Reviewed: March 2, 2005
Released: June 26, 2003
Editorial Note: We've combined the SWG and JTL reviews because you cannot play JTL without SWG and frankly, you wouldn't want to play SWG without JTL. The following text and scores are relative to each game independently and as a whole.
Lucasarts has been making games based in the Star Wars universe for years. Everything from first person shooters to racing games to role-playing. Finally, though, with the popularity of the Massive Multiplayer Online genre exploding on the market, Lucasarts along with Sony Online Entertainment was able to release a game that allows players to immerse themselves into the world of Star Wars in any way that they wish. That game was Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided. And with the release of the Jump to Lightspeed expansion pack that allows players to pilot starships in space that immersion has nearly doubled for players.
Star Wars Galaxies (or SWG) is a Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (or MMORPG). It features many of the planets and locations featured in the movies. For example, you can go and visit Jabba’s Palace on Tatooine, or the Mos Eisley Cantina where Luke and Obi Wan went and met up with Han and Chewie. There are also locations that are from some of the books that have been set in the Star Wars universe. The environments and atmosphere of the game make you feel like you’re living in the world of the movies.
I have been a Star Wars fan, loving everything that has anything to do with the world, since I was three years old. I’ve also had a little experience with various MMO’s, very much enjoying that genre of gaming. So, when I got the chance to play this game that allowed me to explore a universe that I know so well and experience it in any way that I chose, needless to say, I was extremely excited.
Star Wars Galaxies is all about freedom. From the initial character creation phase, which allows you to choose from nine races along with a starting profession, and then customize every detail of that character from eye color and shape to race-specific features like skin colorings and horns, it is obvious that each player’s experience is going to be different and unique.
I chose to create a Bothan scout by the name of Kaeleb Yazzek (if you have trouble coming up with a Star Wars sounding name, you can even use a random name generator to help you out). After character creation is an interesting story-driven tutorial that integrates your character into the world at the same time. You then pick a planet to start on. I, being a fan of the original movies, chose to start my characters life on Tatooine. Almost immediately, I went and visited the cantina. I was greeted by the sights and sounds that are all too familiar: Figrin Da’an was playing, off in the corner and I think I may have bumped into that alcoholic Jawa on my way through the crowd of Player- and Non-Player characters.
Soon after seeing some of the sights in Mos Eisley, I decided to start working on some of my skills. I decided to try and work on scouting skills as well as the prerequisites for becoming a Smuggler. One of the interesting things about SWG is that there are no levels, as many other RPG’s have. Character progression is through a skill system where you gain skill-specific experience points as you complete tasks. If you kill a creature with a pistol, for example you get pistol weapon experience points. After a certain amount of pistol weapon experience points is gained, you can go to a marksman trainer who can teach you the next skill in pistols, which then gives you better chances to hit, increased damage, additional skills, etc.
The only thing that limits a character is skill points. You can master as many skills as you want until you max out your skill points, which prevents the people who have been playing the game since it was released from being a master of every profession, of which there are many.
Like to make things? You can be an artisan and create nearly every item in the game and sell it on the galactic market. Like to make people feel better? You can be a medic or an entertainer; both professions are required to heal various types of wounds that are incurred by players throughout the game. Like to kill things? You can be a marksman or a brawler, fighting with any and every weapon that you’ve ever seen in a Star Wars movie and then some.
And the list goes on. Those are just the basic professions. Combine unarmed combat with pistols and you can then work on becoming a smuggler, as I did. Or, you can master scout and marksman and then work on becoming a bounty hunter and follow in the footsteps of Boba Fett, hunting down NPC’s and Player Characters across the galaxy. And, of course, with the addition of Jump to Lightspeed (JTL) you can work on your piloting skills. You can fly X-Wings, TIE Fighters, or even the famous YT-1300 (the model of ship that the Millennium Falcon was).
Also, you can choose to support one of the factions in the universe, either Rebel or Imperial, if you agree with their political ambitions. Doing faction specific missions can earn you rank within the faction, giving you more power to call upon resources from that faction. For example, I saw one guy with so much clout he had his own personal AT-ST escorting him on missions. With a recent patch that was just released, called the Galactic Civil War, it allowed cities in the game to be controlled by a faction. In other words, if you and a bunch of Rebel friends decide to get together and storm Mos Eisley and kill all the stormtroopers in it, you can change the alignment of the city from Imperial to Rebel, and vice-versa.
There are a ton of features in the game. In fact, it is so complex and there are so many things to do (including working on becoming Force Sensitive and eventually becoming a Jedi) that you could easily play the game for a year and still be working on doing things that you have yet to do.
One major complaint about the game is that it is, what gamers call “a grindfest”. Grinding is doing one thing over and over again gaining experience points until you gain the skill that you were working on getting. I found this to be true, but I also found that it is because a lot of people are so focused on mastering skills. If that is what you want to do, then yes, the game will be all grinding for you. If you allow yourself to explore, meet people, and stuff like that, you can add flavor to the game.
The piloting aspect of the game is very well done. If you ever played and enjoyed X-Wing, TIE Fighter, or any of the spin offs, you’ll enjoy the piloting in JTL. Although the missions are basically geared towards blowing up enemy ships, either while escorting a friendly ship, or just going on hunts, or while retrieving property from a ship by disabling it and then docking with it, they are still exciting enough to keep you entertained for hours. One of the coolest features is the multi-player ships like the YT-1300. One person will pilot the ship while two will man the upper and lower gun turrets. Another can even get in the co-pilot chair and control the shields and weapon energy. Also, you can just roam around the ship and have a seat in the back while your buddies cart you around the galaxy.
The control in the game is similar to any other MMO that you may have played. Combat is basically point and click (except in space where it is skill-oriented). The crafting is user-friendly enough to allow anyone to do it fairly simply. The in-game chat program is text-based and works well. One cool feature with this is that when you say something that is commonly recognized, like “hello” or “hi” there are often graphical “emotes” that happen automatically with the statement. When you type “Hello” your character will say that, and wave at the person you are saying hello to at the same time.
The online community for SWG is amazing. Shortly after playing, I was invited to join a Guild of all Bothans. Their home is on Dantooine, where they have a city of their own. The mayor is a member of the guild, who controls the city’s resources, etc. I was given a house that I can furnish with the spoils of my adventures. Every time I get online, no matter what time of day, there are several members of my guild online. And there are always people playing. Tons of them. No matter when you go, if you go to any major city you’ll be surrounded by hundreds of other players all eager to form a hunting party or just chat (about SW or non-SW topics).
Everyone is extremely friendly and helpful. Since the game has already been out for a while, many of the people who have been around for a while are…well…monetarily privileged and won’t even bat an eye at giving a new player some of the things that they will need to help them get going (like weapons, speederbikes, armor, etc).
The graphics are impressive in the game. There is a massive amount of detail. One downside to this is that even higher-end systems may have trouble running the game at maximum detail and maintain a high frame-rate. I run the game on the lowest resolution but with the details high and keep an average of about 15-20 fps in a crowded metropolitan area, but when I’m out in the field hunting, I get 30 fps easily.
There are so many things that you’ll see in the game that if you’ve ever seen the movies, you’ll constantly be saying to yourself, “Wow, that’s just how it looked in the movies.”
I was running along on Tatooine and just kind of stumbled across this destroyed Jawa transport and realized it was the one that was destroyed in Episode IV. I then visited the Sarlacc pit and was absolutely terrified of getting too close to it.
The sounds, as well, are impressive. There are so many ambient sounds that instantly put you in the movies, it’s amazing. The weapon sound effects are right on, as are the engine sound effects of the ships. Nothing, I think, is quite as distinctive as the sound of a TIE engine as it screams past.
The music is also authentic Star Wars. Getting attacked will cue some heart pounding theme music, while walking into the cantina, as was mentioned before, will bring on the distinctive music heard in the movies.
MMO’s all have subscription fees. SWG is no exception. Although, one bonus is that it is now a member of the StationPass. If you play any other games on the StationPass account, like Planetside, EverQuest II, etc., you can play them all for one subscription fee, as opposed to paying $15-20 per game per month.
Even with the subscription fee, however, the game has enough things to do and enough of a constant interest from the community to give you hours and hours of playing time. There are still people playing on a daily basis that have been playing for over a year, if that gives you any impression of how much replayability there is to the game.
Basically, if you love Star Wars you won’t feel that you spent too much money on the game.
All in all, I was, and still am impressed with the game. Although it does tend to start to feel like you’re doing the same thing over and over again in order to get good at any one skill, I feel like there is enough variety in things to do that if you try hard enough, you’ll easily be able to keep yourself entertained for a long, long time.
Especially for true SW fans, this game is not one to be missed. It truly makes you feel like you are living in the world that you have come to know and love through the movies and books and that alone has been what makes this MMO stand out from others for me.
The developers are definitely dedicated to constantly updating the game to make it even more fun and enjoyable for players, as well. Large patches are constantly in the works that make the game feel even more authentic. One such update that is in the works right now is the Combat Update which is going to focus on making it so that there is no “best” weapon or armor. Different weapons will effect things differently, as different armors will defend against things differently, so depending on your playing style, you may find that one combination works better for you than another.
To conclude, I feel that this game is worthy of the Star Wars title and that it is a quality product that gamers have come to expect from anything produced by Lucasarts. I have a feeling that the popularity of this game will only continue and that the community will continue to strive for years to come, even in the face of other, newer MMO’s.
Free 10-day trials of the game are available online for those who are still skeptical. I recommend this, at least, to anyone who thinks they might like the experience. I would also recommend to anyone that is going to get the game to get the JTL expansion as well, as it adds another dimension to the game that, when combined with the original game doubles the play-life of the game.
Most importantly, when you get ready to play the game, just remember this, “The Force will be with you, always.”