OVERVIEW:

Star Wars Galaxies: an Empire Divided is an MMORPG by Sony Online Entertainment and LucasArts. It was launched in June 2003; the first expansion, Jump to Lightspeed, was released a year and a half later in October 2004. SWG:ED is set between Star Wars: A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. The Rebels have just defeated the Death Star (well the first one, but they don't know that yet) and the empire is on the brink of civil war.

The game attracted a lot of players in the beginning, but lost a decent number of players after several months for a couple of reasons: for Star Wars fans, there was no space and no Jedi. For MMORPG fans, the game was a lot less hack and slash than many and the combat system was a little unbalanced.

Now here's where I must point out to me what may be the game's biggest flaw: it breaks the canon timeline a LOT. Planets that have not been discovered or settled yet are playable, technology that did not evolve until later is present, characters that should be unknown to the galaxy at large are just a shuttle hop away... oh, and the Jedi thing, that too.
After A New Hope, Luke Skywalker is supposed to be only force-sensitive in the galaxy since Ben Kenobi was struck down by Darth Vader (although it later turns out Yoda survived the purges). While it's possible there might be random sensitives here and there, individuals luckier, more in tune, more intuitive than most, there should not be fully fledged Jedi Masters in every starport. They belong to an era twenty years gone by, or twenty years into the future, not this one. However, Jedi being one of the drawing features of the galaxy (who DIDN'T have lightsaber fights with wrapping paper rolls and nerf swords as a child?) the game developers installed a complex and quite large Jedi system a few months after launch and drew old gamers back as well as new ones. Some left when it proved to be an exceedingly tedious and complicated system, while that made other stubborn folks stay just to do it. (The Jedi system was re-vamped later, as will be detailed later, and you see Jedi characters going for $400, $500 on ebay all the time now.)

The Jump to Lightspeed, though, was what took the game from good to great. It added spacefaring (and also had patches and enhancers to a lot of the problem areas in the original software). It brought back old players in flocks and drew nearly as many new players into the game as the initial release had done. Unfortunately, all the new goodies have brought back a lot more powergamers as well, but you can't win them all.


GALAXY DETAILS:

The game allows you to explore over many planets you're already familiar with: Corellia, Dathomir, (the forest moon of) Endor, Lok, Naboo, Rori, Talus, Tattooine, and Yavin 4.

There are now ten playable species:

The original eight:

  • human (duh!)
  • wookiee (Chewbacca)
  • rodian (Greedo ... and Han shot first!)
  • twi'lik (Bib Fortuna and Oola the dancing girl)
  • trandoshan (Bossk the bounty hunter)
  • mon calamari (Admiral Ackbar, Captain at the time of gameplay)
  • zabrak (Darth Maul)
  • bothan (only know by "Many bothans died to bring us this information" in the movies, however the race would later become well-known in the New Republic when Borsk Feyl'aya began to make a name for himself in politics.)
  • Jump to Lightspeed gave us two more species:

  • sullistan (Nien Nunb)
  • Ithorian (Momow Nadon, the "hammerhead" from Chalum's cantina, who will later get a story of his own in Tales of the Mos Eisley Cantina)
  • There are about two dozen U.S servers, called galaxies, which are all named after ships from the Star Wars universe. You can play as many avatars as you like, BUT you may only have one per galaxy unless you buy a second copy of the software and a second subscription. The exception to this is once you reach a certain level in the Jedi you must give up all of your mundane skills, so you are given an alt to play regularly with. First names must be unique in the galaxy and there are name filters in place to reduce (although they fail to eliminate) "universe" names such as Skywalker or Obi-Wan or Vader.

    (I play on the Scylla server as the wookiee Khralraah, and now occasionally on starsider as Jenn-Ano. Look me up sometime.)


    PROFESSIONS AND GAME ECONOMY:

    This game could not exist without a player economy and the varied interests of its players taking on different roles. If all players were to pick combat professions, they might very slowly be able to level up to mastery, but would be entirely unable to upgrade their weapons, own armor, live in a house, drive a vehicle, or enhance their stats.

    You've got to have people harvesting crops and mining resources (not a profession, just a way to make money) to provide to the smiths to make weapons. Fighters with scouting ability have to bring in hides and bone for armor to be made. Even if an architect has the supplies to build you a house you don't get any of the benefits of living in a city (medical center, shuttleport, cloning facility, crafting bonuses, the list goes on) unless you have a player politician to run it all.

    The game is full of NPC's. But there are NO NPC shops or doctors or rafters of any kind that will just sell you the stuff you want. Everything that's useful in the game comes from players each filling in their niche.

    And of course you can't ever be self-sufficient by learning all the professions. Like most RPG's, there's a skill point cap, in this case 250. That's enough to master two high-level professions or three low-level ones and have a few points to toss around as spares if you plan well. Of course you can drop skills for something else, but you don't keep bonuses you gained once you drop something.

    Although a few of the original professions, like mining, have since been removed from the game, these are the professions that launched with the game or at any point before JTL:

    Basic Professions:

  • Artisan
  • Brawler
  • Entertainer
  • Marksman
  • Medic
  • Scout
  • Advanced Professions:

  • Architect
  • Armorsmith
  • Carbineer (midrange marksman)
  • Chef
  • Creature Handler
  • Dancer
  • Doctor
  • Droid Engineer
  • Fencer (one-handed brawler)
  • Image Designer
  • Musician
  • Pikesman (polearm brawler)
  • Pistoleer (short-range marksman)
  • Politician (just modified to cost no skill points)
  • Ranger
  • Rifleman (long-range marksman)
  • Swordsman (two-handed brawler)
  • Tailor
  • Teras Kasi Artist (unarmed brawler)
  • Weaponsmith
  • Hybrid Professions
    (You must master skills from 2 or more basic or advanced professions to train in these):

  • Bio-Engineer
  • Bounty Hunter
  • Combat Medic
  • Commando
  • Smuggler
  • Squad Leader
  • Jump to Lightspeed brought about two new professions:

  • shipwright who, obviously, builds starships players can roam the galaxy in.
  • pilot, with three subclasses.Pilot is a unique profession in that it is open to anyone and does not require spending any skill points.
  • Note to timid players: Galaxies does not have a harsh learning curve. Top-layer characters can't just jump in and slaughter you, you don't lose your skills or items or money if you get killed. You lose any medical enhancements you may have had, and incur some wounds when you clone, but those are easily enough repaired. So if you've never played a MMORPG before, but REALLY want to play that swordsman, go right ahead and give it a whirl. You won't be punished for being inexperienced.


    FACTION AND PILOT FACTION:

    After what profession you choose start the game as (which will permanently affect your stats), if you're like many players, faction is the second-most important decision. Since this game is set in the time of the Galactic Civil War, your affiliations can make a big difference in the paths you take. You may play as an Imperial, a Rebel, or choose to remain neutral. Neutrals have no penalties, but also get no bonuses. Either faction has perks, such as special armor and weapons, and disadvantages: minor ones in there are some actions, items, and special skills unavailable to you, and the larger issue of it allowing, under certain circumstances, other player characters to kill you.

    You have to prove your loyalty to join a faction: as excited and eager as you may be to throw your lot in, you can't waltz out on the field in stormtrooper armor immediately, or for that matter waltz out on the field to kill stormtroopers either. Non-factioned characters can NEVER kill factioned NPC's. So you may have to sit by as your party whacks a squad of snowflakes if you choose not to faction. Anyway, you must find a recruiter for your desired party and talk to them about your desire. They'll say "that's nice, but show us" in essence. Then you'll have to take five or ten faction missions from a terminal next to them to gain enough Faction Points to join. These missions will let you attack a certain group of Rebel officers, but if you run across a different set on your way, you won't be able to touch them.

    Once you've joined a faction--as a covert member by default--you can kill NPC's of the opposite side at will whenever you encounter them. However, this will give you a Temporary Enemy Flag--"being TEFFED" it's often called--for five minutes past your last attack. During this time, any NPC or overt PC of that faction can attack you at will. (Otherwise, even if you're a high-level Rebel officer, you can waltz through a squadron of darktroopers like they weren't there.) You can spend the FP you earn at this for promotions or special faction armor or furniture.

    Being overt is kind of like an extreme version of a TEF. Usually you choose to go overt. Reasons might be to show off, to complete a mission that requires you identify yourself as an officer, or to attack another player that has a TEF or overt currently. You must talk to your faction's recruiter to go overt; you must also talk to them to resume covert status, which takes an hour after the request. (Dying also resets you to covert, and is often quicker.)

    I must now add that the above paragraphs will be obsolete sometime between now and May. It may launch with the combat revamp, or it may launch before, but faction is changing. What it will become is this: you may play as a citizen, a combatant, or a Special Forces squad member. Citizens are neutral and pve only. Combatants play ONLY player vs enemy and may not be forced into PvP under any circumstances (unless they are a high-level jedi, perhaps? that has not been ironed out.) However, all npc's of the opposite faction will target combatants on sight. Special Forces are PvP enabled and can target any other SF player of opposing faction at any time whatsoever. There will be an 'on leave' system where SF players can go temporarily out of the PvP system so they can hunt or explore with friends of other factions.

    Pilot faction allows you to fly as an imperial, a rebel, or part of the freelance pilot's guild. Each choice gives you access to different ships, weapons, attire, and special moves. Space play is always PvE except in specially designated PvP zones.


    PLAYER TOWNS AND GUILDS:

    If you play regularly, you'll probably want a house, if only to store stuff in. Now you can place it out in the wilds of nowhere, or you can put it in a player town (or form one around it.) If you declare residency within a town's city limits, you are a citizen and may vote. Players with politician skills can start player towns--or challenge the mayor of the town in which they live for their position. As towns get bigger, they get more benefits like a shuttleport for quick transit in and out, a medical center for healing, and a cantina for dancers to perform mindbuffs and heals. What decorations can be placed, such as gardens and fountains, also increase with city size. Some cities will specialize and be merchant towns, or be militarily inclined.

    All in all, though, cities are a physical convenience. Guilds are where the human interaction lies. Guilds are often, but not always, tied into a single player city. You are not automatically added to a guild by joining a city, rather the guild leader has to take you to the terminal in the guild hall and add you there. Some guilds go by faction, some by profession, some are groups of friends that just decided to start one up. Some accept just about anyone, some are picky about recruiting.

    A well run guild will have a main core of highly active players that everything else builds around. The best guilds have frequent events, whether they be cruises in a luxury yacht or krayt dragon hunts. Guilds tend to produce some of the best merchandise out there, because of the great assortment of skills--it is easier to gather the highest-quality resources when many work on the task then when a single crafter is left to do it. Guilds of course are highly social; the chat function has a built in GuildChat window where you can talk to anyone in your guild that's currently online.This direct player interaction is what draws a lot of people to the MMOs scene in the first place, and in my opinion the guild system here is a well-done implementation of it.


    SPACE COMBAT:

    Of course the excitement about JTL wasn't about playing a sullistan or having a new pistol. It was about flying around and SHOOTING things! While ground-based combat was your standard RPG combat system--special moves and buttonclicks--spaceflight is a real-time, entirely twitch-based flying game. You control how the ship moves, how it shoots, how you set your systems, etc. It works with a mouse, although a joystick is recommended. It plays like pretty much all space and flying games in terms of controls.

    What ships you are certified to fly depends on which class you choose to go with. You can't have a Rebel in a TIE fighter or an Imperial in an X-wing (unless of course you've mastered both of those pilot professions, then you can pretty much do whatever the heck you want because you're just that damn good.) You've got to master freelance pilot to get certified for one of the most desirable ships in the game, the yt-1300 which is of course the make of Han Solo's infamous millennium Falcon.

    Many of the space missions are very difficult and you'll need to go out with a squad to finish them. It's, well, rare for an X-wing to take down a Star Destroyer on its own, to say the least. One of the neater features of multiplayer space flight is you can literally have several players play it. Two-seaters, the owner invites you into space and you go into the cockpit to gun for the ship. The YT's and the soro-sub yachts (reward for pre-ordering JTL) can hold up to 8 people each, and if you don't feel like fighting you can just wander around the ship, poking into cabinets and whatnot. The interiors are very detailed and can be enjoyed whether you're in combat or not.


    CURRENT JEDI SYSTEM:
    Now on to the part you probably really care about: the Jedi revamp.

    Under the old system--which was not released with the launch, but some months later--you had to master a random number of professions to unlock force sensitivity. You would use a Holocron and master and drop professions; when you found the right one, it would let you know and you could start mastering and dropping entirely different ones, until you found the three it wanted. A very few got lucky and would get it three tries, it took most people about ten and some had to go through every single profession in the game to unlock it.

    Now it's a bit more structured. First you have to become force sensitive. OK, easy, no? Easy if you know what to do, but still a pain in the butt. You basically have to collect a certain number of badges (which I'll explain fully later.) Three "jedi point of interest" badges, three "difficult" exploration badges, one "profession" badge, and five "theme park" badges.

    Once this is all done, if you type check you should get a message saying you are glowing with the Force. After about three days, an old man will find you and want to talk; he'll give you a crystal and be on his way. Within another 72 hours, shadow sith will attack you and try to take the crystal. (The first layer of shadow sith are very easy for anyone with a combat profession.) One of these shadow sith will drop a datapad with a waypoint to a hidden, mysterious village behind the mists on the dangerously wild planet of Dathomir. Travel there, and if you don't get eaten by the rancors, your Force journeys will begin...


    Now, back to the mundane:BADGES

    The badges that I mentioned above are 'awards' you get for doing various tasks. They'll show up in your userprofile when people view it. Until the Jedi revamp, most people could have cared less about badges, except perhaps the profession ones. By putting them as part of the Force sensitive process, the developers forced players to leave their home planet and get out and explore the rich galaxy that had been programmed. I'd say it's worked pretty well.

    Exploration badges are the most self-explanatory, of course. You get them from visiting points of interest stored in your datapad for each planet. They are a little bit annoying in that the actual POI is almost ever where the waypoint says it is, so you have to pretty fully explore the attraction to find it most times--again, I suppose, to make the players interact with the environment instead of just war-game. "Difficult" exploration POI's are ones that are located in fairly dangerous environments or very obscure places making it, well, difficult to explore them enough to find the waypoint.

    Profession badges you get from mastering a profession and live event badges from attending a live event, which are usually but not always random.

    Theme park badges are likely the most difficult, as you really have to have mid-level combat skills or better to complete all but one of them. You have to accomplish one end goal.

    There are four actual 'theme parks' where you perform a series of tasks for a heirachy of NPC's (many of whom are familiar from IV-VI). Some are combat, some are escorting, or finding an item. The parks are Gym's (Lok), Jabba's (Tattoine), Rebel (Corellia), and Imperial (?). The latter two you can only perform if you currently have positive faction standing with that side.

    There are then nine "corvette" missions--three imp, three reb, and three neutral. These were the first space-based aspects of the game and may very well have been released as a test for some JTL technology. Corvette missions are difficult, however, as you have to get a ticket to board them in the first place, and they're quite difficult so you really need to go with a party.

    And then there are the infamous Warren quests. One is very, very simple: deliver a letter you loot from a corpse to a widow in the lower levels. The other is ridiculously hard. You have to travel all around the warren bunker (on Dantoine by the way) and collect turret codes, elevator keys, and evidence disks in turn, fighting past crazed guards, rabid creatures, and a gun turret that to this day is fairly bugged. You then deliver this stuff to an Imperial agent on Naboo. Or you can do what I did: after dying for the seventeenth time in the bloody thing, give up and buy the datadisks off of another player. There are some heavy fighters who do nothing but collect warren disk sets and sell them at a hearty price. If you buy these, you just have to take them to Naboo, and there you are.

    There is also the "Live Event" badge, which you earn in various ways for participating in dev-planned events. Some live events you just need to be present to get the award; some you need to be in combat at all; some you must survive until the end... it really varies at the developer whim. Live Events have been significantly increasing in number in the past month as we head to the combat revamp.


    CONCLUSION:

    This (finally) concludes a basic overview of most of the systems in Star Wars Galaxies up to this point.The node of course will be updated as the game is. I've found it to be a good, enjoyable play and definitely worth the $15/month.

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