From time to time during my livestreams I explain what I feel is the most cost-effective way to gear competitively while leveling. Pre-4.0, my strategy was to equip a complete set of orange gear as soon as possible, preferably around level 13 as the first modifications became available after the starting planets. (Complete orange gear sets are easily downloadable for free for anyone who has legacy-unlocked at least one weapon their class can use and at least one set of armor in the Collections menu, so attaining modifiable gear sets early has become a lot easier than it used to be). I would then purchase the full set of new mods, enhancements, armorings and hilts/barrels from the fleet planetary vendors approximately every six levels with planetary commendations, which I would accept as mission rewards rather than the alternate green gear items. In this way, I was able to keep my gear up to date for no credit cost at all, and my gear was always very competitive compared to my same-level peers in warzones and flashpoints.
In recent months, however -and especially following 4.0’s release- a number of changes to the game have changed my the leveling gearing strategy altogether. Consider:
- The outfit designer has separated gear presentation (i.e. how it looks) from its function (the stats it provides and their levels). The result is that one can achieve a certain look without any real need to manage the aesthetic appeal of the underlying gear set.
- With 4.0, Aim, Cunning, Willpower and Might have all been collapsed into Mastery as a single main stat. So gearing has simplified a great deal.
- Heroics are now easily soloable with a healing companion despite level sync’ing down to planetary-appropriate levels, granting great XP regardless of level, and their quest rewards now include a box that awards two pieces of character-level-appropriate blue gear.
- Bioware has determined that the SWTOR single-player story (including heroic 2+ missions) should be easy even for the most casual players, so gearing competitively is less of a concern unless a player is serious about warzone competition -and given that the low and midrange PVP brackets are less-than-ideal for competitive play, I would argue competitive gearing while leveling is moot.
- It is now possible to level up a character by playing only the main story and planetary story missions, marked by large purple triangle mission icons floating above mission-giver NPCs’ heads. This change accelerates the leveling process beyond what it used to be (not counting 12X XP or double XP events) but also makes common data crystals (the new equivalent of planetary commendations after 4.0) harder to come by without a player having to go out of their way to complete flashpoints and side missions to farm them.
As a result of these changes, I am now using the following gearing strategy while leveling:
- I run the planetary and story missions for the XP, soloing heroics wherever possible for the blue gear upgrades. I no longer equip orange modable gear while leveling.
- As a general rule, I pay no attention to stats, simply upgrading gear pieces as I come across new pieces with better stats. Bioware’s policy regarding easy story content makes intentional stat management moot -so I am a lot less meticulous than I used to be- but the one caveat in this regard is that I do make a point to use the appropriate stats given my character’s role. I don’t use defense, for instance, if my character is a DPS or healer. (If you are new to stats in SWTOR: DPS use Mastery, Power, Alacrity, Crit and Accuracy. Healers use Mastery, Power, Alacrity and Crit. Tanks use Mastery, Absorb, Defense and Shield). The point here is that it is effective enough to pick the appropriate stats, rather than to concentrate on stat levels.
- I never augment gear pre-endgame. It’s just not worth the hassle.
- I use the outfit designer to pick a look (or two or three) for my character early.
- For mission rewards, as a general rule I always choose the common data crystals rather than the green gear items, especially if the number of data crystals awarded is five or higher (it makes sense to have a good amount of data crystals going into end-game, so I build them up as I go) unless the gear item is an upgrade and there is only one data crystal awarded. However, I always the choose the data crystal if the gear reward is not an upgrade.
- I solo heroic missions whenever I come across them. Generally there is one heroic mission per mission hub. As stated above, heroic missions award blue boxes containing two character-level-appropriate pieces of gear each, so I upgrade currently-equipped gear pieces with heroic mission reward pieces as I go. Again, heroic missions are repeatable daily, so there is nothing stopping me from visiting previously-visited planets if I need to farm gear, but I have found that catching gear up in this way is unnecessary.
- Since main-hand and off-hand items are not included in the outfit designer, their stats still need to be managed using the pre-4.0 gearing method. Again, this method entails either (a) trading common data crystals for modifications from the planetary fleet vendors every few levels (the cheapest alternative, especially now that hilts and barrels cost only two data crystals), (b) purchasing modification upgrades from the GTN (which can be expensive), or (c) crafting the items yourself on alternate characters (by far the cheapest method, but it requires having alts that can craft the items).
This gearing strategy for leveling characters ensures gear stays relatively current as characters level and it is as cost-effective as possible with regard to credits and common data crystals. I welcome any additional, helpful insights in the comments below.