With Bioware’s new Star Wars MMO ‘Star Wars: The Old Republic’ set to be released at the start of April, 2011. I can’t help but look back to the original Star Wars MMO from Sony Entertainment released in 2003, Star Wars Galaxies. Star Wars Galaxies pre-dated nearly all the other major MMO’s that exist today (With the possible exception of Eve and Ultima Online).
The game they brought out was a giant grind-fest with just as many nice little quirks as failed ideas. However, the game has now changed beyond all recognition due to the number of patches implemented over these 9 years and I’m sure many of the below have either changed or been fixed since I last played.
This is how I remember it, from 9 years ago when it was first released.
Character creation, even compared to some of the MMO’s out today, was impressive. There were a number of races to choose from (Human, Zabrak, Bothan, Twi’lek, Trandoshan etc.). All of those could be customised to a surprisingly large degree. There were slider bars, not only for the various colour elements of your character but eye size, build, head ridge size. It seemed as though every detail was changeable in some way.
|The original professions
Once you had designed your character, you picked from one of 6 different professions Marksman, Brawler, Medic, Scout, Entertainer or Artisan. Nothing too different or unusual here, but the really big difference about professions was how you skilled up your character.
Advancing Your Character
I still think that even to this day, the method in which your character advanced in skill was an original approach and provided every character the ability to do what they wanted without being locked into one profession or mode of play. Each of the 6 professions were divided into four sub-trees. So the Marksman skill path was divided into pistols, rifles, carbines and ranged support. Completing all four of those skill trees would then unlock the Master marksman option. Which increases your combat ability with all guns.
If the above two weren’t enough, then there were a pre-set combination of skills that would unlock advanced professions. So, if you completed ‘Exploration’ and ‘Hunting’ from the Scout tree, this would unlock Creature Handling; Completing ‘Two handed’ and ‘One handed’ from the Brawler tree would unlock the Swordsman tree.
You can start down as many skill trees as you have the skill points for. So you can invest some skill points in marksman, and some in medic for combat skills and self-healing, or put some in Brawler and artisan to become a trader who knows how to take care of him/herself.
As you advance further and further into a tree your efficiency in that tree increases. Spread yourself over a number of trees and although your utility increases you will never have enough skill points to get very high into many of those trees.
Though if you do get bored, or have put points in the wrong tree, you don’t need to start again you can just wipe your talent trees your xp will be refunded and you can re-spend it.
Once of the tricky parts to character development was that you could only gain certain xp by using those skills you were levelling. So in the case of marksman, to gain pistol xp you had to kill enemies with a pistol, rifles for rifle xp, carbine for carbine xp etc. It makes sense but there was always a point when you would have to spend endless amounts of your time just grinding trying to get the final column of xp for your master level for a weapon you’ll never use again, or a scout skill that has very little purpose but is required for your advanced profession.
These were before the days of long engaging quest-lines, hand-holding through early portions of the game and so many quests you could shake a dual-handed lightsaber at. With Star Wars Galaxies they just pretty much left you to it. There was a brief intro that told you the basic controls, and then it was up to you what you wanted to do. Quests were picked up from one or two places. There was a machine that handed out basic explore or kill quests. These were infinite and randomly generated so after destroying a nest or wiping out a smugglers outpost you ran all the way back and chose another random quest. There was no over-arching storyline to follow or back-story for your race. The other place for missions was from the Alliance or Empire personnel. They were seemingly dotted around every city yet they never seemed to draw any attention from each other, who happily let them get on with their recruitment anti rebel/empire activities. These quests were a bit more structured but were only a vehicle for climbing levels within the faction.
In the early days everyone was just happy to work on their own skill progression, with the hope of finding a Holocron and starting down the Jedi path (explained later) nothing else was needed.
Star Wars Galaxies had two factions. No points for guessing Empire and Rebels. For each side be an out-proud member of the Rebels/Empire which was tantamount to having your Player vs. Player flag on. Any players of the opposite side could attack you at will.
Your position in the Alliance or Empire depended on a small quest chain that you needed to complete. The more quests you completed the higher you rose up the ranks. Until you had enough rank to have your own portable squad. In the case of the Empire you could gain your own AT-ST. Needless to say that you were only able to deploy your AT-ST if you were a proud member of the Empire. I can imagine that even the most silver-tongued of rogues would have a hard time explaining why there was a giant two-legged metal walker in the corner of the bar, wearing dark glasses and trying to look nonchalant.
There wasn’t any. Done.
Well, there was no end game in the now quite conventional sense. Without characters gaining levels numerically it was very difficult to ascertain who would be of an appropriate skill level to take part in the more difficult things. They threw in Doctor buffing (below) so you could at least withstand the odd hit from a Banthor or Rancor but there was no end game raiding; no large evils to vanquish. In a game like this the big bad evils were Darth Vader and the Emperor (or Luke, Han and Leia depending on your side) and due to the lore of the game they couldn’t have people going round killing Luke, Darth or Obi-Wan, we already know what happened to them and that can’t really be changed.
The Jedi Profession
In the games as you could expect you have the chance of opening up the Jedi path. Although, the Jedi path was a very odd creation that had no real logical basis in the lore of the films.
To become a Jedi you had to loot a randomly dropped Holocron of a big hard-hitting creature (which to this day I still don’t really understand which creatures could drop them). This Holocron would then give you your first class to master. You would now need to drop all of your skill points and get the master level in that stated class. Then once you’d struggled all the way to the top of that mastery, you had to do the thing again; not once more, but three more times. Completing this farce four times in succession. “But it must get easier?” I hear you reason. No! It doesn’t because the fifth time they do not even tell you which skill tree you will need to master. You have to arbitrarily keep mastering trees until you had got the right one then the Jedi path would unlike.
So if you put that in the context of the film, rather than Luke finding Yoda on Dagoba and undergoing a series of intense yet effective force training programs. Your Luke, could spend his time learning how to be Master Doctor, Then a Marksman, then a Dancer and Creature Handler. As his Jedi powers increased he randomly became a fist-fighter, a musician, a weapon-smith, a survival expert and then finally a politician before he had unlocked his inner power. Ridiculous.
|“You have no idea what I had to do to be a Jedi…!”
Anyway, you made it all the way to Jedi now you could sit back and relax killing people with all your Jedi powers? Sorry, think again. Once you had used your force powers, you would now be visible to Bounty Hunter quests givers who would now actively hand out quests to Bounty Hunters getting them to hunt you down and kill you. Generally the collective thought was “Erm No. I don’t think I will raise a Jedi, thank you.”
Buffing was something implemented in Galaxies which even to this day did not make much logical sense. Buffing could only be performed by Master Doctors. By approaching one of the various player doctors sitting outside the ports in major cities advertising their wares, and giving them a kings ransom they would then ‘buff’ your character. This buff would increase all of your bars (Health, Mind and Action) to around ten times their original size. Very useful in a lot of cases, you may think.
|“Hey there lady, want a good buffin?”
The absurdity is that you could not do anything even remotely what you would call end-game without these buffs. And let’s be clear these buffs do not increase your skill or effectiveness in combat anyway, that is all down to the endless grinding you would have done to skill up. These buffs are purely for just staying alive.
Ah lag? Everyone’s favourite random element in online gaming. Whether this was because SWG was practically a trail-blazer or whether the infrastructure just couldn’t handle the data flow. Lag was both the most infuriating and yet funny thing around the game. The main areas where lag suffered seemed to be when travelling very quickly or when travelling through a densely populated area.
In the former case, if you travelled too quickly you would run five foot forward then magically jump back 4 foot, over and over again until you had to travel by tentatively jabbing the forward key so you only moved about a foot at a time until it cleared itself up.
The latter usually reared it’s head when you were travelling quickly on a speeder. There you’d be happily speeding through the sandy stretches of Tattooine when you’d just stop dead. You could turn to some extent but go no further forward. As the seconds ticked on things would suddenly start popping on to your screen, the odd barrel here; a tree, another speeder. then…. WALL!!! Right in front of you. The invisible barrier you had struggled against for the past 2 minutes turns out to be a giant walled-city that you had somehow managed to not see.
|The box art
Firstly, I don’t want you to think that I am trashing this game. By today’s standards it no-way holds a light to any of the MMO’s that are out there now. Of course it wouldn’t. It’s nearly 9 years old.
Though I did spend so much time playing this gem of a game. Sure, it had it’s flaws and some of the things didn’t really make much sense but it was original and brought so many new elements to online gaming that I had never thought of before.
In light of the more modern MMO’s out there now. It’s heard to really see how mould-breaking it appeared to be at the time.
Unfortunately, this old version of the game no longer exists due to the numerous patches to turn it into ‘World of Star Wars’ so it will forever have to remain in my memory.
I’m hoping that Star Wars: The Old Republic hits the same spots that Star Wars Galaxies did that it doesn’t end up being another World of Warcraft clone. It’s nearly out, so I’ll find out one way or the other.