Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided

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Since a lot has already been said about the basics of the game in past reviews; the focus of the article is to review what has changed since SWG's release. The key question: has it gotten better? In short, the answer is yes. Should you play it? Well, that depends...

One of the most radical changes to the game since its release has to be the addition of desperately requested items, chief of those being vehicles. I never played the initial versions of SWG, but I couldn't for a second imagine how one could want to play when you would have to run across planets! I mean, it takes a long time to cross a desert, even on a speeder bike; and constantly traveling via shuttle can be expensive. Now with the addition of two vehicles (X34 Landspeeders a la Luke Skywalker on Tatooine, and the infamous Speederbikes/ Swoopbikes those pesky but loveable Ewoks love to commandeer), players can choose when and where they'd like to go. Recent updates have added the ability to customize paint jobs, allowing players to have a unique ride, as well as open yet another source of income (since you need to have the skills to customize the paint, selling custom paint jobs can be a lucrative business).

The next major addition is the creature handler profession and the addition of mountable/trainable creatures. Players were begging for this profession for a long time, and were recently rewarded. Now players can take on the profession, and buy or capture wild animals and train them to fight, follow, and do tricks. And the creatures can be pretty nasty (I once joined a hunting party with a Rancor and some sort of dragon tagging along). Many hundreds of minor items have also been added to compliment current professions and even some new ones (like chef). Again, this is one of the big draws to online games, that they can be changed and retailored to better suit 'players needs.

The third major additive has to be the storylines and global events that have been developed. When I joined in February, the "Dead Eye" storyline was drawing to a close, and the first of two major global events was about to launch. The storylines allow players to interact with the NPC's in a more traditional RPG: playing alone or in a group to accomplish missions that will result in either the Rebels or the Imperials winning the arch. The winning factions receive a reward, and the losing team, well, loses something. In the case of the Dead Eye formula, had the winners been the Rebels the formula would be theirs; should the Imperials be victorious, the formula would be lost to all. Who won? I'm not saying, sorry (play the game to find out!). Best of all, playing the storylines is completely optional and will not hinder a player from advancing (though it may slow your rate compared to the rewards you could receive for completing missions). A new Corellian Cruiser mission has gone live, but I haven't had a chance to take it on yet. The stories are beginning to touch on the all so elusive and exciting ideas of space travel.

My personal favorite has to be the debut of global events. The first of which is the 'Imperial Crackdown'. Since the timeline of the game is somewhere in between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, the Empire is more or less at its peak. Imperials have been stationed in every city, and they are on the hunt for Rebel scum. The visuals have reflected the change (just look up in the sky to see the ominous form of the Star Destroyer orbiting the planet, or the TIE Fighters whizzing by). Stormtroopers will regularly enter cantinas and other public places searching for Rebel faction members (real and NPC), and have retaken the city Bestine as an Imperial stronghold. Rebel attacks are now sporadic and frequent (take part if you want, but make sure you have backup), and anyone caught aiding the enemy or partaking in anything illegal will be dealt with severely. The whole thing is very exciting. At the time of this article, the new rollout, entitled 'The Droid Invasion,' is gearing up. Droid engineers are being given more abilities, Battle Droids are starting to make their appearance, and the Junk Dealer profession is being revamped. Details on the storyline are still forthcoming, but if past events are any indication, it will be another exciting twist in this ever-changing game. Rumor has it that this may be the last major event before the game's first expansion pack is released (the ultra-highly anticipated space expansion, which will allow players to fly through space and own their own spaceships). Kessel Run, here I come!

But while a lot has changed on the surface, some of the core issues that drove players away still persist. Mainly there is the never-ending cycle of bugs. The byproduct of rolling out new changes in a live game is not having a lot of time to properly bug/stress test additions. The inevitable result is that with every new publish new bugs have to be identified and fixed. Wash, rinse, repeat. It's really annoying to come back from a daylong battle in the wilds to find that the shuttle port to a major city (with a hospital and doctors) has disappeared due to a bug. Latency issues can also present themselves when attempting to traverse heavily populated areas. Coupled with the games very high system requirements (I've notice this game doesn't look very good without many of the display options cranked), you've got one infuriating Metropolis. This is bad because the majority of commercial sales are done in major cities, but many people don't have the gaming rig or the patience to wait for the game to catch up. I've quit to desktop many times after leaving the space port at Coronet and running into the virtual logjam outside. Until something major is done to address this single issue, players will continue to leave.

Big game, big review. But a (thankfully) short conclusion. Try it out. If you have the minimum system requirements, a broadband connection (don't even dream of playing SWG on dialup), and enough money for the initial purchase, give SWG a spin. If you've ever dreamed of being a Jedi, or one of Jabba's henchmen, than this is definitely the place for you. If you are afraid of slow games with a lot to learn, you may want to steer clear.

The Score:

Since this game is so vast and complex, it's tough to fully explain the pros and cons in a small space. This list is only and overarching few points, but the nuts and bolts will be much better explained in the expanded coverage for MMO week.

+ Huge, big, massive, gargantuan, titanic universe to play in.
+ Graphically beautiful
+ Perfect soundtrack
+ Well-crafted stories
+ Hundreds of Professions
- Latency issues
- Steep learning curve
- Never-ending list of bugs (both big and small) annoy to no end
- Very high system requirements

Bottom Line:

If you've ever played an online RPG and liked it, or if you've ever been a fan of Star Wars, you owe it to yourself to try SWG. It's a cheap game to pick up, and includes two months of free online play. The game can be both a beauty and a beast: all those sweeping and gorgeous views come at a very high price. The game has gotten a lot better since its initial release, enough to warrant that early players who left in anger should check back in to see the new game. But new players be forewarned - this game is really tough to understand if you've had little experience with real RPG's. Still, it's worth a look if you like RPG's or the idea of playing with thousands of other real life players in a massive universe.

Reviewed by Ryan LaFlamme

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