Publisher: Lucas Arts
Developer: Sony Online Entertainment
Release Date: May 24, 2005
About two years ago on some servers not too far away, Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided went live with great expectations to live up to. Sony had to make sure that fans got more than just EverQuest with stormtroopers and lightsabers.
Well … it didn't exactly work out. Like many MMORPG launches, Galaxies had its fair share of bugs. People got frustrated on their quest to find the Force and become a Jedi Knight, as the process was supposedly individualized for each character. And on top of all of that, the epic space battles that play a major role in the appeal of Star Wars were nowhere to be found. Instead, players could look forward to grinding away on Tatooine, hunting womp rats and being humiliatingly decimated by the indigenous shadows wrapped in robes that are the Jawas.
Luckily, enough change has happened in the past couple of years to make Star Wars Galaxies: The Total Experience worth playing. The Total Experience includes the main game and the two expansions which have since been released, Jump to Lightspeed (which introduces the space travel and combat An Empire Divided was sorely missing) and Episode III: Rage of the Wookiees (which expands the galaxy with the addition of the Wookiee home world of Kashyyyk). Besides the expansions, a Combat Upgrade has been released that makes individual character classes more unique, and the game has undergone the necessary patching to alleviate the problems caused by the bugs.
Star Wars Galaxies takes place between Episodes IV and V in the original movie trilogy, so despite the destruction of the Death Star, the Empire is far from defeated. After the obligatory opening credits explaining your situation, the character generator pops up. A healthy mix of races is available to choose from, including the all-around humans, reptilian Trandoshans, mighty Wookiees, and the often-mentioned-but-never-seen Bothans.
After choosing your character's race, tweaking their physical appearance and naming them, you're dropped into either the new player tutorial (which I would recommend) or Mos Eisley on Tatooine. When do you choose your class, you ask? Well, SWG is a little different from other MMORPGs in this way. Specific types of experience points are gained from doing their respective tasks. Go hunting for dewbacks with a pistol, and you'll net pistol and combat experience; dance or play music in a cantina and gain entertainment experience; or craft armor and weapons to earn engineering experience. When you have enough experience to move up the skill tree, you'll have to either pay a trainer to teach you the skill so you can move on to the next, or group with another player and have them teach it for free. This system is a welcome change, as it encourages the higher-level players to take the newbies under their wings as apprentices of sorts.
Missions and quests are admittedly straightforward and get repetitive fast. Just follow the waypoint to a lair where enemies spawn (be it a kreetle lair or a Rodian settlement), destroy said lair, and claim your fabulous cash prizes. Lather, rinse, repeat. Later on, when you reach the advanced professions (bounty hunter, smuggler, commando, etc.) you can access mission terminals that cater to that profession, but for the first few weeks, it's nothing but lairs and spice fiend camps for you. Space missions aren't much more entertaining, prompting you to patrol trade routes, engage any enemies you find, etc. Nevertheless, you'll feel compelled to do them if not for the credits which will buy you better equipment, then for the experience which opens up better skills and abilities.
Unlike combat on the ground, which is mostly clicking on an enemy and letting the computer handle the rest, space combat occurs in real time. I'd recommend getting some sort of joystick to eliminate the frustration of not being able to make fine enough adjustments to stay on your enemy's six. While the combat occurs in real-time, it's still not entirely skill-driven. If your enemy has better weapons, shields, and armor than you, you're all but dead in the water. Ship maintenance is a drain on your finances as well, so for the most part, stay out of space until you've built up your bank account enough to handle it.
Graphically, Galaxies is no World of Warcraft or Guild Wars. The engine is older and the age shows, as many textures look flat and bland by today's standards. Tatooine is hurt the most by this, as every city and town you visit will have you checking your map just to make sure you're not just coming back to the same one over and over. Other planets (Naboo, Dantooine, and Kashyyyk in particular) are a little more varied in their environments, though. Character models are passable, but the fine details that make each player character unique are impossible to see without zooming in all the way.
The sound is what we've come to expect from Star Wars: excellent. From the familiar John Williams score to the distinct sound of igniting lightsabers that draw crowds hoping to see some Jedi action, Star Wars fans will feel right at home.
If you want to see and do everything in this game, it'll take you the better part of a few months (less if you play non-stop, I suppose). Luckily, nearly all of the players are more than happy to help if you ask. This is one of the friendliest and supportive player communities I've ever seen, and that's no small feat. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the pull of the game itself; there's something to be said about being able to visit the rest of the world that you only partly saw in the movies or read about in the books. Star Wars fans have plenty of points of interest to visit on each planet, such as Jabba's Palace on Tatooine or Amidala's private beach on Naboo.
If you're a Star Wars fan, there's a good chance you already play Galaxies. If you don't, there's never been a better time to start. If you're just a fan of the genre or even new to it, you may be better off with World of Warcraft because Galaxies isn't a great deal different than older MMORPGs like EverQuest or Anarchy Online and isn't as easy as WoW to dive into without already being a fan of the material.