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I finished act 1, and it gave me an option to choose a surname as part of the legacy system. I guess this is shared by all my alts?
What other benefits are there for this (or have they mentioned any future benefits of this)?

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The idea of the Legacy system is a way that your character's actions can influence other characters you create since they all share one surname.

Currently there isn't much to the system, but the designers, in various interviews, have stated that they will try to use the system to encourage people to play different characters among other things.

Note that this name is unique and should be chosen carefully as these names will be difficult to change.

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I heard that the surname only applied to one server now. –  Corey D Dec 21 '11 at 20:35
    
@Corey D thanks, I'll correct it unless someone points out otherwise –  z ' Dec 21 '11 at 20:37
    
marked as answer. If the idea is to encourage playing different characters, I wonder if being able to allow cross-faction sharing of items with your alts will be part of it –  Rodolfo Dec 21 '11 at 21:27
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The Legacy system has been live for a while now and offers a lot more than just the name (which does not need to be unique).

From http://www.swtor.com/info/legacy, the boring part:

The Family Tree

With the Legacy System, you can connect each of your characters together in a family tree, which becomes available when one of your characters completes the first chapter of his or her class story. Within your family tree, you can define the relationships between each of your characters on a server, assigning them as spouses, siblings, children or valued allies. Not only will this tie your characters together with the same last name, but it will also allow each character to begin contributing to your Legacy level.

The good part is unlocking things usable across all your characters. For each of the 8 classes, you unlock an ability whenever you complete an act of the story for the first time with a character of that class. The unlocked ability is available to all alts of the same faction.

  • Act 1: An emote of the unlocking character's class, such as /knight.
  • Act 2: The buff of the unlocking character's class, such as Force Might.
  • Act 3: A new version of one of the unlocking character's class abilities, such as Legacy Force Sweep (based on Force Sweep). This can only be used during a Heroic Moment and is much more powerful than the original move.

You can also unlock Legacy abilities by reaching a particular Legacy level (1-50) similar to character levels1). Some you can unlock by paying credits or by reaching a particular Social level as well. These include things like reducing the cooldown timer for Quick Travel, getting a mailbox on your ship, or gaining extra social abilities.

Other bits include the ability to unlock a species for all classes (allowing you to create a Zabrak Smuggler, for example) and special Legacy Gear that you can pass between your characters. This MMOsite article has an in-depth look at everything if you want more detail.

There were also some interesting changes in Patch 1.3:

The Legacy system will see another major expansion in Patch 1.3. Some of the most exciting additions focus on providing alternate ways to level, with players being given the opportunity to to unlock bonus experiences gains in Flashpoints, PvP Warzones or Space Combat.

Patch 2.0 added an Achievement system, and you can work towards achievements across your Legacy:

What sets Legacy Achievements in Star Wars™: the Old Republic™ apart from similar achievement systems in many other games is that actions from all characters in your Legacy contribute to your Legacy Achievements. Need to discover and dance with 100 kinds of womp rats on Tatooine? No sweat---dance with 50 of them with your Scoundrel while he is on the planet and then go dance with the other 50 later with your Powertech. Your progress is tracked across both characters and the Achievement and its rewards are available to all characters in your Legacy. So you are always contributing to the same set of Achievements and rewards regardless of which character you are playing.


1You get less Legacy experience than normal experience for a given action, and Legacy levels require much more XP, so you'll need to play a lot to unlock the later Legacy levels!

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