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Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided Preview

publisher: LucasArts
developer: Verant Interactive
genre: Multiplayer

PIII 933, 256MB RAM, 32MB Video Card, 2GB HD
ESRB rating: T

release date: Jun 26, 03
» All About Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided on ActionTrip

Two Star Wars RPGs are currently in development: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided. Knights of the Old Republic is meant for gamers who prefer a single-player RPG experience, but SWG: An Empire Divided brings the saga to the online gaming community, allowing you to dive even deeper into the gigantic Star Wars Universe. At one time or another, every Star Wars fan fantasized what it would be like to choose their own destiny in a world of blasters, Star Destroyers, AT-AT Walkers, stormtroopers, bounty hunters, Jedi Knights, and the like. LucasArts is creating a persistent online ambiance that remains true to every single detail depicted throughout the unique settings of George Lucas' undying legend. This complex massively multiplayer game strives to bring innovative elements to the blooming online gaming scene. Featuring everything from miscellaneous novel professions to your favorite Star Wars races and characters, Star Wars Galaxies will take you on an online journey, in a galaxy far, far, away... A few weeks ago, was allowed to take a closer inspection of the game, and as luck would have it, I was the one chosen to convey the in-game atmosphere of SWG to our readers.

I was very excited to get the e-mail stating that I was included in the Star Wars Galaxy beta. After ordering my CDs through Sony's online store I got a lecture from a co-worker. He told me it was wrong that I had to pay 5 bucks to get the software. I gave him a stony-eyed look and said "Frankly, I don't give a damn." I just wanted to see the game in action. The 3 CDs arrived a few days later and I quickly ran through the install process. Once I logged onto the server I had to wait 3 hours to download the patches. (Mind you, we have a T1 here at the office- yikes) Once the patching was done, I logged into the game server, and was treated to the delightfully familiar Star Wars score, which was indeed a welcome start. Then, reality set in as I realized that the damn servers are down. Oh well, I'll try later... Nope... Try again a few hours later... Still nothing... Alrighty, time to go home for the day...

Finally, the next morning, I gave it a whirl once again, and one server was up and running, which was enough. As I logged on, I was immediately given a chance to choose my very own Star Wars Galaxies avatar. Sweet! The game offers an impressive selection of species and races to choose from; Rodian, Mon Calamari, Twi'lek, Human, Trandoshan, Bothan, Zabrak, or Wookiee. Well, after pondering my choice for quite some time, I've decided to go with the Zabrak - the horns are a nice touch and Darth Maul had it going on, so that's cool enough for me. Luckily, character customizing is flexible and straightforward, and yet at the same time, it is very detailed. In other words, I was given the freedom to customize almost every possible aspect and feature of my character. It took me a while to determine the eye color, eye shape and size, skin color, nose size, protrusion size, body build, short, tall, amount of muscle, how thin or fat, and even how old you look (you can add wrinkles if you so desire). Female players should like this one - as well as the option to adjust the bust of you character (Bigger boobies - Ed). Okay, don't scratch my eyes out just yet, but still you've got to admit this is a nice perk.

After going through the well-designed and intuitive character customization system, you can go through an amazingly huge variety of professions and classes. As you cycle through your choices, the character you just created rotates around to the representation of each class, each with its own unique starting outfit. On the right side of the screen is a description of each profession for that class. This selection process was flavored with a few amusing moments. For example, when you reject a certain type of character class, you'll see it stamping its feet with jealousy and rage. Right at the beginning we see just how effectively the developers have employed motion capture animation. In addition, the facial expressions look superb and it is easy to read someone's demeanor from their reactions.

After creating my perfect avatar, I chose a healer profession and ran off to my starting planet. I was set down in a courtyard, within a large city. NPCs were wandering all over the place, trainers were waiting to teach me skills, and players ran here and there. Eventually I wandered off to the outskirts of town and into a waving field of wheat. This is where I linked up with a Bothan and we began killing raiders that appeared out of thin air. I got kicked out the game several times but I quickly logged back on. After killing raiders for 30 minutes, I got bored and started to stroll around town. Thanks to the aid of a mini map, this is not as painful like in other online games. Significant places and locations (like the hospital) are marked and easy to find. I went in and made my way past several NPCs that were chatting away. One was nearly naked - I had to take some snapshots then and there! Soon after that, I finally found the hospital and I began to heal people as they walked in. One thing that SWG does differently from other games is that you advance your skills by using them on the spot. It seemed a little arbitrary to me. I am used to the tried and true system of "you require X number of more experience before obtaining Level Y". I'm sure I will get used to it in time but it may be a little off putting for others as well.

Playing doctor is nice (I'm sure you do it in real life, too - Ed), but the key question on everybody's mind is: "How do I become a Jedi?" By now it's pretty certain that becoming a Jedi will be possible, but I still don't know exactly how this is going to work since both SOE and LucasArts are keeping a lid on it, but not for very much longer. One thing's for certain though - your ultimate goal will be to become a Jedi. It's the hardest and most challenging job of them all, but everyone will be given a crack at it (regardless of profession or race). Of course, there's another "small" matter here. There are very few Jedi left during this particular timeline (after "A New Hope" and before "The Empire Strikes Back"), and maintaining your status as a skilled force-user won't be such a laid-back endeavor. After all, if you want ol' Vader breathing down your neck every time you go to the john, then go ahead and knock yourself out!

Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided presents many other opportunities. Crafting, for instance, takes on a whole new meaning here. Players can choose to be miners, manufacturers, designers, transporters, and, of course, merchants. All of these professions are in one way or another connected to crafting - or creating various useful items. You'll even be able to construct your own weapons, such as a blaster or a rifle. The manufacturer cannot create a weapon until he acquires the necessary goods and resources from a miner. To help along with the crafting, a designer will need to draw out the schematics for that particular item. When all's good and ready, players can seek out a courier, who has the responsibility to deliver it to a merchant (or you can deliver it yourself if you prefer). Players will then be able to manufacture a weapon and effectively market it with their very own label on it. Since this is a non-stop (or persistent) online world we're talking about, you can log off and then find out upon your return that your experience increased due to the number of players that bought or are using the weapon you manufactured. Pretty neat, wouldn't you say? Still, this is one profession I haven't managed to try out, but I thought I'd let you know how far the possibilities actually go.

Visually, the game can easily be described as one of the prettiest MMORPG's out there. Each character looks unique and can have a set of multilayered clothing. Similarly, the animation was enhanced brilliantly, with features like realistic facial expressions, various combat moves, and so on. Also, the engine seemed to have played its part rather well. All environments were supplemented with a huge amount of details (although some of them may require tunings here and there), and there's a wide range of cool-looking texture patterns. Verant made an effort to expand all the known (and unknown) locations of the Star Wars Universe, which were all meticulously designed to fit the legends and vast civilizations that surround them. You'll be going to, Fort Tusken, Scorched Yavin, Theed, Naboo, Corellia, Deserts of Tatooine, and even all new worlds and planets such as Dathomir. While traveling and exploring through these huge levels players may encounter strange cultures, characters, and indigenous species. One especially intriguing world is an extremely dangerous low-gravity environment, inhabited by the so-called Witches of Dathomir - a group of Force-sensitive women who also have the ability to tame and ride those huge and hideous Rancors (the colossal ugly beast killed by Luke at the beginning of Return of the Jedi).

Each new planet and location can bring on a new challenge or quest. If you choose to venture throughout the deserts of Tatooine, there will be many things for you to do. But before you begin to stroll around the place looking for trouble, you should decide quickly which side you'll be fighting on. There are three available fractions in this part of the universe. You may support the rebels or you can just join with the Empire. Tatooine is also known as a system that's predominantly controlled by the Hutts - Jabba and all his crew; therefore, you may always join this cheerful band of thieves and mercenaries... they're always on the lookout for new recruits. Once you decide which one of these you wish to fight for, you should head to the city outskirts, where there's a whole bunch of NPC's and players ready to knock each other out. This aspect of MMO gameplay is usually referred to as PvP. In SWG this type of clashing denotes a few interesting innovations, that allow players to collaborate in their cause and fight against opposing fractions together. Quite a nice and effective way of incorporating cooperative gameplay. These areas are also ideal for gaining combat experience. Players who, on the other hand, prefer the quiet life, can easily avoid this style of playing and continue their professions normally, like I did.

After playing the game for about 2 hours the servers went down again. What can you do, this IS a beta after all. Patches are applied on a daily basis and from a programming point of view it's pretty obvious that the game is not in the least bit ready for shipping. (It's looking better now, since it's been a few weeks since this article was written. - Ed) Planets have names missing, help sections and skills are not present in some cases, and so on.

So, does Star Wars Galaxies have enough to keep people interested for the long haul? That remains to be seen. The game has two big things going for it: 1. Star Wars is a rich universe (no pun intended) with interesting races, a huge back story, and the opportunity for many exciting adventures and quests. 2: We are talking about Sony - the King of the Hill in the MMORPG arena. It will be interesting to see, however, if the programmers will lean more towards using random scripted events to make the gameplay more interesting, or work on adding more human-made events instead. That might actually make or break the game in the long run.



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