After the post I made on Thursday, and the subsequent closing of all of the official Galaxies servers Thursday night, I was hit with a wave of nostalgia and wanted to reminisce with you all. If you have never played Galaxies, this will give you a taste of what all you missed, and if you did play I hope you’ll share some of your memories with me in the comments below. At the end, we can even talk about if this is really the end for Galaxies (hint: it’s not), and why this outcome ended up happening. Now come with me to a time long, long ago in a Galaxy far, far away…
For eight long years Star Wars: Galaxies captured the imaginations of gamers everywhere, and while Sony made some mistakes along the way (some much more grievous than others), Galaxies was one of the most fully fleshed out MMORPGs to this date. Name me another MMORPG that has not one explorable world, not two, but a whopping twelve planets for a player to wander in. And these weren’t just small maps either; each planet was a fully fleshed out world, and they were giant – most were the size of your standard MMORPG world. Each of these planets was chock full of memorable locations from the Star Wars universe as well – not just empty spaces or random bullshit. Want to see Nym’s stronghold on Lok? Galaxies had you covered on that one. Or how about the Royal Palace on Naboo? Yep, you could have explored the whole place. You could even hand out in an Ewok village on Endor is you wanted – Galaxies offered the complete “new story” experience.
I remember one of the most terrifying moments in my life as a gamer happened in Star Wars: Galaxies. I was a bounty hunter tracking a lone Jedi on Tatooine. I had tracked this guy across the desert, and I was finally getting close to his location in an area that looked like a dinosaur’s graveyard. There were large bones everywhere, and since this was my first time in this particular part of Tatooine, I didn’t pay much attention; my mind was focused on the prey. Creeping forward, I saw him meditating and I struck. After a few seconds, the Jedi started to run and I thought it was because I had him – until I got hit for massive damage from nowhere. That was when I saw why he was really running: an Ancient Krayt Dragon had spawned behind me, and was proceeding to use me as a toothpick. I tried to run, but it was too late – the lesson was learned, but I can still remember the abject terror of seeing that giant dragon where there was none before.
Experiences like that were commonplace in Galaxies though, and I’m sure my story is only one of thousands. PvP (player versus player) was such a key part of Galaxies – unlike in The Old Republic, you chose which faction you belonged to (Empire or Republic), and you could change any time you chose by paying the price. It led to a lot of people being double agents and such, but damn was it fun. To initiate PvP, you simply went from covert status to overt, and then you could get involved in any fight. In order to stop people from going overt, striking, and then going covert again to avoid retaliation, the devs were smart and put a cool down on going covert again (I believe it was an hour, but don’t quote me on that). It made for a great dynamic for sneaky types, because you could hide in plain sight, and only join a battle when your side needed help.
Another thing that Sony really did right with Galaxies was how they treated non-combatant classes – and there were a lot of them. Sony realized that a lot of people would be happy just being in the world, and didn’t need to be out there shooting things constantly. This was before the time of FarmVille, and casual gamers were drawn in to the world by being able to become things like dancers, musicians, and chefs. These people were integral to the world too; dancers and musicians could buff you and make playing a lot easier, chefs could make items that would heal or buff you as well. I myself was a Master Baker for a time, before I realized that the entire crafting system was so deep that you would have to do that and only that to remain competitive. Ingredients would change quality constantly, and the planets and areas that would have the best stuff would be different all the time, meaning if you weren’t always following those things your final products would be of lower quality that everyone else’s.
Galaxies was also great in the fact that it allowed not only player housing, but entire player controlled cities and governments. These weren’t the main cities that you know from the Star Wars universe either – just get enough people together and find a clear area on a planet, and you could start your own city. When enough people joined your city would even be rewarded with amenities like a Star Port and a Cantina. You could even vote for who would be the mayor of the city, and place either Republic or Imperial bases to assist in its defense. It was these little touches that made the game just so much more amazing than any other MMORPG out there, and it’s the loss of these things that sadden me more than anything else.
Yes, Galaxies had its share of issues – you couldn’t walk into the Geonosian Bio Lab on Yavin IV without seeing hordes of people AFKing with “/target geonosian, /attack” macros running (to be fair, I did this as well). There were a number of graphical and animation glitches that never got fixed over the eight years it ran. And let’s not forget the travesties of the combat update, and the dreaded NGE (New Game Enhancements). Those two things single handedly ruined the game for a good portion of the subscribers, so much so that players staged protests in the game world, which at that point in time was something that hadn’t been done before in other games. Unfortunately these things caused a lot of people to miss out on the joys of the space combat that came in the Jump to Lightspeed expansion – one of the best expansions I’ve seen in an MMO.
Even after all of the missteps however, Galaxies still retained a loyal fan base – people were still giving Sony their $15 a month time and again. So what happened? I’ve read theories other places saying that subscription rates were too low to justify keeping servers open – but that surely can’t be the case. When DC Universe Online started to see severe drops in the subscriptions, they switched to the “Free to Play” model, and saw a large resurgence. Sony has also used the free to play model on other MMORPGs before as well, so wouldn’t it stand to reason that they would do the same here, and not just shit-can eight years of hard work? It is the opinion of this writer that Lucas Arts is where the blame should land for this. They have another Star Wars MMORPG coming out five days after their license expires with Sony – why would they want to potentially confuse people as to which one they recommend playing? After all, it’s not a big jump to see someone walking in the store to buy a Christmas gift for a child, and not knowing the difference between Galaxies and The Old Republic, and picking up Galaxies by accident.
It’s incredibly sad that it ended up coming to this, but all good things do have to have an ending, that way we can appreciate what they were. There more than likely won’t be another MMORPG that aspires to do what Galaxies did – they’ve all seemed to fall into the same “WoW rut” anymore. So what does that mean for the gamer that never was able to get into the game – it the opportunity lost forever? Well yes and no – yes, the opportunity to get on the actual “official” servers are gone for good (barring some miracle), but some places have been working on emulators for years and are starting to let the public in. SWGemu.com is one of these places, and while you need the original, discs (downloaded copies won’t work, but you can find the discs dirt cheap if you don’t have them), they seem to have the most robust “pre-CU” experience out there.
Going forward, there probably won’t ever be another MMORPG quite like Galaxies, and while that’s a sad realization to come to – at least it was here for a time. I haven’t even hit on how brutal some of the “dungeons” were (I remember fighting for my first piece of Mandalorian armor fondly), or about how varied the race selection was (rather than the only humanoid aspect of The Old Republic), but I think I covered enough for one day. In the future, hopefully others will continue to learn from the right things that Sony did with the game, and stay away from the wrong (officially Sony even said that the NGE was a mistake, and from now on they’ll listen to players). There are a number of great new MMORPGs coming out like Kingdoms of Amalur and of course The Old Republic, so there are things to look forward to. I just felt that this fallen star needed to be remembered for what it was – a pioneer that was far ahead of it’s time.