About to hit level 50 in Star Wars: The Old Republic, but feel daunted by the gear required to jump into endgame operations? Check out Part I of ZAM's Guide to Getting into Endgame!
Leveling up in Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR) is one of the smoothest, most well-directed experiences I've had thus far, but when it comes to pursuing endgame content at level 50, it's surprising how little direction there is for aspiring endgame raiders. Some would argue that so much hand-holding isn't needed, but given that SWTOR might be the first MMORPG for many players, I've decided to compile a handy guide for getting geared and prepared for endgame raiding.
One comment I would like to make before I get started is that endgame progression in Star Wars: The Old Republic is surprisingly accessible for even the most heavily time-constrained player. At some points, it does seem like BioWare has made it too easy to get the very best gear in the game, but my main point is this: even if you hate endgame raiding in other MMORPGs, I would highly advise you to try out SWTOR's 8-person operations at least once. Both Eternity Vault and Karagga's Palace - in spite of all their bugs - are fun and it's worth the experience to try them out. Now let's get on with Part I of the guide!
Crew Skills and You:
Some of the best equipment in the game can be gained from crafting (the recipes for which can be learned directly from the crew skill trainer), and the materials for these items are surprisingly easy to get, with the Biometric Crystal Alloy being the rarest. Given that every hard mode flashpoint drops at least one Biometric Crystal Alloy (some drop two), however, you should be able to stock up on them in due time.
In terms of viability, while BioWare has stated that they intended for all crew skill professions to be good choices for endgame raiders, a few are simply better than the rest. That said, if you're worried about taking the wrong crew skill, keep in mind that, with Reverse Engineering, it's very easy to level up your crafting with materials from the auction house. Here are the six crew skills and their endgame viability:
Biochem: Considered by many to be the very best endgame crew skill, Biochem has been consistently nerfed since the launch of SWTOR, and it seems BioWare isn't done nerfing it yet. You have been warned. That being said, Biochem currently offers substantial rewards to the endgame raider that no other crew skill can provide, namely in the form of reusable Medpacs, Adrenals, and Stimpacks that can only be used with level 400 Biochem. With some luck at discovering recipes, it is also possible to unlock epic-level implants with almost perfectly tailored stats (+crit, +surge, and +power, for example). With an augment slot, these implants can sometimes be even better than your Rakata level implants. You can, however, buy these implants from other players, so Biochem's primary draw is still its powerful medpacs, adrenals, and stimpacks.
Armormech* and Synthweaving*: Considered to be parallel crew skills, with Armormech benefitting tech users (Bounty Hunters / Troopers and Imperial Spies / Smugglers) and Synthweaving benefitting force users (Sith Warriors / Jedi Knights and Sith Inquisitors / Jedi Consulars). Both crew skills give access to Rakata level bracers and belts (here are the Synthweaving variations) for all associated classes, making them a popular choice for players who want to get some top-tier equipment fast. While some players argue that you can get these items from hard mode flashpoints and operations (thereby making this crew skill redundant at advanced endgame), it is still possible to "crit" while crafting the bracers and belt, thereby giving them an augment slot and making them better than what you can get in any operation.
Artifice*: Artifice has a few unique advantages, like being able to craft Magenta Crystals if you can hunt down the schematics and raw materials. Like Biochem implants, however, you can purchase magenta crystals from other players who have the schematic, so don't think you need to go Artifice for a pink lightsaber. The same goes for high-level enhancement mods, as doing dailies gives equivalent or better enhancements. The main reason for going Artifice is to craft Rakata level relics, which are the best relics in the game (see the pattern here?). Do note that it is possible to have a critically crafted Rakata Relic, which is the only way for you to get a relic with an augment slot in it.
Cybertech: A fun, if near useless, crew skill that doesn't offer much for endgame raiders, but does give access to two unique items: the Hotrigged Speederbike mount, and a plethora of unique, reusable Wynz-Tek Grenades. The grenades are considered to be great PvP items, as they deal good damage while rooting, snaring, or even stunning their targets. Their long cooldown (five minutes), however, makes them pretty useless in PvE, where sustained DPS is far more important. The mods that Cybertech crafters can create are outclassed by daily rewards and hard mode flashpoint equipment, and while it's possible to create excellent augmented ear modules, you can easily purchase them on the GTN (just like implants with Biochem).
Armstech: Currently considered the most useless of the crew skills, as more powerful barrel mods can be purchased with daily tokens on Ilum, and while the unique Armstech weapons look cool, they are quickly outclassed by weapons that drop from hard mode flashpoints. Armstech's only unique trait is the ability to craft rare NPC weapons like Electrostaves and Vibroblades, which can be sold for a high profit on the Galactic Trade Network.
*: At the moment, Rakata level Synthweaving, Armormech, and Artifice items have no crafting level requirement to equip, even if they are bind on pickup. What this means is that if you want to fully optimize your character, you can go 400 Synthweaving / Armormech to craft augmented Rakata bracers and belts, then go 400 Artifice to craft augmented Rakata relics, then finally finish with Biochem for access to the medpacs, adrenals, and stimpacks.
Do Your Dailies:
While SWTOR actively directs players to Ilum once they complete their story quest, there are also daily level 50 quests to be completed on Belsavis. Completing your daily quests rewards you with cleverly named "daily commendations," which can then be traded for high-level barrels, hilts, and armor modifications at a rate of eight commendations per. Additionally, there are a few heroic level dailies (one on Ilum, three on Belsavis) that award high-level modification / enhancement / armor mods, all of which are on par with gear that drops from hard mode flashpoints and normal mode Eternity Vault (excluding Columi level equipment).
With six pieces of customizable gear (Helmet, Chest, Gloves, Pants, Boots, and a weapon), it's entirely possible to have a very good set of well-modded equipment within a week of hitting 50, which is more than what's necessary to do normal mode Eternity Vault. Once you're done modifying your equipment through commendation purchases, you can start saving your daily commendations for Rakata level implants and ear modules, both of which cost 120 daily commendations, or you can save for the mounts, which cost a whopping 200 daily commendations.
Get Your PvP On:
While many players have expressed great frustration with SWTOR's lottery bag system, if you do manage to get Champion PvP equipment, you can rest easy knowing you're also building a spectacular PvE set that's almost on par with Tier 2 Columi Equipment (Centurion is the PvP equivalent of Tionese level equipment). While PvP gear is obviously not quite as good as Columi level equipment, you might be surprised to know how effective PvP gear is for jumping into endgame content. PvP equipment is, for the most part, similar in stats to PvE gear, except that the "main stats" (endurance and aim / cunning / strength / willpower) are slightly lower in PvP sets versus PvE sets.
Aside from the different set bonuses, that's pretty much it.
In this way, unless you need that piece of Tionese gear to hit a 2-piece or 4-piece PvE set bonus, Champion-level gear is actually better than everything else until you start hitting Columi gear. Consider yourself extremely lucky if you manage to pick up a PvP Champion Weapon, as that will last you all the way to normal mode Karagga's Palace or hard mode Eternity Vault; those being the first opportunity you'll have to get the slightly better Columi weapon (as it has no expertise and more aim and endurance).
As a quick piece of anecdotal evidence, I was able to easily main tank normal mode Eternity Vault and normal mode Karagga's Palace with half Champion / Centurion gear, and a few pieces of Columi / Tionese equipment.
And that seems as good a place as any to take a break for Part I of ZAM's endgame SWTOR guide. Tune in later this week for Part II, where I'll highlight the various hard mode flashpoints, how to optimize your stats, and maybe even touch on organizing your own pick-up operations.
Chris "Pwyff" Tom, Editor-in-Chief.