A World of Warcraft player's primer to Star Wars: The Old Republic's advanced classes, part 1

Omri Petitte

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Star Wars: The Old Republic's (SWTOR) is in full swing, and for many of you, that means a chance to hop into BioWare's sprawling massively multiplayer masterpiece alongside fellow defenders of freedom and chokers of Imperial subordinates. However, for the ambivalent World of Warcraft (WoW) hero, taking the leap into a galaxy far, far away can be a daunting task.

The decision of which advanced class to play can be as difficult as finding a Wookiee in a wig shop, but don't freak out. These advanced classes, unlocked at level 10, are what define your mere Bounty Hunter as a flame-wielding torch of Republic misery or a sensitive tech-lover hellbent on healing. We've put together some brief descriptions of each advanced class' functionality in comparison to WoW starting with the stalwart Republic. Note that this guide doesn't chart effectiveness but rather provides a general overview of how similar playstyle mechanics feel between both games.

Just like a certain whiny Tatooine farmboy learned, the choice ultimately resides entirely within your power – but at least you won't have to endure through an unnecessarily long emo-stare into the sunset to realize that.

Jedi Knight

Continuing his unmatched reign as winner of the “most likely to strike a heroic pose on a movie poster” award, the Jedi Knight offers a no-frills approach to the art of bashing things silly with oversized glowsticks. Using a Focus resource system akin to the Rogue's combo points, the Knight's playstyle centers around a Wampa-sized pile of in-your-face melee combat aided by brief dips into the Force.

Guardian

Protection and Arms Warriors, meet your destiny. Specializing as a Guardian – specifically, the Defense talent tree – means “willingly stepping into harm's way” is your idea of a relaxing hobby. You'll access abilities closely mirroring the classic tanking repertoire of Charge, Taunt, and Sunder Armor along with a few surprises sprinkled in – Force Exhaustion, for example, deals damage over time while progressively slowing down a foe to a crawl. A sizable chunk of defensive cooldowns makes the Guardian well-equipped to thumb his nose at whatever hurtles his way.

Want more damage? Pour your talent points into the Vigilance tree. Much like Arms, your one-handed attacks get souped up at the expense of protection, although your retention of heavy armor still offers considerable fortitude. Dig the Burning Blade and Plasma Brand talents which augments some of your attacks with additional burning damage.

Sentinel

The Sentinel considers the notion of restraint so 20 parsecs ago. Wearing medium armor and dual-wielding two lightsabers, this specialization boils down its role into cutting down the poor fool at the end of your blades as fast as possible. Fury Warriors will fawn over the Sentinel's multiple methods of dispensing flurries of acrobatic melee attacks with stacking bonuses to armor penetration and critical strike. Journey up the Combat tree for loads of helpful boosts to your output, culminating with the almighty Blade Rush – a devastating triple-strike combo. Alternatively, the Watchman tree offers a similar focus to damage-over-time (DoT) bonuses as the Guardian's Vigilance tree.

Jedi Consular

Slightly more cerebral than his flailing counterpart, the Jedi Consular knows the intricacies of balance and self-mastery – and how to chuck a floating rock into someone's face really well. Both the Sage and Shadow specializations primarily rely on a Force pool (similar to mana) for their abilities, but that's where the similarities end.

Sage

Sure, the Sage sounds like something embossed on a pompous librarian's business card. Picking this specialization, however, sits you squarely in the domain of the ranged spellcaster. Heading up the Telekinetics tree offers equal effectiveness to a Fire Mage with powerful, long-casting or channeled nuking abilities laden with enough flashy effects to send even the most hardy Industrial Light & Magic engineer aflutter. Don't renege your potent crowd-control (CC) skills along the way; Force Lift and Force Stun works wonders for culling challenging dungeons and group quests.

Nabbing the Balance tree's talents transforms the Sage into an efficient healer, mixing single-target and group health restoration duties with colorful damage absorption bubbles not unlike the Discipline Priest's Power Word: Shield. Check out the nifty Rescue: it yanks an ally to safety while simultaneously lowering his or her threat – if that doesn't help hammer home the MMO golden rule of “don't stand in fire,” then little else will.

Shadow

Playing a Shadow is sort of like participating in a political debate: If cornered, muttering a mysterious one-liner and disappearing in a surge of energy is your best bet. As the name implies, the Shadow keeps to the...well, shadows, pimping out with a double-bladed saber staff and employing stealth for advantageous mobility. Assassination Rogues should be nodding in recognition at the Infiltration tree's emphasis on stealth, positional attacks, and massive burst damage helped along by Shadow Strike, your bread-and-butter backstab.

Those seeking a fresh perspective on tanking should give the Kinetic Combat tree a whirl. Its emphasis on mitigation and dodge imitates the Blood Death Knight's playstyle – an observation especially prevalent with Force Pull, an ability exactly like Death Grip. And if anything, you'll be the proud user of a tree that sounds like a Nickelodeon educational game show.

Smuggler

If you're wondering why that rocky outcropping is continually lamenting about its stolen ship, chances are you've stumbled upon a Smuggler hard at work. He brings the pew-pew from afar by using Rogue-like Energy and taking cover behind objects (or just crouching down), thus lowering damage received and enabling access to long-range shots.

Gunslinger

You're in for a special kind of warm, fuzzy feeling when delivering a friendly “hey, there” via the red-hot muzzles of a pair of blaster pistols. Like the Marksmanship Hunter, the Gunslinger specialization mixes quick, instant shots with inductive abilities thematically similar to Aimed Shot. Plunking points into the Sharpshooter tree hulks up your shots with faster cast times and more demolishing critical strikes.

For appeasement of your inner Demoman, set your sights on the Saboteur tree. DoTs and grenade buffs galore beckon your points like an unencrypted credit safe; Incendiary Grenade, for instance, immolates enemies with a napalm AoE thrown from cover's comfy confines – just the ticket for Explosive Shot-happy Survival Hunters. Maniacal cackle optional.

Scoundrel

Although the Smuggler's trustworthy mainstay is the almighty pistol, he nevertheless won't balk about shortening the gap for a more personalized tussle. Specializing as a Scoundrel (figuratively, of course) will have you strapping on a stealth belt for surprising enemies with the gentle love tap of a sucker punch right in the gut. The Scrapper tree advertises a risky yet rewarding style of play: sneak in, ravage an unfortunate soul with Back Blast, then dance the melee tango with careful management of costly short-range strikes. The Feral Druid's absolutism on nailing that initial burst damage out of stealth is as crucial a requirement for the Scoundrel's cocksure grin to see the light of another day.

Of course, the Scoundrel takes every advantage he gets, and that typically includes fixing up his fellow buddies with healing medpacs boosted by the Sawbones tree. Its periodic healing ability improvements echo the Druid's Restoration tree, even rubbing shoulders against Wild Growth with the AoE Kolto Cloud.

Trooper

Heavy armor, heavy guns, and empty skulls – that's the Trooper's mantra. (Maybe not the last part.) Helping him reinforce that tenet is an arsenal worthy of a first-person shooter protagonist's jealousy: cannons, grenades, arc projectors, and several other remorseless pieces of metal. The payoff is a combination of durability and a withering amount of firepower.

The Trooper uses a bar filled with 12 steadily refilling Energy Cells that are spent on attacks and abilities. If you exhaust your entire bar, you'll have to wait a moment while “reloading” more Energy Cells before carrying on.

Commando

Remember that climactic scene from Terminator 2 in which Arnie turns a parking lot into Swiss cheese with a minigun? Yeah, that's the Commando. Consider the Gunnery tree as the end result of a Warlock getting his hands on a mammoth laser cannon. Using a single, pivotal debuff to work with – Grav Round – Commandos increasingly crush their target's armor before saying “hasta la vista” with a mega-shot coup de grace.

Taking the Combat Medic tree offers quick, single-target heals with a chance to increase efficiency, a niche similarly filled in WOW by the Holy Paladin. If multiple allies need healing in a pinch, toss a Kolto Bomb their way – yes, that means bombs filled with healing gases. Don't ask me how that works.

Vanguard

For the Vanguard specialization, getting shot and bludgeoned is just good business. The abuse he takes just means less pressure on their allies. Coupled with the natural movement advantage of being at range, the Vanguard's playstyle offers an interesting approach to the typically melee dominated task of keeping the enemy's attention squarely on themselves.

The Protection Paladin closely resembles the Vanguard's absorption-oriented Shield Specialist tree that holds the line with AoE threat generation abilities similar to Consecrate and Avenger's Shield. Your mitigation stems from superpowered shields shrugging off damage while your pour on the punishment through grenades and sheets of laser fire.

Spending points in the Tactics tree turns the Vanguard into a zippy front-line combatant capable of armor-penetrating strikes and DoT effects, an ability arsenal Retribution Paladins know well. Lastly, the Vanguard's heavy armor gives groups a second wind via a backup tank in case things go awry.

Check back tomorrow as we turn to the dark side with part 2 of this guide focusing on the Empire's specializations. As always, if you have thoughts or experiences to share, leave 'em in the comments.

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