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Galactic Flyby: Star Wars Galaxies Sunrunner II

Brave new worlds.

To somewhat quote ol’ Sheev, I’ve been following Sunrunner II with great interest for many years now. Although it’s undoubtedly a microserver in terms of population, there’s nothing micro in the way that the small team have expanded the galaxy.

The mantra on Sunrunner II is to take the early, pre-CU version of Star Wars Galaxies and build upon it in the way that was originally intended before corporate pressures and critical lambasting from the mainstream games media (as well as, let’s be honest, a contingent of the playerbase) caused the trajectory of the game to shift radically.

That means the focus is placed heavily on the sandbox aspect of the game. In fact, it’s fair to say that no other SWG rogue server actively leans into this as much as Sunrunner II.

So while there have been a fair number of changes to profession skills and an armor rework which makes more sets viable for actual use, most of the core gameplay systems remain as they were back in 2003-early 2005.

Quarren character being created on Star Wars Galaxies Sunrunner II server.
H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of the Quarren

As I remarked in my look at the Restoration server last month, combat in any of SWG’s three eras was never one of the game’s strong suits, and it certainly wasn’t what drew people to the game two decades ago. When people wax nostalgic about the game today, you’ll rarely hear anybody remark on how much they enjoyed playing a certain combat class (except creature handler – people really love their pet bantha’s). Rather, they’ll want to tell you about their amazing player city, crafting empire, camping trip, or live event.

Star Wars Galaxies was conceived to facilitate all these things in lieu of what we regard as ‘content’ in themepark MMOs. That meant less development time was spent on creating quests that players would inevitably chew through in a fraction of the time that it took to create, and more development time was spent on adding new spaces, items and systems to keep players enjoying the things that game was actually originally built to do well.

A Hutt NPC on the custom Nal Hutta planet on Star Wars Galaxies Sunrunner II server.
This starport on Nal Hutta has been given a tasteful facelift which gives the planet a unique feeling while remaining true to the game’s original aesthetic.

Sunrunner’s main draw is its addition of new spaces, with a truly impressive number of new planets and space stations having been added to the game. In fact, Sunrunner has more than any other rogue server. This menagerie of new worlds includes rebuilt versions of SWG’s expansion planets Kashyyyk and Mustafar (minus the obnoxious invisible walls which plagued the ‘real’ versions), access to the Nova Orion and Tansarii Point space stations, and 11 entirely new planets such as Coruscant, Nal Hutta, and Tanaab – the infamous planet which never quite made it into the final version of SWG, but existed unfinished in the game’s files (until now).

Another of the server’s main draws is its increased number of playable races. I took advantage of this on my own short time in the game and created a Quarren toon, though I could’ve also created a Nautolan or Chiss among others (there are currently a total of 11 new species to choose from along with the 10 from the live game).

Being an unapologetic NGE Baby I opted to land on the Tansarii Point Station out of the handful of starting locations offered. It’s much the same as the tutorial area (sans the tutorial quests themselves) that new players found themselves in from 2005 until the game shut down in 2011, though there are subtle changes to character names and the like (Han Solo and Chewbacca remain on the station so worry not those who need their immediate dose of all things Star Warsy and iconic).

Ord Mantell custom planet on Star Wars Galaxies Sunrunner II server.
The Junk Field on Ord Mantell

Eager to check out something new I hopped a flight to Ord Mantell – one of Sunrunner’s original planets. Although the planet has featured in a number of visual mediums over the years (including the MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic), it is its appearance in the 1996 game Shadows of the Empire that is burnt into my head.

After arriving in Worlport – the planet’s capital – I checked the planetary map for Places of Interest and found a location named ‘Junk Field’. Supposing this to be the closest thing to the Scrap Lands where Shadow of the Empire’s Ord Mantell sequence takes place, I decided to make this my destination.

I hopped in my complimentary X-31 Landspeeder and began the slow 3000km journey across the map, dodging creature spawns that would have wiped my fragile unskilled character out in one hit. Although I dare not get too close to them, I noticed that these were not creatures I was used to seeing roaming the wilds of the base planets. Spawns of nexu and hawk-bats joined original species such as the fearsome grogilla.

While the Junk Yard itself didn’t quite match up with that memory of Ord Mantell (no train!), it was nonetheless worth the trip. A downed starship, bits of Imperial junk, and broken-down droids scattered the landscape, making for an environment that was totally different to anything in the vanilla SWG but still feeling completely in keeping with the game’s overall aesthetic and world design.

A Quarren NPC points at a shipyard on Mon Calamari on Star Wars Galaxies Sunrunner II server.
A select few races can survive naturally in Mon Calamari’s underwater area, but others will need to acquire a rebreather.

And that is Sunrunner’s greatest strength. Even though Galaxies’ graphics aren’t obviously stylized in the same way that World of Warcraft and The Old Republic‘s are, there’s a distinct visual sensibility to the game. Yes, the lighting and shading systems do a certain amount of the heavy lifting in unifying the game’s look, but even in Sunrunner’s more unique worlds – such as Mon Calamari and Coruscant – the appearance of new architecture feels seamlessly integrated where it could so easily have stood out.

Of course, that does mean that it all feels very 2003. SOE themselves never added any new planets to the game which fit the same open-world criteria as the 10 planets that the game launched with (Kashyyyk and Mustafar both offered a slightly on-rails themepark experience which aligned with the studio’s efforts to steer the game in a more WoW-like direction). The original 10 planets were huge by comparison and had large swathes of open land which were frequently devoid of any major landmarks. This was a necessity for the game’s open-world housing and player cities, and Sunrunner allows for this on at least two of its planets – Kuat and Tanaab (along with city planning improvements such as a system to build roads).

With so many new planets on offer, I have to admit to having had some reservations as to just how much effort had been put into each one. Would each planet just be a simple ctrl-c, ctrl-v job of an existing planet with a few environmental switches flipped? Landmass for the sake of landmass. No. Even if SWG’s planets aren’t as excitingly detailed as most modern MMOs, the planets I visited on Sunrunner all justified their existence by offering something visually striking and unique. The POIs are worth seeking out and exploring, even if there isn’t necessarily any content there in the typical sense.

Two Gotal player characters on on Star Wars Galaxies Sunrunner II server.
Players seem to love Sunrunner’s new species options.

With its small playerbase and additional planets which at least double the size of the original game in terms of landmass, it’s less likely than ever that you’ll just randomly run into people out in the wilderness when you’re playing on Sunrunner II. Of course, this is going to be off-putting to some people, but let’s face it, the novelty of running into strangers has long since worn off in MMOs so this should really matter very little.

If, however, you still pine for those first two years of SWG’s existence but want some fresh environments to run around in with your guildies, Sunrunner is probably exactly what you’re looking for. Or at least that’s what one member of the community told me as I lingered around the server’s Halloween party event.

Everyone at the event was friendly, and importantly they all seemed to actively enjoy playing on the server. I felt a sense of relaxed acceptance from them – an unspoken acknowledgement of the server’s minor status amongst the handful of larger ones. Everyone seemed ‘chill’ and I could imagine that while they’d be happy for someone to come along and make a name for themselves as a trusted Weaponsmith, event host, or activity organiser, they’d give little breathing space to anyone who intended to stir up drama.

Mandalore custom planet on Star Wars Galaxies Sunrunner II server.
After completing a short quest which pushes the boundaries of SWG’s storytelling potential, players can now travel to Mandalore. A full fleshing out of the planet is due in Sunrunner’s next major update.

There’s something of a conflict then amongst both the community and development team in that they are eager to welcome new players, but weary of the kind of characters which inevitably come along with an increased population. Sunrunner II, at present, is something of a hidden gem and it’s understandable that – in a game with such a storied history of toxicity – players would like to keep their little haven to themselves for as long as possible.

It’s a tough situation, and one which is unique to rogue servers who don’t need to push for revenue and active users to keep the investors happy and the lights on. Ultimately though if you like the sound of Sunrunner II’s expanded version of SWG’s ‘Golden Age’ then you shouldn’t hesitate to jump into their Discord, create yourself an Aqualish gunslinger, and get yourself all geared up and grouped up ready for the imminent release of their Mandalore content drop.

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