If there was one MMO in my life that drained the most out of my day, it was Star Wars Galaxies. It wasn’t my fascination with the lore, or my lack of friends, but it was the game’s dedication to player interactivity, deep character progression, and fantastic PvP mechanics. Other MMOs funnel players into arenas for PvP conflict, create skyscraper monstrosities for groups, and build a glass ceiling out of loot. Not SWG.
Granted, all of this was before the dirty combat upgrade or the piss-poor new game enhancements. These two updates destroyed everything the game stood for, and are the primary reason the game is desolate today. However, that topic has been drilled more than the middle east’s oil reserves. Let’s focus on the positives instead because, before that happened, Star Wars Galaxies was on the right track.
SWG had a brilliant leveling system. Instead of choosing a focus at the beginning of the game, players learned novice professions. These professions: marksman, brawler, scout, artisan, and entertainer, gave players the freedom to combine their classes as they choose. It, like the upcoming Star Trek Online, was a pyramid system. As you progressed, you developed a focus. Players favoring the pistol would gain pistol experience and become pistoleers. One-handed swordsmen became fencers. And assholes became combat medics. Thus, there were over 30 professions, ranging from fighters to merchants, and the combinations were limitless.
Talent trees are a weaker version of this. Sure, you can pick whatever you want, but the tree is bound to the class you picked at the beginning. You don’t learn to use any new weapons and gain a handful of new abilities. Instead, they enhance the abilities your character already has. SWG trees gave players access to different weapons and stat bonuses, and combining them bestowed your character with a myriad of traits, weapon certifications, and perks. Instead of picking a road to travel down, players built the road themselves.
It sucks picking a class and playing for hours before realizing you hate it. Too bad, pick a new one and start over. In SWG if you didn’t like a class, or a certain portion of it, you could unlearn it and start on a different tree. It would be like a warlock giving up the dark arts to become a paladin. You always had to relearn the abilities, but I identified more with a malleable character, rather than one that’s primary identity was the class you picked at the beginning. You never had to create a brand new character unless you wanted to change race.
A unique trait of SWG was its affinity for player interactivity. As players gained experience points, they had to find a trainer and pay to learn the skill, or find a player and have him/her teach them the skill. To learn the master professions, players had to teach “younger” players the lower level skills. This induced incentive for players to search out others instead of relying upon the trainer bot.
On top of this, almost everything in the game was player created. If you wanted new items or armor, you had to find player vendors and buy the product from them. This developed a bond between players as they established trust with the best merchants on the server. Players would constantly swap way points as they searched for better deals and even better equipment. The economics were not as sophisticated as EVE, but it was enough that players dedicated their career to the mercantile business.
If there is one thing I want to see make it into future MMOs, it’s the player cities. SWG wasn’t a series of zones that players explored. It was a group of planets with a number of points of interest, and everything else was simply landscape. Guilds weren’t a list in a menu. They were real cities with malls and houses. There was nothing better than buying a house – from a player architect – and organizing all of my goods as I saw fit. I could place my trophies on the wall and slowly carve my place in the galaxy. Now, players meander homelessly from dungeon to dungeon in search of the loot of the day.
My favorite portion – and, ironically, my least favorite – of any MMO is its PvP. I love testing my will and skill against other players, but this dichotomy is born from being forced into combat when I am trying to level. SWG‘s system was great because players were never forced into combat. You didn’t have to make a permanent, and possibly regretful, choice when deciding upon a server, but instead you told your recruiter you wanted to declare your status as a rebel bastard or an imperial snob. There were so many intense moments waiting for the shuttle, proudly displaying my imperial insignia, when a group of heavily armored rebels would arrive. They would instantly surround me as I counted the five minutes until shuttle launch.
This system gave way to clubs and sections of towns that became the “cool” spots. Rebels spent extended time in Tatooine’s cantinas, and Imperials found solace in the seductive dances of Twi’leks on Naboo. Players would coordinate strikes on these hideouts and the subsequent firefights would last for hours before a concession was made. There were times when I would see someone I had PUGed with sitting, overt, enjoying the music from a fellow rebel. I loved not knowing who to trust.
But, I lament. SWG is a mere shadow of its former excellence. It has been drained by SOE of all its individuality, and exists now as a relic to remind me, and all former SWGers, that MMOs don’t have to be about getting as much loot as possible, or getting to the highest level. It taught me about player cooperation and opposition, and not everyone in war is a soldier. I can’t get Star Wars Galaxies back, but I sure as hell hope that one of these mechanics bleeds into a game in the future.