Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided

This review is for a game called Star Wars Galaxies. Maybe you�ve heard of it?

When Lucasarts first announced Star Wars Galaxies, the online community erupted. EverQuest players who were tired of farming gear for their alts announced almost immediately that they were going to abandon Sony Online�s MMO juggernaut for Galaxies. Star Wars fans announced their plans for upgrades to their PCs. The industry announced that the next best thing had finally been announced. It was as if everyone else could just go home�a Star Wars-based MMORPG could only mean the rest of the industry would be cancelled.

So, Galaxies has been out for a few days now, and while the industry hasn�t been cancelled, it�s certainly been improved, simply because Galaxies is a part of it.

If you�ve never played an MMORPG, Galaxies is (like EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, and a few others) an online game in which you create a character and interact with thousands of other players, all on one server in one world that continues to turn whether you�re there or not. As you play, your character will advance in certain areas, becoming stronger and gaining new abilities, which opens up new gameplay options and enables you to take on more spectacular challenges. For example, in EverQuest, you start out fighting rats and, a few months later, you�re level 65 and powerful enough to take on, well, much more powerful rats. Galaxies is the latest example of this sort of gameplay, but its strength lie in the ways the game differs from the others in the genre.

The most obvious things you�ll notice (besides the Star Wars stuff) are the graphics and sounds. MMORPGs have made leaps and bounds in the past couple of years (and they�ll make even more in the next year or so) in the area of presentation, and Galaxies is easily the most gorgeous and immersive game in the genre. Huge cities, vibrant wildernesses, and highly detailed player character models help nail home the sheer Star-Warsiness of the game, while the Star Wars sound suite does its usual awesome job of grounding you in the world of the films.

The coolest things about Galaxies are ones that only MMORPG veterans will really notice. First, Galaxies is the first of its type to offer so many options for controls. The default control scheme is a bit funky, but a simple draw-down menu contains instant re-mapping to EQ-style, FPS-style, or isometric (Ultima Online-style) controls, meaning that if you don�t want to spend the time to learn a new control scheme, you can just pick one that you already know. An extensive tutorial system (one you might have to hunt for to find) will help you figure out what to do and how best to advance in your chosen profession, and an amazingly customizable character generation system (down to the shape of your eyes and the thickness of your torso) makes sure that no two players have exactly the same avatar. A slick �/find� command brings up a menu that triggers waypoints and yellow paths that help you find destinations in the game�s huge cities. Those are just a few of the ways Galaxies makes playing the game easier.

Then there are the cool touches. Wookiees can only speak their own language, and most people can�t understand them�meaning that at first you�ll only hear �Rawrroorrrwrrr� whenever a wookiee talks, until you get someone to teach you to understand Shyriiwook. Droids and indigenous creatures wander about in the cities, and different starting cities have different levels of danger�you�re much more likely to be randomly attacked by a cannibal in Mos Eisley (yes, that wretched hive of scum and villainy) than you are in Theed (Queen Amidala�s home town) or the cities of Corellia (where Han Solo comes from). There are �theme parks� to visit, once you�ve fulfilled certain quests, and they range from Jabba�s Palace (where you can meet Boba Fett or Jabba himself) to the Emperor�s Retreat on Naboo (where the Emperor kicks it with Darth Vader).

In answer to the genre�s critics, who say that these games are nothing but endless leveling grinds, Galaxies offers tons of ways to play, even if you never plan on picking up a blaster. Artisans, entertainers, and medics need never raise their voice in anger, but the game is set up so that mastering those professions is every bit as worthwhile as training to be a great warrior. If you enjoy fighting, though, Galaxies offers tons of different ways to do that, and you can be a brawler, marksman, bounty hunter, scoundrel, or any of a ton of other types of warriors. People who just want to sell stuff can even be merchants, complete with storefronts, NPC vendors, and discounts for premium auctions on the galaxy-wide eBay-like Bazaar.

Galaxies had a few server jitters at launch (the game was unplayable for the first couple of days), and there�s still a lot to do yet, since the last stage of Beta wasn�t completely finished when the game was rushed to stores. Still, even with tons of balancing and content missing, the game is tons of fun, and it�s a clear evolution of the genre from an automated creature generator into a more complete social interactive medium. It encourages roleplaying better than EverQuest, it�s more gripping than Dark Age of Camelot, and it�s more casual-gamer friendly than Asheron�s Call 2. Oh yeah�it�s also Star Wars.

So, no, the industry isn�t cancelled. But all your free time might be.

Curious to find out more about what makes Galaxies different from other MMORPGs? Read the Star Wars Galaxies Starter�s Guide.