Review by TheDevineBovine

"The Force is strong with this one."

I'm going to be honest right up front: I'm a huge Star Wars fan. But I'm only a fan of the original trilogy, not the new Episodes. Episodes I and II had cheesy storylines and departed from that sense of ''Star Wars fun'' that is evident in Episodes IV, V, and VI. This can also be said for several Star Wars games that have been released in the past, games that strove for greatness but ultimately were not truly Star Wars. Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided is not one of these games. Never before have I played a game that captures the essence of the films more than this amazing game. But beyond the evident Star Warsiness, SOE and Lucas Arts have successfully created an all-around good game. I've never before played an MMORPG, and I was always skeptical of how fun they could really be. But this game was made so well that it's made me a convert and opened up a new genre of gaming for me.

The character customization is amazing: after you choose the species you wish to play as - and there are eight - you can manipulate every feature of your avatar. Gone are the ten pre-made faces and the fifteen pre-designed bodies. You can change the eye size, color and shape. You can give your wookiee any one of at least twenty fur patterns, with colors of your choosing. Give your Zabrak any horn configuration you want. Feel like breaking out of the typical buff looking character mold that almost all games force on you? Make your avatar short and stocky, with little muscle mass. The list goes on, insuring that no two players will look exactly alike. And once in game there is an endless supply of clothes to wear, shirts, jerkins, sashes, pants, shorts, skirts, dresses, everything you can imagine and more is there. Your character is who YOU want her/him to be.

You start the game a refugee on an Imperial space station. Once you go through the tutorial and figure out how to play you choose the city you wish to start in. So far SOE hasn't started a story line, but it will begin to be released in a month or so. But even so at the beginning there's so much to do. You've chosen your starting profession, and right from the start you can begin to gain XP. If you dream of being a smuggler, you need lots of XP with pistols. To get that you simply fight with your pistol a lot. If you want to be a swordsman you gain XP by using swords. To advance as an artisan you might craft items for XP, or as an entertainer you might dance. And the rewards for the non-combatants are great. Down the line artisans can design houses, guildhalls, and factories. Weaponsmiths can get their weapons sold throughout the galaxy. And if you ever get tired of the path you've chosen, you can sell back your skills and do something else. You're always able to change your character as you see fit.

And then there's the community. If you really want to, you could adventure alone, but there are incentives to grouping together to complete a task. For instance, I'm working on my marksman skills. This involves lots of combat XP. I started out hunting all the little critters running around my starting city, getting a little XP here and there, but it takes a while. I grouped up with some other players a while later and we went big game hunting, killing creatures much too difficult for any one of us to take on. When we took these down the XP gained was through the roof. Not to mention the sheer fun of coordinating attacks and strategies with the other players. And if you want to go into any of the non-combat classes alone, then it's impossible. Let's say you're a weaponsmith. You gain XP from just crafting the weapons, but in order to get more you need players to use your items. You can trade with other players directly, or you can go to the Bazaar and post them for auction or instant sale. And the players need to buy the weapons from either you or the Bazaar, as there are no NPCs selling things. The economy is purely player-driven, and already there are guilds appearing specializing in the selling of certain items. If you have enough XP to gain a new skill, you have two options: you can go to an NPC trainer and pay insane amounts of credits, or you can ask another player to teach you the skill, maybe only for a little cash, or most of the time for free since they need teaching XP to level up themselves. These gaming structures insure that players work together to achieve common goals, and that everyone is needed.

On a technical side the controls are as customizable as your character. The game ships with it's own pre-designed control scheme, but you can reconfigure any key or key combinations you want to make the game as comfortable as you want. The interface is very user-friendly, with all the important stats easy to see and understand, while at the same time not being intrusive on the gaming world.

And the world itself is impressive. The maps are absolutely immense - I spent over forty minutes real-time running from one city to another when they were only about a third of the length of the map apart. The wilderness in between the cities isn't wasteland either. It's filled with randomly spawning creatures and NPCs, who either want to help you, ignore you, or kill you. On a higher-end machine the graphic settings can be cranked up to create absolutely amazing vistas, complete with towering trees, waving grass, and shimmering waves. Even when the settings are lower to improve frame rates the game is still beautiful. After half an hour of running cross country I was standing on a sandy beach on the ocean watching the setting Naboo sun send streaks of red across the water, when the John Williams music began, and even though I was on a completely different planet I felt just like Luke staring at the twin setting suns in ''A New Hope''. The excellent combination of sound effects, music and graphics make this game a complete Star Wars experience. (On a separate note, you don't actually have to run everywhere. There are planetary shuttles to get you from city to city quickly, and ships can get you from planet to planet.)

In terms of replayability, you don't ever have to stop your character. If you think your avatar should look differently, find an image designer to get them to change your physical appearance. If you get sick of killing things and want to start making furniture, sell back your combat skills and go down the designing path. You'll still need to get the XP, but the character you choose in the beginning minutes can be completely different months from then. Even your basic stats, like health and constitution, can be changed at any point in the game. But if you want to start again, then you can, as the world will be completely different than when you started.

I recommend Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided to any self-respecting Star Wars fan, as well as anyone who enjoys MMORPGs. There were some bugs when the game first released, but nothing like other games of this type. Within the first two days of its release I was playing a character that is still around and only getting better. While the monthly fee may be steep for some, there are several methods of pay depending on how long you want to play for. And of course the first month is free. This is an excellent game that can only improve, especially with the release of vehicles, player-run cities and Dark Jedi in an upcoming patch. And the expansion next year will allow players to fly their own ships...

If you're reading this, you're interested in the game. And if you're interested you will love this game. Star Wars is back, and it's amazing.


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 07/07/03, Updated 07/07/03


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