|The hyperspace jumps look just as impressive as you'd expect them to|
I must apologise for the abundance of coverage regarding MMORPGs since the site went live - odd really, as these games aren't my favourite genre either. Perhaps it's testament to how far this style of game has come recently, and how developers are finally starting to make proper use of the internet in creating fabulous gaming worlds for us to play around in.
Which brings us onto today's topic, and yes, once again it's Star Wars time. This Wednesday sees the first expansion to Star Wars Galaxies hitting store shelves, subtitled Jump to Lightspeed, and with the non-disclosure agreement now lifted, I can finally start spilling some solid info on my time beta testing this bad boy.
The term "expansion pack" seems belittling here actually. Jump to Lightspeed is more like a completely new game, one that's bolted onto the current one, rather than subtly integrated like most. There really hasn't been an add-on of this scope for any game before, on or offline. That's an important thing to remember too, as your current monthly fee covers both the current game and
Jump to Lightspeed, essentially giving you two games for the price of one.
Space - Where Everyone Eats Ice Cream
The add-on's underlying premise, when all's said and done, is space. Taking off from those planets we've ran around on for 18 months, and seeing what lies beyond. It's odd really, for a game set in the Star Wars universe, only now can we actually see
those stars first hand.
This journey into space begins in your inbox of all places. Logging into the game with JTL installed, you'll find three e-mails waiting for you; one from the Empire, one from the Rebels, and a third from a neutral party - three groups all vying for your pilot skills. Each one contains a different set of coordinates leading you to their own pilot trainer, and it's up to you who you side with.
Once at the coordinates of your choice, you sign up for the equivalent of the Star Wars air force, and shortly after get your first assignment...and more importantly, your first ship.
From here you have to head to the nearest space port in order to access your starfighter, you can't take off wherever you want, and just like that, you're then up in space. There's no animations, just a mere loading screen, but once you get there, boy is it exhilarating.
Space is absolutely enormous. Just being up there makes the game as a whole feel a thousand times bigger. It's now complete. It feels like Star Wars as it should have been since launch.
|Space stations are large and impressive, but why can't we walk around on them?|
Viewing those epic planets from such a distance is a genuinely pleasing sensation when you consider real players are down there on the surface doing their own thing. I've never felt that in a video game before. This is perhaps the first game that can boast being quite literally an entire online universe
There are 10 different sectors in space, many centred around the current planets, along with a couple of deep space sectors for the more advanced pilots. Although there's obviously a fair share of emptiness out there, the developers do an admirable job of filling the void with as much stuff as possible to avoid repetition and boredom. Space stations, cargo ships, star fighters, asteroids, nebulae - all of this brings a sense of reality to the world, making it feel alive.
As a rebel however, I was bitterly disappointed in my starter ship, the Z-95 Headhunter. In the Star Wars universe, it would seem the Z-95 is an obsolete piece of shit - if Del Boy played Jump to Lightspeed, it's what he'd drive. It's slow, ugly, weedy, and on flying it you tremble at every single foe crossing your path - fuck, even Jar Jar Binks could take me out in this thing. A futuristic piece of hardcore intergalactic fuck-offery, it isn't.
Which is a shame really, 'cos it softens your initial enjoyment of being up in space considerably. You find yourself wondering why the game is so sluggish and tame, when in fact the game
is no such thing - it's just the hunk of junk you're piloting. This isn't something to worry about too much, as when I got to eventually pilot a pristine new X-Wing further down the line, all that negativity was gone immediately. You'll just wanna burn through the early missions and upgrade it as soon as humanly possible is all.
Also I couldn't help but feel the controls were a little complex at first. It's all 100% customisable in the options screen, whether you be using an optional joystick, or opting for a first person shooter style mouse 'n' keyboard configuration, but it can take a while to get to grips with never the less. After some excessive tweaking however, I got things feeling just about perfect in the end, and I expect all players will be doing the same until they find their own sweet spot.
While on this detour of negativity, I'll also point out the ongoing lack of music in Jump to Lightspeed. This is perhaps my biggest gripe with the pre-established ground game, and to see it barely rectified in the expansion makes me sigh. Music is such a big part of Star Wars - the films would be barely a shadow of themselves without it - and similarly the games feel somewhat underwhelming too. There is music, sure, even some new additions here, but there's still no where near enough of it. What the game needs is a constant background ambient score - one that then sweeps and builds as combat kicks in. Instead we play mostly in silence, living only for those 20 second snippets that kick in on rare occasions. Such a glaring oversight completely boggles the mind.
Soaring So High Above the World
The graphics are gorgeous however, and go to make up somewhat for that. No longer bogged down with rendering huge cities and entire planets at once, the game moves considerably smoother than it does on the ground - a good thing too, when you consider JTL features real-time combat that relies on split-second reflexes.
|Piloting an X-Wing and dogfighting a TIE Fighter - that's what it's all about baby|
Real-time combat is really the only way to go in a game like this. Eve Online, another space-based MMORPG (but lacking Galaxies' important ground portion) featured a more turn-based combat style, and it somewhat ruined that game for me. Jump to Lightspeed's twitch based combat however, finally lets your skill shine. No longer does victory go to he who has grinded more hours into his character and bought the "l33test" armour, it now simply goes to the guy who has the sheer skill to blow the shit out of the other person first. How JTL can technically manage a real-time space combat sim with thousands of players online at once, I'll never know, yet somehow it works just fine.
In a small stroke of genius, when battling NPCs they'll often send you taunts down the radio, further adding to the atmosphere and immediacy. It's the kind of small little glossy touch that often feels missing in the ground game, not adding much of substance, but just down-right cool never the less.
X-Wing Vs TIE Fighter For the New Millennium
Once these initial impressions die down though, how does the game play on a more long-term basis? Surprisingly well actually, it seems Sony has learned a few things from their experiences of the ground game, and placed much more of an emphasis on quests and story than we've had previously. Rather than simply flying about shooting random bad guys for no reason while we level up, Jump to Lightspeed features an epic 100 mission storyline at its core.
These missions include patrols, escorts, assassinations, and much more, and to be honest they're actually pretty damn sweet. In a way it all reminds me of playing the old X-Wing games from back in the day, except this time your mates are along for the ride too. In fact some of the harder missions further into the campaign are so tricky you simply can't do them without a squad of wingmen at your side, and it's a great way of tying in the online element with the admittedly single player-style missions.
The fact that you get this constant flow of assignments from your faction keeps you busy doing cool shit for the majority of your playing time, and it's subsequently a whole lot more fun than it would have been to simply grind experience points monotonously. Now it's more like you're following the progression of a story, levelling up automatically along the way.
It Gets Better
The great ideas don't stop their. Droids have been given a new lease of life at last, now integrated directly into ships just like in the movies, providing additional functionality in the heat of battle. This is a simply brilliant idea, and will be a welcome relief to the all but dead Droid Engineer profession.
Loot also makes a much more regular appearance in space, with all sorts of upgrades and add-ons ripe for the plucking. Not only does this make combat a lot more rewarding, but the ability to then use your looted weapons and upgrades to customise your ship and create something completely different to the guy flying next to you is amazingly cool. Changes you make will even show up visually, not just behind the scenes.
Back Down to Earth
Forgetting space for a moment, JTL has a few minor upgrades to the ground game too. The biggest addition is a new profession, the Shipwright, responsible for building and upgrading all the ships used in space. You can also find two new playable species, bringing the combined total up to 10 now.
|An Ithorian. Or is it just a shaven Wookie with his head beaten wonky by a crowbar?|
First up is the Ithorian, a surprisingly bad ass new addition. They're great fun to customise, and even come with their own clothes and armour. With all the humanoid species already in the game, it's nice to see one pushing the envelope a bit more on a visual level. Ithorians stand out, look cool, and bring a much needed boost of other-worldliness to the playable roster.
The second species, Sullustans, don't fare so well. The graphical implementation doesn't feel quite up to par with all the other species, plus they are just one ugly bunch of freaks, and perhaps go down as the worst species in the game now.
These new features are fully viewable in-game by SWG players who don't purchase the upgrade, but they obviously remain unusable unless you splash out the cash.
Scratching the Surface
With it being an MMORPG, exquisitely complex by nature, I feel like there's so much more I could go into here, both good and bad. The fact you can fly multi-passenger ships with your friends for that Millennium Falcon-like experience, the slightly underwhelming sensation of speed in the game, the awesome
hyperspace effect, the annoying spawn locations miles from anywhere, the fast loading times, the auto-pilot feature, the surprising lack of bugs - it's actually quite hard just to get it all down here. The fact Jump to Lightspeed has been promised the same regular updates and patches that the main game has also makes it tougher to give you a final verdict - who's to say how it'll look in a month from now?
As it stands, Jump to Lightspeed doesn't have any huge glaring flaws - in fact its biggest problem is more what it doesn't
do. Everything's fun, looks pretty, and hey it's Star Wars! In space! But really it could just be so much more. Where are the smuggling missions? Where's the bounty hunting? Why can't we get out of our ships and run around on space stations? Or just fly to new areas that aren't already in the regular game? A lot of this stuff has been hinted at for future updates by the powers that be, so we'll see how that pans out I guess.
In the meantime, as a space combat sim, Jump to Lightspeed is an impressive game. The missions give context to all that combat you'll be doing, a good thing when you consider there's really nothing else to do in space. At the same time, it's most impressive attribute as a game is really the potential it holds. We're still not quite at a 100% perfect online recreation of the Star Wars movies, but at least with this add-on we're a fuck load closer than we were.
Jump to Lightspeed gives Galaxies a new lease of life for long time subscribers such as myself, and is a fabulous update to the old X-Wing series at the same time. It comes highly recommended.