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Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided

/ Jun 26th, 2003 No Comments

Well here we are, it’s finally here boys n’ girls! 500,000 people were logged into the Star Wars Galaxies Forums for years debating, discussing and anguishing over what has been the most hotly anticipated game for a long, long time. For all my sins I was one of them, after waiting for so damn long you can imagine my joy at getting into the Beta test, a Beta test that has been up on EBay for prices in the range of $500! A cursed NDA has meant all information has been kept secret until now, the odd leak from the games extremely hard working developers has been all we were allowed, but now I can spill some beans!

A Beta test is difficult to judge, especially for an MMORPG which is changing all the time, so I will try and just tell you what the experience is like. But I will answer a few basic questions that are surely on your mind. First of all…is it ready? Well…in truth, I would say nearly. The game is stable, I haven’t (although some have) had a single crash and I have only had a few random disconnections, this is a big, big plus for launch. As it stands, the major issues are actually small ones, but they are very numerous! Some aspects of the game are still being balanced, particularly the financial side of things, there are also lots of minor bugs (mainly surrounding the missions) and some of the game tools, such as the in-game-Email, definitely need fleshing out. The game will be out before I have time to review the release copy, but so you know, it won’t all work perfectly.

Having said that though I have had a blast playing in Beta, the glitches in the gameplay I have worked around and filled into a notebook to submit in a bug report at the end of the day before slating/praising what is going on in the game. I can promise you that people who have accused the Beta Testers of making up problems to extend their free play period are simply jealous; we have put in a lot of effort!

Anyway, what can you expect to see when you first log-in to Star Wars Galaxies? Well, my first experience took place at 5am on a Sunday morning the second the 1.7Gig download completed, thank the lord for DSL!

The first thing you come to is, obviously, your character creation screen…I spent a good half hour here at least. A choice of eight species is there, Human, Zabrak, Wookie, Rodian, Trandoshan, Bothan, Twilek and Mon Calamari. The range of choices you get for determining your appearance is astounding, various categories specific to each species are available with a slider for each, your character really becomes unique. I plumped for a short, green, big-eyed Rodian in the end, once you get in the game you really see all shapes and sizes of character…towering Zabraks looming above you or the fat Wookie playing a horn in the local Cantina. So far, so good.

A tutorial follows where you are shown through the basic controls and interface options as well as some of the games dynamics. It’s quite a nice intro story to get you into the game, you are aboard an Imperial ship, taken aboard for supposedly smuggling contraband, and after you are found innocent you are released. During this time you will also be told a little about your initial profession and how it works, you see your character starts with one of 6 starter professions. Artisan, Brawler, Entertainer, Marksman, Medic and Scout are your choice of starting points, but thankfully, you are not stuck with this and can take on other skills as and when you want them. Initially I took on some Marksman skills, keep things simple and shoot some Womp Rats was my theory!

In order to do this, Tatooine was my obvious choice of starting planet, and having read the city descriptions I decided on Bestine, an Imperial hive, to be my initial home. Stepping off the shuttle onto the edge of the Starport I quickly reached for the Graphics options menu! Despite running the game on an AthlonXP 2400+, Radeon 9700 and 1Gig of RAM the graphics effects sliders needed to be put way down and shadows turned off, this a game designed to take advantage of future hardware advances and it shows!

Having turned the options down though the game still looks great, the character models all look fantastic, as I said, the variety being the key. The look of your avatar being further customizable by a great selection of clothes, hats, belts, bandoliers…all made by other players of course. Before I could save up and buy some Bone Armour I bought myself a cheap robe from Bazaar (the games equivalent of EBay) and before long I had looted a rather nice hat off a thief on the outskirts of town.

Finding your way around the world is a very simple task, waypoints can be created and named to towns, specific buildings or to anywhere else you fancy. The Holocron is your bible at first, a small tour of your starter town is given and it holds a vast wealth of information on the games mechanics and the Star Wars world.

At first you will be a little bewildered at the size of the world and running through all aspects of the tutorial is a must. On finishing it though I took on a few simple missions from Bestines mission terminals, a few simple delivery missions, one of which took me to nearby Rebel city, Anchorhead. At this stage in the game I had no chance of surviving in the wilderness so I took the shuttle straight there, it cut a bit out of my profit but at least I stayed alive!

Death is always a key issue in games such as this and I feel it is handled very fairly and causes minimum frustration while still being something you want to avoid. When you are killed you don’t die (bear with me), you merely become incapacitated for a period of time…the player or NPC who killed may then decide whether to deliver a death blow. You start the game with 3 ‘free’ deaths, but after this you need to start spending some money on insurance and cloning. Items left uninsured will remain on your corpse when you die and you will have to go pick them up – something I regretted when crawling on my belly, trying to get my blaster back from under the noses of a band of Tuskans responsible for my death! Cloning simply determines where you re-spawn after death, making sure you have a cloning point nearby when on foreign planets is essential. Especially when you go on that special weekend Ewok hunting trip within a group!

My initial attempts at hunting were done solo and it’s fair to say, I got my ass kicked. Getting in for a close look at a Bantha is not at all recommended in the early stages! They do look glorious however, stomping in, shaking the screen, hair flapping about and uttering a mean bellow. I decided a bit of medical treatment was in order and so I decided to take on some of the Medic skill tree.

The game is totally ‘level’ free, you work on the attributes you want, there is no straight path in your development. You are limited in the skills you can take on by your skill points, 250 are available for your character, each new skill you learn takes a few of these points, when all 250 are gone you have learned all you can learn. Each skill also requires specific experience to obtain though…to move from Advanced Rifle to Expert Rifle for instance I needed 15,000 Rifle XP – XP you can only gain from firing a rifle. You can sell a skill back if you decide you no longer want it, you get your skill points back, but not your XP, thus stopping changing skills every few minutes. To upgrade a skill you either need to go to a trainer and pay cash OR if you can find a fellow player with the skill you want, he can train you, usually for free.

Eventually I took on some crafting skills too as I wanted to make my own medi-kits. Investigating further I could see this development would lead me up the Bio-Engineer skill tree where I would be able to create my own creatures! There are so many professions available you can have quite a diverse gameplay experience, apparently you have enough skill points to master three whole skill trees and have a few points left over at the end.

There are so many things I haven’t been able to try though…walking into the cantina you see bands playing, all moving in sync along with dancers all helping their chatting audience recover from their Battle Fatigue – a value which rises in combat and slows your stat regeneration. Then there are the creature trainers, it is so funny to see someone walk through a city centre with their pet waddling along behind them, everyone watches them and starts asking questions…it’s like a bunch of women cooing into a pram. It is slightly scary to see someone with a pet Rancor monster though I must say… I haven’t even been able to discuss the image designers, architects, droid engineers, bounty hunters…or even the Jedi (which no-one on the public Beta have tested before you ask!).
By far the most fun I have had in the game is in a group, big or small, what makes this game is the other people. The first time I went off on a big group was to hunt for Bantha’s… about 10 of us managed to take out about 12 of them in all before the lair went crashing down. Unfortunately we got a bit too big for our boots and half the group got cut down when their Tuskan owners turned up.

One of the most spectacular things I’ve seen in a game followed, the remainder of our group staggered off and rested for a while in a camp before spotting a Ronto lair. Ronto’s are big. We didn’t see too many of them so we though we could take them… unfortunately about eight Rontos were hidden within the lair and charged out at us! A Ronto stamped, laser blasts spraying everywhere while the members of my group scattered was quite a thing to be a part of.

I really have so, so much more to say about my experiences in the game, but this article has to end somewhere. I hope I have whet your whistle for the release of the game and reassured you that despite the fact there are problems, it’s still great fun. But I’ll tell you what, if you have any questions about the game then email me and I’ll try and run as many answers in a Q&A feature as soon as possible! May the Force be with you!

Jamie Wharton

Jamie Wharton

Jamie Wharton was based out of Europe before disappearing off the face of the Earth. His contributions in the early days of Gaming Illustrated's history, however, shall never be forgotten.
Jamie Wharton

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