Star Wars The Old Republic (SWTOR) has been consuming much of my free time for the last month, allowing me to level up two characters to level 20 and one to level 10. So here are some tips I've learned as well as my general thoughts on the game so far.
[Update: As of July 2013 I now have 18 characters spread across 3 servers. My highest level character currently is level 43.]
First the interface of the game assumes quite a bit of knowledge in order to function properly. My guess is that that knowledge comes naturally to players of other online games like World of Warcraft, but may play a long time without knowing about helpful things that should be obvious. Here are a few examples:
Managing Your Companion
Regardless of what class you select for your character you will eventually be assigned a companion who will follow you around and assist you, generally around level 8 or so. They also irritatingly get in your way especially if you are using skills like Archaeology and Slicing which require clicking on things you find in the world frequently. [Update: There is a preference setting that allows you to turn off companions using the gathering skills.] The interface allows you to do a number of things with your companion but they aren't obvious.
Dismissing your companion: You can dismiss your companion at any time. Based on what I have seen if you fight alone you will gain more xp than fighting with your companion's aid, so this is one valid reason to dismiss your companion. Another reason to dismiss is if your companion has died in battle, especially if you ran away from the area in which he/she died. Companions can be summoned at any time except in battle, so there is no risk to dismissing your companion. To dismiss a companion right click on their portrait in the lower left corner of the screen and select the dismiss option from the pop up menu. I have found that some of the main plot scenes expect your companion to be present and if he/she is not you may encounter a bug. So before going into a major plot area you may want to summon your companion. [Update: Often you will be told that you cannot start a conversation without a specific companion present, in which case you must summon the companion and then re-initiate the conversation.]
Summoning or switching your companion: If you have dismissed a companion and want to summon the companion back just click on the little button attached to the lower left edge of the empty companion portrait in the lower left corner of the screen. When you summon a companion he/she will be at full health, so if your companion has died or been seriously damaged it may be faster to dismiss and summon than to heal him/her. If you have multiple companions and want to summon a different one you can open the crafting window that allows companion summoning by either pressing N or clicking on the button in the upper right edge on the companion portrait in the lower left corner of the screen,
Resurrecting your companion: If your companion has died in battle and you want to resurrect him/her just right click on his/her body. If you are not able to get to where the body is then just dismiss the companion and summon him/her again and he/she will be teleported to where you are. You don't need to have the icons for revive companion in your quickslot bar.
Clothing/Equipping your companion and/or changing their appearance: This has been my experience with the non-human companions assigned to the Jedi Consular, Jedi Knight, and Sith Inquisitor, but I suspect it applies to all companions. Companions can be given clothing you find or purchase (tip: even clothing that is "bound" to you can be given to a companion) to improve their stats by opening the character window (press "C") and clicking on the companion tab and then dragging items from your inventory the same way you would for your main character, but depending on their appearance they may not display the clothing you give them. To give them a different appearance you have to buy the alternate appearance sets from the companion vendors and drag it in their special appearance slot on the companion tab of the character window. The sets are expensive but you can get a preview of what your companion will look like without purchasing them by ctrl left-clicking on the set. While the alternate appearance sets are rally the only option for changing the appearance of non-human body type companions like Khem Val, they can also be used with human body type companions to alter their faces. There has been a long-standing bug though that if you have an appearance set and then try to preview an item on your companion the preview window will not appear correctly. To get the preview window to work properly you may have to remove the appearance set. Fortunately there is no cost to temporarily removing an appearance set.
Giving your companion gifts: You can find items that would be suitable gifts for a companion. It will say in the item description that the item is a suitable companion gift and whether the current active companion will appreciate it or not. You can also buy companion gifts from the companion vendors. To give a gift to your companion just right-click on the gift. The point of giving gifts is to improve the affection of your companion for you which can improve crafting skills and advance the companion storyline. If none of your companions appreciate a gift you may want to store it in your cargo hold for a later companion.
Speaking with your companion: Sometimes your companion will have something to say to you. If so then there will be a little talk icon on their portrait. They will not talk to you however unless you are in a cantina or on your ship. Once you get to a suitable talking place right click on the companion (not the companion portrait) to initiate the conversation. Generally what they have to say is either inconsequential or advances their personal storyline.
Sending your companion on missions: Your companion can be sent on missions based on your gathering crew skills. To see what missions are available you press N or click on the little button attached to the upper right edge of the companion portrait. This will open a window with a list of available missions. Missions are divided into difficulty levels. Sending your companion on a mission will make the companion unavailable for some length of time, usually just a few minutes, and cost you some credits. When he/she returns you will be told whether the mission was successful or failed and what you earned from it. Sending your companion on missions seems to be the cheapest way to find rare materials needed for crafting items.
Using your companion to craft items: Once you have a companion and get off the first planet you can learn crew skills from crew skill trainers. Subscribers are restricted to 3 skills: 2 gathering skills and 1 crafting skill. Even though you can eventually have more than one companion, you remain restricted to only 3 total skills. When you start a skill you have no points in that skill. As you use the skill you gain points and that allows you to do better with the skill. When your companion crafts items, which will require specific resources depending on the item being crafted, you gain both the item and increase your crafting skill. Crafting takes time, tying up your companion for a minute or two, but doesn't cost any credits. Subscribers can queue up to 5 actions on up to 3 companions, so if you want you can give them several crafting commands and then forget about them for several minutes. To initiate crafting you can click on the Crew Skills icon or click on the icon in the upper right portion of the companion portrait. Crafted items can be sold in the Galactic Trade Market because they are not bound to your player until you equip them. They can also be emailed to other characters as long as they are on the same server. Also there is a chance that you may craft an "excellent" version of an item, which means that an augment can be installed into it to increase its abilities. You can also use reverse engineering on crafted items, which reduces them back to part, but not all, of their basic components. The advantage of reverse engineering items you have crafted is that there is a chance that you will automatically learn the ability to craft a better version of that item.
Using your companion to sell excess items: If you have a lot of "junk" items in your inventory you cannot use (gray outlined items serve no purpose except to be sold for credits) then you can order your companion to go sell them for you by right clicking on the companion portrait and selecting the sell junk items options from the pop up menu. The companion will leave for a minute to sell them and then return. This can be handy if you are far from a vendor.
Using the Galactic Trading Market to Buy and Sell non-bound items
You will find many things during your adventuring that you cannot use or use for only a while. You can sell these items to vendors but they do not pay well. A much better way to earn credits on items you are not bound to is to offer them for sale in the Galactic Trade Market. To use the Galactic Trade Market you have to go to a Galactic Trade kiosk, which can be found on the main map (press "M"). (There are no kiosks on the starter planets though). At these kiosks you can both purchase and offer items for sale. When you offer items for sale it will default to a reasonable price, which you can then choose to increase or decrease. You also have to put up a percentage of the price yourself to cover your offering. If the item sells or expires you will regain the amount you put up, but if you cancel your offer to sell you lose those credits. This means that you are somewhat limited to how many items you can offer for sale since you have to have the credits to cover them.
If an item sells then you will receive an email with the number of credits attached to it. If the item expires without selling then you will receive an email with your item attached to it and the number of credits you put up. These emails do not seem to automatically expire, so this may be an option for extending your inventory.
Expanding Your Inventory
Unless you sell things frequently you will fill your inventory in no time. There are options to expand your inventory by credits and cartel coins but there are also free options. While you do not gain a ship until around level 15, you can access a cargo hold earlier than that by going to fleet. Travel to fleet becomes available around level 7 but isn't really intended until after you complete the initial starter planet at about level 10. The ship cargo hold is accessible from kiosks at fleet and on most of the planets except the starter planets. Other alternatives are to email your items to another character or post them on the Galactic Trade Market, but due to free-to-play restrictions on email attachments and GTM postings these options are not very useful except to subscribers.
Gaining Crafting Recipes
As you gain in crafting skills you will have access to additional recipes to be used for crafting. However to get these you need to go to the crew skill trainer and purchase them.
Gaining Class Abilities
When you level up you go to your class trainer and pay to gain your class abilities. After you reach level 10 you will have to choose a secondary class. This choice is made by speaking with someone at fleet. After that when you go to your class trainer make sure that you click on the tab for your secondary class to purchase its new abilities as well. Your choice of advanced class will restrict what kind of armor, weaponry, and skills you can use and the choice is not reversible. Only certain classes can wield a double-bladed lightsaber like Darth Maul (specifically Jedi Consular with Shadow advanced class and Sith Inquisitor with Assassin advanced class) or dual-wield lightsabers.
Repairing Your Items
As you fight your armor and weapons get damaged. If left unrepaired they will eventually become unusable. To repair your items and those of your companion go to any vendor or Medical Droid and click on the Repair All button in the bottom left corner of the store window. Better to pay for repairs than to lose your items.
The game includes items that can be modified so that they can improve in their stats as you level up your character. Orange items are items which have an orange border around their icon as shown in an inventory screen and these items are always modifiable. Generally these are either armor/clothing or weapons. Unlike most of their non-orange counterparts, orange items can be customized by adding modifications which can be purchased from vendors or the Galactic Trading Market or crafted. Modifiable gear of a type always has the same base stats as other modifiable gear of the same type, they only differ in appearance. So that worn double-bladed lightsaber is equivalent to the fancy orange double-bladed lightsaber you can buy for 14 commendations in everything except the appearance. The point of modifiable gear is that if you like the look of certain armor types and weaponry you can upgrade their modifications as you level up and retain the same look. If you want to see what an item will look like on your character before purchase use ctrl left-click on the item. In some cases it is cheaper to purchase a modifiable item with modifications in it than to purchase the modifications separately. It costs nothing to install a modification into a modifiable item, but unless you want to destroy the modification it replaces you have to first extract the existing modification, which does cost some credits (at a reduced rate for subscribers). Once extracted modifications can be used in other modifiable items or can be reverse engineered to reduce them to some of their basic components.
Originally extracting and installing modifications required using a modification station, but that restriction was removed and modification stations are now mainly extraneous as they are needed only for adding augmentation slots to items. To modify any modifiable item at any time just ctrl right-click on it in your inventory or the character screen (if it is equipped).
While orange items are always modifiable there are items in the game that are other colors such as blue, green, and purple that are also modifiable. So do not assume that just because an item is green it is not modifiable - even though most green and blue items are not.
The General Chat feature of the game is quite disturbing. Though there is a profanity filter, there is little point to using it because gamers are experts at getting around filters. The general chat at any place where there are large numbers of players such as the starter planets, capital planets, and fleet is completely filled with sexual and pornographic statements, trolls posting meaningless garbage and spam, noobs asking the same questions over and over (how do I change my lightsaber color, when do I get a speeder, when do I get a ship, when do I get an advanced class, where is my second lightsaber, how do I quit a guild, how do I get unstuck, etc.), non-noobs repeatedly chastising and belittling noobs for doing so, WOW fanbois going on endlessly about pandas, KOTOR fanbois going on endlessly about Revan, PVPers complaining about SWTOR PVP ad infinitum, and Star Wars über-nerds arguing about whose lightsaber is longer ad nauseum. There are two remedies to this, one is to get away from these places as quickly as possible, and the second is to click on the Other tab in the chat window. If there are specific people you want to avoid seeing in General Chat use the "/ignore" command to add them to your ignore list. This will block you from seeing their posts and also any group invites they send to you.
Some Useful Tips
If your character gets physically stuck, open the chat window (upper left corner) and type /stuck. This will move your character for you, usually to a spot where you are not stuck. If that doesn't work then try using your speeder if you have one. Or try transporting yourself to another location. Or get someone nearby to duel with you. Or logout and log back in.
You get experience for speaking with each crafting skill vendor at fleet. So speak with each of them before selecting your skills. Your codex will be updated with information about each crafting skill and you can use that information to make your choices. Crafting skills can be changed later.
There is a shortage of purchasable resolve modifications (high in willpower, which is best for Jedi Consulars and Sith Inquisitors).
Some of the Datacrons give you colored matrix shards instead of stat bonuses. These can be combined in special locations to create relic items which can be equipped to improve character stats.
While armor type (light, medium, or heavy) is restricted by class, when you choose a secondary class you may be able to use armor you weren't able to before. Also you can equip your companions with items you yourself cannot use. So you may want to hold on to some items that you cannot use so that you can make use of them later.
You can expand your inventory by paying 5000 credits. This will increase the inventory by one additional line of items. To get another line you will have to pay 20000 credits.
There isn't any point to holding onto planet commendations. You can spend them on their respective planets but there are also commendation vendors on the space station. Initially commendations were planet specific, but now they are interchangeable so you can go to a lower level planet and farm Heroic missions for commendations.
The purpose of a guild is to allow similarly minded people to play together and pool resources. Guilds can be started by anyone as long as 5 people agree to join. You can join only one guild at a time. The slash command to quit a guild is "/gquit".
Grouping is useful for accumulating social points and completing Heroic missions that often require 4 players. To invite someone to a group use the slash command "/invite". To leave a group right click on your portrait and select the Leave Group option. When you are in a group and a chest is opened or other item drop happens and there are items that are green or better each member of the group has a chance to claim or pass on the item. Appropriate group etiquette is this: You should only indicate "Need" when the item improves the primary stat of your character (Willpower for Consular and Inquisitor, Strength for Knight and Warrior, Cunning for Smuggler and Agent, Aim for Trooper and Bounty Hunter) and and you plan to wear it immediately. If you do not "Need" the item but it would improve the primary stat of your active companion then select "Greed". Otherwise you should pass on the item so that someone else in the group who needs it will get it.
General Thoughts on the Game
While the game areas are expansive, just as the Star Wars sets are, the game places quests in such a way that you spend an enormous amount of time running around. Perhaps this is a mechanism to keep people from staying on a planet beyond their level by driving them off with sheer boredom. I've seen people with personal speeders but I do not know how to get one.
The quests are all very similar. The basic quest format is: retrieve x number of thingamajigs from y different locations and deliver them to z other locations, killing n opponents along the way, and then return to the quest giver for reward of some experience, credits, and an item or two. The only difference as you level up is that the opponents you face are tougher or more numerous. So frankly, it gets boring. After playing two characters to level 20 and one to level 10 I'm already tiring of it. There are a large number of skills that you gain as you level up to about level 35. After that leveling up usually just increases the power of your existing skills.
The game intentionally makes it difficult to play by yourself. The game expects you to join up with friends or strangers and there are things you cannot purchase or find without doing so. I prefer not to do that and the one time I have so far I experienced several crashes and ended up abandoning that quest. While most of the Heroic areas that are expected to be done by a group can be done solo you will need to be several levels higher than the recommended level to have a chance of success. But there are still some things that require being in a group.
One of the seemingly optional things you can do is find the Datacrons, which are powerful artifacts spread around the galaxy that give you bonuses to your basic attributes. There are websites online that will show you exactly where they are, so finding them isn't that difficult. But unfortunately most of them require mastery of jumping and any misstep requires starting over from the beginning again, so expect to spend several frustrating hours getting to some of them.
If you found this article useful and you choose to begin playing SWTOR or are already playing but have not yet indicated that you were referred by someone, then you can show your appreciation by using my personal referral link. This will give both you and me in-game rewards as documented at the Friends of Star Wars site here.