Star Wars Galaxies – One Day Review

I downloaded the 14-day trial for Star Wars Galaxies last night on a whim, since I’d never played it and had always been curious.  I experienced the horror of the NGE vicariously through various online sources but lacked the personal experience that can be so valuable.  Coming two weeks after Star Wars Day (“May the 4th be with you”), and 5 years after the game’s launch, I was admittedly pretty late to the party, but then that gave them more time to polish and perfect the experience.   I normally learn as much as possible about games before playing them but decided this would be a blind test, wherein I wouldn’t study classes or races or character builds or any of the various new player guides; instead I wanted to experience this game the way a new player most often would.  The result was a bit disappointing in several ways.  So without further ado, here’s my take on Star Wars Galaxies after playing for 2 hours.

The Good

The voice work and music were excellent.  I’m uncertain if it was actually Harrison Ford doing the voice work for Han Solo but it surely sounded just like him.  I don’t think it was Anthony Daniels doing the voice work for C3PO but it was a good facsimile.  The music was of course cribbed from the movies, but hey, it’s fabulous music nonetheless.  The world was attractive, and the graphics perfectly decent for a 5-year-old game.  The class selection was difficult for me as they all sounded at least somewhat appealing; the same was true for the races.

Character creation gave a decent variety of customization; my Mon Calimari Bounty Hunter could be altered to look fairly different, with each option looking decent.

The combat was fast and fairly fun; I liked the blaster carbines anyhow.  I appreciated that I could hold down the mouse button instead of having to click multiple times on a given target.  The responsiveness of the aiming system was good (though there was no in-game indication what hitting ‘y’ does – it changes the targeting reticle from crosshairs to a circle but I couldn’t tell what mechanical effect this had).

The Bad

The game did a fairly poor job at explaining the various elements of the GUI.  I’m a veteran MMO player and yet some of the menus were fairly opaque to me at first, e.g. hitting ‘P’ brings up the “Phase” menu, which apparently shows what abilities a class will gain over time as it levels.  The manner in which this is represented is anything but immediately obvious.  Likewise, I gained several powers in the process of gaining my 7 levels, and couldn’t tell what these powers did since the mouse is coupled to the camera, meaning you can’t mouse-over elements of the HUD to get tooltips (actually, as I discovered just before quitting for the night, you can decouple the mouse from the camera by hitting escape – obvious, it isn’t).  I discovered that hitting the apostrophe key ” ‘ ” brings up the power menu, but none of this was explained in game.  Do they expect the users to read the manual?  Should players have a cheat sheet by their keyboard to remind them of the various nonstandard keybindings?

The character movement was a bit sluggish; the worst part of the movement by far was the jumping.  There’s a good half second delay between hitting the space bar and the character on screen responding, meaning I couldn’t accurately time jumps at all initially… it took some practice to adjust for the annoying delay.  I understand that jumping isn’t central to the gameplay but this was really poorly executed.

Speaking of movement, I was disappointed to see there was no support for mouse-only movement; hitting both mouse buttons at once does nothing, and the keyboard is needed to move.  Blergh.

Again about the movement, I was disappointed to find that the game relies on walkmeshes.  This means you can’t move wherever you wish but are restrained to the paths that the designers built in.  This becomes immediately evident when in the cantina… the NPC quest givers are arranged on small raised platforms around the circumference of the cantina, perhaps a foot higher than the middle of the area.  In order to speak to them, you need to use the stairs at either end of the platforms, rather than just jumping up… and likewise you can’t jump down afterwards, but have to take the stairs.  What’s the point of even *having* a jump button if it’s sluggish and delayed and doesn’t allow you to actually, you know, jump over things?

A minor but persistent annoyance manifested itself every time I zoned; I like to have the camera zoomed out a bit so I can see around my character, and every time I zoned the camera reset to right over my shoulder.

The Ugly

For a game that’s been out over 5 years, there are some surprising bugs still.  The newbie encounter area that missions send you to after leaving the tutorial is called Station Gamma.  I found, fairly early on in this area, a place where the walls disappeared and I could see space all around.  This was immensely disconcerting – though it’s nice to know that space surrounds you at all times, one doesn’t expect to see through walls generally.  This bug was completely reproducible, and again it occurs in the newbie encounter area where virtually all players will spend an hour or two.  A bug this serious in this commonly visited an area shouldn’t remain for 5 years.

Speaking of bugs that shouldn’t remain for 5 years, when I viewed my Bounty Hunter’s phase menu I was treated to this meaningful string: “skl_d:[class_bounty_hunter_phase1_novice]”.  Yeah, I’m guessing that doesn’t belong there.  5 years after launch I’d hope for better; actually, I’d hope for better AT launch.

The game’s collision detection is annoyingly intermittent.  Some placeable objects / furniture items were solid, and many were not, and the only way to tell which was which was trial and error.  Sometimes you can run right through a large circular table, and sometimes a small plant would block progress.  Ergh.

Summation

Overall I was disappointed by my two-hour tour of Star Wars Galaxies.  The interface was poorly explained in game, the movement was burdened by the walkmeshes and the poorly implemented jumping, and the presence of two fairly serious bugs in such common places as a class progress menu and a newbie zone’s entry area were deeply troubling.  I’ll play some more because I’m interested to see what else the game does well and what else falls apart, but my initial take on the game is honestly less than flattering.

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