Star Wars: Galaxies LIVES!
At the end of 2011, I wrote about the shutting down of Star Wars: Galaxies, the massively-multiplayer online game set in Lucas's fantasy universe. I hadn't played the game in years, not since Sony irreparably massacred the gameplay, dumbing it down and alienating its core players.
But now it's back. Not in hobbled "NGE" form, but with old-school Jump to Lightspeed-era gameplay.
I couldn't resist this walk down memory lane. So, after all these years... how does it hold up?
Some of you at this point are shouting "Shut up womp rat, tell me how!" Fair enough. The SWGemu project has created their own code to host the game on private servers. They are adamant they have used none of Sony's code (and indeed, have never seen it). How is this possible? Well, you need own copy of Galaxies. This means all the Sony code resides on your computer, and must be purchased "legally" by you. If you've thrown out your discs, you should be able to find copies on Amazon or Ebay (buying used games is "legal"). Once you install the game, all you need to do is download SWGemu's launcher (there are easy to follow instuctions on their the SWGemu website). The rest plays exactly as you remember.
Well, not exactly.
Nostalgia vs Reality
There's a certain sweetness in nostalgia. The sounds and sights of this game, after seeing them for the first time in eight years or so, was the proverbial trip down memory lane. Long forgotten memories about so many aspects of the game all came flooding back.
Like the brilliantly complex crafting system, something that's never had an equal. Or the myriad skill trees. As my friend (and fellow SW:G fan) John said: it's leveling as art. The UI, while clunky, is so much more customizable than any from the current era.
Sure, the graphics don't hold up. Even with everything maxed, it looks like a 10 year old game.
That age, though, goes much deeper.
The design mentality of SW:G-era MMOs was to keep the player playing for as long as possible. With monthly subscription fees being the majority of income, Sony needed to stretch out the game as long as possible. If you maxed out your character in two weeks, why would you pay for another month? At least, that was their thought. Years later, World of Warcraft would show that a deep and varied end-game is far more important than dragging out how long it takes to level.
But that's the future, at least as far as this iteration of SW:G is concerned. The attempts to slow down the player are all too apparent these days. It takes forever to get anywhere. Sure, you can buy a speeder/swoop, but these are truly massive planets. Even the towns themselves are spread out, putting useful locations like the auction house/bazaar, cantina, med bay, and trainers, all over the city. Want to take a shuttle between towns? They only come every 5 minutes. That's right, you have to stand there and wait for the next one. Ridiculous.
The controls feel weird after spending years with the polished interfaces of WoW and Guild Wars 1 and2. Then there's how you can still get incapacitated for 30 seconds, get up, get knocked out again, spend more time incapacitated, and then die. And what a death penalty, requiring you to seek out two different people to heal your wounds... in two different buildings!
In the end, SWGemu is everything that SW:G was, archaic flaws and all. If you remember it fondly, it's definitely worth diving back in, even if it's just for the "Oh, I remember that" moments.
With the clarity of time, the beauty of Galaxies was its complexity and depth, things we'll likely never see to their level again in an MMO. Sony's mistake was thinking that the only way to make the game more successful was to make it overly simple. Dumb it down "for the masses." They saw the gentle learning curve and simplistic (in comparison) gameplay of the sales juggernaut WoW, and figured that was the only way to maintain subscribers. When, in fact, the opposite was true. Many people liked SW:G because of the complexity, not despite it. There was nothing else like it, and by radically changing and dumbing down the gameplay, it became nothing. Certainly there could have been a way to make less annoying without making it boring. Eve Online certainly did. Sadly, we'll never know.
That, perhaps, is the greatest legacy of Star Wars: Galaxies: the lament of what could have been.