Release Date: October 27, 2004
Buy 'STAR WARS GALAXIES: Jump to Lightspeed': PC
When Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided launched last summer, it was missing one key thing: space. You'd think a game based on the Star Wars universe would have made the inclusion of space content a number one priority, but SOE and LucasArts decided to hold off on this until the game's first expansion, Jump to Lightspeed. Jump to Lightspeed allows players to purchase and create their own ships and advance down three fighter pilot class paths.
When you install JTL and log in for the first time, you'll get a pointer that leads you to a recruiter for one of the three fighter pilot classes: Imperial, Rebel, or Freelancer. Upon signing up for a faction, you'll get your first "starter" craft, be it a Tie Fighter, X-Wing, or Hutt Fighter. You'll also get some basic instructions on how to take off and your first mission assignment.
The good news about the classes is none of the starship fighter professions count against your skill point total, so you're free to become a Master Starfighter without sacrificing any of your hard-earned points. The bad news is, advancement through these levels requires you to grind through both the XP needed to level as well as a pre-set number of missions to unlock the next tier. Also, most of the high-end missions require you to be grouped. The other thing about the classes is they don't take into account your previous declared faction. My character was a Sergeant in the Imperial Forces, but that doesn't stop him from becoming a Rebel pilot if he so chooses, and the reverse is also true.
Your initial starship is also severely crippled. It has weak armor and guns, cannot jump to lightspeed, and you won't be able to upgrade it. As an aside, if you've had an account open for 180 days, you'll get a veteran award, a luxury liner modeled after Lando Calrissian's "Lady Luck," which is the only "starter" ship that's capable of interplanetary travel. This three-story vessel does let you jump to hyperspace and is the best feature I found in the expansion.
Once you progress beyond the novice level for your fighter profession, you'll get hit with the first sticker shock of the game: you can't use the newbie ship for the next group of missions, and you'll need to buy the ship from a player for the tune of 20-50,000 credits, depending on how bad the price gouging is on your server. Also, it's not readily apparent which components you need, so either talk to other players first, or be prepared for some running back to the vendor.
One area they really got right is the feel of the space combat. The gameplay here feels more like the X-Wing and Tie Fighter series than a traditional MMOG. Instead of just clicking on a target and hitting auto-attack, the combat is twitch-based, requiring you to use your reflexes to aim and shoot, which makes the game feel like a flight simulator. There is a little "cheater bull's-eye" that shows you the optimal place to aim, but that's the only combat aid. The dogfights themselves are a blast as you twist and weave your way around the enemy. The PvP dogfights are especially fun and much more challenging than fighting against the AI. I didn't care for the PvP portion of the original but dug the PvP here.
As you progress up the fighter professions, you'll become certified in better ships and weapons. Upon unlocking the Master skill box, you'll be able to fly the YT-1300 class freighter, which is a clone of the Millennium Falcon. This ship lets groups of people fly it, with someone flying the vessel while their friends man the guns. Using the YT against Tie Fighters is arguably the most "Star Warsy" moment in the game.
Launching into space is straightforward. You go to the starport where your ship is parked (unlike the vehicles, where you can only call the ship from the last starport at which you had landed), go to a starship terminal, choose the ship, and then select "launch." Landing requires you to target a space station, request landing clearance and then select a starport at which to land. The landing process takes away from the Star Wars feel, however, and makes the game feel more like EA's Earth and Beyond, which used a similar landing scheme.
The missions themselves have some drawbacks, though. For starters, to get the next mission, you'll need to land on a planet with the trainer and run to them to get the next mission. Then you run back to the starport, launch into space, fly out to the target area and kill the mobs, then fly back to the landing station, land, run back to the trainer, lather, rinse, repeat. I spent more time going from place to place than I did actually killing things. The ability to land at the various space stations and get missions from there would have streamlined the process, but as it is now, you can't avoid the ground game at all.
The other skill tree opened up in JTL is the shipwright profession, which, as you've guessed, lets you build ships. The core of SWG's design is that player-made gear is the best in the game. I don't disagree with that philosophy, but I'll also add that in SWG, player-made gear is the only gear in the game; most of what drops is either junk to be sold off or something that lets you upgrade a crafted item. JTL makes it a tad better. As you fight, you'll occasionally loot a piece that you can actually use on your ship, while the player-crafted items are still supposed to be better. The downside, though, is that you won't be looting core parts, like the chassis, forcing you to seek out a player merchant to purchase the part. I'd have been happier with being able to buy a far inferior ship from a merchant if I'm unable to find a player-made one. I've recently noticed that as demand ebbs for lower-tier items, they are getting scarcer. Part of that reason is the immense resource costs the components take, often groups of several thousand units. Also, like the other crafting professions, there's a serious grind here, and players may feel pressured into getting to Master fast in order to stay competitive.
There are a handful of new zones in the game, and they are broken down in a logical manner. For example, Naboo and its moon, Rori, are in the same space zone. Completely new zones are the mining moon Kessel – you can't land there because it's a PvP space zone only – and some other PvP areas.
JTL also lets you dogfight other players in PvP Unlike the ground game, you can't just declare yourself as overt and fly around the main zones doing PvP; instead you need to go to a special zone that's reserved for PvP. The beauty of this system is that it keeps the PvP away from people who want no part of it and gives them their own, clearly marked area. Like the ground game, the PvP component rewards those with better gear, so you'll want to keep your stuff up to date. Also, the damage-to-hit points ratio is a little off, as you can kill people in a couple of shots.
The space zones themselves look good. While there is an abundance of nebulas, it really gives you the impression of being in space. The cockpit models and starships look decent, if a tad blocky at times. Where they really nailed it, though, was in the sound department. The first time I heard a group of Tie Fighters flying by, I was amazed at how well the developers had recreated the sounds from the movie, down to the "skree-skree" sounds of the lasers. The explosions themselves look great too, again capturing the feel perfectly from the films.
The expansion does a decent job at its core idea: to let players finally leave the ground and put the "Star" in the Star Wars portion of the game. Unfortunately, the implementation is a little haphazard, making it only feel a little like Star Wars. I'm not happy that players can't completely divorce themselves from the ground game if they want, as well as the fact that an overt Imperial from the ground game can advance down the Rebel Pilot missions if they so choose, and vice versa. Being able to have architects build space stations that guilds could have used and equip them with the various mission terminals from the ground game would have helped to truly immerse you in space. How cool would it be for a Bounty Hunter to get a mission from a space terminal or the deck of a Star Destroyer and then go on a merry chase through an asteroid field? Pretty darn cool in my book, and it's something that should be there. Also, why does a Rebel or Imperial pilot need to pay to upgrade his or her own ships? Is the Empire that strapped for cash?
That said, flying around in space is very fun, though not as fast-paced as I'd like. JTL is also designed to reward the player who has stuck with the game since launch and not the newer player, given the costliness of the parts. When Luke exclaimed to Obi-Wan, "17,000 credits?! Why, we could buy our own ship for that!" he must have been referring to just the chassis, and not the engine, reactor and capacitors required to actually get the ship into space.
If you've been playing SWG for a while, it's a worthwhile expansion, and even with its flaws, feels a lot more like the movies than the pre-expansion game. If you cancelled shortly after launch, then unless you have a Sugar Daddy in the game, you may find that it's a long road to getting the costly ship upgrades necessary to reach hyperspace.
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