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Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided Review
developer: Verant Interactive
PIII 933, 256MB RAM, 32MB Video Card, 2GB HD
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Jun 26, 03 (released)
|» All About Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided on ActionTrip|
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Shuttle Pad
Star Wars Galaxies (SWG) is quickly coming up on its one-month birthday. Like any newborn, its arrival has brought joy to some and frustration to others. We have been playing the game for quite some time now, actually since before its launch. To be honest though, I can't feel entirely comfortable reviewing a MMORPG (Ed. - Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game for you peeps not in the 'know') so soon after its launch, since it is like shooting at a constantly moving target. However, we need to give you an idea of what the game is like in its current form.
Mah, what's this? Where's the old homestead?
You could meet a lot of weird characters along the way.
The launch of a MMORPG is never a smooth one, but Sony and LucasArts should be congratulated for one of the smoothest launches to date. There were some problems with new subscribers connecting to the billing server, but they were resolved within 24 hours and players' accounts were credited for the downtime. Character creation and the short new player tutorial have not changed since the beta. The character creation in Star Wars Galaxies is easily the best I have seen to date in any MMORPG. Another big improvement over other games is the level of customization that you can treat your avatar - the amount of detail that you can add is just spectacular. After you have created your "other self," you are taken to a space station where you are instructed on the basics of the SWG interface. You are taught how to interact with NPCs, how to collect and trade items, and, of course, the save feature. In Galaxies, instead of saving your game status, you're able to save your DNA at cloning stations in case you die, and pay to insure your belongings. (Ed.- I wonder if Geico is still around, a 15-minute subspace transmission can save you 15% on bowcaster insurance.) The intro continues with a how-to on combat and traveling via shuttle to other towns and planets. Technically, this is enough to get you going. For all other pertinent details concerning gameplay instructions, you need to tackle the well laid out manual that is about a ¾ of an inch thick. And consult the manual you will... (VADAR - Says, who? Yoda?) Quite simply, there is a lot for a player to do throughout the game.
SWG was developed with an emphasis on player interaction - if you have your heart set on making any progress in the game, you'll have to cooperate with others. All of the items you will want to get your grubby little mitts on will be player-made. The stock items you start with are so bad I would not wish them on a Jawa. (Ed.-EE-TYDEE!) To get items you will need cash or something else to trade to players. Naturally, I'm referring to resources that crafters can use to turn out armor, weapons, food, droids, or other various items (the list is just huge). SWG attempts to allow people who do not want to fight, to advance by plying their trade. Trades include: armor smith, weapon smith, architect, merchant, chef, tailor, entertainer, and droid engineer. These trades can be combined with other professions if you are so inclined. I started out as a marksman, but found quickly that I could make my own tents (for a secure spot to rest up and heal in the field) and armor if I took up scouting. Scouting allowed me to harvest the bone and hides off the animals I was killing. Once I got back to town, I found an artisan trainer and paid her to teach me so I could craft my own items. Now that I was a trained artisan I could also survey for precious materials like iron, oil, and gems. When I found a patch of resources, I could take samples that are used by other crafters to make things, or sell on the bazaar terminals around town. It's a cool system. But, I had to bug several other crafters continuously, in order to get the details of how exactly to get the process going.
Before you think that "Oh cool, I'll just go learn everything and become a member of every trade skill!" I must warn you that you have a limited number of skill points you can use. Of course, you could go and become a member of every trade skill, but you would suck in each category. Each new level you obtain in a specific trade or focus requires you to spend points to get it. As you use that skill, you gain experience until you can learn the next level above it. A meter shows you how many points you need before you reach the next skill level. Points for the next skill level (in my case as a marksman) are granted based on participating in combat. This is a nice feature because this should cut down on people who get n00bie characters 'power leveled' by a group of higher level players. Unless you actually perform the action yourself, you do not progress in the skill. As a marksman, I started with a pistol and after zapping large bugs in the desert; I was able to train in "advanced pistol," which gave me a better 'to hit' rating and some special moves that would allow me to do more damage. I got involved in a team and instead of paying my marksman trainer 1000 credits (back in town), my teammate was able to teach me this new skill, this was another good example of increased player interaction.
It is obvious that an excellent development concept is behind Star Wars Galaxies. The entire system is a good one, but would be even better if it weren't for those annoying and rather frequent bugs that plague the game and ruin the experience. (Ed. - Uh, this is an MMORPG, bugs are life.) Sony is updating the system on a daily basis, but sometimes, it turns out that they create as many as bugs as they fix. For instance, one particularly irritating bug did not allow players to receive rewards after finishing tasks. The bug was fixed last Thursday, but unfortunately, it made a return appearance yesterday. It was fixed again this morning. While bugs are annoying, they are typical for MMORPGs. Sony is fixing them almost as quickly as they pop up.
Not much activity around here.
Graphically the game looks better than anything currently on the MMORPG market. Rich colors, lifelike motion capture for character models, and a powerful 3D engine make for a game that is easy to stare at for hours on end. The sound is brilliant, and it features the famed symphonic orchestra music themes (a round of applause for the fabulous John Williams), which adds that special Star Wars feeling that give you goose bumps throughout combat (or when you arrive to new areas).
The interface is non-intrusive to begin with, but you have the ability to change the layout and size of each box on the scene at any time. A handy mini map that serves as a compass and shows local places of interest, make it easy for players to navigate around mobs that may be in their path. Your HUD shows waypoints to mission objectives or your last targeted item be it a monster, NPC, or building. The game system also features a friends list that alerts you when buddies log on or off the server (standard MMORPG fare) and an email system that you can use at any time to fire off notes to people (an interesting and very useful idea).
Okay, so let's cut to the chase. Is it fun? Should I pay the $15.00(!) a month to play after I have shelled out the $49.00 for the normal version or the $79,99 (!!) for the Collector's Edition? (VADAR - long live Star Wars merchandising!) Well it depends. I have past experience with other MMORPGs, which definitely prejudiced me going into the game. My 'preconceived notions' and 'reaction after playing' follow:
- Preconceived Notion: The game looks good, but will not be much fun to play.
Reaction after playing: No doubt, about it, the game looks great and gives you enough to do to keep you interested. I have been surprised at how much I was enjoying myself while grouping with other Rebels. It's not always a blast when you are running around by yourself looking for things to do, but I have had similar experiences in Dark Age of Camelot. MMORPGs are meant to be social environments. If you are not grouping or interacting with others, you are not going to have as much fun.
- Preconceived Notion: The Star Wars Universe will not blend very well in a MMORPG environment.
Reaction after playing: I was wrong. Almost all the classes look interesting to me and I would like to play almost all of them. The exception for me would have to be the entertainer. Dancing or playing music for people while they rest up just does not float my Wookie. (VADAR - Doesn't float mine either.) Maybe if I were to devote myself to crafting part time and shaking my money maker for the general unwashed masses the rest of the time it might be fun, but somehow, I don't think so.
- Preconceived Notion: SWG lacks a Player vs. Player (PvP) component that many hardcore MMORPG fans crave.
Reaction after playing: PvP currently is limited to battles between Rebels and Empire followers who have declared their faction with either side. I fought a rather nasty battle in the capital city of Bestine yesterday. 9 of us Rebels were trading gun fire in the capitol building and doing fine until a player who was a high level Imperial Scout came in with a pet tick the size of a minivan. Soon, we Rebels were nothing but an interesting colored smear on the marble floor of the capitol. The alternative, if you don't want to ally with the Empire or the Rebels, is to travel to one of the many Battlefields. You can join one of the factions temporarily until the battle is over and force other guys to eat blaster bolts. If you come out on top, you'll gain faction points that allow you to get more profitable missions from either side. It may not be as rewarding to some as taking a keep in Dark Age of Camelot, but it is a good start.
- Preconceived Notion: SWG was released too early and should have remained in beta until fall.
Reaction after playing: Ok, there is some merit to this one. I can only assume they launched now to get a leg up on Worlds of Warcraft and Lineage II, both of which are slated to go into beta around August or September. Frankly, I am not sure why they launched now. Granted the game is playable now, although the number of bugs that are being addressed on a daily basis does make me wonder what the product would have been like if they had waited a month or two. On the other hand, any MMORPG is going to have bugs and will need patching at the launch. The question is: when does that number of bugs warrant delaying release? From what I've heard in talking to other players, features for all the classes are in place and the bugs they are addressing seem to be minor issues.
In all, I have been pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable Star Wars Galaxies is. Granted the bugs are annoying, as are the server outages in the morning as they apply patches to fix said bugs since I play a lot between 7 and 9 am as no one is in at work yet. The fact is that I would not be irritated at the servers being down if it was not fun to play. And the reason for that is, if it was not fun to play, then, I wouldn't play it, so who gives a crap if the servers are down. Nor would I be logging on night after night if the game was not fully developed, or had uninteresting character classes or seemed like a half-baked idea that was poorly implemented. Does it have a few rough edges? Yes. Will they be smoothed out over the course of the next few months? I hope so.
MMORPG players are probably the most fickle and vocal group of gamers in the market. They will spend vast sums of money, countless hours of time and pour out gallons of venom on a game they play every single day. If you are at all interested in the game, do yourself a favor and investigate it for yourself. While the steep price tag may scare some off, you may be as pleasantly surprised as I was if you decide to take a chance on it. Your best bet (unless you are a die hard and cannot wait) is to give the game a few months to smooth out the bumps, and then dive right in blaster blazing.
Great graphics and sound. Almost all classes and professions are interesting to play. A skill based character progression system. Nice variety of play between combat and crafting system;
Highest monthly fee compared to other MMORPGs. High initial purchase price. Current low player count on servers. Annoying bugs all over the place. Some redundant player classes.
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