Visiting uncle Owen
Last month when I saw Massively’s article about Star Wars Galaxies’ 8th anniversary it raised my curiosity what the status was for the game nowadays. I felt that maybe I should try it out again, since had been a few years since the last visit (and that was a brief one as well). Then came the news about SOE closing down the game in December, at which point I felt that now I must play the game again – there was no option really.
I am a pre-NGE player; I started playing Star Wars Galaxies shortly after release in summer 2003 and in my first round played actively until January 2004. For some months after that I played FFXI primarily until I went back to SWG during autumn and winter of 2004. After that I stopped playing for a while, due to EQ2 and WoW.
I did jump in back into the game briefly right after the NGE happened, to see what it was about. My main character back then (master ranger/master creature handler/pistoleer) was no more. Back then I was quite disappointed with SOE and did not touch the game for some time. A brief re-visit maybe 2-3 years later did not do much for me, because the client kept crashing on me.
With this I want to emphasize that I am not bitter with SOE or hold a grudge; the NGE was six years ago – many popular MMO titles today have not even existed for that long. There is no point in looking at what the state was at Publish 25, but rather see the game for what it is now – today.
My old characters were still there, although not all of them accessible since not all of the worlds from the old days existed any longer. I contemplated playing my pre-NGE characters who had been converted, but decided against that and started two new characters – an officer and a trader. There are 9 different professions, out of which 7 are combat oriented (Bounty Hunter, Commando, Jedi, Medic, Officer, Smuggler and Spy) and two non-combat professions (trader and entertainer). Trader is also split up in 4 specializations – domestic, structures, munitions and engineering. For my trader I choose engineering; back when I played SWG originally the Droid Engineer was the first profession I choose to advance in.
Fortunately the game seem to allow 2 characters per universe/server (it was only 1 character in the old days) so I could place them in the same one – which also some in-game friends from other games would be playing on.
Since the Publish 25 update the new player experience pretty much starts with your character getting rescued by Han Solo and Chewbacca and then transported to Tansarii space station. This place offers a number of newbie missions and you can when you feel it is suitable get transported down to Tatooine – the starter planet.
The space station experience was not particularly exciting and it did not need that many missions before I felt I needed to get off that station. This was especially true for the trader, for which many of the missions on the station did not give any trader XP anyway.
After going planetside you end up in Mos Eisley and get some other missions, partly dependent on your profession choice, e.g. the trader got some crafting missions. Some missions are to introduce some additional game basics, others seem to be part of what is called the Legacy quests – a long list of missions linked to each other going across multiple planet system, supposedly lasting up to level 40:ish. These missions were something that were introduced with Publish 25/NGE and I think is a good thing; it provides a bit more introduction and directed adventure while still not overdoing it with massive quest hubs all over the place that some other MMOs have.
These post-NGE missions also use a similar mission interface that many current MMOs use also, which is a bit nicer and convenient than the old mission interfaces (which were items in the datapad, as I recall).
But regardless of the new mission system or not, if you travel around a bit and explore you will soon think of it more as a world you are visiting, some place far away, rather than a game being played. This is one of the feelings that made the place a really cool place to be in 8 years ago despite various shortcomings then. And it still provides some of that even though there are not a huge number of players around – if nothing else you see their legacy through various cities and villages.
The game’s progression mechanics may have changed a bit, but its key aspect of being a unique different world is still there.
A profession sidetrack
In the old SWG there were a number of skill trees which covered a number of different professions to master; earning a certain type of XP (there were many different types of XP) allowed you to get skill points to use to advance further up in a skill tree associated with that XP. The skill points were limited, so you had to choose which you wanted to advance in. You could get to master level (the highest in any skill tree) in two professions and advance a little bit in some other areas with the skill points available. If you changed your mind you could release skill points, but anything you gained in abilities and XP associated with that were lost then.
This was something I did a number of times when I originally played the game – I probably advanced a bit and dicarded maybe 4-5 professions before I settled for Ranger and Creature Handler to advance to master in. These changes were both due to buggy and/or grindy professions generally.
The 9 professions in the current game provides a relatively more rigid and simpler structure, but the advancement phases an stages map reasonably well to the old skill tree structure in those cases that it had been kept somewhat intact.
The expertise part (talent trees in some other MMOs) does provide a bit of variation within a certain profession choice. Also with the current game you have the option to respec and choose a different profession and/or specialization, which in a way provides the option to change your mind about your career path. You will also keep all the XP you have gained in your old profession when you respec, but the XP type will not be changed. Since the number of XP types essentially are simplified to combat, trader and entertainer XP, any switch between combat professions will let you keep your old level as well as any switch between trader specializations. But switching between XP types will require you to start from almost the beginning for the new profession. The good thing is though that if you switch again or back to a profession with the same XP type as you had before, you still have that available.
This approach is much better than the old skill system, where any dropped skill levels were completely lost from an XP perspective.
There are also some additional advancement paths which runs sort of in parallel with the profession leveling – there is the Beast Master expertise tree, which seemd to have taken some elements of Bio-Engineer and Creature Handler from the old game and allowed any profession to advance a bit in there. There are also separate advancement paths for Pilot and Politician (also in the old game) as well as Chronicler (create player generated missions) which one can do in parallel with the current main profession.
All of this was not in place when NGE was released, but these things have been improved in later updates apparently.
Crafting and resource gathering bliss
Of the two characters I created recently, my trader is the one that I have played the most and also progressed most in levels. The crafting and resource gathering systems in the game are perhaps the absolutely best I have encountered in any MMO – if you enjoy that type of gameplay. What is in the game today in that regard is pretty much the same as in the pre-NGE game as far as I can see in terms of depth and mechanics.
This also means that the old grind is still there – you have to make a lot of items to advance and far from everything can actually be sold as you level. The game has a practice mode which does not create the end item and provides a slightly higher XP gain than if you actually created the item.
Despite the grind part I still enjoy the game so far, but I gave up on advancing to master level in any of the crafting professions I tried in the old game, because of the grind. I will have to see how this works out this time around. I have reached the point where I can create my first droids and where I will need to set up my own private crafting station to be able to make all the stuff needed.
Touring the different worlds
In the current game there seem to be a fairly linear path through the different worlds which you progress through – you always start on Tatooine. In the old days there were a couple of worlds to choose from when you started out. I would have preferred to have had the old more vertical approach here, but it is not clear to me yet whetherthis more linear approach is just at the start or if the game will try to enforce a certain progression path in terms environments. Hopefully it will only be in the beginning, but this remains to be seen.
It is not too late yet
For those that want to reactivate or try out Star Wars Galaxies, SOE are still accepting new customers until September 15th. From October 15th the game will not be charged anymore to currently active players until the game closes on December 15th, i.e. two months for free. In addition to that SOE is offering free trials for a number of their other games (not all of them though) from October 15th until the end of the year.
I do regret that did not get back to SWG a bit earlier than now; but at least I can make use of the time that remains now.
The NGE was a bad thing, but it was not something that destroyed the game as some describes it, in my opinion. It changed some parts of the mechanics but the main thing it hurt was the player’s trust of the game company. That has perhaps been something more difficult to fix than some features of the game. There is certainly room for improvements in the game, but it is also an experience which stands out – perhaps more so today than back when it was released originally.