written by Alastrom
Star Wars Galaxies, the MMO that made such an impact even your mom knows about it. Seriously, ask her sometime, she probably played an entertainer. Star Wars Galaxies, or SWG as it came to be known, was a sandbox styled MMORPG which placed its players in the Star Wars lore. In many ways, this was a social game for players. It didn’t require you to race towards “end game” nor did you really need to be max level to fully enjoy it. If you’re one of the few that has never heard of Galaxies, you may be more familiar with the title that “replaced” it. Star Wars: The Old Republic launched in December of 2011 and offered an outlet to continue your Star Wars saga in another MMO. These games were fundamentally different and it’s that difference that made SWG so beloved by the fans. It’s also something that no one else has managed to capture since the servers were shut down in late 2011.
A typical MMO will feature a varied number of classes or professions. Players commonly choose one and are locked in for the life of that character. Online gaming was still carving out its place in the world at the time and many would argue that it was more difficult to take risks due to technical limitations. Galaxies took that risk anyway and instead of a locking characters into a single class selection, they allowed you to build your character from thirty-two widely varied professions. In addition, players were locked to a single character per server, though this limitation was eventually doubled. The effect was astounding. Players became the people they wanted to be within the Star Wars universe. They told their own stories with their own friends and to this day those stories still echo across the web.
Attend any Star Wars convention and you’re likely see a multitude of individuals dolled up to look like favorite character from the films. You’ll also notice even more dressed as Storm Troopers, Jedi knights, ace pilots, sexy Twi’leks, intimidating bounty hunters and at least one dog that looks like an Ewok. There’s something about this fiction that drives people to extremes. The fact is, everyone wants to live in the Star Wars universe. It doesn’t matter how old you are, at some point you wanted to swing a lightsaber or ride a swoop bike. Galaxies recognized this early on and capitalized on a design that would let players do just that.
The system was not without its failings. The game suffered from balance issues and many players were expecting more direction from the developers on “what to do next.” The interface was clunky at best and the PvP was typically dominated by the same groups of people. Galaxies was not an easy game to get into unless someone was there to walk you through the otherwise alien mechanics. Naturally, many of these flaws would be cited and eventually improved but that’s not to say the game had an upward spiral of success. The game suffered from some pretty significant design choices made later in its life span. You could argue by current industry standard the game would be considered unplayable by all but the most diehard fans and you’d be right. So how did something like that ever succeed?
The fact is that people want an escape. Star Wars Galaxies didn’t just offer that escape for gamers, but it attracted non gamers as well. MMOs that had previously been focused on combat offered little to interest the more casual player, and the social gamer wouldn’t even show up for another ten years. Galaxies told players that it was “O.K.” to spend eight hours dancing in a cantina for tips and in fact it encouraged them to do just that. Previous games like Dark Age of Camelot and Everquest restricted crafting to higher level players almost to the extent that it became an afterthought. Star Wars Galaxies told players that if they want to be the best armor smith in the galaxy, they can start that journey on day one. This is an incredibly empowering style of gameplay that we rarely see replicated. Giving players the freedom to be who they wanted to be combined with living the Star Wars dream turned out to be the perfect combination.
Galaxies is a game I spend a lot of time thinking about. There have been other projects that attempt to recreate the magic and while it’s harsh to say they’ve failed, they certainly don’t get spoken about frequently. There’s no way to know if fans were just captivated by a fully licensed Star Wars MMO or if the game existed in a time where our expectations were lower than they are now. Perhaps it reaches more to our core. Most of us grew up with Star Wars. It’s always been there and it felt like something that would never leave. In an era of Battle Royale and MOBA rip offs, it’s comforting to know that games exist that have some level of staying power. For me, I think I miss a time when gaming wasn’t just a throw-away experience. SWG spoke to me as a fan of the Star Wars universe and for better or worse, I’m just not sure I can ever have that experience again.
Today, Star Wars Galaxies lives on through the hard work and dedication of a small group of programmers working to restore the game to its former glory. In many ways, it’s a caricature of the game that was. The developers lend their own interpretation to elements of the game that may have been lacking, all while doing their best to avoid the Disney hit-squads armed with legal documents. For players hoping to relive their SWG youth they can check out the SWGEMU project for themselves. Perhaps one day we’ll see the fabled Star Wars Galaxies II but such a project would demand a level of courage and vision and that’s sadly in short supply these days.