Thursday, April 8, 2010

Modern Star Wars Galaxies: an utter new player perspective

With my interest in LoTRO and Allods Online waning, I went out looking for a new PvE focused MMO over the weekend (URU continues to scratch my explorer itch quite well). At first I intended to take Star Trek Online for a spin. However, while looking for the best prices I found an all in one pack for Star War Galaxies for $20. SWG is one of those MMOs I’ve been meaning to try for ages, and the base game plus three expansions sounds like a heck of a lot of content for $20. So I’m currently doing the two week trial while I decide whether to spring for the full game and sub up, or go back to my original plan of STO.

The short short version of my impression so far is that the game tries it’s damdest to scare you off in the first few hours, but if you stick with it there seems to be a fun game buried under the dated graphics and clunky UI.

My first impression was that the graphics are horribly dated. However, by fiddling with the graphics options I was able to get them up to "pretty good."

Not astounding by any means, but pretty damn good for a game that is nearly a decade old.

[A random aside: using FRAPS will butcher your framerates more than any other game I've tried FRAPS with. Don't do it. If you want to take screenshots, hit "ctrl+Shift+h" Then hit "print screen" You can also set the format (jpeg to bitmap) and quality of your screenshots in the "options" sub menus.]

What came as an unpleasant surprise (to put it mildly) was the basic controls of the game. When you first log in your camera is locked to your mouse, making it extremely difficult to select objects in the environment and impossible to select abilities from your hotbar with the mouse. You can change this in the control settings, however you have to log out and back in for the change to take effect. The UI itself gives you no clue that you need to log out, I had to figure it out by trial-and-error.

Once you have the mouse pointer unlocked, a new problem rears its head. Each mouse button does two things, and the game tries to figure out which you intend by where the pointer is on screen. This can lead to “hilarity” such as activating an attack and pulling a distant mob when you are trying to move the camera around, or shooting an NPC in the face when you are just trying to see if you can talk to them. Within my first 30 minutes I was having a pretty serious attack of sailor mouth.

The whole system is very hard to get used to on a melee character (i.e., Jedi). However, when I switched to a Commando (a high damage ranged attacker with a powerful self heal) the system started to make a bit more sense. By my second hour I was only shooting things accidentally every ten minutes or so . . .

The tutorial area that you start in also seemed pretty amateurish to me. One minute in I’m hanging out with Han Solo, Chewbacca, R2-D2, and C3PO. I guess the idea is for the game to feel “Star Warsy,” but to me it just felt contrived. The first quest area also isn’t that well designed. It’s a lot like a Star Wars skinned WoW quest hub. It eventually has you running in an out of the same instance six times in a row. The impression I came away with after my first two hours was “like WoW, but in space and clunky.” The one pleasant discovery was space-flight missions, which were a nice change of pace from killing things on the ground.

Despite my bad first impression, I’m old school and have a pretty high pain threshold when I try a new MMO. I decided to at least make it down to Tatooine before giving up on the game. And there I got a number of pleasant surprises. First off, I got a free landspeeder in my choice of colors after a very short quest chain.

The structure of the quests also improved. You talk to a quest giver to activate a chain, and then head out and start working. As you get steps done, your quest giver calls you on your comm to give you the next step in the chain and wires the rewards to your bank account . . . because they have modern technology and can do that (amazing!).

Tatooine itself also feels much more like a real place than the intro station did. The intro station was an illogical and contrived feeling series of questing areas. For example, why is the whole top level filled to the brim with dangerous animals? Who the heck knows? Tatooine, on other hand, feels a lot like . . . Tatooine (from the movies).

At this point I've worked through the horrifically bad newbie experience, and I'm curious about the rest. According to my login I have 9 more days to figure out whether modern SWG sucks or not, to my personal tastes. I can see clearly that there is a good game in there. I'm willing to try and connect to it.


  1. I was looking @ STO but my hardware is lacking. I'd like to take a break from fantasy. One good thing about SWG is my hardware can deal with it. Sooo... I'll give it a try this weekend. Your description of the interface is a bit daunting. After a week developing software it looks like I have something HARD to learn on Saturday :-)

  2. @Jomar: heh, hopefully you wont be screaming and cursing at your monitor the way I was when I first tried it. My neighbors were probably getting ready to report me for domestic violence, even though I live alone ;-)

  3. I haven't tried SWG since long before the NGE and it didn't click for me then. I'm not sure the tutorial was any better back then, but they didn't hit you over the head with the signature characters either.

    Hope you have a good time!

  4. Oh the controls are awful and can't believe they don't change that. I've gone back a few times and always forget how to change the controls.

    But once you get that under control, I think it actually is a good game and one I have a lot of nostalgia over. Had a blast as a tailor and entertainer. Hope you have fun!

  5. I will be honest, the most recent content patch did look interesting. I guess we all have different views on what a makes a good game.

  6. @Anjin: honestly, the way they hit me over the head with them struck me as almost condescending. I'm not five years old.

    @Aspendawn: yeah the controls take some getting used to for sure. Not too sure what they are thinking on that front. Still, I'm having good fun for the time being.

    @Jaydub: I barely played it before the NGE, so I'm not mourning the loss anything when I play. I can say that judged simply as a linear PvE MMO, the current game is clunky as hell but has a lot of interesting side systems. Whether my annoyance with the clunkyness of it all or interest in the deep side games will win out by this time next week, I honestly can't say.

  7. I played for about 2 years before the NGE. Before the "Combat Upgrade" actually. I have to say that at the time I didn't like "the game" so much as the people I played it with. The game itself was okay, and tbqh I wish every MMO had the skill tree system they were using then, but overall it was really the people.

    I tired the game for a bit after the CU, but it felt like "EQ2 with guns" to me then.

    I've also tried it since the NGE, and once I could "let go" of how it used to be, I actually thing the game itself is more fun than it was originally, in spite of all the lost depth. That said, though, all "my people" were gone, the cantina is a mere shadow if the social space it used to be, and while I worked my character up as a Jedi from 62 (it converted my old character to 62) up to level 80 or so, it still just didn't really do anything to make me go "I want to log in and play SWG today" either.

    As a side note I actually do quite enjoy the space part of the game and did the quests for the ARC-70, the Jedi Starfighter, though I'll admit I mostly use the ship that I think is/was "Dooku's fighter." Not enough to do a sub or go back to SOE's station pass thingy, but I did think that part of the game was really fun.

  8. @Magson: my impression so far is that I'm likely not going to make it past my trial. It's a fun game in places, but overall I can't really see subbing to it when there are much more polished games you can play for free. Thanks for the tip in any case, I'll be sure to check out the space game while I still have time to.

  9. Tips for the space game part:

    Player made items are, in my experience, both cheaper AND better than comparable level loot drops, including reverse-engineered loot.

    You want the best possible droid on-board.

    If you took damage to your ship in the course of a mission, once you're finished with it, just self-destruct. There's no xp loss or anything, and you respawn with your ship in perfect condition. It's been a long time since I played, but iirc some droid commands do a little damage to your ship themselves (minor damage, HUGE performance boost) and this works to repair that also.

    Yeah, it's cheesy, but why not take advantage of the mechanic?