| complex crafting and itemization
large zones, diverse environments
production values (graphics and sound)
roleplay/virtual world tools
| grind-heavy mechanics
radical departures from Star Wars lore
sub-standard quest content
uninspired PVP system
Structures traders rarely see much profit from the architecture side of their profession (player housing is abundant and therefore very inexpensive), though the mechanics fill a welcome role by adding immeasurable flavor to the world through the use of decorative items and custom naming abilities. It isn't uncommon to wander into a player structure and marvel at the ingenuity on display as many gamers spend hours arranging their furniture, armor, weapons, and hundreds of other items into elaborate and costly shrines of creativity and role play. Galaxies' housing system has quite simply never been equaled, and anyone with a passing interest in virtual world spaces owes it to themselves to purchase a house and spend a little time fiddling with the three dimensional object positioning system.
The housing mechanic also makes possible the formation of player cities, wherein residents build their houses in close proximity, purchase a city hall deed from an architect, and elect a mayor that is tasked with overseeing the town budget, placing city structures (gardens, fountains, medical facilities, shuttle ports), and various other civic duties.
Of more practical use to the structures trader, at least in the monetary sense, is the ability to craft starship hulls and a large array of ship parts, from engines, to weapons, to cargo holds, all of which can then be purchased by pilot characters and installed on their starfighters, gunboats, and tramp freighters. The shipwright profession can be lucrative, particularly on servers such as Starsider where the spacing community is large and active, as the demand for missiles, countermeasures, and newer and better weaponry is always present. Also falling under the crafting gameplay sphere is the reverse engineering system (not to be confused with space-based reverse engineering, which is a much simpler system for improving looted ship parts). A grind-heavy mechanic introduced as a way for players to further customize their characters through statistics and equipment, it involves the manufacture of modifier 'bits,' each with a unique stat enhancement which can be slotted into a piece of armor or a weapon. Full suits of reverse-engineered armor normally sell for hundreds of millions of credits, and, though the prices have come down due to the explosion of third-party bot enhanced bit makers flooding the market, the items are normally beyond the reach of newer players, but are also very nearly requirements for competitive play.
Speaking of competitive play, endgame raiding and PvP are present in Galaxies, and, though the former is reasonably well-done, the latter leaves quite a lot to be desired, especially given the game's conflict-heavy setting. First the good: raiding, here called Heroic Encounters, is a relatively new addition to the game world, and consists of the standard high level PvE instances featuring heavy hitting bosses and unique locations, in addition to rare loot and gear drops.
Currently, raid dungeons include the Temple of an ancient Sith named Exar Kun, a droid factory featuring IG-88, the city of Mos Espa, Tatooine as it is overrun by Tusken Raiders, a Nightsister-infested cave deep in the bowels of Dathomir, and a pirate-controlled Star Destroyer adrift in the Ord Mantell space sector. Each of these instances requires a fairly high level of PvE know-how (and properly geared players) to complete, and each also give heroic reward tokens that can be exchanged for high-stat gear as well as fluff rewards such as paintings and decor. Currently in development is a heroic instance based on the classic Battle of Hoth from the Empire Strikes Back, in which players will reportedly be able to man both Alliance and Imperial ground combat vehicles and battle for control of a large area that recreates the famed Echo Base from the 1980 film.
Less successful is the game's implementation of player versus player conflict. Galaxies features no PvP ruleset, and makes use of a fairly clumsy dueling mechanic in which prospective combatants take turns asking one another for permission before attacking. There are 'open' PvP zones, such as deep space and the city of Restuss, but combat, particularly in Restuss, is uninspired, to be kind, and completely uninteresting and devoid of risk, reward, or consequence, to be more honest. PvP in Galaxies is an afterthought, and, while some hardcore types will no doubt try to sell you on the myth of player skill, the reality is that the system is entirely dependent on gear and judicious use of macros, both of which have their place, but as implemented here, fall far short of the type of immersive and fun conflict found in games such as Warhammer Online or the monster play in Turbine's Lord of the Rings title.
Existing almost entirely apart from the ground game spheres are the various space-based careers, broken down into three factional alignments consisting of the Imperial Navy, the Rebel Alliance, and Freelance smuggler types. Ground-based characters are free to choose any of the careers provided they don't conflict with a prior ground faction choice (you can't shoot Stormtroopers in the Mos Eisley cantina and then expect the Empire to let you fly one of its TIE Advanced starfighters, for example). The careers basically boil down to restricting your choice of ship hulls (not merely an aesthetic choice, since chassis all have differing load capabilities and performance numbers) and available quests, as well as a few unique reward items such as pilot jackets, helmets, and squadron badges for your character bio.
Space gameplay departs fairly radically from the ground game in that it actually requires some semblance of 'twitch' skill. Gone are the days of targeting your opponent and clicking the auto-attack button. There are still various specials to be fired off a hot bar (faction-specific shielding, NPC assistance calls, and engine boosting, to name a few) but if you can't keep your targeting reticule firmly planted over the opposing ace and 'lead' your lasers in front of him as he jukes and jinks out of harm's way, you won't get very far. Missiles can be effective in certain scenarios, but seasoned pilots who make good use of maneuverability and countermeasures effectively eliminate any 'I-win' buttons in the space portions of the game.
Role-players and housing enthusiasts aren't forgotten once the action leaves the planetary surfaces. Multiplayer ships, or POBs as they're called by many long-time players, serve as mobile player housing, featuring large interiors that can be decorated and occupied like planet-side dwellings. In addition to the social possibilities, POBs offer a unique opportunity for crew-based combat, as each model features at least two player-manned gun turrets and a first officer's station, making multiplayer ships quite fearsome beasts in the hands of a well-oiled crew and knowledgeable captain.
Character advancement in the space game is level-based like its ground counterpart, providing new abilities, enhancements and ship proficiency as the player grinds his way toward Master Pilot. Many mob spawns line the space lanes of Star Wars Galaxies, and, while the vastness of space itself pales in comparison to something like EVE Online, the zones are still large enough for a bit of exploration and certainly conducive to space-based PVP, PVE loot farming, and collection grinding. Aesthetically, the space game is the most recognizably 'Star Warsy' area of Star Wars Galaxies. The ship models are beautifully done, both exteriors and the large interiors of the multiplayer ships, and the architecture of the latter is recognizably oily, dirty, and full of the shabby sheik that evokes the production design of the original Star Wars film. While there are some continuity errors in the name of game balance (Imperial ships with shields) and the requisite continuity gaffes common to the game as a whole (A-Wings prior to the Battle of Endor), the space portions of the game vividly recreate the Star Wars universe familiar from the films and the sprawling Expanded Universe, and offering a pleasant change of pace from the tried and true mechanics of the ground game.
Lest we forget, the MMORPG genre does include roleplay as a part of its name, and to that end, Star Wars Galaxies offers what is unequivocally the deepest set of immersion tools in the history of the genre. Encompassing the entertainer profession, the aforementioned housing system, and the storyteller system, the roleplay options in Galaxies' add a level of liveliness and authenticity that is missing from every other game on the market, providing a blueprint for future developers who might wish to expand their market share beyond the PVE questing and PVP crowds.
A combination of the pre-NGE entertainer, dancer, and musician professions, the Entertainer is a wholly unique MMORPG class, with no comparable equivalent before or since its introduction in 2003. Entertainers advance to level ninety much like their combat and crafting compatriots, but they do so by directly performing for other players in the form of dancing, playing musical instruments, or image designing. With a bevy of instruments (and their associated songs and unique sounds) and dance moves, it is possible for entertainers to truly be the life of the proverbial party, and, while the necessity of entertainer-only characters has been lessened by the creation of a second character slot (much like the trader profession, the post-NGE entertainer has been relegated to an alt-character buff bot), the atmosphere that dedicated social players bring to the game world cannot be over-emphasized. The profession drew many non-traditional gamers into the genre by giving them something interesting and necessary to do that didn't involve combat, and since it has yet to be implemented into any other game; it remains one of Star Wars Galaxies' unique selling points.
In addition to dancer and musician careers, entertainers bring another unique facet to the game world in the form of image designing. Basically a character-remake system available in the live game world, an image designer can completely overhaul your existing character's physical appearance at any time. While other games tout their character customizing abilities by giving you the option to change your hairstyle or dye your armor, Star Wars Galaxies gives you the complete list of character creation sliders whenever you want, courtesy of the image designer. While you are not allowed to change your sex or species after character creation, every other customization option is available to you, as well as further color choices that are not available at initial creation.
The other 800-pound gorilla of Galaxies' social system is the storyteller mechanic. For a few thousand credits, players can purchase tokens from various storyteller NPCs that allow for the placement of interactive items in the game world, running the gamut of static props such as tables and chairs, to wall modules, to starships, Imperial walkers, and even mobs of factional NPCs that can be attacked by members of the controlling player's story group. Want to spawn a legion of Stormtroopers to harass the citizens of your Rebel-aligned player city? You can. Want to send players on a scavenger hunt for a rare item and hide it in the corpse of an NPC mob that they have to attack, kill, and loot? You can do that too. Whether you're planning an elaborate roleplay arc and want to spice it up with some strafing X-Wings and TIE Fighters, or you simply want to dress up your player city with a few parked star freighters or off duty Rebel troopers, the storyteller system adds hours of gameplay potential for those inclined to roleplay. About the only thing it doesn't do is allow game-mastering players to put words in the mouths of their NPCs, and despite this omission, the system adds quite a lot of Star Wars feel and authenticity to a ground game that is, at times, sorely lacking it.
The Bottom Line
The main issue with Galaxies, particularly for the neophyte player who is accustomed to newer, hand-holding games such as Warcraft and its many clones, is that of knowing what to do and where to do it. Though the game has changed much in its five year run, what hasn't changed is the basic sandbox nature that allows you to go anywhere and do just about anything. There are no gently flowing rivers of quests that gradually lead you from the starting areas out into the world proper; other than the brief newbie tutorial on board an instanced space station, players are thrown right into the mix with a bewildering array of choices, none of which are particularly stressful in terms of future repercussions on your character, but the possibility of confusion and frustration is a real one.
Also problematic (or a blessing, depending on your point of view) is the quest content in Galaxies, or more specifically, the lack thereof. The game was clearly designed to support player-generated content and serve as a set of tools (as opposed to a directed theme park experience), and the few quests that have been bolted on to the system that wasn't originally designed to support them are extremely dry, repetitive, and lengthy (the Legacy quest arc is a prime example of the mind-numbingly dull narrative, but it is also very nearly a leveling requirement, as it provides ample XP for a good chunk of the grind to the cap, and much higher rewards than simply grinding mobs).
For both newer players as well as returning veterans, portions of Star Wars Galaxies will seem very grind-intensive. Whether it's the journey from newb to ninety, the Master Pilot level grind, the reverse engineering bit grind, or the new collection system grind, much of the current game content is seemingly designed to dangle the proverbial carrot that many MMORPG players are famous for endlessly chasing until they suffer from burn out, boredom, or both. The collection system in particular, while offering some fun rewards (both fluff-related and necessary for higher level characters) is equal parts O.C.D-friendly and frustratingly repetitive. The challenge for Galaxies' designers should be to give the player base more of the unique features that are the title's hallmark, and less of the thinly disguised 'keep subscribing' mechanics that shamelessly prey on the addictive nature of the genre.
In the end, Star Wars Galaxies will probably never overcome the stigma of its radical re-stylings, and it doesn't help its own case by departing so completely from its source material in many aspects of design and implementation. That said, the game itself remains one of, if not the, most unique endeavors in the short history of the MMORPG genre, and would do well to invest a bit of marketing effort in promoting itself as a thinking man's game rather than a clone of the combat-only orgies that are being churned out by virtually every development studio in the business. With deep customization options, unparalleled immersion and roleplay tools, and a PvE game that is built on player interaction and choice, Star Wars Galaxies is currently a decent alternative for those seeking a place to call virtual home, and is worth a look due to an array of unique features that set it apart from the newer, simpler games crowding the market.