When the words "Star Wars" are uttered to the members of any generation, they hold a certain meaning. While the sentiment may differ from person to person, few can say that they are completely oblivious to the Star Wars universe.
In the world of gaming though, the Star Wars franchise has been little more than a cash cow to be milked. Many games bearing the Star Wars license have been pushed onto retail shelves and very few have been of decent quality. Naturally, one can understand when the latest game to sport the infamous name is greeted with apprehension. Even more discerning is that this title is also a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, or MMORPG. Is Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided nothing more than a cash cow produced by Verant Interactive to make some quick bucks off the back of a behemoth franchise, or might it be a new chapter in the Star Wars saga?
Set in the time of Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker and Emperor Palpatine, no one can deny the greatness of the game's foundation.
"Why you stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking NERF HERDER!" - Princess Leia Organa
At first, the GUI (Graphical User Interface) of Star Wars Galaxies is probably the most cluttered I have ever seen. Fortunately, however, the interface is fully customizable and scalable, so some untidiness can be forgiven. Not only is the GUI customizable, it also comes with a number of different colour schemes to further personalize the gaming experience. The sheer number of windows needed to control the game is astonishing. The default control scheme is a disaster, and most gamers will be spending their initial hours trying to remap the entire keyboard. A nice touch, however, are the preloaded key maps to cater to EverQuest and First Person Shooter fans.
To help players venture outside of the bustling starter cities, Star Wars Galaxies features an overhead map, radar, and the ability to set waypoints. With these three combined, it is nearly impossible to get lost in the vastness that has been created for wanderlust.
Stunning graphics have always provided incentive for players to explore a brave new world, and Star Wars Galaxies is easily one of the most beautiful MMORPGs on the market. Owners of high-end computers with the latest generation of video cards will be treated to amazing visual wonders.
To complement the awing graphics, John Williams' epic scores from the Star Wars saga have also been revisited. The music truly transports the players to a galaxy far, far away. A grin will sweep across the face of every gamer as the intro music, accompanied with a synopsis of the current state of galactic affairs, resounds from the speakers. It is truly a worthy welcome to the world of Star Wars.
"Ready are you? What know you of ready?" - Yoda
In the world of MMORPGs, the first impression that the game gives to the players is character creation. The amount of customization capable for one's avatar plays a vital role in the initial enjoyment of the consumers. Certainly Verant Interactive knows this fact, having been in the genre for over five years. Everything from skin colour and tattoos, to body type and the size of the mouth can be moulded to the player's vision. This gives the game a great diversity that is renowned in the Star Wars universe.
Once an avatar has been created, a profession is selected from this list of six: Artisan, Brawler, Entertainer, Marksman, Medic and Scout. Each profession sports four branches to master with each branch having four levels. Mastering a branch may lead to a more advanced profession. These advanced careers include Tailor, Architect, Fencer and many more. You are given 250 skill points to use at your leisure. You may reset any given skill at any time to regain the skill points used, but all experience and abilities awarded by that skill is lost. This prevents the hardcore players from mastering all professions and forces the population to focus their energy to best aid the community. Choose wisely, for Galaxies allows only one character per server. This is a rather annoying spin on a genre that usually allows for multiple characters.
If players find mastering one career too easy, they can opt for a hybrid profession. These require the player to master more than one branch in two or more professions. Some of these are Commandoes, the ever-popular Smugglers and the notorious Bounty Hunters. Of course, if even that seems too simplistic, one could try to attain the highest and most sought after profession of them all: the Jedi. Incredibly difficult to attain and even more so to master, only someone with a lot of dedication could accomplish such a legendary feat. Many will try, few will succeed, and even fewer will become masters.
"The force is strong with this one." - Darth Vader
Undoubtedly the most anticipated part of the game is the ability to become a Jedi. Unlike most other Star Wars games, force-sensitivity is not something gamers are given effortlessly. In fact, it is almost impossible to attain this prestigious rank. Assuming this class is obtained, the Jedi is allotted only a certain amount of deaths before their powers are lost.
To attain these honours, the main character must accomplish unknown requirements that will give the player the opportunity to create a new, force-sensitive character. That is, no initial character will ever be able to become a Jedi. Only when this extra character slot is unlocked will players be able to control a potential Jedi. Suprisingly, the path to securing a force sensitive slot will not be the same for every player. To date, there is no record of a player-controlled Jedi in Galaxies as of yet, so whether the Jedi profession is even in the game is still being questioned in some circles.
Force powers will be gained like any other skill in the game. Jedi will be able to build their own lightsaber and even decide on its colour, which depends on the crystals used in the production phase. Those dedicated enough can also learn to use the infamous double bladed lightsaber.
"When I left you, I was but a learner. Now, I am the master." - Darth Vader
By far the most important facet of any MMORPG are the players. An elitist community can render the game unbearable. Alternately, an open and helpful one can greatly enhance the experience. Thankfully, Star Wars Galaxies greets players with not only a simple, yet educational tutorial, but also lists people who are ready to help any newcomers to the community. These players are dubbed the "newbiehelpers" and help to guide the novice adventurer. This is certainly a great idea to ease the Game Masters' burden from the floods of questions players have when starting a new game.
Star Wars Galaxies has been able to achieve something no other MMORPG on the market has: functional non-combative professions that play their own role in the universe. Players may choose to play the role of a crafter, which includes the classes Weaponsmith and Armorsmith. These two professions will be the soldier's greatest ally, for they provide the community with much needed protection and firepower. Or perhaps players find themselves more suited as entertainers, the musicians and dancers who sooth the soul and heal battle fatigue. If none of these appeal to the player, a medic class that heals attribute wounds and lifepoints is also available.
Unlike other MMORPGs in which non-combative classes are penalized with the inability to gain experience points effectively, Star Wars Galaxies includes what is called Bazaar and User Experience, which gives a crafter additional experience for having their items used. Thus, the cunning businessman can sit back and watch both his pocket and skills increase with minimal effort. To make these classes even more appealing is the fact that all of this can happen offline as well.
Other classes such as architects and dancers are responsible for building the gaming world and its atmosphere. The former class can construct buildings and sell deeds while the latter may perform at the local Cantina with other dancers. Doctors may form hospitals to create a hub for both healing and war stories. No matter what your profession in Star Wars Galaxies, chances are good that there will be something fun and interesting to do outside of combat.
"I'm standing here in pieces and you're having delusions of grandeur!" - C-3PO
MMORPGs have never been known to feature great battle systems, and unfortunately Star Wars Galaxies is no different. What makes Galaxies exciting is the novelty of shooting a blaster like Han Solo did. While shooting, players can either stand, kneel, or remain prone for various bonuses and penalties. Standing will reduce that accuracy of long ranged weapons, but gives greater protection against melee attacks. Prone players become more difficult to hit from afar and have better aim, but will take more damage from those in close combat. Kneeling provides a happy medium between these two combat stances.
Aside from these three positions, there is no other complexity in battle. The weapon sound effects will make gamers feel like they are playing a part in a motion picture, and the high energy music gets the blood pumping. But after a few hours, the adrenaline wears off. But then a "named" character, or a character from a Star Wars movie, appears and suddenly fans are hooked again. Everyone from Darth Vader to Boba Fett reside in what are known as "Theme Parks" waiting to be discovered.
"Do, or do not. There is no try." - Yoda
All in all, what makes Star Wars Galaxies suffer most is that the game feels like it may have been launched prematurely. With a number of bugs still in place and the lack of certain player owned structures, it is easy to see that Galaxies needed more time in the oven. The fact that they announced space travel and combat as a seperate expansion pack was disappointing. Leaving out an integral part of the Star Wars experience, a feature that should have been implemented into the game from the beginning, was a sure sign of an unfinished product.
Still, launching an MMORPG that is incomplete is nothing new to the genre and is almost always expected. After all, you have to have content to sell the consumer the next year. Does that mean the players should be complacent? I don't think so. With the stiff competition in the MMORPG market, developers ought to be more careful with their products. Once the starship expansion is released and player cities are a possibility, Galaxies may see a bright future. But as of this moment, it falls under the same knife as Asheron's Call 2: beautiful graphics and good concepts that could have, and should have, been great.
© 2003 LucasArts Entertainment Company LLC.
© 2003 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM or ® as indicated.
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