement agents.” But then she laughed. “The money doesn’t hurt either.” I never saw her again after that. I never found out her last name, and I am never likely to – it was twenty years ago.

For her and people like her, it was a game, a game with incredibly high stakes. A game with a large element of danger involved. A game where, if you make a wrong move at the wrong time, you are caught, or worse. This is the mindset that Bioware seems to have been shooting for in this game. If so, they seem to have hit the bull’s eye from what we have seen.

The smuggler advanced classes that Bioware revealed last week seem to fit Star Wars to a ‘T’. The gunslinger and scoundrel advanced classes sound like a lot of fun. The scoundrel is the sneaky one. A ‘stealth belt’ and  a scattergun sound right up my kind of alley. But for other types, those who like the Wild Bill Hickok type, the gunslinger is for them.

It is odd, gunslingers were never really heroes. People like Wild Bill Hickok, Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp and others, were anything but heroic. The Hollywood ideal of two men with low slung guns facing each other in the street at high noon is complete rubbish for the most part. Yes, Wild Bill did it a couple of times, but he was crazy. And anyone going up against him was also crazy. And the thing about the gunfight at the OK Corral? According to several sources, half of the Clantons were not armed when the Earps and Doc Holliday arrived. Some fair fight.

But that is the point. Why fight fair? If it is a matter of survival, almost anyone who has ever been shot at will tell you the same thing. HANG scruples, rules, laws or anything else. Give me something solid to hide behind while I gun my enemy down. That part of the smuggler class is very realistic.

These are not stand up fighters, although they can. These are not heavily armored enough to take whatever punishment is dished out at them. And they don’t have some hokey religion and ancient weapon to give them an edge. What they have are their wits, their skills and their nerve. And now, we have seen the ship as well.

The XS Stock Light is based on the old Ebon Hawk from Knights of the Old Republic. Just looking at it, it looks fast and powerful. The fact that it has two turrets and missile launchers will help out when those pesky cops and Imperial patrols start getting too close. The fact that it has smuggling compartments is also a plus, for when you are either caught red handed, or need to hide something. Just as long as you don’t have to hide yourself in one of those compartments. Even if that was a classic scene, Han, Chewie, Luke and Obi Wan sneaking into the Death Star inside one of the Millenium Falcon’s hidden compartments, I don’t want to reprise that scene.

Oh and speaking of that. What is Bioware thinking? The companion for the smuggler is going to be a Wookiee? Aw man… How unoriginal can you get? I mean he is obviously NOT Chewbacca, but still…sheesh.

Over to you. Do you want to be scum and villainy? And if so, heart of gold or heart of ice?