A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away....
The base game, titled Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided, was released on 26 June 2003 in the USA and on 7 November 2003 in Europe. A localized version for the Japanese market was published by Electronic Arts Japan on 23 December 2004. Japanese acceptance of the game was low, and in November 2005 the servers were shut down and existing accounts migrated to US servers.
At the time of its initial release, the game was very different than it is now. Vehicles and creature mounts were not yet implemented. While player housing was in the game, player cities were not. (Those features were added in November 2003.) Each character and creature possessed three "pools" (called Health, Action, and Mind; or "HAM") that represented his or her physical and mental reserves. Most attacks specifically targeted one of these three pools and any action the character took also depleted one or more of the pools. When any one of those pools was fully depleted, the character would fall unconscious. Combat, then, required the player to carefully manage his or her actions to avoid depleting a pool.
Character progression was vastly different at release as well. Characters started out in one of six basic professions (Medic, Brawler, Marksman, Scout, Entertainer, or Artisan) and could pick up any of the other five at any time after character creation. Each profession consisted of a tree-like structure of skills, with a single Novice level, four independent branches of four levels each, and a Master level which required completion of all four branches. Characters purchased these skills with experience points gained through a related activity. For example, an Entertainer could purchase skills to get better at playing music, but only with Musician experience points. Dancing experience points were entirely separate and could only be used to purchase dancing skills.
In addition to the basic professions, characters could specialize into advanced professions such as Bounty Hunter, Creature Handler, Ranger, Doctor, and Musician. There were a total of 24 advanced professions, although there was no way for characters to obtain all of them at once. Each advanced profession had certain skill requirements from the base professions that had to be met, some more restrictive than others.
Jedi were not available as a starting profession, or even as an advanced profession. The developers stated only that certain in-game actions would open up a Force-sensitive character slot. The actions required were left for players to discover. It eventually turned out that characters had to achieve Master level in six random professions. The identity of five of those necessary professions could be learned via looted objects called holocrons, but the sixth had to be found via trial and error. The first Force-sensitive character slot was unlocked on 7 November 2003.
Jump to Lightspeed
This first expansion was released on 27 October 2004. Two new races were added: Sullustan and Ithorian. The expansion added space combat. Characters could choose one of three factions in the new Pilot sub-profession: Rebel, Imperial, or Freelance. The playable sectors include the space surrounding the 10 planets of the game as well as Kessel and "Deep Space." Combat is real-time and twitch-oriented like a first-person shooter and can be played with a joystick at the player's option.
Rage of the Wookiees
This second expansion was announced on 9 March 2005 and released on 5 May 2005. It added the Wookiee planet of Kashyyyk and its corresponding space sector. Kashyyyk is different from the previous 10 planets: rather than being 16 square kilometers of openly navigable area, it is divided into a small central area with several instanced "dungeon" areas. A new space zone was also added. Unlike previous travel to other planets, players must launch into space, fly to the Kashyyyk space system and dock with the station in order to get to the planet surface. Other content added in this expansion included the ability to add cybernetic limbs to a player character, quests for three new creature mounts and two new starships. A substantial portion of the content for this expansion was adapted from the film Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith which was released to theaters at approximately the same time as the expansion release.
Trials of Obi-Wan
The third expansion, Star Wars Galaxies: Trials of Obi-Wan, was announced on August 19, 2005 and released on November 1, 2005. This expansion added the ground planet of Mustafar to the game. No new space sector was added with this expansion. Like the previous expansion, much of the content is related to Revenge of the Sith, which was released to DVD at about the same time as the expansion was released.
On top of the expansions, SOE released several compilations of their games:
Star Wars Galaxies - The Total Experience
- This pack included the original SWG (An Empire Divided), Jump to Lightspeed and the Rage of the Wookiees expansion packs. Customers who bought this pack also received a BARC speeder as a gift.
Star Wars Galaxies - Starter Kit
- The kit was the first vesion of the New Game Enhancement (NGE). It contained An Empire Divided and Jump to Lightspeed.
Star Wars Galaxies - The Complete Online Adventures
- This included the original game with all expansion packs, a DVD of never-before released bonus features, a slide show of more than 800 pieces of Star Wars Galaxies concept art and screenshots, all set to more than an hour of beautifully orchestrated Star Wars Galaxies in-game music, excerpts from the popular “From Pencil to Pixel” book that chronicles the art of Star Wars Galaxies and interviews with the Star Wars Galaxies producers, and all the cinematic trailers for the game. It also included an exclusive in-game item for use while playing – a personal AT-RT vehicle as seen in "Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith
Reviews for the initial launch of the game in 2003 were mostly positive. The game was praised for its lush graphics, liberal use of the movie soundtracks, massive world size, character customization, creative creature ecology, complex skill system, player economy interdependencies and its sandbox approach. Reviewers criticized the overwhelming complexity of the game, PVP/PVE combat imbalances of the professions, bugginess and lack of quest content. The reviews for the first expansion, Jump To Lightspeed, praised the new space combat but criticized the ground game for its lack of sufficient improvement. The reviews for the second expansion, Rage Of The Wookiees lauded the new quest content for current subscribers but lamented the CU(Combat Upgrade) and the continued bugginess of the game. The third expansion, Trials Of Obi-Wan(ToOW), once again introduced new quest and content and the planet Mustafar. However, two weeks later a new system called NGE(New Game Enhancements) was introduced, which forever changed the play style of SWG and removed some of the content that was included with ToOW.
- Though it garnered praise initially for some of its gameplay features, it has also been asserted for various reasons by MMORPG.com that "There has been no MMORPG that has caused more controversy...."
Players who wished to play a Jedi character had to first unlock their Jedi slot by fulfilling an unknown list of criteria. However, within four months of this stipulation, no player had yet achieved the goal. Jedi forum at the official site turned into a "flamer's paradise" as some subscribers accused the developers of lying about the Jedi system being in place. The first player unlocked their Jedi slot on Friday 7 November 2003. Lucas Arts game producer Haden Blackman stated in an interview on 20 December 2003, with Gamespy: "We're confident in the [Jedi] system because the feedback from players has been extremely positive. Not only are Jedi players happy with the system and the powers they are receiving...." This caused a backlash by some players who felt this statement was misleading. Gamespy noted: "GameSpy's mail was so flooded with reports from the Galaxies community that we started researching this feature to present both sides of the story." Because the time commitment to unlock a Jedi was substantial, players complained that perma-death of the character after three deaths was overly harsh. The developers eventually relented and lowered the penalty to skill loss in January, 2004.
Some players further complained that the process of unlocking the Jedi slot, known as "hologrinding", was overly long, painful and disruptive to the social fabric of the game. In March, 2005, the developers released a quest system as the new path to unlocking the Jedi slot. With the NGE (see below) in November, 2005, allowing all players, including new ones, to play a Jedi character, there were complaints that the efforts that veteran players had expended in unlocking their Jedi slots were all for naught.
SWG developers promised a "Combat Upgrade" or "CU," which was released 27 April 2005, and represented a major re-writing of the combat, armor, and weapons systems, wherein only certain professions could use specific weapons and armor. The combat mechanics in the game were shifted from a skill system to a combat level system for both players and game creatures. The UI icon graphics were changed from monochromatic to color. This alteration resulted in controversy caused by players who criticized the changes,and cancellations during that time.
New Game Enhancements
Another set of game changes dubbed the "New Game Enhancements" (NGE) began testing on 4 November 2005, going live on 15 November via digital download, and became available in retail as the Star Wars Galaxies: Starter Kit on 22 November. Changes included the reduction of the 34 original professions to 9 "iconic" ones.
There were criticisms of the changes in some reviews, and negative player feedback was noted by media outlets outside the gaming industry, including CBS News, New York Times, New York Post and Wired Magazine. On Slashdot, John Smedley explained that they felt it necessary to revamp the game in order to reverse the deterioration they were seeing in the subscriber base.
The development team affirmed this is their desired direction for the game, and they are slowly modifying paramaters to address players' desires. This progress includes the re-introduction of many pre-NGE features that were removed, such as creature handling, target locking, autofiring, the ability to fire special attacks from their keys, and the option to keep the camera behind the character, rather than the NGE's over-the-shoulder perspective.
The Trials of Obi-Wan expansion met with controversy as, two days after the expansion was released, the development team announced the NGE. Many players objected that they would not have purchased the expansion if they had known in advance about the NGE. Sony Online Entertainment eventually offered a refund to players who had purchased the expansion prior to the NGE.
Veteran designer, Raph Koster, helmed the development and initial launch of the game. Many industry professionals expected that the subscription numbers would exceed the one million mark, a feat accomplished only thus far in Asia by MMORPGs such as Lineage and more recently by World of Warcraft. Based on NPD figures as of February 2004, SWG sold more than 300,000 boxed copies at retail for a total initial revenue of over $18 million dollars. Sony Online Entertainment confirmed in March 2004 that there were well over 200,000 monthly subscribers making it the 2nd largest MMORPG in North America. The company later reported in 2004 that they had 250,000 subscribers. In August 2005, Sony Online Entertainment reported that they had now sold 1,000,000 boxed copies of the game. Media sources reported that the subscriber numbers have fallen substantially since the release of the CU and the NGE. In early 2006 after the NGE, allegedly "hacked" numbers purported to show that only 10,363 subscribers were playing on a particular Friday night. The President of Sony Online Entertainment, John Smedley, denied that subscriptions had fallen this low: "Have the numbers in Star Wars Galaxies gone down? I will tell you that the concurrent numbers have gone down. Are they as low as what was shown there? Absolutely not."
Developments to watch
No Expansions planned
Galaxies' has remained rather quiet over the past year, as the developers told the community that there would be no releases of any expansions as they wanted to focus on fixing outstanding issues and improving NGE. 2007 sees more of the same and it also sees alot of veterans returning to see the changes for themselves.
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