Friday, 21 July 2017

Manaan stronghold review

Last week, a lot of my gaming time was spent in LOTRO, trying to finish the Scavenger hunt and the Summer festival in time. But when SWTOR's update 5.3 went live Tuesday last week, I just had to login to check out the Manaan stronghold. As I had been rooting for a Rishi stronghold instead and was occupied in LOTRO, I had totally forgotten how online decorating excites me. Apparently my guildies know me better, though, because two of them were already there, waiting for me to purchase the stronghold so they could look around. Their reactions were mixed, just like those of my fellow bloggers and people on Twitter.

Things I love

Let's talk about the good stuff first: it's Manaan. Although I'm more of a Rishi kinda gal myself, Manaan has been requested (and predicted) as a stronghold location ever since strongholds were introduced. Similarly to Tatooine, there's a nice intro video when you travel to the stronghold - although, frankly, I wish there was an option to turn it off, since it comes up every time and most people just spacebar through it by now.

The characteristic Manaan music from KOTOR is present, setting the correct tranquil atmosphere. From outside, it looks exactly as you would expect from Manaan in KOTOR (see above).

The Makeb gazebo looks like the remains of an ancient civilization in underwater Manaan

You can place things under water in the under water part of the stronghold, which is a nice touch. I'm happy that the underwater outdoor hooks hold centrepieces, because most strongholds don't have that many centrepiece hooks. Through the years, I've ended up with more cool centrepiece decorations than I have space to put down. The hook typing also makes sense stylistically, since if you'd place anything that's not a centrepiece, it would look quite small from that distance.

Inside, a glass plate on the floor allows you to see the coral and fish underneath, while a huge Firaxen shark can be seen in the distance, circling around the stronghold.

Fun fact: the Manaan stronghold doors remind me of HK! Now I've seen it, I can't 'un-think' it anymore and I greet them with "Good morning, meatbags" every time I pass.

Despite these cool things, many disappointed voices can be heard in the community. This sentiment stems from two concerns: the hook system and missed opportunities. In the rest of this post, I will look into more detail into this criticism. I will also review the Deepwater Essentials decorations that were released with the Manaan stronghold in mind.

Hook system

Out of all available strongholds, the hook placement of the Manaan stronghold is by far the worst. Like many MMOs, SWTOR has a pre-set hook system with decorations and hooks being tied to certain sizes (small, medium, large, centrepiece and starship etc). There are some options to change hooks to smaller hook combinations, but you cannot set them to larger types than preset. Floor decorations can be moved horizontally (usually not by very much), but not vertically.

In the outdoor part of the stronghold, the hooks are spread out and few, so the place will look empty, no matter how much stuff you place there.

Welcome to Manaan! -xxx- Your neighbour's army of naked companions (bug)

The two long rows of small hooks along the route to the stronghold interior are a strange choice: you can only put small decorations, like NPCs or small plants there (see above). Other logical decorations to place there, like benches that one can sit on and enjoy the fountains, cannot be placed because they require at least a medium narrow hook. A row of medium or medium narrow hooks would've been much more useful, because they can always be changed into two small hooks when needed (while pre-set small hooks cannot be changed into larger hooks).

Another minor annoyance is that the rug hooks are so far apart that you can never connect the rugs to each other.

The observatory completely lacks large hooks, ruining my plans for a cantina

Many places in the Manaan stronghold suffer from the same mistake: pre-determined small & medium hooks at spots where large(r) hooks would've been appropriate severely limit the possibilities of decorators. It looks like they were designed with specific decorations in mind, which leaves little room for creativity.

Another example of this is the interior part of the Rooftop Garden level. Only allowing for medium hooks and smaller on the sides, many cool decorations are barred from being used.

The opposite is the case for the siderooms of the underwater interior: here a centrepiece hook is placed. It's a strange place for a hook of that type, because most decorations that require a centrepiece hook are quite tall and clip through the ceiling. This specific hook seems to be intended for the new Manaan: Lounge Set decoration that requires a centrepiece hook.

It's a bit silly that this decoration needs a centrepiece hook, though, because it's quite small. As you can see, placing the Manaan Lounge Set leaves a huge space undecorated in this room. You can't even put a rug in front of it to cheer up the place, because there is no hook for it at that spot.

For decorating purposes, four or more large hook tiles (each with 9 small ones attached) would've been a lot more useful.

Generator Ceiling Lights

There are more oddities. For instance, it bugs me that the middle ceiling lamp in the central underwater room cannot be changed; it comes with the stronghold. I guess it has something to do with the optimal lighting for the glass floor below. Speaking of which, it actually does a poor job of lighting the surface floor. I wish the reflection of the glass was a bit less so you could see better what's swimming down below.

It's downright weird that the underwater siderooms have small hooks for the ceiling lights. The Huttese Wall Sconces are the best looking on this spot, but if you don't want your room to be green or orange, you're out of luck. There's basically just the Basic Junker's Light to go with, and that barely emits any light at all. Regardless of what small light you put up there, the rooms will stay badly lit.

Perhaps the developers really like the thought of the rooms being very dark for some reason, but I would have preferred to have a choice in this. As is, I went with luminescent decorations so you can at least see something.

The hook system in SWTOR is always a challenge when you're trying to realize decorating plans, but it seems particularly bad on Manaan. Overall, I get the impression not much testing was done before assigning the hooks of this stronghold.

The Fountain of Tranquility

Deepwater Essentials bundle

Okay, so there are a couple of wonky things about this stronghold and you're allergic to the word "hook" by now. Let's have an intermezzo and look at the things that came with the Deepwater Essentials Bundle before we go straight on to Missed opportunities. (As a stronghold addict, I couldn't stop myself from buying one to see what's inside.)

First off, there's the Fountain of Tranquility, a pretty gold statue that requires a centrepiece hook (see above). The spot above is the only place that makes sense and I must admit that it does look magnificent.

Another item from the bundle that I adore is the Manaan Floorlamp. Sadly, you only get one per bundle, so these inevitably end up being rare and sought after on the GTN. The developers seem clueless when it comes to what types of decorations are needed in which quantities. It's telling when lamps and trash cans are among the most expensive items on the in-game market.

Manaan Lounge Set

The aforementioned Manaan Lounge Set looks best outside, where the enormous space in front of it looks more intentional, pretty much like a square. The lights don't make a lot of sense that way, but, ah well. It would be a shame to let the decoration go to waste since I've already consumed it.

The Manaan Office Set is another decoration with strange hook assignment. It needs a large hook, whereas the old CZ-198 Arrangement: Executive's Desk is an almost exact copy that can go on a medium tile (see the right picture below). With the Manaan Office Set, my underwater rooms looked empty (the conversion from centrepiece hook had me pick between either 4 large hooks or 1 large hook and 8 medium hooks). So I ended up selling mine on the GTN to fill it with several Executive's Desks instead.

Aquarium: Laa/Faa Scalefish (left) and Large Aquarium (right)

I was pretty excited about the aquarium decorations. Unfortunately, the lighting in the fish tanks is done poorly: you barely see that there are any fish in there at all. The small ones look a bit better on the picture above, but that's just because I put them in front of a (built in) wall light.

I do enjoy the Manaan Patio Set (below) and the fact that they fit on a medium narrow hook. I wish they came with more than one per bundle.

The Firaxen Shark (left) and the Manaan Patio Set (right)

Missed opportunities

Although I generally like what I see, my friends and I concluded that there are many missed opportunities, most of them in the underwater area. As mentioned earlier, the ocean below the glass floor in the Underwater Observatory is dark, so you can't see what's below very well. It's nice that there's that little extra realism with the reflection of the glass, but in my opinion it's a bit much: you can barely look outside now, even if the bottom of the ocean would be well lit. Surely that isn't the intention!

I must admit that I had hoped the ocean floor to look a bit more impressive, with cool fish and plants. It's a bit bland as is. That said, perhaps it's more realistic like this.

However, what's a real shame is that the windows to look outside aren't that big. I'd have loved to have a real underwater observatory, with rooms of which the walls and ceiling are completely made of glass. Think of something along the lines of the Odessen Command Centre decoration. I also wouldn't mind the pretty water reflection that can be seen at the edges of the underwater rooms (see above) cover the entire side rooms. Now that would be something!

While we're at it, why not allow us to go outside in one of those funny underwater spacesuits from KOTOR to inspect those decorations we've put down? #Pipedreams

Aerial view of the Manaan stronghold (check here how to make these)

Other complaints involve people saying that the stronghold isn't big enough for its price. A Manaan stronghold costs 2,5 million credits, whereas the much larger Tatooine stronghold (I jokingly call it my Tatooine village) costs 2,8 million credits: not all that much more for a much larger amount of space.

There's something to say for that, although I don't mind the price that much (I realise I fit in the category "stronghold addict: will pay anything for SWTOR housing", though). There is a lot of space in the outside area, although it's not all that exciting to decorate. Mox, on the latest CRR show, theorized that the luxurious Manaan being more expensive per square metre makes sense, because everybody would want to live there; naturally, nobody wants to live on a backwater planet like Tatooine! That gave me a good chuckle.

It's also a bit of a shame that you cannot get to your ship - in fact, it took me a while to find the starship hook, as it's not on a very obvious spot (if you are with your back to the statue, facing towards the stronghold, it's to your right on top of a building). It's just a minor detail, but if I'd roleplay I would be sad.

To end on a positive note: the outdoors part of the Rooftop Garden is done exactly right. I finally found the perfect spot for my spa decoration. As you can see above, Ravanel approves (+10 influence).


Manaan is a cool planet, and I'm happy to have a new project that allows me to obsess over decorating. However, it's clear that there is some missed potential: the hook system could be implemented in a less obnoxious way, and the stronghold overall - the underwater area in particular - could have looked a lot cooler. For SWTOR housing addicts, this stronghold is a must have, but others might be content visiting their friend's place instead.


  1. The thing with the intro cut scene is really odd. For years people have been asking for an option to repeat it for the other strongholds, so now they make one where it goes to the other extreme and plays every time - I can't help but wonder if it's a bug. They should just make a button to click in all the strongholds to replay the cut scene if you like, and only make it mandatory the first time.

    1. I always have a cutscene for my Tatooine stronghold and the guild ship as well, so I thought it was intended. I agree, a box you can check or uncheck in the stronghold menu would be the perfect solution.

  2. I keep expecting to see a Carnival cruise ship in the distance. No idea why.

    1. That must be one hell of an extremely boring cruise trip. I've never even seen a ripple on Manaan's oceanic surface. The absence of abovewater wildlife (no birds etc) feels odd, too. It makes sense because of the lack of natural landmass, I suppose. Still, Manaan has always felt a bit artificial to me because of it.

  3. I love the concept of the Manaan SH. Must have for a SH addict like me, but I am always told I'm LEAVING a rest area when I get there.>:/ Kind of defeats the purpose of a luxury place, not so? Also I agree that the hook layouts are silly but adaptability is the hallmark of a clever decorator. Where others see problems, I see disasters!! Wait...

    1. Haha, yes, I will battle the weird hook layouts with vigour! It felt liberating to explain what's bothering me, though. It gave me some insight in the problems to tackle, as well. :)


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