Today SWTOR players all over the world were in for a big surprise. I don't know if anyone wasn't surprised, though I do seem to have a very, very vague recollection of the devs mentioning that they had plans for world events before, so it's possible that people knew about it beforehand... but I'm pretty sure that the vast majority knew nothing specific. The fact that we'd be getting a full-blown world event launched into our faces so soon after 1.2 certainly wasn't in the patch notes.
For me, it started innocuous enough actually, with a guildie going on about "something" happening on Tatooine today, according to some developer's Twitter feed. His reference was really vague however and didn't exactly make any of us jump out of our seats in excitement.
However, as we returned to the station after a round of dailies in the early afternoon (UK time), strange new announcements started to be made on the station. Something about an outbreak of rakghoul plague... At first I thought that maybe it was just another way for Bioware to promote the new flashpoint. However, the announcements became more urgent over time, and suddenly news terminals began to appear in front of all the major elevators on the station. If you clicked on them you got to see a news broadcast about the rakghoul plague breaking out on Tatooine.
If the government urges you to stay home to remain safe, what's the logical thing to do for an adventurer? Rush headlong into the danger zone of course! If you emerge from Anchorhead spaceport as a Republic player, you immediately find some emergency notice terminals there which treat you to another news video about the extent of the plague outbreak on Tatooine. (Afterwards you get a little buff called "informed", which I thought was a nice touch. EDIT: Apparently this is actually part of another little scavenger hunt! Check The Land of Odd for details.) It was interesting to watch how the news spread on the server, and the number of players on the planet rose steadily as the day went on.
General chat was full of people asking and answering questions about what was going on, and we were eventually directed towards an area with some quests in it. As it happens we did things in the "wrong" order though, which led to some unnecessary running back and forth.
Where you want to start as a Republic player is Outpost Thorazan in the Dune Sea. Travelling north-east from there, you'll find a crashed space ship just north of the road leading east towards the next sub-zone. Discovering the crash site begins a five-step daily area mission called Wreck of the Stardream, centred around discovering what happened to the ship.
The area is teeming with hostile rakghouls, though I found that they seemed to have a very low aggro radius, which was quite a relief considering that it was very busy and respawns were pretty quick. More importantly though, the whole area was chock full of players from both factions, and impromptu world PvP happened all over the place, though since I play on a PvE server, not everyone was hostile. For example I cooperated with an agent to kill a gold quest mob faster for the both of us.
During the quest you'll unlock two new codex entries (filed away under "Events") about the "Rakghoul Pandemic". I do recommend reading them; I thought the infected captain's last entry was particularly amusing - replacing letters with numbers truly is a sign of the insane... At the end of the little chain you're also rewarded with four Rakghoul DNA Samples and a Rakghoul Vaccine.
While killing rakghouls in the wreckage, you should have found a blood sample that starts another quest called - surprise, surprise - Blood Sample. You get sent to Outpost Largona to analyse it there and get to make a light/dark side choice about what to do with the resulting knowledge. As you go to act on this, you'll discover another daily area mission that awards you two codex entries, four Rakghoul DNA Samples and a Rakghoul Vaccine if you complete the whole thing. I thought this chain had the potential to be quite devious towards unwitting low-level players. So far the event seems to be targetted at max-level players, but the first step in this chain features some neutral low-level mobs that, once attacked, will summon in several level 50 friends. I can see that making for a painful surprise for someone who just happens to be levelling there and decides to attack that neutral mob on a whim... (EDIT: Actually, according to the latest info, the additional mobs that spawn are adjusted to the level of the player who spawns them, so lowbies can participate without getting ganked. Hurrah!)
Anyway, the light/dark side choice ends with you being sent back to Anchorhead to deliver your results to a dropbox, which results in another reward of two Rakghoul DNA Samples plus either another sample or a pair of moddable Republic Containment Officer Boots.
That was all I saw of the event content on my first day, though I heard that there is world boss involvement as well. Supposedly Trapjaw (the Tatooine world boss) has been infected with the plague as well, and there's supposed to be a new boss too? I tried to get some information out of people in general chat late at night, but they were too busy bickering about who should be in whose ops to kill the world boss. (EDIT: The Land of Odd has more information on this as well.)
Now, all this excitement immediately raised a lot of questions, for example: What's the point of Rakghoul DNA Samples? The tooltip says that someone on Tatooine might be interested in them, and as it turns out a special vendor has appeared with the event as well. A bit north of the ship wreck a little jawa called Jeelvic sells a couple of new goodies, basically using the DNA Samples as his currency of choice. Specifically, he offers a variety of black-green colour crystals for 75 or 83 samples each, a "Pale Rakling", which is essentially a pet rakghoul (WTF) for 60 samples and Infected Companion Lockboxes which contain a random companion customisation for 20 samples. (I don't know whether those are new or existing customisations.) He also sells more Rakghoul Vaccine for two thousand credits a pop.
For how long will this event be going on then? Judging by the fact that you can only get 11 samples max from the dailies right now and that you need a lot more than that to be able to buy anything, I reckon that the event will be ongoing for at least a week or two. In my opinion it's also likely that similar plague outbreaks will occur on other planets, as the news broadcasts do hint at multiple planets being affected, and you'd expect us to get moddable Republic Containment Officer gear for slots other than our feet, which I could easily see coming from missions on other planets.
Finally of course... how dangerous is the plague? You can actually catch it as a player, and I did so on both of my max level characters when it came to investigating the escape pod and all those rakghouls burst from the ground. I don't know if it's transmitted by means other than getting mauled by rakghouls though - it didn't seem terribly contagious to me, but who knows. So far it's been rather hilarious to watch people's reactions to getting infected. First off, most don't even notice immediately - including myself, but you bet that I noticed when I got dismounted from my speeder because my character needed to throw up! I became quite distressed as my sickness debuff started to sound worse and worse, no matter how much I tried to tell myself that I didn't have anything to seriously worry about in this game. I used the vaccine as soon as I got it.
Other people were curious however and wanted to see what would happen if they let the plague run its course, or sometimes they never even noticed until it was too late. Apparently it does turn you into a rakghoul eventually and you do keel over dead. Again this was a source of much amusement as members of my guild blew up seemingly at random while questing on Tatooine. On the fleet I had the pleasure of recording this instance of friendly teasing of a person who didn't know what the plague was going to do to him.
While I didn't see it myself, there were apparently also people jokingly advertising that they were selling the cure to the plague for large amounts of credits.
I have to say, even though the rakghoul storyline in general is not one of my favourites, I'm really excited about this event. It's been a while since I got to enjoy a proper world event, and the fact that Bioware is springing one on us so early in the game's life cycle is a pleasant surprise to me.
The only thing that confuses me a bit is just how bad this rakghoul plague is really supposed to be. On the one hand the story keeps going on about how it's untreatable, yet a random jawa in the desert can sell vaccines wholesale? I guess that's where storytelling and practicality collide a bit. Still, I can't argue with a wholesome amount of zombie fun.