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Sunday, May 29, 2005

Time to say "Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen" to Star Wars Galaxies

Wish it could be reported that everything is going beautifully in these halcyon (final?) days of being a Star Wars supergeek, but alas! Some things are not the ideal they should be in that saga far, far away...

I've been playing Star Wars Galaxies, the massively-multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) that Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) runs for LucasArts, ever since last January. I've been quite proud of the online persona of "Slanner Kwintz" that I invested countless hours in establishing as a smuggler/bounty hunter figure, and in proudly outfitting my SoroSuub yacht, the Mare of Steel, into a brutal business vehicle with refined elegance (I think I may have been the first player to figure out how to install a jail cell onboard a spacecraft in this game). I had a house on a hilltop on Tatooine that had a gorgeous view of the twin suns setting from the front porch, and I wound up meeting a lot of neat players.

But now it's time to hang it all up. Because this just ain't a fun game at all anymore.

It's not even really "Star Wars". It's more like "Star Wars Costume Party". SOE did a "Combat Upgrade" a few weeks ago intended to improve the (admittedly flawed but still fun) system of combat. Instead they botched things in such a way as to make the game darn nearly unplayable in anywhere near a sane fashion. Like, if you are wounded or killed (and respawn at a cloning center... why they don't call the cloning chambers "bacta tanks" and thus be more StarWars-ish I've no idea) you darn well better get used to being walking wounded 'cuz medical characters have NO hope to level up outside of combat. The crafting professions have been screwed up and my favorite profession, smuggler, is as far away from ITS much-needed revamp as its ever been.

The established characters from the saga are so ill-used it's laughable: Darth Vader, when he IS used, has become a corporate mouthpiece for the Galactic Empire instead of a dreaded Sith Lord. Yeah you read that right in SOE's hands Darth Vader has become a JOKE! There are scores of problems with the game, including some bugs that have still been in-game for months, if not ever since inception. SOE's manner of dealing with these failings has always been the same: introduce more Star Wars eyecandy, like better mountable pets and multi-passenger vehicles, and planets like the Wookiee homeworld to run around in. WITHOUT either addressing the present problems or working on the problems that crop up with EVERY "improvement" they roll out. SOE is trying to slap bandaids on a chestwound. And they're still wondering why the patient is still crippled. Fercryingoutloud they allow Tatooine banthas to run around on Naboo... where da heck is the famous Lucas-ian attention to consistency in THAT?!?

The problem with Star Wars Galaxies is that it no longer feels like real Star Wars. There's no sense of the spirit of the saga that was the allure most of us had in playing it to begin with. We wanted to be part of Star Wars, not players in a game that merely borrows from the look of Star Wars. And some players have started a massive online petition movement to make SOE enact some real changes to the game, but I've come to realize that anything SOE does would be too little, too late. This game is going down fast: at least 16,000 subscribers have publicly announced cancellations according to most accounts, and that indicates that many, many more players have called it quits already. This past week SOE brought Star Wars Galaxies: The Total Experience to stores: a compilation of the original core game plus the Jump To Lightspeed space expansion, and the new Rage of the Wookiees add-on, all for thirty bucks. Most players paid that much just for the space expansion. If you want just the Wookiee expansion you can download that directly for just about the same price. You tell me: be a new player and buy EVERYTHING for thirty bucks in one shot or a longtime veteran and have to pay the same price for ONE portion of the same game. How would YOU feel?

Man, it sucks to have to say this, but Star Wars Galaxies had a LOT of potential, and I'd be lying if I said that I didn't have a good time playing it when I did. When it was still fun. I wouldn't recommend it to my worst enemy at this point and up until recently I was a VERY faithful player: heck, my wife and I even attended the Star Wars Galaxies breakfast at Celebration III last month in Indianapolis. SOE took the Star Wars franchise and tried to run it like its own, when it's NOT like EverQuest at all: it's Star Wars. And this game needed people who knew and loved and understood what Star Wars was really all about from day one. They missed the mark and at this rate they'll always miss the mark, no matter how many hundreds of players they allow to pick up a lightsaber and call themselves "Jedi".

So I'm quitting Star Wars Galaxies. But I'm not giving up hope on there being a MMORPG someday that deserves being given the Star Wars moniker. This game doesn't just need an overhaul: it needs a total rebuild from the ground up. Players need to be given something more substantial than running around grinding for experience points and killing "Meatlump Buffoons" hoping to loot rug adhesive (yeah you read that right rug adhesive). They want to be part of the story, and there DOES need to be a sense that there's a grand, epic and sweeping story that's in the background that we're participating with, not merely onlookers of. The space ability needs to be built-in from the game's very beginning. Inconsistencies with the saga should be dealt with. None of this is happening. But it could happen, in the proper hands of people who actually care about it being legitimate Star Wars.

Until that day comes (and if and when it does, believe you me I'll be first in line at the local Best Buy, cash in hand, ready to plunk down and start playing) it's time to write off this attempt at a Star Wars MMORPG as a sinking ship. But if you want some real enjoyable action in a franchise-related online RPG, check out The Matrix Online. I've been playing that since day one of the retail version and its developers have proven that they are extremely committed to not only delivering an enjoyable experience for the gamers, but making it as substantial a part of enjoying this particular story as the movies were. I mean, The Matrix Online was ballsy enough to ASSASSINATE Morpheus a few days ago, and now every player is running around helter-skelter trying to find out whodunit. You can't kick it up another notch much more than THAT, right? :-)