A Quick Jaunt in Star Wars Galaxies

SWG Syp’s first The Game Archaeologist column about Star Wars Galaxies intrigued me.  I played the game from the time it was in Beta 3 all the way until World of Warcraft was released in November 2004.  I loved it.  I quit because of the combination of the New Game Enhancements (NGE) and WoW being so high quality.  I sold my Jedi that I had hologrinded for and never looked back.

Well, that’s a bit of a lie.  I had a friend’s account that I reactivated once.  I hated the new combat system that the NGE implemented and left because my giant sandbox had become a rails-driven themepark in which I had no idea what to do.

When I read Syp’s column, I decided to download the free trial and give the NGE and the current SWG a shot.  My decision was partially because I am so interested in The Old Republic and because WoW had disappointed me so often early in the summer.

After spending a couple of days with the game prior to my vacation and then coming back 10 days later, I decided to resubscribe to SWG. The NGE was not quite as bad as I had remembered (or I’m not quite as bitter these days), and I really needed to get my Jedi a lightsaber.  Once that happened, however, I had achieved my goal and the game in front of me no longer appealed.

Initially, I enjoyed my return to SWG. I rolled a Jedi because I’m one of those guys who think the Force and everything surrounding it is what makes Star Wars. I liked the tutorial and the way quests were done, and I even thought it was neat how I was starting at the most rudimentary level of Jedidom, not even having a lightsaber to fight with.

And then the newness wore off, and I got a little irritated that I wouldn’t get my first lightsaber until level 26.  I had a single Force Lightning attack at early level, but aside from that, there was nothing separating me from any other melee class in any other game.

But I had set myself the goal, and I wanted to get a lightsaber.  So a few nights before my wife and I left for Florida, I got my Jedi to level 19 and logged off for ten days.  I was enjoying myself well enough, and I had fun while visiting some of my old haunts from my previous time with the game.

As awesome as our trip was, I was looking stuff up on my iPhone while Jennifer drove and checked a few forums for information newbies and returning vets would need.

And when I got home, I just barely missed hitting level 26 during my 14-day trial, so I upgraded and bought myself an extra month of playtime.

I never used it.  It was a complete waste of money.

Once I had managed to hit level 26 and I got my lightsaber, the game didn’t change.  I was still fighting pirates and alien animals with the same attacks in the same bug-filled environment.  Just because I had a glowy yellow sword didn’t make the game any more stable or fun.

6175origYou see, there are some major problems that riddle Star Wars Galaxies that I assumed would have been fixed in subsequent years.  I had no reason to think that I would have the same rubber-band problem with latency on DSL as I had on dial-up.  Yet, I was still being ported to earlier locations because the game client and server couldn’t get their signals straight.

Probably the worst thing about Star Wars Galaxies is the combat, what the so-called Combat Upgrade and NGE were supposed to be “fixing.”  Now, it’s not quite as bad as I remembered it years ago, going from a simple queue system to the pseudo-FPS action system it has now.  But it’s still bad.  The first thing that’s wrong with it is that there are two targets.  But not a cool 2-target system like Warhammer Online, no SWG wants you to declare your target and your intended target.  And then you can start unleashing abilities that you use by setting them to the right mouse-button.  You can either click the RMB to use it, or wait until another ability is off cooldown and switch to that for an auto-use.

The worst part about combat, though, is not having an auto-attack.  Again, not in the cool DDO no-autoattack where you don’t really target but click to swing your weapon, SWG gives players no auto attack unless they go keybind it themselves.  That’s right.  There is a need for an autoattack in this game, but you have to go into your keybindings and set it to a default key yourself instead of the game having it done for you.  That’s not a minor complaint.  When a new player cannot jump right in and learn to play the game without messing with keybindings and similar systems, there’s a design problem.

But this is SOE we’re talking about, and they’ve never been known for ease of use.

The worlds were even more barren than they were before.  Sure, there were still player cities everywhere on Starsider, but I never saw a single person in one.  I ran into a few other players while questing, but for the most part, I was a lone Jedi in a sea of NPCs.  And that sucks in an MMO.  Especially in an MMO whose community was always what I claimed as its best feature, the reason why I stayed so long even after the game kind of sucked.  I couldn’t convince my friend who used to play with me to start up again, so I was pretty lonely in game.  Being a newbie, I couldn’t exactly make friends with the upper-echelon of PvPers, either.

And by the time I got to level 26 to get my lightsaber, I felt I had been grinding the same quests over and over again.  I know that’s an MMO mainstay—kill ten rats, go talk to this guy and that guy, kill ten more rats—but I felt that I was really accomplishing nothing.  And part of that is because the planets, while decently rendered, all put off the same wasteland vibe.  It didn’t matter if I was in Theed or Bestine or Jabba’s Palace, I was running across flat terrain cut up by a few chasms my speeder would float over killing the same non-threatening enemies.  I just couldn’t get into it, and if the never 70 levels were more of the same, I’m pretty sure I saved myself a lot of aggravation by canceling.

Also, the UI was poor.  Well, let me be more specific: the UI hasn’t changed at all since I played in Beta, except for the NGE modifications.  It was cumbersome and slow to react.  Maybe I’m spoiled by other triple-A titles, but SWG’s UI was an exercise in frustration.  Sometimes I would swg2 click a mob to attack, and it would do what I wanted.  Sometimes, it wouldn’t.  Occasionally, my vehicle would disappear from under me and I would be walking slowly without realizing it.  I would often cast Force Lightning and nothing would happen, but the NPC would take damage.  No animation, no nothing.

In the end, I’m glad I went back.  I’m glad I gave Star Wars Galaxies another shot, if for no other reason than to teach myself once and for all that the game’s glory days are behind it.  There is still a very loyal community for the game, and I applaud them.  If I had stuck it out with my Jedi and didn’t have to deal with the low-level NGE grind, I might be one of them to this day.

As things stand, though, the quaintness of running around Star Wars locales and swinging a lightsaber is better done on consoles at the moment.  My SW fix will be through The Force Unleashed or Knights of the Old Republic until our favorite, overhyped MMO comes out next year and steals all our lives.  So long, Star Wars Galaxies, and thanks for all the fish.