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GAME REVIEW - June 14, 2006

by Devon Varesko

Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided (PC)

My Rating: 6.5 out of 10

SWG: An Empire Divided

Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided is a futuristic MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game) based on the Star Wars universe. If you asked me what my favorite game was a year ago, I would've said Star Wars Galaxies. Unfortunately this is no longer the case. I'll get to that in a bit..

SWG lets you play as a character in the Star Wars universe. You can choose from many races such as Human, Zabrak, Wookiee, Rodian, Trandoshan, Bothan, Mon Calamari, Sullustan, and Ithorian. Select whether you want your character to be male or female, and specialize their look using sliders with many values from hair, makeup, tattoos, skin color, torso size, weight, height, nose size, chin size, jaw size, ear size, lip size, eye size, eye shape, and more. You then have many professions to choose from, including Bounty Hunter, Medic, Smuggler, Commando, Jedi, Entertainer, Spy, Officer, and Trader.

When you first log in (with the default tutorial check-box marked), you will be shown a cut-scene showing the station you are on and Han Solo's Millennium Falcon coming to "rescue" you. You will then be shown how to move around and interact with the game environment. Once you complete a very basic training exercise, you will be greeted by Han and Chewbacca, and led to their ship to escape the station. Further training continues in the newbie quests.

You can explore planets such as Corellia, Tatooine, Dathomir, Yavin IV, Endor, Dantooine, Talus, and Naboo. You can even build your own houses, shops, guild halls, and potentially even cities on most of those planets. Expansions add more planets and features which include the planets Kashyyyk and Mustafar, as well as allow you to do more quests for more experience and other rewards.

Some common Star Wars material you will see throughout the game is Stormtrooper Armor and Lightsabers. You can also visit popular Star Wars characters, such as Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, the Emperor, Jabba, Boba Fett, R2-D2, and C-3PO.

As I was saying earlier, this isn't my favorite game anymore. This is probably because of the "NGE" AKA "New Game Enhancements". This was a very large patch which was made to the game in order to improve it to where they could draw in a larger player-base. Of course, as most Veteran players will probably tell you, and I will definitely tell you, it sort of flopped.

The NGE changed the previous 32 professions to 9 selectable classes at the start of the game. That's fine, considering the previous number of starting classes was 5. However, the problem is those are the classes your character is for as long as you are playing - unless you use a respec kit or visit a respec NPC (this also means that there are no other classes than those 9, and they leave little room for special abilities to separate yourself from other players of your same class).

Previously, the game used trainers who could teach you a variety of skills from any of the available 32 professions (except Jedi). What you could learn depended on how much experience you had in a given skill, how many Skill Points you had left to spend, and which trainer you were visiting. (At one point, it also required Apprenticeship Points - from teaching skills to other players - in order to master a profession). You could combine these skills to get various "templates", such as Ranger/Medic or Entertainer/Bounty Hunter. Most players used skills from two or more professions (often, 3 or more). This allowed a large variety of players with different skills, and this made each player unique and more valuable for certain situations than another player.

Another big change was to combat (it became much faster - and each kill yielded less experience) and the user interface. (Faction points were also disabled for a period of time.) Most players get used to a certain user interface, and don't welcome change, but change was practically forced upon them with the introduction of the NGE. Well, recently there is supposed to be a patch for making combat last longer again, and to use a special targeting mode similar to the previous UI. However, the new controls are now the default for anyone logging in for the first time, and if you haven't played since the NGE went live, you're game will probably default to the new controls as well.

The NGE also made completing some quests much easier and much harder than they had previously been. If you had already completed a quest that was hard, then you would feel like that extra work was in vain. If you had completed it when it was easy, you would no longer be able to beat it as easily. When the NGE went live, it also disabled a lot of loot and NPC spawns in many places that had been well-known to many players for a long time.

Before the NGE, was another large patch called the "CU" AKA "Combat Upgrade". This had similar problems (although in my opinion it was not as bad). It changed how combat worked, but it didn't mess up other systems much (other than weapon and armor stats). This wasn't the case with the NGE (which also messed up weapon an armor stats).

The NGE mostly "killed" professions such as Trader (Weapons and Armor), Entertainer, Doctor, Bio-Engineer, and Creature Handler.

Previously Entertainer was capable of healing Battle Fatigue (giving a demand for them - but with the NGE Battle Fatigue was originally removed - to be replaced later oddly). They had also been able to give buffs to a players "Mind pool" which was needed for healing among other things. The entire Mind Pool had also been removed.

Doctors were capable of giving large buffs (temporary increases to a players ability to fight and defend themselves - but very large increases which lasted up to 3 hours). Instead, it was apparently combined with Combat Medic and is now used mostly in the field, instead of "selling" buffs like before (since they are now less valuable and players can easily get by without them).

Bio-Engineer was used to supply weaponsmiths and armorsmiths with supplies, as well as possibly artisans and other crafting professions. It was removed since it became unnecessary following the changes the NGE made to the crafting system.

Creature Handlers were removed apparently because not enough people played them.

Weaponsmiths and Armorsmiths faced hard times when their stores full of weapons and armor became nearly worthless overnight. Weapon and armor statistics shifted so that looted weapons suddenly became the best of the bunch. This made it mostly useless to buy items from these crafters - since the items were already freely available just by killing the right NPC's or doing the right quest.

Speaking of quests, another change was that you no longer level by doing missions, you gain XP primarily through a variety of pre-determined quests. These quests are designed to help guide you around the galaxy and follow a sort of story. However, this greatly reduced players' ability to play sandbox-style - meaning it basically shoe-horns all players to level in the same places at each level. Although this may result in more same-level groups forming, it also tends to separate people who aren't close to the same level more than before.

Another change resulted in there being no more player bounties (the only bounty missions available for a time were NPC bounties - which are much more repetitive, and much less rewarding - this made some Bounty Hunters feel like they got the shaft). Jedi were reduced to be balanced with other classes. Previously, Jedi were much stronger than other professions, and were more difficult to obtain. With the changes, Jedi are now approached much the same as any other profession, the only real difference from playing a melee-oriented character is that they wield a lightsaber and force powers. They also wear Jedi robes that set them apart from other players, instead of armor. In any case, player bounty hunting missions were eventually re-introduced, and run under a slightly different system than before - which some people like and some don't.

There were many other changes that I missed, and many other professions that expressed they weren't happy with the changes to - or removal of - their profession, but when all was said and done many people quit playing the game. This resulted in more players such as myself experiencing a sort of abandonment issue, which resulted in players such as myself quitting the game. (Many players would log on and literally find anywhere from zero to three people online from their friends list, whereas before the NGE there were 20 or more.)

Certainly there are new players who continue to enjoy the game, and many who felt most of the changes were really good for the game and themselves that still play, but many players who were around since the game started have also become disappointed in the game's general direction, and many won't be going back. Others may come back, but only after the game shapes up again. Still others are playing even though they aren't fully content with the changes, since they can still hang out with their friends in the game that brought them together.

In summary, Star Wars Galaxies is a fun game where you can play as a character in the Star Wars universe. However, I would recommend waiting until they release some more patches and fix some of the problems and bugs the NGE introduced before bothering to play it. I would also suggest trying to get on a medium- or high-population server, as there are quite a few low-population servers and there is much less happening on them vs. the high-population ones.

Related Links:

Official Star Wars Galaxies Website SWG Editorial - "The Pursuit of a Mythical Audience"

Related Reviews:

Star Wars Galaxies: Jump to Lightspeed

Star Wars Galaxies: Rage of the Wookiees

Star Wars Galaxies: Trials of Obi-wan