The Soapbox: The fun and frustration of SWTOR’s housing system

    
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When I was a kid, I had far too many Star Wars action figures, vehicles, and playsets. And when I say kid, I actually mean 25-year old man. Then I discovered girls and the merits of a clean and clutter-free house. I also discovered MMOs, which are basically virtual playsets with digital action figures tailor-made for scratching sci-fi collectible itches in a socially acceptable fashion.

So, instead of stalking eBay or the aisles of my local toy store, I spent 20 hours decorating my Nar Shaddaa sky palace in Star Wars: The Old Republic this week. That’s right, 20 hours without a single blaster shot. And 20 hours sans the telltale snap-hiss of my lightsaber(s).

It’s been both fun and frustrating, which is basically SWTOR in a nutshell.

swtor 2015-08-25 16-43-05-07The good

First off, let’s do the obvious thing and commend BioWare for adding an addictive housing system to SWTOR post-launch. That’s more than most MMO studios can manage these days, and while the mechanics could be better, they’re also a cut above most of the half-hearted housing attempts this genre has seen over the past decade.

Housing in SWTOR is hook-based, meaning that when you press a button on your UI to enter decoration mode, you’ll see dozens of placement “hooks” scattered around your stronghold’s interior (and exterior) that can hold housing items of a certain size. Vertical hooks are found on walls, while horizontal hooks cover your floors and ceilings. Most hooks feature a configurable assortment of what I’ll call sub-hooks, meaning that instead of a big poster-sized decoration space on a particular wall, you might opt to have two poster-sized hooks that are half the size of the default, or even a smaller poster hook in the middle surrounded by a dozen really small square hooks.

swtor 2015-08-27 17-28-40-75Each hook supports dozens and dozens of different game items. A medium floor hook, for example, may display everything from computer terminals to shelves to speeder bikes. Smaller hooks hold my pet astromechs, my character’s companions, or NPCs ranging from Mando mercs to jawas to the requisite tiny twi’lek dancer. The largest floor hooks, on the other hand, can hold orbital cannons and my XS freighter!

Once you place an item on a hook, you can rotate it and move it from side to side, which results in a surprisingly wide range of custom looks, particularly when coupled with BioWare’s limitless supply of placeable objects.

The hook system is incredibly user friendly, so if you’ve only got a few minutes, you can plunk down a passable bedroom, a cantina, or a med bay setup and call it done. Or, if you’re a housing junkie as I am, you can spend hours placing, replacing, rotating, and experimenting to create the perfect custom pad.

It’s impossible to mess up, and BioWare has also helped out housing fans by providing a separate inventory for all of our decor items, which saves precious inventory space. Whenever you acquire a new housing item and right-click it from your inventory — whether it be a loot drop, a cash shop or auction hall purchase, or a traded gift from another player — said item goes into your housing inventory and will then display in a separate UI window whenever you click on an appropriate hook into which the item may be placed.

swtor 2015-08-25 16-45-22-97The bad

While SWTOR does boast a dizzying array of housing items and the solid hook-based placement system mentioned above, it’s also somewhat limited because of that hook system, particularly if you’re familiar with the player housing possibilities in games like EverQuest II, Star Wars: Galaxies, and so on. In the latter’s free-form system, for example, basically any and every object in your inventory could be placed anywhere in a house. And I do mean anywhere, as the developers allowed you down-to-the-pixel control over X, Y, and Z axis placement. This included crafting sub-components and all kinds of gnarly little sci-fi trinkets that creative players could and did use to build mind-bogglingly intricate show pieces.

In EQII’s housing system, meanwhile, any and every object may be scaled up or down with your mouse wheel, which adds a significant amount of customization that SWTOR currently lacks.

Ultimately, SWTOR’s hook system is still a hook system. It’s better than many other hook systems, but its inherent limitations prevent players from, say, arranging bottles on their cantina bar or hanging their character’s weapons on a weapon rack just so.

I’d also like for BioWare to add the ability to target or mouse over placed items in order to identify them. Perhaps the most challenging thing about decorating in SWTOR — aside from the cost, which we’ll get to in a minute — is finding that one particular piece out of thousands.

swtor 2015-08-25 16-42-31-69The ugly

As much as I’ve been enjoying SWTOR’s housing system this week, the cynical part of my brain can’t help but surmise that BioWare added the system more out of a desire to drive players to the cash shop rather than the desire to drive SWTOR further down the full-featured MMO road. I could be wrong, but the sheer number of housing items originating in the Cartel Market make it hard to think otherwise. There are a few craftable housing components, including some spiffy computer and starship terminals as well as themed furniture pieces like Voss-Ka chairs and senatorial desks.

But a good number of the game’s essential decor pieces are not only cash shop items but lockbox items, meaning that you can either waste wads of meatspace cash on digital item packs and hope you’re lucky enough to get what you want or bankrupt your supply of in-game credits by paying obscene auction house prices to the players who were lucky enough to get what you want.

swtor 2015-08-27 17-27-26-11The verdict

Cash shop crap aside, I’m having a good time with SWTOR in general and with its housing in particular. There’s definitely room for improvement in terms of functionality and customizability, but as-is, Galactic Strongholds is an engrossing minigame that’s held my attention far longer than the main game’s industry-standard combat, looting, and progression.

Plus, it’s so much easier to hide all these action figures, vehicles, and playsets from my better half!

Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively OP writers as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews (and not necessarily shared across the staff). Think we’re spot on — or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!
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peyo01
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peyo01

Interesting point of view Jef, thanks^^.
For those interested into SWTOR housing, Justin also gave his view on SWTOR housing on his BioBreak blog page at biobreak.wordpress.com, have a look, it’s a good read too.

blackcat7k
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blackcat7k

“As much as I’ve been enjoying SWTOR’s housing system this week,
the cynical part of my brain can’t help but surmise that BioWare added
the system more out of a desire to drive players to the cash shop rather
than the desire to drive SWTOR further down the full-featured MMO road.” 

The realistic part of my brain surmised that from the first the day they mentioned it.

amkosh
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amkosh

Personally I prefer the cash shop approach.  It makes more people pay for the game rather than just mooching off of it.

Cujo H
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Cujo H

“BioWare added the system more out of a desire to drive players to the cash shop rather than the desire to drive SWTOR further down the full-featured MMO road.”
yep.
Its an alright system, but its probably the bottom of the housing systems I’ve experienced in MMOs in the past… Before Cash Shops were invented.

DanielReasor
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DanielReasor

Downloading the game installer from Steam solved that problem for me as well. Bypassed Origin entirely.

SallyBowls1
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SallyBowls1

I also forgive a lot re the Cartel since the goods are BoE.  No amount of in-game currency will buy a WoW pet or mount from the store, but cartel items are available from credits. So RL$ *OR* MMO economic competency will suffice to get the gear.

I also want to praise the crafting for decorations.  To be clear, SWTOR crafting is nowhere near sandboxes like SWG or EVE.  But with the stronghold patch, BW made real efforts: some subcomponents craftable by each profession, no profession completely self-sufficient, using pre-max-level mats for many recipes.  Alas, not a sandbox.  But BW spent real effort on crafting that patch and I can’t recall the last themepark patch I thought that about.

SallyBowls1
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SallyBowls1

alexjwillis Back in the day, soloing got you one reward bag that was pretty rewarding, even if nobody in your guild did anything.

DanielReasor
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DanielReasor

With regard to the cash shop’s entanglement with housing, I’m instinctively forgiving of a system that provides a legit alternative to shady gold sellers. People can trade real money for cartel packs, knowing that the decor in the packs will convert to game money on the trade network.
It’s true that the random factor of cartel pack contents inflates the scarcity, and therefor the value, of decor items, but at the end of the day it’s just furniture for our Mandalorian Barbie Dream House. It’s not like a collectibe card game, where the same inflated value applies to actual game pieces.

alexjwillis
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alexjwillis

Alongside other MOPers (hi guys!), I’ve just resubbed and joined the MOP guild. It’s my first time back in SWTOR in about a year, and I’ve been pretty pleased with what I’ve found in Strongholds so far, and it turns out I had a free Nar Shaddaa Sky Palace I didn’t know about. (Whee!) My own personal good/bad/ugly for SWTOR housing:

Good
— Convenience: Surprising, since most housing is about vanity. But having all my banking in one place, alongside trading/market stalls is extremely helpful. I’ve got a neat little trading/banking room I spend a lot of time in. Also, it’s way easier to use my Stronghold as a mid-point travel site than to always be running down to my hangar from Fleet. Need to hop in my ship real quick? Get thee to the Stronghold!

— Ease: Took me about an hour to figure out the hooks system, but once I did, it was smooth sailing. 
— Responsive: I like how easy it is to accumulate items/trophies based on Flashpoints and other story bits. 

Bad
— Inconsistency: While I love the convenience of trading and crafting all in my own home, I don’t like that it’s not fully consistent. I can get crafting vendors to sell me rare or crew-sourced materials, but the white-coloured base materials, I still need to go to Fleet to buy. Surely there could be SOME vendor implemented like that for Strongholds! I’d buy it in a flash.

Ugly
— Conquest: The connection of housing to Conquests is entirely unclear and seems completely opaque to someone like me who just resubbed. Also, I don’t really understand what would motivate a solo player or even a modestly-sized guild to even care about Conquest if they cannot compete with a larger group. I like that housing connects to a big-picture element of the game, but I don’t like that it seems completely out of reach (at least, as far as I can see).

ScytheNoire
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ScytheNoire

Guess this relates to the BioBreak blog post from today on the same topic.

I’d have to agree that it’s all about the Cartel Market and trying to make money, because they could have, and should have, done so much more with it. It’s a tacked on afterthought that doesn’t truly fit in properly, and should have been ship customization.