Despite its unprecedented focus on story and character development, Star Wars: The Old Republic is at its heart, still an MMORPG. That means, beyond all the storytelling, decisions and emotional moments there are stats to push higher, equipment to enforce, and weapons to make more deadly. Following in the mold of more traditional MMO titles, SWTOR puts the most straightforward path to this goal through large group encounters, but that is not the only way to achieve the goal of gearing up at endgame. Read on as we discuss the various methods of acquiring “the best” gear available to players who, for whatever reason, cannot participate in Operations.
Hard Mode Flashpoints
Upon reaching level 50, even the most meticulous gear modder will only have 124 rated (or in the case of those who went out of their way to stockpile Daily Commendations, 126) equipment. While in the hands of most players, this level of gear is more than enough for Story Mode level 50 Flashpoints, finishing off Class Story content and wrapping up Belsavis, Corellia and Ilum content, these items are the bottom rung of the endgame gear progression. The first step facing players is to acquire Tionese, Columi and Rakata tiered gear.
The Tionese and Columi tiers are fully available via the game’s Hard Mode Flashpoints, both as drops and as rewards for accumulating the appropriate Tionese and Columi Commendations. Players receive commendation rewards not only for completing Hard Mode Flashpoints, but also for completing a Daily and Weekly quest related to finishing a certain number of Flashpoints (one and three respectively). Of note here is that only the Tionese tier has weapons and off-hands available via Flashpoints while the Columi tier of weapons and off-hand items is mostly restricted to Operations. If you can find a group for Hard Mode Battle of Ilum you may get lucky with an offhand drop, while the Hard Mode version of Lost Island can drop the Columi mainhand. Depending on one's class the Battle of Ilum may be the preferable route to take, since it's a much easier instance to finish than Lost Island, and mods from the offhand weapons are not currently slot-locked, and thus can be transfered to a main hand weapon. Note that this method will not work for all classes, as some offhands do not have matching mods to their main-hand counterparts (for example a Shield Generator uses an armoring mod, which for a Trooper would not work in their main-hand Rifle or Assault Cannon).
The Rakata tier is also almost entirely gained via operations, but with the addition of Lost Island, players can get their hands on the Rakata chest piece from the final boss of that Flashpoint.
Now, all of this may seem rather complicated and convoluted, but to the average player the method of gearing is fairly simple: get the appropriate daily/weekly quests and fire up the Group Finder tool. Why the Group Finder tool you ask? The answer is quite simple: Black Hole commendations.
Black Hole Commendations
Introduced in Game Update 1.2: Legacy, Black Hole commendations are the current “Best in Slot” endgame currency. Originally related strictly to Operations, these commendations are now quite readily available to the small group (and possibly even the solo) player from three different sources. The first source is the Group Finder tool daily. Completing a random Hard Mode Flashpoint will reward a player with five Black Hole commendations. Repeatable every day, that is 35 commendations per week for roughly an hour a day of playtime.
The second source of Black Hole commendations is the appropriately named Black Hole Crisis Weekly series. Added to Corellia in the 1.2 update, the Black Hole is an area dealing with the ongoing conflict over hypermatter, a material in universal demand for its role in hyperspace travel. Completing a series of dailies, including the Area quest and faction appropriate heroic, will reward the player with six Black Hole commendations. A pick up group that knows the missions can usually clear the entire Weekly in about an hour or so, depending on the availability of quest objectives that spawn in public areas.
The final source of Black Hole commendations outside of Operations is the Rakghoul Conflict Weekly. This weekly requires the player to complete the Kaon Under Siege and Lost Island Flashpoints on Hard Mode, and pays out eight Black Hole commendations. Given the difficulty of Lost Island, and frankly the highly variable nature of some LFG tool groups, this weekly is one that I would personally not recommend the strictly casual player attempt. If one can find a solid team however, this is an excellent and straightforward source of additional Black Hole commendations.
So now that a player has their income of 49 Black Hole comms per week, what does he spend it on? The Answer: 146 rated (or level 61) gear. Second only to the newly added Dread Guard gear in stats, Black Hole gear is sold at the Resources area on both Factions’ fleet hub. These items range from 30 to 65 commendations apiece, so players bringing in the maximum amount of comms will average out to about one new piece per week. There are three disadvantages to Black Hole gear however. Unlike Columi, Tionese or Rakata pieces, Black Hole gear does not have a set bonus attached to it. Players can work around this by taking the mods from a Black Hole piece and slotting them into a Rakata, Tionese or Columi item, since the latter three types have their set bonuses attached to the armor piece itself, not any one specific mod. Secondly, the default mod choices for Black Hole gear are frankly rather scattershot. Players looking to keep their stats focused are going to have to mix and match modifications from several different pieces of Black Hole gear to achieve the best results. Finally, players cannot buy main-hand, or most off-hand items for Black Hole commendations. Just as with the Columi and Rakata tier, these weapons and off-hands are only available via Operations.
Game Update 1.5 throws a little bit of a curveball into the above equation with the addition of directly purchasable Campaign armoring. Not only do these armorings have equivalent stats to Black Hole ones (146 rated), they also carry the set bonuses directly on them. That means that once that update goes live, there will be no more need to hang onto Columi, Rakata or Tionese shells to achieve the two and four piece set bonuses. The catch however, is that these armorings are sold individually, so the player does not get a modification and enhancement to re-slot, and the cost is nearly as great as the full Black Hole armor pieces. Despite all of this, the addition of these new armorings is an excellent step forward not only for personal customization, but also for small group players trying to get top tier gear.
Now the careful reader will notice that there are still a few slots that we yet to fill with high-end modifications, most notably the main-hand/off-hand hilts and barrels. Those specific items still directly drop only in Operations. Not all is lost however, as there is a very plentiful source of endgame modifications that we have not covered yet: crafting. Schematics do exist for 146/61 and 150/63 level gear, and the resources required to construct them are available to the solo player. Both the schematics and their resources drop from Operations bosses, but there is a very easy, albeit time consuming, way to get your hands on the tier eight exotic resources required to craft these powerful modifications: space combat.
For 200 fleet commendations, a player can purchase a crafting component box that will contain one to three blue or purple tier eight exotic components. To put that into perspective, if a player completes every single space combat daily they will bring in over 100 such commendations. Given that most of the mods we’re discussing here require four blue and four purple tier eight exotic resources, that’s anywhere from about one to two weeks per item depending on a player’s luck, and level of dedication to space combat.
That may seem like a lot, but a methodical player who uses Black Hole commendations will be able to fill all but two modification slots (or four if one is using a moddable bracer and belt) and should only need two hilts/barrels or one hilt/barrel and one armoring. Now of course this requires having someone to actually craft the mods, but most servers should have several Cybertechs, Armstechs and Artificers willing to create these high-end mods. Personally, I found the easiest way to get in touch with these people was to look on the GTN for the item I wanted crafted (usually a mark 26/27 barrel or armoring) and see who the “crafted by” name was on the items for sale. A quick in-game mail later and usually, I had someone more than happy to make some easy credits by assembling my components.
Conclusion and Opinion
Some players, especially some who prefer the more “traditional” raiding path, may scoff at the notion of “casuals” or “carebears” being given the opportunity to attain high-end gear. In this author’s opinion, that is a shortsighted and outdated mindset. Long gone are the days when an MMO could focus solely on one subset of their playerbase. The fact that BioWare has opted to make things more accessible in regards to itemization rewards bodes very well for the long-term support of multiple play styles, as very few MMO titles make an active effort to reward non-raiders with the best gear. In fact, I would argue that players who choose to take the non-Ops route of gearing up actually put in considerably more time and effort since they do not have the luxury of getting lucky in an Operation and having one or two pieces drop.
Regardless of what I think on the matter however, the point remains that there exists a very achievable, albeit rather time consuming, path to extremely powerful gear for players who cannot, or will not, participate in Operations.