SWTOR Adds Player Housing

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Star Wars the Old Republic finally has one of the features I missed most from Star Wars Galaxies, player housing, the ability to have a personal house in the game and decorate it, and make it available to other places to admire.

Previously all that was available was each person’s personal starship, but these can’t be decorated, nor are they open to other players in general.

Early access to “Galactic Strongholds” for subscribers launched Tuesday. After trying to learn the ropes for a couple of days, I think the system seems to be a much improved version of the one used for Lord of the Rings Online, but falls far short of what Star Wars Galaxies offered.

Housing is available on four planets: the neutral Nar Shaddaa and Tatooine, and the repective Republic and Imperial homeworlds, Coruscant and Dromund Kaas. Every subscriber gets a free Nar Shaada stronghold. Everyone can buy (they aren’t expensive, just 5000 game credits for housing accessible by your entire “legacy”, that is all your characters) a Tatooine homestead as well, but you have to be aligned with the Republic to buy a stronghold on Coruscant or Imperial to buy one on Dromund Kaas.

You can pay less for a stronghold accessible only by one character.

I haven’t experimented yet, but since the game adds a button to travel to all of your legacy strongholds immediately (and apparently with no cooldown) characters ought to be able to visit legacy housing on the opposing faction world.

(In fact, this opens up all kinds of possibilities for travel shortcuts, since you can travel to the stronghold from anywhere, and from the stronghold directly to the planet it is supposed to be on, to your own starship, or to the fleet.)

Because my various characters had a variety of housing in the player city of Mos Vegas on Tatooine, besides taking the free Nar Shaddaa stronghold, I immediately signed up for a Tatooine homestead, which I hope will be the main home for the characters in game.

Sadly, while the homestead is far more extensive than any of the houses I had on Tatooine in SWG, the SWTOR system doesn’t come close to the flexibility of the earlier Star Wars online game.

Like LOTRO, the SWTOR system uses hooks, that is there are specific places within a house where you can place particular kinds of furniture. This is very limited in the rather small houses of LOTRO, and even though the number of items that can be placed is also relatively limited, because there are so few places to put them, you can quickly build up a collection of say, outdoor furniture, like trees and banners and fountains, with no place to put them. (So you have to store them, and like so much else in LOTRO extra storage costs extra, yet another way for the game-makers to charge players).

Not only are the SWTOR houses much much larger, there are many more hooks in each room. And the variety of objects that can be placed would seem to be far greater than in LOTRO. For starters, everyone gets a bunch of basic furniture. Plus, many things one has already accumulated can be placed, like figures of one’s various companions (the one in use is colored blue and looks like a hologram, the others appear as themselves), pets, and vehicles.

More furniture is available from the Cartel Store (the game-makers’ own shop, their way to making money from player housing), but players can craft furniture as well. Initially these seem to be very expensive, but hopefully market forces will drive down the price. Another way the game-makers will earn money is that the strongholds come with locked rooms. You start with a basic room or two, but the places are vast, filled with rooms, all of which can be opened for a price,

(For example, my Tatooine homestead includes a huge landing pad for starships, and starships can apparently be placed there. But unlike vehicles or pets, these seem to be specially crafted furniture. The first day I had my homestead, there was a single such ship on the Galactic Trading Network, for sale for 10 million credits. Day two there were two other ships for sale, for 2 million credits each.)

Placement in SWTOR housing is also better than in LOTRO, because while in the latter once you placed something you could rotate it, SWTOR also allows you to move items in two dimensions within the placement box.

Nevertheless, even though the system is very nice, it cannot compare to the one used by SWG. There, any item in the game could be dropped anywhere in a house, and then moved and rotated in all three dimensions (including up). People took the most humble things and used dozens, hundreds, sometimes thousands of them to build the most amazing structures (this may resemble Minecraft, I don’t know because I haven’t played that game).

So even if the SWTOR hook system is very advanced, it still feels constrained compared to SWG.

Perhaps even more important, the housing in SWTOR and LOTRO is instanced, that is they lie in their own separate virtual locations outside the rest of the game. While my homestead looks like it is part of Tatooine, it isn’t really directly connected. You can open your stronghold up for visitors, and this makes it possible for characters of the opposite faction to be in a dwelling. It also means there can be as much housing as desired, as the housing doesn’t actually occupy space in the game landscape.

LOTRO makes this very obvious, if someone comes to the entrance of the Elf housing location where my house is, they can choose between a dozen different settlements, all occupying the same space in the game.

In SWG, player housing was part of the landscape, anyone travelling around encountered cities and individual houses, and, if the owners had opened them for the public anyone could go and and look around. This also had the disadvantage of being “first come first served”, if you put a house outside of Anchorhead, no one else could occupy that location. The first settlers to player cities got houses next to the shuttleport, later arrivals were out in the periphery.

This also probably explains why the SWTOR housing can be so large, in SWG the houses actually had to fit into a space in the game landscape. But it also meant that curious player traveling across a planet could drop in and check out other players’ houses (I was very proud of Mos Vegas: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2RjSyJwa964), and players would place vendors selling their wares in their houses or merchant tents, or in large sales malls. Anyone searching for items on the galactic sales network could locate what they wanted, pay for them, and then go there to pick them up (and see what else that person had for sale).

So, while SWTOR housing is a huge step forward, it still falls way short of its predecessor game, which continues to be much lamented.

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