Developer: Sony Online Entertainment
Publisher: LucasArts Entertainment
Though I was a fan of the franchise, I had never played a Star Wars game before Star Wars Galaxies. My reluctance probably stemmed from the rule stating that any video game based on a movie is likely to be horrible. The rule holds up to this day, but my friends still convinced me to give Galaxies a try. It’s a good thing they did.
Set between A New Hope (1977) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Galaxies allowed you to choose between thirty-two professions. What I found innovative is that you didn’t have to stick to just one. You could mix and match different professions until you ran out of training points or even quit your job! Tired of being a bounty hunter? Just unlearn the skill and go for something different. There was so much diversity. You could become the best crafter in the galaxy, renowned for your clothes, weapons, and food, or a soldier, fighting with various ranged or melee weapons (each profession had a different type of weapon). You could be an entertainer, dancing at the cantina for weary travelers, or a healer, mending other people’s wounds on the field or in a hospital.
The way you levelled up was straight forward: you had to practice. You want to become a master armorsmith? Craft armor. Is shooting mobs from half a mile away more your cup of tea? Shoot stuff with a sniper rifle. So you think you can dance? Just go to any cantina and move your body to that annoying music playing at the Mos Eisley bar when Luke and Obi-Wan meet Han solo.
After trying out a few professions, I became a creature handler, a character who could tame wild beasts and use them in battle. I had a plethora of creatures. I enjoyed going into the wild, finding a beast that looked weird or cool, taming it, and then showing it off to my friends. More often than not, I found creatures that were noisy or incredibly large to annoy the hell out of them. Imagine trying to shoot a womp rat with a T-16 (womp rats are less than a meter in size) when, all of a sudden, the jerk creature handler in your hunting party takes out a Kimogila dragon the size of a school bus and that’s the only thing you can see on your computer screen!
They eventually added mounts to the game. Creature handlers could make basic mounts for their friends and really flashy ones for themselves. I had about ten different vehicles, which I used faithfully. I unfortunately lost all the screen captures I took of my creatures during the great hard drive purge that followed Order 66.
The developers wanted to make Galaxies an action-packed thrill ride, but the game became something that could be better described as The Sims in the Star Wars universe. People would log on to see their online friends and make new ones. Then, depending on what they fancied, they would hunt rancors (that ugly creature in Jabba’s basement) on Dathomir, fight Tusken Raiders on Tatooine, meet with characters from the movies, visit landmarks like the Sarlak pit and the Ewok village on Endor (Ewok massacre anyone?), or participate in the galactic civil war.
However, two major elements were missing from the game, both of which come to mind immediately when you think of Star Wars (besides Hayden Christensen’s horrible acting and George Lucas trying to milk his franchise for every nickel). Neither space fighting nor the Jedi profession was present when the game launched. The former was added with the first expansion, Jump to Lightspeed, but many resented having to pay extra to fly a spaceship in a Star Wars game.
The Jedi profession was a different story. Jedis were supposed to be a rare occurrence, Darth Vader and the Empire having killed most of them, so the profession was initially locked, and the key was left for players to discover. It turns out you had to master a random set professions, different for each player. This was a terrible way to make Jedis rare, as it forced players to master many professions they didn’t care about. At least, it was in keeping with the movies. Remember in the original trilogy how Luke had to become a cook, a commando, a musician, a doctor, a bio-engineer, and a weaponsmith before Yoda said, “Ready you are to be a Jedi”?
After my first piece on EverQuest, Dimitri suggested I describe the game using the present tense. Astute readers may have noticed the past tense was used extensively throughout this article. There is a reason for this: the New Game Enhancements, a bomb that destroyed the foundations of Star Wars Galaxies. Radical changes were made. The game went from turn-based combat to a sort of “Doom in space” battle mechanic. In addition, the number of professions dropped from thirty-two to eight, and many of the fan-favourites disappeared, including creature handler. All the creatures I had tamed, raised, and used to hunt were gone.
The worst part was the deceit from the developers. Changes like these take months to program, yet none of them were announced. Even worse, the newest expansion, Trials of Obi-Wan, had launched two weeks earlier with features tailor-made for classes that were no longer in the game, like new creatures for handlers to tame. The situation created a huge backlash, and subscriptions plummeted. To this day, the New Game Enhancements, a complete overhaul of gameplay experience without any warning, are referred to as the worst decision any online game developer has ever made. They are the reason I now hesitate to play any game from Sony Online Entertainment.