Unlike other game genres, which are largely free to experiment and try their hands at new concepts, MMOs are heavily restricted by the expectations of audiences. That is, if they want to succeed. BioWare is fully aware of the pros and cons of this situation as they shape the future of Star Wars: The Old Republic. They feel the fans pulling from all sides to include ‘this’ and ditch ‘that,’ but pleasing fans doesn’t mean there isn’t room for innovation.
BioWare already revealed that players will be able to recruit up to five NPCs, but the members of your crew will play a much larger role in advancing your character than previously thought. With the Crew Skills system, your trusted companions will independently gather supplies and materials, craft helpful items, and even venture out to attempt missions, at your command of course.
During a hands-off presentation, a single question became the focal point of BioWare’s intentions behind Crew Skills: “Is this really worth my time?” It’s a question that MMO players are often faced with as they spend hours, days, and small fortunes to produce piles of useless items. All this so that someday, perhaps, they will gain the skills to make items of real benefit. Under the Crew Skills system, players can be less concerned about farming materials, and instead, concentrate on questing while managing their companions.
Crafting will not be a fully autonomous process without choices and consequences though. Otherwise, there would be nothing to stop every player from crafting the best items in the game. Companions often have multiple strengths and weaknesses, much like the player. If you assign someone to a task, that member will be unavailable for other missions for a given time, or until you cancel the task and lose your progress. All Crew Skills are performed in real-time, and tasks can take as little as five minutes, or as long as an entire day.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of Crew Skills is the Mission ability, which has nothing to do with gathering materials and creating items. You can send out crew members to complete actual missions. In the process, they can even accumulate rewards and light/darkside points on your behalf. Don’t roll your eyes just yet though. Sending crew members on missions costs money, and yes, they can definitely fail.
My initial reaction to the idea of Crew Skills was disgust. After all, crafting is my favorite part of MMOs, and there was BioWare, practically calling my pursuit a boring waste of time. In hindsight, that knee-jerk reaction couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s a compromise, allowing quest-focused players to still dabble in the other side, while giving crafting-focused players the tools and managerial abilities to build financial empires.