Remembering Star Wars Galaxies

As the servers power down, we look back at SOE’s experimental MMO

My eyes shot open as I heard a knock on my bedroom door; the telltale sign that I had overslept through my alarm. I‘d been up late the night before fighting Force-sensitive witches on Dantooine, so it certainly wasn’t out of the question. “Come in,” I croaked, swinging my hand towards the nightstand to find my glasses.

“Hey, um, you should get up,” my dad said, walking into my bedroom. “You don’t have to, but… there are some Rebels in Mos Eisley. They’re running around killing the Imperials, and I thought we should kick them out.”

I cleared my throat and looked at the clock. It was 7 a.m. Also, it was a Saturday.

“Yeah,” I replied, “I’ll log in now.”

Star Wars: Galaxies was the first MMORPG I played, and I’ve no problem admitting that it was because of Star Wars. The idea of fighting alongside Jedi and traveling around the worlds from the movies brought me in, despite never dabbling in the genre (unless you count Diablo, of course). I lucked out and was invited to an early beta for the game, and played with my friends and family for several years until the developer implemented massive changes that drove me away.

Since getting hooked, I’ve played hundreds of hours of World of Warcraft, DC Universe Online, Rift, Lord of the Rings: Online, Dungeons & Dragons: Online, Age of Conan, and dipped a toe in just about every other MMO to be released. But even after all these years, there’s no question: Star Wars: Galaxies was the best MMO I’ve ever played.

Above: Massive battles made SWG feel more important

SWG was innovative in so many ways, and it pains me to see that much of what made it unique was stripped out and replaced with generic drivel after the game’s failures were blamed on its differences from other MMOs, instead of the true errors in its design. Even worse, developers of other MMOs seem to have completely overlooked SWG’s best ideas, ignoring the elements that made it unique when cherry-picking concepts to use in their own games. The leveling system was truly customizable, letting players pick and choose skills from over a dozen different classes to perfectly make their characters. The crafting system, too, was years ahead of its time, and featured a level of customization I still haven’t seen repeated. Even the faction system was perfect – players created a character of any race, and joined the Republic or Empire at their leisure. You didn’t know what faction someone was unless they made it known, you weren’t defined by your political association.

Even more important was the sense of scale, which was absolutely massive. Each planet was huge, and full of interesting things to find and explore. Even though the game itself left much to be desired when it came to actually giving players stuff to do, it did a fantastic job of making them feel like a part of the world. I’m consistently amazed that developers have, for whatever reason, been shrinking MMOs instead of making them larger. I remember getting in a group of 20 to fight monsters on Lok just because. There was no “oh, this creature has a 30% chance to drop a rare weapon!” or “if we grind these guys, we’ll level faster!” Everyone seemed to be in it for the fun of it, a concept that’s been replaced with spreadsheets and percentages over the years.

Above: Seeing a Jedi was a "screenshot or it didn't happen" kind of thing

It also showed more restraint than most other MMOs. At launch, players actually couldn’t be Jedi – that’s not the story the developers wanted to tell. It took place between the A New Hope and Return of the Jedi, so there really couldn’t be Jedi running around willy-nilly. Eventually, through luck and patience, players began to find their path to the force, and it was genuinely exciting to find. It was a reward, not a status quo. Stumbling into a Jedi in the middle of nowhere was something you told friends about – the developers made it important. Some might say that it’s one of the things that damned the game, but I think it’s one of the things that made it truly special.

And now, as the sun rises on BioWare’s The Old Republic, so it sets on Star Wars: Galaxies. Though many poke fun at the first Star Wars MMO, we should be looking at it with respect, and thanks. Thank you, Star Wars: Galaxies. Though your bits and bytes might be lost in the digital wind, you will never, ever be forgotten.

Above: It's a time of celebration, not sadness

Oh, and for the record, we totally kicked those Rebel scum out of Mos Eisley, and chased their asses all the way back to Anchorhead. You’re welcome, Empire.

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