Mar 22, 2011

Posted by in Columns, News, The Smuggler's Blues | 8 Comments

HoT Smuggling Scoundrels…

An introduction to Healing Smugglers

When Star Wars™: The Old Republic™ was first announced, I was really confused as to where all the healers were. You had gun-toting Smugglers, armor-clad Troopers, powerful Jedi Knights and the likely suspect, the wizard-like Jedi Consulars. Really, I didn’t know where the healing was going to fall, who would be able to do it, and how they would pull off a ‘healing’ role for some of the classes without giving them some sort of magical powers. This was back in late 2009 when I first started following the news on the game regularly, and since then, we’ve been slowly learning how each class approaches the roles they will be able to tackle.

Now that we’ve gotten a bit more information and have been able to watch through the Taral V Developer Walkthrough, the Smuggler’s healing abilities have been de-mystified, slightly… Throughout this post, we will journey through the game mechanics that the video highlights and the information we’ve learned from PAX East 2011. Continue on to learn more!

Energy, the Smugglers resource pool…

Bioware seems to be pushing really hard for each class to have its own unique gameplay style and even their own energy/resource system. The Jedi Knights get Focus, Jedi Consulars get Force, Troopers get Ammo and Smugglers get Energy, all slightly different, with different regeneration/generation mechanics. The Smugger’s Energy bar is pretty similar to the Trooper’s Ammo, but different enough to change up the way you have to play them. If you were to make a comparison of the Smuggler’s Energy to other classes in other games, think of a Rogue’s Energy or a Hunter’s Focus in World of Warcraft.

From the information we’ve received so far, it appears that the Smuggler as the Scoundrel Advanced Class, as a healer, in this video at level 33, has 100 energy as his cap pre-beta. That’s a lot of qualifying statements! But, I just want to be clear: The cap on energy may change with spec, advanced class and level, we don’t know. The number 100 is also a rough guess, by watching the energy bar and watching as abilities are used. The best indicator is that during the video an ability is used that requires 45 energy, and the bar goes from full to a little over half. Again, as with all of these posts, this could change and become inaccurate with a single patch during development.

I’ve highlighted the actual interface itself to show the Smuggler’s energy bar, as you can see below.

Without more information, I wasn’t really able to tell how much energy the Smuggler regenerates because of the larger resource pool, but it appears it was regenerating pretty fast. I’m not sure if this was for testing or if it’s actually balanced, but there was a point in the video where the Smuggler went from ~50% energy to 100% energy in about 5 seconds, without any special “buffs” active. So a wild guess for the Smuggler as it currently exists in this video would be that they regenerate approximately 10 energy every 1 second.

Stealth, a healers new best friend…

Ever played a healer that could stealth around and CC targets? Me neither, but it looks really fun! (CC = Crowd Control, sleeping, tranquilizing, saping, sheeping, whatever you want to call it.)

What we did see of stealth in the Taral V Developer Walkthrough is that at one point, before a boss pull, the Smuggler stealths in and CC’s a target. During this stealth sequence, the smuggler isn’t draining energy, but seems to be moving around a bit slower than usual, which is on par for stealth mechanics in other MMOs. The Smuggler, after CC’ing the target, also stealths back and assumes a “cover” position while in stealth, before un-stealthing. So what did we learn? Well, energy doesn’t appear to be related/required to stealth, but stealth may impact your movement.

Traditional “Stealth” mechanics for the Smuggler will probably stay the same, for example, you can’t enter Stealth while in combat, you may have an ability to enter stealth while in combat with a cooldown, AoE abilities will probably knock you out of stealth, so on and so forth. Bioware might throw a few wrenches into these traditional mechanics, but that all remains to be seen.

As far as graphical effects go, the first thing I noticed about stealth was that the character turns either somewhat transparent or has a “camouflage” look, I’m not sure in the video if we are seeing “through the character” (the ground) or if we are seeing a graphics overlay on top. Either way, it’s a pretty cool looking effect to indicate you are in stealth. Also, if you look at the user interface, the icon to the right of your health bar turned into an orange eye to indicate you were in stealth.

The only ability that requires you to be in stealth right now is Tranquilizer, atleast as a healer, and at this level. I’m sure there will be many more DPS oriented abilities that you can “open” with from stealth, and do extra damage because of the surprise attack, but we will have to wait for more information to find out. As a healer, I think it’s pretty cool that you can stealth period, sneak around and avoid danger, and even pop out and use Tranquilizer to CC a NPC before the pull of a pack happens.

Cover, quick get behind something!

Cover is a mechanic we’ve seen in a lot of games in the past, but rarely an MMO. If you’ve played the Gears of War series or even the Time Crisis Arcade Games, you should have a familiar feel for what “Cover” is. But have you ever played a game where you were a healer, and could take cover? I haven’t, and again, this is one of the many reasons why BioWare is changing up the game slightly.

The interface for cover seems simple, there are spots in the game where your character can “Take Cover” and avoid incoming damage. These spots are illustrated by the green silhouette on the ground. I’m not sure if you have to click on these spots, or if there’s a hotkey to jump in cover, but in the video the user seamlessly rolls right into cover with very little effort.

When entering cover, we aren’t sure of the exact benefits. Is there a damage reduction? Not sure. Can you be targeted? No idea. But we do know that certain abilities such as Force Leap can’t be used on targets in cover, but can ranged attacks be targeted on the Smuggler in cover? All things we will learn as the game’s development continues. (Editor’s Note: It has been mentioned that there is a damage debuff applied to your target while you’re in cover.)

The user interface for the Smuggler also indicates when the Smuggler is in cover, as shown below.

There’s a lot of mystery still surrounding the game mechanics of the cover system, there’s one point in the video where the Smuggler is in cover and the green “cover” icon turns white for a while, then back to green. I’m not sure what the color difference in the UI mean for cover, perhaps it means “out of cover”, like when you push the pedal down while playing Time Crisis? It pops you out of cover to perform an action? Who knows! Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe someone who played a Smuggler at PAX East could fill us in a bit!

Abilities seen for the Smuggler

Now that we have a generic understanding of the Smuggler’s gameplay mechanics, onto the fun stuff, the abilities that the smuggler can use!

Healing Abilities

  • Slow-Release Medpac – A basic HoT (Healing-over-time) that apparently has the ability to stack up to 3 times. (More info on the next ability.)
  • Emergency Medpac – Now, the tooltip isn’t incredibly clear, but this ability heals based on the number of Slow-Release Medpac already applied to the target. What we don’t know, is if using Emergency Medpac consumes the existing Slow-Release Medpac‘s on the target, or simply heals. I’m going to assume it consumes the Slow-Release Medpac‘s on the target, causing the heal, and causing you to have to re-apply those Slow-Release Medpacs again.
  • Underworld Medicine – A quick, 1 second cast direct heal, that heals for a small amount. Consider this the quickest emergency heal you have if Emergency Medpac is unavailable for some reason.
  • Advanced Kolto Pack – A bit slower, 2 second cast direct heal, that heals for almost twice as much as Underworld Medicine. A stable in the Smuggler’s healing abilities, but more of a pro-active heal than a reactive heal. If your tanks about to die, you probably don’t want to wait 2 seconds for this heal to land.
  • Triage – aka Dispel – Removes 2 “tech” or “physical” effects from the target. This confirms that different effects on targets are classified based on their aspect. In World of Warcraft, you have magic, curses, poisons and diseases. So far in Star Wars: The Old Republic, I’ve seen Bleeds, Tech Effects and Physical Effects. I’ll bet there are plenty more types of effects, and different types of healers can probably remove different types. A typical MMO configuration for healers!

Crowd Control Abilities

  • Tranquilizer – An opening CC ability, much like World of Warcraft’s Sap ability, which is also only usable in stealth and on targets not in combat. Will be a great ability for smugglers to use on targets before a pull occurs, causing them to sleep for 60 seconds.
  • Flash Grenade – I’m not sure exactly how this ability works, nor am I sure what “blindness” in an MMO could mean. I’m going to guess that it’s a reduced chance for those “blinded” targets to hit other targets, perhaps a +% miss chance? Not sure, if you got to play the Smuggler at PAX, let us know!

Damage Dealing Abilities

Many of the damage dealing abilities we are showing off here are probably “un-talented” versions of the ability, meaning they probably are a lot better when your character is designed to deal damage, and not heal. However, we did see the abilities in the video, so we entered them into our list of abilities seen!

  • Flurry of Bolts – No energy cost, normal range, and no cooldown. This looks like it’s the goto ability for Smugglers who seem to have run out of energy and still like to shoot their blaster. In a game with no auto-attack, abilities like this are required, but not incredibly powerful.
  • Quick Shot – A pretty standard attack that requires energy and seems to hit pretty hard! This will probably be a staple in the rotation of any DPS Smuggler, but since we haven’t seen a full list of abilities, it’s hard to judge.
  • Back Blast – An up-close, high damage, high energy cost ability that is only usable from behind the target.
  • Scatter Blast – Another up-close ability, with an interesting “debuff” that may provide a lot of insight into the Smuggler as a DPS class. It has a flat 10% increase to “Bleed” effects on the target, which leads you to believe atleast one of the advanced class specs for the Smuggler may be entirely focused on Bleed effects or DoTs. Let’s hope so!
  • Pistol Whip – Every class I’ve viewed so far seems to have atleast one melee attack, this is the Smugglers, they are going to whip you with their pistol. A classic vigilante move!
  • Surrender – Have agro on that big scary Rancor that the tank forgot to pick up? Surrender!

Buff Abilities

  • Lucky Shots – 5% crit is pretty good for every class, including healers. Who doesn’t want to crit more?
  • Cool Head – Boost’s the Smuggler’s energy regeneration rate for those really intense moments that you need more energy than normal.

Last thought on the Smuggler

I’ve played World of Warcraft since the beginning, and since the beginning I’ve always heard players say: “Do you know how cool it would be to have a healer that didn’t rely on Mana? Like a Rogue, except for healing!”. In fact, I actually overheard a conversation on Ventrilo last week about this very topic! I don’t think Blizzard was listening too close, but apparently BioWare was, because that’s exactly what the Smuggler is, an Energy based Healer.

The way the Smuggler as a healer plays, the stealth and cover mechanics all tie together and form a healer unlike any other I’ve ever seen. Smuggler healing is breaking a traditional MMO role and trying to improve upon it. It will be interesting to see how balanced they end up being in PvP situations. In a traditional MMO, having a hefty mana pool and being able to blow a lot of mana healing a target up front is just something that the Smuggler may not be able to accomplish. However, the Smuggler, with infinite regeneration and no gigantic resource pool, may be able to last a LOT longer during fights without running “out of mana”. It all remains to be seen, I have some faith that somehow it will end up balanced, atleast we hope!

  1. So I guess I just realized that cover and stealth are 2 different things… i.e. cover doesn’t replace the stealth mechanic.

    Does that mean there are separate abilities for cover, non-cover and now stealth? Could be interesting managing all of that but I like the options

    • Good question, would love to know the answer. From what I saw, there’s 1 ability so far that has to be used from Stealth, but I haven’t seen any abilities that require you to be in cover.

  2. “Ever played a healer that could stealth around and CC targets? Me neither, but it looks really fun! (CC = Crowd Control, sleeping, tranquilizing, saping, sheeping, whatever you want to call it.)”

    Yeah, we called it a Druid… He even had stacking HoTs and the ability to consume his hots for a burst heal…

    • I’d hardly say a direct comparison to a druid is fair. Especially calling out the one thing you quoted: CC. Or were you planning on having your healer chain-cast cyclone on a target?

      Not to mention one of the big points he’s bringing up is still healing based on the energy mechanic.

      Similar healing style, sure, but hardly a cut-and-paste clone of the class.

      Anyway, great article. Can’t wait to see them in action :)

      • Sleep, root…. I’m used to an energy system for healing as well. Had that in Warhammer. These aren’t innovations as much as borrowing what works and I’m fine with that.

    • I’ve never played a druid, but yes, I know how they work. I really didn’t want to link them an incredible amount because the gameplay is a lot different.

      Druids in Cat form use energy, like the Smuggler, but when you drop cat form you lose your stealth and you also switch to mana. I didn’t know how to elegantly word that, or even make a direct comparison (since we’d be comparing “Forms” to a “Class”), so I just left the sentence as-is :)

      But I do agree, there are similarities, and I mentioned that!

      • The similarities are rather striking though. It’s like a Resto Druid and a Cat Feral Druid for the specs of the Scoundrel. Don’t get me wrong I’m not trying to mock the devs or anything, but it’s easy to see where the inspiration for the Scoundrel AC comes from. Down to “Droidbloom” and “swiftmed-droid”

  3. Really god article. I am really hoping the mechanics are very much the same for the Imperial Agent which is what I have my sights set on for release

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