Gear is everything in MMOs - well, almost everything - and grinding out the best stats in the endgame after you hit the maximum level can be a struggle if you don't know the best methods and tactics. Star Wars: The Old Republic, BioWare's successful massively multiplayer RPG, is no different, and here we'll teach you how to hit the coveted Item Rating of 306.
What is Item Rating?
Item Rating is, essentially, a simplified scoring system of your character's gear in SWTOR. There are all sorts of nuance when it comes to gear, stats, status effects, set bonuses and item modification in MMOs, and it helps to aggregate all that information and allow us to gauge our progress at a glance. Many games have this under different names - for example, GearScore or "GS" is the same thing in World of Warcraft.
An important thing to remember though is that IR isn't everything. Item Rating is a decontextualized score of the items you are wearing, and does not account for how well optimized your build is. This is why this guide will also cover what you need to do after you hit that magical 306.
The maximum achievable Item Rating depends on what gear can be acquired in the game, and the current maximum since the release of the Onslaught expansion is 306, but this may increase when BioWare releases more content in the future. However, even if the practical maximum increases, the methods described in this guide will still be applicable unless some major gameplay changes are implemented.
Each individual piece of gear you can wear, as well as item modifications, have their own Item Rating. This is depicted as a number on the item tooltip. Your character's Item Rating is calculated as an average of the item rating of all your equipped gear. The Item Rating of moddable gear depends on the Item Rating of the mods you install - this means you can increase the Item Rating of Adaptive gear by adding stronger mods.
When should I start worrying about Item Rating?
If you are a relatively new, casual or free-to-play player, you're in luck - Item Rating isn't something you need to bother yourself with. It still gets calculated and displayed on your character sheet and on item tooltips, but while you are leveling all you need to care about is switching out whatever item has a little green upward pointing arrow on the icon. Story and solo content in SWTOR is quite easy, and you'll never get stuck due to weak gear as long as you switch out whatever stronger items drop.
As an F2P player, you also don't need to worry about this for multiple reasons - one, you cannot reach maximum level at all unless you become a subscriber and two, free-to-play players do not have what is called "Artifact Equipment Authorization" which enables your character to equip the highest-rated gear. As a subscriber or Preferred player - meaning you were a subscriber in the past, but decided to stop paying for premium status - you can access Artifact items, and if you reached level 75 as a subscriber you keep that level.
Item Rating is something you need to focus on once you hit the maximum level, which is 75. If you don't care about PvP, Operations or other higher difficulty content, you probably still don't need to worry too much because you'll organically have reached a sufficient Item Rating to succeed in solo content. If you want to get the most out of SWTOR and experience the harder content, it's time to get busy.
Endgame Gearing Methods
There are multiple ways to reach an Item Rating of 306 in SWTOR with current content. This score is possible to reach as a solo player, and is possible without engaging in PvP if that isn't your thing - but we warn you, this means the process will be significantly longer, or more costly.
An important thing to remember here is that your current Item Rating always informs the Item Rating of loot drops. You'll never find items significantly below your Item Rating outside of fixed-reward situations like story missions. Similarly, you also won't find vastly more powerful items. The vast majority of drops will be identical to your current IR or below it by 1-2 points. What you are aiming for are the few drops that go above by a few points.
The golden rule of endgame gearing is to only care about the IR until you reach 306. Different classes, subclasses and specializations benefit from different stats - for example, if you are keeping up with the current meta, you will know that a Carnage Marauder needs to focus on the Alacrity stat above all else, the Accuracy stat second, and not bother much with Crit rating. However, if you are under IR 306, just forget about all that. If an item drops with a higher IR but unideal stats, replace it anyway. Optimization happens after your character Item Rating is 306.
While reaching 306 is no trivial matter, there is a silver lining to this all - it's only hard the first time. Since you don't stop getting gear after hitting 306, due to the average calculation you'll soon be swimming in unbound IR 306 items that you can distribute between your other characters. This means those characters will soon hit IR 306, and also start getting max-rating drops, which they can then transfer to other characters - and so forth.
We'll describe the ways you can gear up after reaching level 75 below.
Farm Hammer Station
This is arguably the most cynical method of beelining it to 306, but is also one of the most popular. The Hammer Station flashpoint is one of the fastest flashpoints to complete, so players who prize efficiency above all else farm it non-stop. It isn't the most fun method, since you'll be barreling through the same short raid on repeat. However, by playing on Master Mode once you've geared up a bit is a fast track method that awards you with gear along three avenues.
First of all, there's the drop loot itself. You'll get a decent crop of higher-rated items off the bosses in the Flashpoint. Second of all, you'll gain a lot of Tech Fragments - a special form of currency that can be used to purchase randomly rolled items on the Fleet. Third, Hammer Station has a great deal of trash mobs which will award a lot of Renown Points.
The Renown system is a game mechanic that lets you keep leveling after hitting max level, in a sense. You'll never go beyond Level 75, nor will your stats increase, but you'll collect Renown Points from activities instead of Experience Points, and filling a bar will increase your Renown Rank. Each Renown Rank grants you a Renown Cache, which is essentially a loot box which will give you items and mods based on the same average calculation as other loot. Between boss loot, Tech Fragments and Renown Caches, farming just Hammer Station could get you to IR 306 in about 30 hours played.
Farm Red Reaper
This is yet another Flashpoint farming method, with some caveats. Under ideal circumstances, it is possible to complete Red Reaper much faster than any other Flashpoint, even Hammer Station. The problem is, it is only fast with an all-Stealth Class group, so if you are not maining a Stealth Class you'll have to use an Alt or another method.
The other caveat is that, since you'll be stealthing through the whole Flashpoint, you're missing out on Renown points gained by killing trash mobs. This is countered with the increased speed of completing the encounter itself, but the method may not be for everyone. However, if you run Master Mode Red Reaper exclusively, you'll probably reach 306 quicker than with the Hammer Station method.
Play Warzones with Daily and Weekly PvP missions accepted
This is a method that caters to those players who enjoy PvP in SWTOR. Warzones are a selection of varied PvP encounters ranging from quick and bloody 4v4 arena battles to bigger matches with more players on either side.
Gearing purely through Warzones alone isn't a particularly effective method for a couple of reasons. Warzone Crates awarded at the end of matches drop gear not only based on your IR, but based on your performance during the match and whether your side won or lost.
Performance is gauged by how many Medals you acquired, which are awarded for various actions or stats - killing a number of enemy players, dealing an amount of damage, incurring an amount of damage without dying, and so forth. Achieving medals is on you, but the outcome of the match also depends on your team mates, and losing a match means you probably won't get any good gear.
You can compensate for this however - there are multiple Daily and Weekly repeatable PvP missions that offer "win" crates upon completion, that simply require you to play a number of matches. Some only count matches you win, while others count all matches - in this case, victory will add 2 to your objective instead of 1. If you combine Warzone farming with repeatable PvP missions, you'll start gaining gear at a decent rate, since Warzones and PvP kills also earn you Renown.
Play a balanced rotation of these methods with appropriate repeatable missions accepted
If these methods outlined above seem too grindy for your liking, you needn't worry - one of the best ways to hit Item Rating 306 is to play a variety of Activity Finder content, mainly Flashpoints and Warzones, complemented by associated repeatable missions.
On the Fleet, you can find mission terminals that offer repeatable missions that ask you to play a certain number of Flashpoints, broken down by difficulty level; a certain number of Warzone matches as outlined above; or just a certain number of any kind of Activity Finder content.
Hammer Station and Red Reaper are hardly the only Flashpoints that can get you closer to IR 306 - they're just the fastest ones to complete, and sometimes it might help to change the scenery. Any time lost by playing other, longer Flashpoints will be compensated by the loot awarded by the repeatable missions.
Spicing things up with the occasional PvP match will also make the process less monotone.
Buy Item Rating 306 gear on the Galactic Trade Network
This, while a viable method, is likely the least accessible. A lot of players look at the ways to reach Item Rating 306 get daunted from the scale of the task, and look for a shortcut - a shortcut with credits. Since GTN sellers know there is a market, 306 gear being sold is always ludicrously marked up.
This isn't helped by the current state of the SWTOR economy - the game has been going through a player boom recently, meaning there is a greater amount of in-game currency in circulation. Prices on the GTN where players sell items to players have been steadily increasing over the course of the past year - 306 gear included. Further compounding the issue is that many sources of high-rating items immediately bind that item to your Legacy - this lets you move the item around between your own characters, but you cannot give them to other players - making crafted items the best venue. However, buying crafted items already comes with a markup by default.
It's reasonable to assume you're not rolling in hundreds of millions of credits if you're under Item Rating 306, since that's kind of the sign of being a newer, less experienced player - or F2P/Preferred, who have Credit caps. By the time you'll have earned that much money you could have farmed out the items themselves - leaving the Cartel Market.
If you are willing to pay some real cash in order to hit IR 306 faster, you can purchase Cartel Coins, the premium currency of SWTOR, purchase premium items in the Cartel Market, then sell those for credits on the GTN. That said, the actual sell value of CM items fluctuates, so we wouldn't recommend this as anyone's first choice.
Looping back to gear gained from Renown Caches, if you're not itching to hit IR 306 as quickly as humanly possible, a perfect viable - if slow - method is to just play the game as you would otherwise. Completing practically any content or any activity after hitting Level 75 will award you with Renown Points, meaning you'll inevitably keep getting Renown Caches and gear no matter what you do. Eventually you'll hit 306 by sheer momentum, and as we mentioned above, once you're there with one character, the flood gates are open.
I hit Item Rating 306, what now?
Now, the really hard part begins - optimization. Remember how at the start of this guide we told you to forget all about stats, and focus only on Item Rating? Now you have to do the opposite. At Item Rating 306, you've hit the achievable peak IR in the game, so now all that matters are the stats.
Obviously we're not saying you should switch your gear out to lower-IR pieces with favorable stats - you have to stay at 306 while getting favorable stats. This is also when some other endgame gear starts mattering - namely Set Bonuses, Tacticals, Augments and Amplifiers. We'll take a look at what all of this means broken down by topic.
When it comes to optimizing stats, things are relatively easy - just keep doing what you've been doing until now. Since you have hit IR 306, from now on you'll be flooded with IR 304 and 306 loot from all sources. Item rolls are purely up to chance, so eventually you'll start getting specific IR 306 items that your class and specialization needs. As these items and mods drop, switch them out.
The baseline endgame gear sets in the current version of Star Wars: The Old Republic are the Onderonian and Sha-Tek. By baseline we mean that these do not confer any bonuses when wearing a full set. There are a wide selection of actual endgame item sets available for each class and specialization - these are rarer drops, but do confer set bonuses.
On the Fleet, you will find 4 vendors who are Class Tacticals and Set Bonuses vendors. Here you can check what bonuses, exactly, each endgame set grants after how many pieces. Some bonuses only require your character to wear a couple items from that given set, allowing you to optimize based on your playstyle and role.
Additionally, this vendor - as the name suggests - can sell you these items for a flat rate of 1,000 Tech Fragments and 1,000,000 Credits. By the time you've farmed out 306 gear you'll probably have plenty of both, making this portion of the optimization process rather painless.
The Tactical slot on your character sheet is designed to accept a special type of item that is assorted by class, and confer highly specific situational effects and bonuses. These are exceedingly rare drops, but some can be bought for the same flat rate at the vendors on the Fleet - the kicker is that for most classes, the best Tactical is not available at the vendor. While for some specific class and specialization combinations the "ideal" tactical gives a massive boost, broadly speaking these don't have to huge an impact on your performance, so you don't need to worry too much about getting the best one.
The Amplifier system got a bit of an overhaul recently with Patch 6.2.1 which introduced a new rarity and the option to rarity-lock Amplifier slots. Essentially, Amplifiers are comparatively minor boosts hanging off your individual items that are almost entirely randomly rolled.
Many Amplifiers don't even affect your combat performance - some give you a percentage increase on mission rewards, or gathering yields, or crafting results. However, there are some rather useful Amplifiers too which increase specific damage types or other effects, like the efficiency of healing received and dealt.
One by one, they're a drop in the bucket, but a full set of well optimized Amplifiers can really give you the edge in PvP, or make you that much more effective a Healer or DPS in PvE. Keep in mind that rerolling Amplifiers is an absolute credit sink, though.
This is it, really. Right now, getting ideal Augments - or any, really - is going to be either exceedingly expensive or exceedingly time consuming. Augments can only be crafted by players. They do not drop, they cannot be bought from NPCs. They can be crafted - consuming insane quantities of hard-to-farm resources - or bought on the GTN for appropriately prohibitive prices. This is really the last, arduous step of your gear optimization process, and you need to be ready to sweat for them.
As for what they do - augments go into specific pieces of gear, much like mods, but take up their own specific slot and can infer huge stat bonuses. A top-rated augment of your primary stat is, without exaggeration, a game changer.
Oh - you need to buy or craft an Augment slot too.
Now that you've been armed with this knowledge, it's time to log in and hit that Activity Finder and start farming those items! May the force be with you.