Why the reminiscing about a game that we can't -- ahem -- play any longer? Simply put, SWG deserves it. If you're reading this article, you already know why it deserves it, so we'll skip the sandbox proselytizing and get right to the part where Massively's Starsider veterans raise a glass and share a few of their favorite launch-era memories.
I enjoyed hanging out just because hanging out was a bizarrely structured and encouraged activity. RPing with the cantina crowd, starting a bar fight, playing mandoviol, singing using built-in singing emotes, telling goofy stories while hanging out inside an elite player-erected camp somewhere in the middle of nowhere -- those were all things people did on a regular basis. It was a full game and not just a combat simulator.
I also remember performing in plays, including one that was a play within a play and resulted in the (planned and terribly hilarious) murder of one of the actors, which somewhat disrupted the play I suppose but was so much fun to roleplay. I ran a moisture farm just because Smedley said no one wanted to play Uncle Owen and I'm contrary as hell. I became one of the big chefs on both my main servers and later branched out into a hardcore armorsmithing and droid engineering business with dozens of vendors and factories and four accounts' worth of harvesting power. I killed a Jedi once with my pistoleer/fencer pre-CU. Then I had to buy a joystick to finish off my master smuggler/pilot post-NGE, but it was totally worth it.
But above all else, I'll remember the feeling of being in Star Wars and not being on rails -- being able to do whatever I wanted to do inside my favorite IP.
So with a stick in my hand, I took a trip across the Jundland Wastes to hunt down -- I don't know -- Tusken Raiders or something. During this trip, we ran across Anchorhead and a beetle-infected Lars Homestead. After seeing that, I knew I would be in this game a long time, even though I'd told my wife that I'd probably play it for only a couple of months. Seven years later, I was still playing the game.
I guess I'd been playing SWG for over a year -- although it didn't seem that long -- when the Combat Upgrade hit. Many people on my original server had quit or were quitting, but I had heard that Starsider had a wonderful roleplay community. So my friends and I left behind our Jedi and melee stackers and ventured over to this new horizon.
One of my friends said of roleplaying on the Starsider galaxy, "This is the reason I started playing SWG in the first place." I agreed. To this day, Star Wars Galaxies, specifically Starsider, is the most immersive Star Wars experience I've ever had. I would do missions around Vagabond's Rest, a player-created city, in-character with my friends who also happened to be my character's friends, too. We didn't have to worry about ignoring parts of the mission arc because we were the best -- let's say -- Teras Kasi in the galaxy because we made up the stories behind the missions. On top of that, the combat was paced so that we could actually emote and hold a conversation as we fought, just as we had seen in the movies.
Although my first steps were actually on Corellia, my true SWG experience started a few days later when a patron at the cantina where I was dancing took me to Mos Eisley where he had "business" to attend to. Always an explorer, I jumped at the chance (for I was much too poor starting out to make the trip myself). Once I stepped into that famous cantina, my gaming life changed forever; I was immersed in a world of scum and villainy, steeped in subterfuge and lacquered over with riches... and I loved every moment of it!
I sat back and watched stories unfold and became a participant in many. How entranced was I with all this? In my quest to become a Master Dancer, I can't tell you how many times I stayed dancing in the Mos Eisley cantina all night, sometimes nodding off at my keyboard, until finally being forced to log off at the 7:00 a.m. server shut down.
One of the highlights of my SWG experience happened in those first weeks after launch, when a band of mercenaries invited me to come dance in their cantina in a place out in the wilds. An entire group escorted me, dodging and fighting off mobs. The tension was palpable; one mistake could lead to the deaths of everyone. And when we finally reached safety, the relief was real! Never had I known a game to elicit such intense feelings, and it was a rush I wanted to experience again and again. And SWG delivered on that for many years as I remained immersed in the world, with only a smattering of real-life breaks, until the very end.
I remember PvPing in Anchorhead, Bestine, and all points in between during those first few months, routinely getting wiped by the smaller but more organized Imperial guilds who ran through the streets trolling the clueless Rebels into ill-advised and uncoordinated attacks. There were a ton of 20-man PvE PUGs in the early days, too, and that was always good fun. Oh, and I'll never forget the first time I saw someone use a custom emote. It was at Chalmun's in Mos Eisley during that first month, and the guy typed something like, "Joe Blow wiped the squill guts off his vibroblade and sheathed it with a flourish." I thought that was the slickest thing I'd seen in a video game up to that point, and I struck up a private convo with the dude, who happily taught me the wonders of the colon key (or /em, in most of today's titles).
I don't want to sugar-coat things, though, because launch and the first year or so were very rough. The game was incredibly buggy, many of the 32 professions were a mess, and both SOE and LucasArts clearly rushed it out the door a good eight to ten months early. That said, the first time I built a house as an Architect -- and the first time I sold one to another player as a Merchant via my own pimped out storefront -- I was hooked. Making a good living slicing weapons and selling spice was a riot, too. Kinda like getting paid to write about games, in fact, and only slightly less dangerous.
Finally, I've got to say something about the launch-era community. SWG had a completely different vibe from the MMOs I play today, not only in terms of the free-form mechanics but in terms of the people playing.
That's not nostalgia talking, either; it was just different, largely because of the niche status of MMOs at the time. Most of the people I encountered were as hardcore about the game as I was, and while there's something to be said for today's all-inclusive casual MMOs, there's also something to be said for a community that eats, sleeps, and breathes a game that demands a good portion of your free time. Even though I've played on Lord of the Rings Online's Landroval, City of Heroes' Virtue, and other shards with well-regarded communities since, none of them has ever made MMO playing as enjoyable as it was on Starsider circa 2003.
Massively's not big on scored reviews -- what use are those to ever-changing MMOs? That's why we bring you first impressions, previews, hands-on experiences, and even follow-up impressions for nearly every game we stumble across. First impressions count for a lot, but games evolve, so why shouldn't our opinions?