Home > Mechanics > Starter Area Woes or Surely, You Can Do Better!

Starter Area Woes or Surely, You Can Do Better!

December 5, 2011

A few people have complained that their Jedi Knight (or Sith Warrior) feels unpleasantly weak around levels 5-10. I don’t remember much frustration at that point, and I’ve been wondering about the inherent challenges it does present to some. Here are a few things I’ve come up with:

Keybinds and UI: It might be obvious to an MMO veteran, but spending a few minutes setting up one’s UI pays tremendous dividends down the road. There is no support for UI mods or even macros in SW:TOR (yet), so wringing what you can out of the standard interface is a high priority. For one thing, there’s absolutely no reason not to have all four quickslot bars on the screen at all times. As new abilities pile up, these will be necessary, and one might as well turn them on from the start. Also, since I always forget to loot things, putting on area looting is a bit of a help.

Remember to put yourself in Shii-Cho lightsaber form, it’s the only one you have for now. Find your self-buff and your self-heal (Force Might and Introspection), put them somewhere accessible and use them. It’s blindingly obvious, maybe, but at least in the beta I’ve seen a surprising number of padawans in the starter area finish a fight, stand around for a few seconds, run to the next fight and die without having bothered to introspect in between, leading me to believe that this ability might be easily overlooked.

If one is like me, one keybinds nearly everything usable in combat; I almost never feel comfortable with the 1-0 default number key setup; I prefer to have my binds clustered around the left-hand direction keys, others like to use their extra mouse buttons with modifiers. Your mileage may vary, but do make sure that at least your fundamental combat abilities – force leap, force sweep, strike, slash, riposte and blade storm – are bound to something you’re comfortable with.

Don’t get into the habit of clicking any abilities, since as a melee class fighting against a lot of ranged opponents, you’ll be moving with the mouse. Together with occasional target selection the mouse has a lot on its plate. The old WoW stigma against keyboard turners applies here, though as with all dogmas, it’s not absolute.

Skill Training: It’s an old RPG tradition that has one go back to one’s ‘guild’ or ‘trainer’ and learn skills as one levels up. Frankly, I wouldn’t mourn its loss in MMOs; WoW has already dispensed with making you learn individual skill ranks, though you still have to learn any entirely new ability. Rift, SW:TOR and a few other MMOs still insist on sending you to the trainer to upgrade your existing stuff. If you level up in the wild and you’re having a problem defeating enemies that should be easy, go back and pick up the new ranks. With WoW, you might not wish to bother, but the difference between, say, Slash Rank 1 and Slash Rank 2 is considerable in this game.

Focus: Our resource system. We increase it with certain (usually low-damage) abilities, and spend it with others (usually higher damage). If gained and unused for a while, the focus pool decreases on its own. At roughly level 6, our focus builders are Force Leap (3 focus, opener only) and Strike (2f), and we may spend focus on Force Sweep (3f, 15s cooldown), Slash (3f, no cd), Blade Storm (level 6, 4f, 12s cd) and Riposte (3f, triggered by parry/deflect). At level 8, we are given Master Strike, which is focus-free but has to be channelled and has a long (30s) cooldown, to weave into our rotation during focus lulls.

Fighting: The first thing to realise is that unless you actively do something to the enemy, nothing will happen. There is no auto-attack. I have a feeling that has tripped up a lot of people coming from other games, who are used to it being okay to wait a few seconds for abilities to come off cooldown.

A second point: we are a melee class without an in-combat self heal (at least at this level range). The first goal is to reduce incoming damage immediately by killing one of the enemies in the pack (usually the weakest), and ideally use control and damage mitigation moves during the early phase of the fight while the incoming damage is high.

The third thing to take note of is: when in doubt, Slash. It’s not as strong as Blade Storm, but if you’ve messed up your rotation, it’s better than letting focus pile up while Striking, Striking, Striking aimlessly and hoping something dies.

Fourth item: Saber Ward. Three minute cooldown, reduces damage considerably (upward of 25%, depending on damage types) and worth putting on before leaping at the tougher enemy packs, or early in the course of the fight.

A popular way of approaching a pack of enemies around level six is to Force Leap then Force Sweep. It makes sense at first glance – you earn 3f and spend 3f immediately, striking up to five enemies and stunning them. Initial burst and control is what we want, and it’s also, frankly, fun and looks very Star Warsy. Two things to take note of, however: one, make sure to leap at a ranged enemy (you will know which enemies are ranged based on their tooltip description and experience with local pack types) allow the melee enemies in the pack to converge upon you, and two, it might take a second for those melees to do so. Since we’d like to catch them all in the Force Sweep, it’s not the worst thing in the world to Strike quickly for +2f while they’re moving to you, then Force Sweep.

The initial enemy who got Force Leapt, Struck and took his fair share of Sweep damage is likely to be on their last ropes, while we are left with 2f, which isn’t enough for any focus dump. Strike the enemy again, which ought to finish them, but whether or not it has, look for someone else to Blade Storm with the 4f you now have. It’s your highest-damage ability (despite the storm reference, it’s single-target) and it would almost certainly be wasted on your current near-dead target. It’s worth noting that Blade Storm has a 10m range and a 4s stun. If there was a second ranged enemy in the group (you Force Leapt the first one) who didn’t come hither into the usual 4m range, they might make a good target for Blade Storm.

Focus is now back to zero. Strike twice (make sure you kill your initial enemy with one of them if you haven’t already, and mouse-move to the other ranged if you have). +4f, so another Blade Storm, right? No. It’s still on cooldown. Slash. 1f remaining. Strike. Force Sweep should be off cooldown now, so if enough enemies remain to make it worthwhile, use that or another Slash. Not a bad time for a Master Strike if you have it. Strike. Strike. Blade Storm.

Tl;dr: Force Leap (3f), Strike (5f), Force Sweep (2f), Strike (4f), Blade Storm (0f), Strike (2f), Strike (4f), Slash (1f), Strike (3f), Slash or Force Sweep (0f), Strike (2f), Strike (4f), Blade Storm (0f).

But wait, what about Riposte? Well, the above are suggestions for front-loaded damage used to dispatch enemies as quickly and reliably as possible at the low level. Riposte is a little unpredictable in this context, since it will light up after dodges and deflects, which are semi-random. A theoretical optimised single-target dps rotation for a long fight at level 6 would have you maintain an overhead of 3-4 focus at all times to account for Riposte procs, to be restored after each proc by two out-of-rotation Strikes. The good news is that the window of opportunity for Riposte is 8 seconds, more than enough to Strike twice and use the proc if one is so inclined, or simply replace the next Slash with it.

 Companion: When we get our little droid, it’s worth expanding his violet ability bar and taking a look at what he can do. You should ensure that his tanking stance (Sentry Process) is enabled (a blue square over the button) and take note of his Taunt ability (the hotkey is ctrl-4). Juggling aggro between your droid and yourself can help defeat the tougher enemies. Before such encounters, you can turn off his Sentry Process, tank yourself until your health gets low, activate Sentry Process, taunt with the droid, and continue dealing damage as the boss enemy now works on the droid’s full health bar, not your diminished one.
Categories: Mechanics
  1. December 6, 2011 at 12:52

    I’m totally with you on the keybinds. I have a Logitech G13 so I was working out which were my high-repetition buttons to map under my fingers, and so on. I haven’t worked out how to handle my companion yet, though.
    I’m really looking forward to the game being released. The beta weekends were such a tease!

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