The Rise and Fall of Star Wars Galaxies
Neil Kewn (Murxidon) - OnRPG Journalist
You have probably heard of Star Wars Galaxies. Released back in 2003, Sony Online Entertainment created the very first MMORPG based around George Lucas' epic space saga. Next year sees the release of The Old Republic, BioWare's attempt at forging a massively multiplayer game from the prestigious Star Wars licence. Anticipation for the game is high; can those behind Mass Effect live up to the hype? Some have inevitably branded The Old Republic a "WoW killer" (a term we may have heard once or twice before), but the first Star Wars MMO predated World of Warcraft by two years. Unfortunately the game wasn't remembered for its strengths, it was remembered for what the developers did to those strengths.
A long time ago...
Seven years is a long time in gaming. When Star Wars Galaxies went live most people were still playing EverQuest, or Lineage II. Maybe even Final Fantasy XI. Upon release the game received a lukewarm response from critics, most hailed the impressive graphics but criticised the repetitive gameplay. Updates came, and subscriptions slowly began to rise. Unfortunately, they never did rise high enough. 300,000 subs were reported by the time World of Warcraft hit store shelves. For those who did sink their time into SWG, they were rewarded with an online multiplayer experience like no other. A game that pushed the genre to new heights, and did things that haven't been repeated since - If you were able to excuse the endless number of bugs.
And excuse they did. The original community that had formed in the two years following release were hardened, dedicated players who saw potential in this innovative multiplayer game. The first iteration featured thirty two separate professions, split into six different starter professions. From Pistoleer to Architect, Dancer to Image Designer, not every player had to dedicate themselves to cracking skulls and firing blasters.
The sheer joy of Star Wars Galaxies came from amount of freedom you were given. Rarely were you constricted in what you wanted to do, what you wanted to be in game. This has led to some labelling the game a "simulation", rather than a role playing game. The fact is, you weren't tied to one class, one profession or one specialisation, Sony gave players an enormous amount of variety. Couple that with innovative gameplay mechanics and a Star Wars universe George Lucas himself would be proud of, it made for the perfect Star Wars game.
All Good Things Must Come To An End
Star Wars Galaxies wasn't as successful as it possibly could, or should have been. Subscriber numbers never reached respectable levels and actually began to drop towards the end of 2004. With the impending release of World of Warcraft, Sony chiefs attempted to reverse the decline by drastically altering the core game to a massive extent. This new campaign to make the game easier and friendlier to new players would ultimately drive the core community away.
A number of professions before the NGE...
Whilst no one could have predicted the eventual dominance of World of Warcraft, the hype was immense. SWG understandably had to take action. The introduction of two massive updates, titled Combat Upgrade and later New Game Enhancements, would reshape the two year old game in a huge way. Classes were removed, professions became merged and combat was drastically altered - Complaints began to mount.
The Combat Upgrade went live on April 27 2005, and was a large fundamental change to the combat system. The slower paced action of before was replaced by a faster, more fluid experience similar to that found in World of Warcraft. The user interface was also drastically changed. The second update, New Game Enhancements, hit servers towards the end of that same year. The biggest update to the game since its inception left dedicated players with a sour taste in their mouths. The list of changes was staggering, and Sony even began to offer refunds to players who bought the latest expansion unaware of the impending changes to their game.
Almost immediately after the release of NGE, development of private servers and test beds began. Irate with changes made, players longed for the more varied, complex game they had been playing for the last two years. The pre-CU and pre-NGE communities have been working tirelessly to restore the game back to its original state for almost five years now. Despite this, progress has been slow, but many still refuse to return to the game they consider to be "ruined" by Sony's modernisation efforts.
Star Wars Galaxies Today
The nine professions currently available to post-NGE players are Bounty Hunter, Medic, Entertainer, Officer, Trader, Smuggler, Spy, Commando and Jedi. The latter was originally an extremely hard feat to achieve, requiring hours upon hours of gameplay. Sony's decision to allow the Jedi to become a starting class angered many, but it is still a joy to play even in 2010 Star Wars Galaxies.
The game has aged surprisingly well. It still looks good seven years on, and although your character can walk straight through most objects and shadows are best left turned off, the game captures the essence of Star Wars superbly. The planets themselves are expansive, with Tattooine's vast desert landscape coming across perfectly. The highly praised introduction of player owned homes and buildings still exists, with custom made cities populating the worlds, but they are left mostly deserted.
Star Wars Galaxies isn't dead in the water just yet. Player numbers are down, with desolate towns providing a depressing reminder of what the game once was. The game isn't bad, it just isn't as good as it used to be. Change isn't always for the best, and I can't help but wonder why Sony did not revert back to the original formula. Whilst you may be able to draw a good few hours out of today's iteration of Star Wars Galaxies, the game feels stale and old. This is in sharp contrast to what SWG was seven years ago, a futuristic space MMORPG that was frankly ahead of its time.
Star Wars Galaxies (2010)
- A good looking game, despite its age
- Captures the essence of Star Wars perfectly
- A fun, highly playable MMORPG that is friendly to newcomers
- A far cry from its original, more complex form
- Small population on the small amount of available servers
- Lag is prevalent far too often