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Jump To Lightspeed Preview

Richard Cox Posted:
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During the past three weeks, I've had the opportunity to beta test the Star Wars Galaxies: Jump to Light Speed expansion for the popular Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided MMORPG. A while back I reviewed Star Wars Galaxies itself, so naturally I was anxious to get my hands on the expansion as soon as possible. As I said in the Star Wars Galaxies (SWG) review, the game has quite possibly more potential than any other game on the market today. I was really anxious to see if the first expansion for the game would realize some of that potential. Since the expansion is still technically in beta, this preview naturally won't cover everything the expansion has to offer, but it should give you a good feeling of what to expect.

The graphics haven't changed on the planet surface of SWG as there is no need to improve upon the nice graphics SWG already had in place. The old adage "if it isn't broke, don't fix it" is well at work here. And considering the major point of this expansion wasn't to concentrate on the planet surface aspects of the game but rather the outer-space aspects of it, I definitely see no problem with this approach. However, the graphics are intensified once you get out into space.

Spacecraft models are very nicely done as well as the various instrument panels that each ship has. You can play from either a chase-cam mode where you can see your ship, or fly it from inside, with either the instrument panel on or off. The ship models are amazing looking and easily recognizable from the films. In fact, they're almost perfect reproductions. The new ships designed solely for the game also fit very well within the Star Wars universe and look like they were always meant to be there. The laser bolts and sound effects are true to the movies and the original trilogy spacecraft models are done perfectly in JTLS. Even the little touches such as the engine glow and the air distortion streaming from the wing tips are very nicely done and serve well to add that sense of speed that makes flying that much more satisfying.

Space itself is an amazing sight to behold. Everything from the gigantic space stations orbiting the beautifully rendered planets to the nebulae and comets and asteroids are amazingly done. You could easily lose yourself for hours just flying around deep space in awe of all the beauty around you.

What's new besides spacecrafts? The SWG development team has introduced two new alien species to the game if you buy the expansion: The Ithorians and the Sullustans. The Ithorians might just be one of the most innovative player races to be added to a MMORPG in a while in my opinion. It's obvious from looking at them that a lot of thought and work went into their creation. While I'm no programmer or modeler by far, it seems that it took a lot of effort to get them right. While most games stick to more generically humanoid player character models, this one is a little bit different. Basically if you stick to a relatively humanoid model for all of your player character races, you can mostly use the same skeleton for all of them, this makes programming the animations and such very simple across the boards. They definitely could have taken the easy way out and used a different race from the Star Wars universe which wouldn't have required as much effort, but it's nice to see they took the chance, and in my opinion it turned out great. Both of the new species as designed to fit the space theme perfectly. The Ithorians excel at crafting the Starship chassis, power plants and shield assemblies. The Sullustans on the other hand excel at crafting Starship weapons, engines and boosters.

Many new clothing designs have been added to the game as well. Ever wanted a hooded cloak in the original game? Well, it's here in Jump to Lightspeed. There are also different types of battle armor for the Ithorians unique body shape.

Were you ever tired of not having a good selection of spacecraft in any traditional Star Wars space simulation? Well, a good thing about Jump to Lightspeed is the fact that they have many different types of spacecraft for you to choose from. Even the low level or starter spacecraft are quite nice!

As you progress up the chain of the pilot profession, you will gain a wider selection of starships to choose from. Starting off, you can choose to fly for the Empire, the Rebels or to work for one of the Neutral factions. Once you've tracked down the recruiter for the faction you want to work for, you then start with some simple beginner missions to get some experience under your belt. They could range from very simple patrol missions where you fly from way point to waypoint to the slightly more difficult hunting missions where you have to go hunt down a certain number of targets before returning to collect your reward. There are also escort missions where you escort another ship from one point to another while defending it from swarms of enemy attackers.

Gotten a few levels under your belt and looking to upgrade your starship? Just ask a Shipwright to build you the blueprint then take it to a chassis dealer in any starport. For a fee (from both the shipwright for providing the materials needed for the blueprint and his services rendered and from the chassis dealer for putting it all together), you'll have a ship ready for fitting. The chassis dealer is a NPC so you can't haggle over the prices. When testing the game, it cost me 250,000 to put together the chassis of the YT-1300 (that's not including the shipwright and his fee... but then again, the YT-1300 is one of the best ships on the market). And of course this being beta, it's definitely possible that prices will change.

Just because you have a chassis (frame of the ship) doesn't mean you can fly it yet. This is where it becomes involved! There are literally dozens of shields, armor, weapon systems, droid controls, reactors, engines, boosters, torpedoes, etc to choose from! Of course you are only limited to certain types of pieces according to your pilot skill. For example a pilot with the skills 1/1/1/1 can fit any Mark1 type items onto his ship. Each ship also has a mass and chassis limit you'll have to keep in mind when adding components.

Your ships are stored in your datapad. To access your ship you simply go to a starport. This is also where you'll need to go to do any work with the ship's components, for example if you wanted to switch out your shields for an upgraded model or such. The ships are stored in the hangar on the planet where you open their deeds. If you get a new ship, the old ship is stored in the hangar of the last planet it was accessed from. To make modifications to your ship you simply open the ship's menu and select the components you wish to equip or unequip from your ship. The interface is well done and very straight-forward and easy to use.

Space combat in Jump to Lightspeed is reminiscent of the older X-wing games which used a "twitch based" combat system. Add today's superior graphics, sounds, and a multi-online universe and you have one nice set-up. Joystick and gamepad support has been added as control options for space flight and space combat. Joystick support at this point is fairly simple and straight-forward. You still need the keyboard for many commands, but hopefully this is an area which is still being worked on, moving more of the support to the joystick itself. A lot of today's joysticks have more than enough buttons and switches and such on them to handle all of the commands needed, so I definitely hope that eventually you will be able to fully handle everything from the joystick while flying and fighting in space.

The only problem I had faced in space was the fact that everyone's particular missions were at the same exact spawn location rather than the missions of Star Wars Galaxies where missions were spawned in random locations throughout the planet. In Jump to Lightspeed all predetermined missions are located at the same spot for every player. However, SOE is currently working on this issue. They are already well on their way to making it so all space missions are instanced. This will definitely help with spawn point camping. To help deal with kill-stealing they're incorporating a 'locked-encounter' system. Between the instanced missions and locked-encounters all of the main problems I seemed to face while in space should be completely solved.

Overall this expansion is very well done and goes a long way in helping SWG realize the potential all the true fans of the game feel it has. It has its flaws, as all games do, but the development team is already working on fixing these flaws and listening to the playerbase who are in beta for ways to fix these problems and improve the expansion overall. If you're a SWG fan, Jump to Lightspeed will definitely bring a good bit more fun and enjoyment to your SWG gaming experience.


Richard Cox