It doesnÃ‚'t seem so long ago that Star Wars Galaxies sat solidly on my short list of the five games I could not wait to play. Despite the somewhat muted enthusiasm leaked from beta, and the scorn of many a jaded gamer, I fostered a palpable hope that Galaxies would not only redefine the MMORPG genre, but more selfishly bring me hours of enjoyment. I mention this because I think the expectations I could not help but place on the mantle of Galaxies were probably pretty representative of gamers in general. Star Wars is pop-culture mythology, a galaxy rich in the epic, brimming with galactic conflict, recognizable characters, and a sweeping story. With the herculean task of distilling the franchise to a general environment where thousands of players could each find their own individual stories to experience one wonders if anyone could have devised a result that would satisfy even most gamers?
And yet, Sony Online Entertainment, formerly Verant, has pretty solid experience in constructing play environments designed for great masses. For as much as people make sport of criticizing Everquest, the history of success in the genre for SOE is by many estimations the foundation for the genre itself. If anyone had the tools, the experience, and the groundwork from which to build a MMORPG off one of the most successful franchises in entertainment history, it would be Sony Online.And thus, we look at the result.
ItÃ‚'s fundamentally unfair to review a MMORPG at almost any given point, as like no genre before it MMORPGs are genuinely built to be a dynamically developmental experience. A game like Galaxies should barely resemble its incarnation two years down the road, and any review based only on the first month of play will quickly seem obsolete as more content, more classes, more playfields, and more styles of play are devised and refined. So, itÃ‚'s important to take that degree of potential into account.
And, not surprisingly, if any one word defines Galaxies, it would probably be potential. Even those most derisive of the game have been heard to utter interest in how it might ultimately develop. The caveat for most people who spurn Galaxies is that theyÃ‚'ll probably give it a second look six months down the road.
Star Wars Galaxies is a landscape of possibility, a sometimes empty pallette waiting for thick swaths of gameplay and expansion to be applied. From space conflict, to new classes and races, to player mounts and ground transportation, to a rich player economy, to player cities, Galaxies is full of promise to be built upon the now up and running base, which could all go to explain why at its launch Galaxies feels a bit wanting.
Right now, Galaxies is absolutely reliant on its players in every conceivable fashion. Beyond needing customers with credit cards to pay the designers and developers who will birth this new content, the actual environment of Galaxies is based on interactivity. Manifesting the adage no man is an island unto himself, Galaxies encourages players to unite and rely on one another for almost every conceivable function. Combat players need entertainers to heal their battle fatigue, and the entertainers need tailors to craft their outfits, and tailors need scouts to bring them animal hides, and scouts need weaponsmiths to construct the guns they use to hunt, and weaponsmiths need architects for their player run store, and so on, and so on. ItÃ‚'s a practical impossibility to play without regularly coming to a point where you absolutely require the services of others to facilitate your own advancement, and at every possible turn the developers make that conscious effort to steer you toward your fellow players instead of NPCs.
And to encourage interactivity, SOE has taken great lengths to also promote a genuine role play experience. With literally pages of possible character emotes, most animated, one can almost imagine creating a persona that could survive on body language alone. Additionally, through the rather inventive inclusion of player moods, Galaxies makes it quite easy to get in character and invest some degree of creativity into both the way you play your character and the way you interact with others.
As it is with most games, the best experiences are born from the opportunity to play with like minded companions. Employing its role playing elements and interactivity Galaxies is a game designed to be played with friends.
So, from the start, it seems notable that Star Wars: Galaxies is fundamentally one of the best examples of an MMORPG yet to come down the pipe. Unquestionably massively multiplayer as a deluge of players fills server after newly opened server, but more importantly a solid example of Role Playing within a genre that all to often ignores the value of such. If Galaxies falters on any element in said acronym it is probably on that last principle. How solid a game is Galaxies?
Eschewing traditional level progress for a expansive tree structure of advancement, Galaxies takes a turn for the better by granting experience in a particular profession by rewarding the practice of that profession. Thus those who most often use their pistol to fell marauding wildlife will become better specialized in the use of such pistol, while those who heal that combat specialistÃ‚'s wounds will similarly increase their own healing abilities. With starting professions that range from Artisan to Entertainer, and a wide variety of specializations to explore later, character development is an engaging and diverse improvement on existing methods. Further, one is not simply limited to a single track, as a character can develop combat and crafting skills, limited instead by a total number of specialization points one can access. ItÃ‚'s completely possible to be an entertainer, a medic, and an architect all in the same character.
A player is also never forced into relying on a combat role. In fact, through the reliance on player interdependence itÃ‚'s completely feasible to create and play a character who doesnÃ‚'t even own a weapon or possess any offensive capabilities. If you want to do nothing more than spend your days in the cantina swapping jokes, healing wayward travelers, or crafting Wookie Pants, then thatÃ‚'s not only an option, but a viable playstyle.
However, not all playstyles are equally, or even regularly, fun. For as inventive as the Entertainer line is, for example, it can quickly become tedious without other creative people surrounding you to make the game fun. In the classic MMORPG sense, Galaxies has plenty of grind to work through to truly develop any character, long boring hours spent simply practicing a given skill over and over again, be it crafting useless weapons, killing weak animals to harvest their bones, or just clearing out nests of creature to build weapon skills. One need only spend a few hours as a young artisan harvesting resources by hand to realize the certainty of a mind-numbing element to Galaxies.
Combat is also found lacking for serious stretches of time, as the limit of the types of characters that can contribute realistically to combat also limit the variety of things one can do in such combat. By comparison to say Everquest, where the role of an Enchanter, a Wizard, a Rogue, or a Warrior in combat all create a sense of variety even through a fairly static system, the variety in Galaxies is seriously lacking. The process devolves into queuing up a regular string of often uninspired combat types for a given foe, and repeating ad nauseam.
It is ultimately the artisan skillset that proves one of the most varied and rewarding in the entire game, though also the one most naturally fraught with hours of drudgery. In an environment with only a player run economy and practically no useable loot dropped in combat, the industry of Galaxies falls squarely on the shoulders of the artisans, the weaponsmiths, the armorsmiths, the tailors, and the architects. A quick glance at the landscape of Galaxies, a landscape where great chemical extractors, wind generators, and factories dot the landscape with the density of a Texas oil field thick with derricks, bears this idea out.
Despite real-world resentment of hulking industrial structures littering an otherwise pristine landscape, one might find rows of wind generators spinning softly in the light breeze a nice change from the great sweeping vistas of nothing that one is otherwise presented with. Aside from all too repetitious mission spawn sites and the very occasional point of interest the static landscape of Galaxies is pretty desolate outside the cities, an issue only exasperated by the current lack of player owned mounts or vehicles. In fact, stumbling upon a makeshift village of player houses, or even, if one is particularly lucky, shops is a pretty encouraging event, as one can get pretty lonely pretty quickly.
Again, we talk about potential as player housing becomes more affordable, as more artisans get to the point of both having their own shops, and the resources to produce wide arrays of merchandise, as the promise of player-run cities becomes more a reality. In its current state, Galaxies is still in the infancy of its player content, and with such a dependence on that aspect itÃ‚'s hard not to find fault with the lacking multiplicity of activities. An issue particularly for those who suffer the hours of drudgery to reach the apex of their professions, the requirements of interdependence and the natural youth of the game, leave many higher Ã‚"˜levelÃ‚' players with a what-now mentality.
Finally, at the risk of harping on a single issue, the lack of player owned transportation is pretty significant in a game such as this. In an age when a character can drop by a local merchant and purchase a blaster or a droid, it seems hard to imagine that such a character had no option but to walk to the store. Considering the vast distances one must run in game, players will quickly find that the bulk of their time is spent getting from one place to the next instead of actually interacting with the environment itself.
Star Wars Galaxies did not launch well. Try to look surprised when I tell you Galaxies wasnÃ‚'t ready for release when it hit store shelves. The first few weeks were marked with significant downtime, a problem that became even more severe for some of the more popular servers. From day one, and the registration fiasco that left some in credit card limbo for a day or more, to pretty much expected issues with the login servers, to a fair share of show-stopping bugs lingering in the actual software often wiping out hours of work, Galaxies could prove to be a frustrating experience at first.
Fortunately most of the serious issues have been taken care of, and SOE is hoping time heals all wounds. Not a company necessarily known for its sympathy to the wronged gamer, SOE took pretty quick strides to squash the most serious problems as they found them, but really did very little to reimburse players who were put out by the troubles.
Galaxies is a pretty good example that the idea of releasing in an unstable state and exploiting your most rabid fans as paying beta testers is still the industry standard. Whether the fault lies with publishers or developers is a battle for the ages, but ultimately it is the consumer who suffers and despite the fact that, by and large, things are better now, SOE and LucasArts should not get off without some criticism of their opening day issues.
While Galaxies has never really lived up to the splendor we were promised with its initial shots, as decisions about framerate and texture memory naturally took precedence over glamour, it is still one of the best looking MMORPGs on the market. Unfortunately, the game still lacks some degree of variety. Many places look very much like one another - itÃ‚'s hard to tell the difference between one Naboo city from another - and much of the countryside just like static scenery.
Pop up is a pretty serious issue with Galaxies as trees, enemies, buildings, and other structures will suddenly appear a very short distance away. While the landscape draw distance can be set fairly high, the experience is ruined as trees materialize suddenly only a few dozen yards from your position.
Characters and enemies are nicely detailed, and with the wide variety of styles of clothing or armor available one can pretty easily create a unique wardrobe. Character creation is also pretty much only a function of specializing the visual elements of your character. The diverse options here again lend a unique element to your avatar. From a short balding Human tailor with no chin, to a towering Wookie brawler, to a sly, thin Rodian smuggler, itÃ‚'s both easy and rewarding to shape your characterÃ‚'s appearance to match his future endeavors.
The Star Wars universe is nicely realized, with Stormtroopers wandering Imperial encampments, and TwiÃ‚'lek dancers gyrating in cantinas. The visuals on a short range scale come through nicely, though certainly at the expense of performance on anything but an upper range system. Particularly in cities slowdown can quickly become a serious problem.
Most of the notable sound effects that have become the standard fare of Star Wars games find themselves reproduced in Galaxies. A few decades of refinement for the sound of Star Wars means first that what you hear is well polished, familiar, while creating a sense of place, but also means donÃ‚'t expect anything dramatically new. In its struggle to make the game feel like Star Wars, SOE has been pretty faithful with the auditory elements.
With such a rich resource as John WilliamsÃ‚' library of Star Wars music, I wouldnÃ‚'t have minded hearing a bit more of it. While it does swell during combat and when approaching notable points of interest, and occasionally slips in during the hours and hours you will spend running from one place to the next, it can become fairly repetitive. It occurs to me that a bit more time intertwining the music into the Galaxies experience might have gone a long way to instilling some significance to the actions of your player, and thus gone some distance toward making Galaxies feel more like Star Wars than perhaps it does now.
Star Wars Galaxies in its present incarnation is the promise of greatness to come. It is not yet a fully realized game, but a shell in which that game will be ultimately completed through the combined efforts of SOE and the players. At the moment, playing Galaxies feels more like playing most other MMORPGs than it does living the Star Wars universe, and the genuine fun to be found, as is often the case, lives in simply congregating with friends and using Galaxies as a tool to that end. The interdepence of players, and encouragement of a completely player run economy should ultimately prove to be a strength, though until the population balances out more many will be left without the full resources that should be available to them.
A game like Galaxies is really beyond arbitrary scoring. ItÃ‚'s not so simple to say Galaxies is a 9/100 or a 90/100 as real arguments can be made for both depending on what one needs, expects, wants out of a Star Wars Massively Multiplayer Game. So, instead, I offer recommendations...
- Those wanting to get in on the ground level of what will become one of the most successful MMORPGs to date.
- Those who want to help build a completely player run economy, or be one of the first to participate in mounts, vehicles, and player-run cities when they arrive.
- Those who feel rewarded by the difficulty and routine of the MMORPG genre.
- Those with friends who will also play Galaxies.
- Those who want to try and create a unique character, or those interested more in roleplaying their characters than developer generated content.
- Those most interested in helping to build an engaging world from its foundations up
Not recommended for:
- Those who require lots of static content
- Those who donÃ‚'t want to find themselves dependent on other players to advance their own characters
- Those unwilling to explore the play-world to find the resources they need to survive
- Those who expect a fully realized Star Wars environment.
- Those who donÃ‚'t want to spend an inordinate amount of time virtually walking from location to location
- Those who want to step into an already fully realized world