Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Star Wars Galaxies

I did it. Despite saying I would never do it, I created a new account and actually played SWG for several hours yesterday.

The client is much the same now as it was in 2003 when I was playing, except a launcher has been wrapped into the mix, though not actually part of the client. Logging in for the first time I of course had to choose a server to play on and it struck me immediately that there are vastly fewer servers now than there was when I was playing. Originally I played on Bria, though I did also have a character on Eclipse. For my trial I chose to make my character on Eclipse since it appears to be among the nearest to me on the East coast. Perhaps I just didn’t notice as I never really intended to stay informed on the comings and goings of SWG, but I simply don’t recall reading about server closures. I wonder how many people are actually playing now, as there were at most about 300k playing back in 2003 pre-CU. Even though it was prime-time every server, with the exception of one, indicated either light with the last indicating high population and was locked to new characters. I saw that and immediately wondered what the economies were like on all of those light population servers. In 2003 the game relied almost exclusively on the player created economy, though I don’t know if that is still the case.

I created my Jedi character, as my desire to play a Jedi character is the driving force behind the trial. The new character experience now is vastly different than it was in 2003, and I am happy to note was needed. In the initial stages of SWG you created a character and then selected from a few “starter” planets. Then you spawned in the medical facility on that planet and found yourself completely on your own. There were never any quests to steer you in the right direction, Ralph and team created an MMO completely devoid of most developer content. It's strange looking back on it now, but Sony seems to have gotten the point along the way somewhere that they actually need to do some work. The experience now is much more akin to what you usually see in an MMO, with plenty of quests to give you XP, cash, and to guide you from one location to another. Logging in for the first time now you are quickly introduced to Han Solo who flys you to the new "start zone", which is a space station out in the middle of no where and where you can happily level, earn some credits, and learn the basics of the system. Unfortunately there isn't much in the way of tutorials so you will have to learn the quasi-twitch based combat system on your own. Once you do though as far as I can tell you can stay on the station until you decide to leave. I myself stayed there until level 7 when I decided there wasn't any further point.

Once you decide to leave you are again sent to Han Solo who will take you to Mos Eisley, where you will earn a land speeder as your first quest reward. From that point on you are shepherded around Mos Eisley performing missions in and about the city for various NPCs. But you do eventually get to a quest where you are "encouraged" to make your way forth from the city and assist either the Rebellion, or the Empire. I have to say, it's a vast improvement over what I remember back in 2003 and I'm happy to see the changes. But that combat system just isn't sitting right with me. In my mind FPS combat and MMOs don't mesh well together and I don't like having to keep my reticule pasted over whatever it is I'm attacking. To me combat in an MMO should be about the abilities, not about your hand-eye coordination. I did eventually get my jedi to level 22 and had a great deal of fun with force lightning, but hadn't yet gotten to the point where I could make or use a light saber. As a matter of fact I'm not even sure when I'll be able to get one of those.

Jedi or not, you need to be somewhat careful as you roam around on your missions. In WoW for instance, any creature you come across in a zone falls within a narrow level range. Not so in SWG. Roaming around as a level 22 Jedi outside Bestine I ran into creatures that were 20+ levels higher than me, and were fairly close to the quest locations I was being sent. I ended up getting killed twice by getting too close to these creatures and since the tab/target system is really not up to speed, it's difficult to see what it what around you initially. I did end up finding a setting in my UI interface settings that allowed me to append colored circles around the dots on the mini-map that would roughly correlate to difficulty levels. Anything circled in bright red was something to steer well clear of. But I would have liked to have something better than that, like I have in WoW.

The UI is very much behind the times, and the control systems are very touch. For instance, if you are roaming around in your speeder you have to be very careful with your mouse. If you are zooming by something and you want to mouse over it to see what it is, you had take care not to let the mouse over-run your speeder because it has a tendency to dismount you. Left clicking your speeder mounts and dismounts you, and I ended up accidentally dismounting myself numerous times throughout the day. There is also a need to manually detarget your speeder after you dismount by hitting esc, because if you dismount next to something you are trying to attack you can easy remount, or not be able to attack at all because while you hit tab to target whatever it is you want to attack, it doesn't actually target the creature. You look up and see you still have your speeder targeted. It's a bit inconvenient and annoying, but as long as you specifically hit esc when you dismount also easily worked around.

I think SWG is one of those MMOs where you want to make sure you are located on the highest pop server, because I sure didn't notice a great many people in my limited travels. It did say the server was lightly populated, and by all my observations that was certainly the case. Makes me wonder what the prospects for global civil war are in addition to the economy. Eclipse might be good enough to learn my way, but in a game that is as much about PVP as anything else you really want and need as many people as possible. I wonder if the lock stays on the high pop server 24x7 or whether that's only during prime-time. I'll have to check.