Ten minutes after loading my new character into Mos Eisley I already felt like quitting out of SWGEmu.
Why did I even decide to start playing this game again anyway? I’ve spent quite literally thousands of hours playing Star Wars Galaxies since I first logged in back in 2006 and probably twice as many hours spent thinking, researching, and writing about the game.
Surely there’s nothing left that it can offer me. And yet, here I am. A new Zabrak in the same old town. That town of course being Mos Eisley.
It’s been a hot minute since I last played SWG with any regularity. I put a couple of hundred hours into Legends over the past few years, and I’ve hopped into a few of the game’s other rogue servers, but I just hadn’t felt compelled to play it since the start of 2023. New year, new games or something like that.
Between a rather meandering third season of The Mandalorian, the lingering brilliance of Andor, and the recent hype of Celebration London however I’ve felt the old itch return.
I’m long overdue for a new entry in my supposed-to-be monthly Galactic Flyby column and there’s no shortage of servers out there offering a host of exciting new and original features that I’ve been wanting to check out first-hand. The premise of the column however is to do a sweeping visit of the server – ten or so hours of exploring the state of the server and its community.
I had the urge to do more than just file a report though. I wanted that feeling of developing a character and putting down some roots in the galaxy. I was also feeling compelled to correct something of a dark, shameful secret that I’d been carrying around these past few years. The secret: I’ve never really played pre-CU era Star Wars Galaxies.
That of course isn’t strictly true. I’ve spent a fair number of hours on SWGEmu before, as well as several other not-NGE servers. I’ve just never stuck it out.
Just as pre-CU players struggled to adapt to the NGE, I’ve just never really been able to gel with the original version of the game. Yes, I’m aware that the circumstances are wildly different, but the essential idea remains: it’s jarring to play a game that looks the same as the one you’ve spent hundreds of hours in but plays entirely differently.
I love the NGE version of SWG, but I can certainly appreciate that it was the wrong direction for the game to take and I’m almost always against the idea of post-launch MMO overhauls.
The actual idea of the pre-CU version of Galaxies has always appealed to me. I can see how it would offer a lot of corrections to some of the things that had always bugged me about the NGE era of the game.
Even the pre-CU’s biggest evangelists would admit to the game being far from perfect at a technical level however, and it was those faults which I would bang up against every time I tried SWGEmu and its kin.
And that’s where I found myself once again, having commenced my latest romp through the galaxy.
I had a character I was happy with – a relatively benevolent-looking Zabrak – I’d set up my keymap to resemble NGE-era movement as closely as possible, and naturally I’d chosen Mos Eisley as the starting point of my journey.
One of the things that’s always intrigued me about pre-CU Star Wars Galaxies is the way it almost forces you into a kind of soft roleplay. This is a boon to me as I’m utterly bereft of any innate creativity. I could never sit and figure out an interesting backstory for my character, or even decide on any basic motivations or personality traits for them. Still, as a big fan of the Star Wars lore, I want to feel as immersed as possible.
While games like Star Wars: The Old Republic and well, almost every other post-World of Warcraft MMO will gift your character an established role within the world, pre-NGE SWG‘s sandbox means that every action you take in the game is entirely of your own volition. In turn, these actions begin to create and define your character’s story right from the moment you’re thrust into its harsh, oftentimes impenetrable worlds.
The problem is, my story so far was one of getting killed. A lot. By very small things.
With no quest to carry me forward my first thought upon landing on Tatooine was to find something to hack at with the starter knife that I was gifted as a result of choosing to start my adventure as a Scout.
So I headed to the outskirts of town. Traditionally a surefire bet of finding some easy prey. Turns out Luke had to bullseye Womp Rats in his T-16 because those little rats are surprisingly vicious mano-e-mano.
After a brief trip to the cloner I headed out again. Only to be sent immediately back after gaining the attention – from a considerable distance nonetheless – of a pack of vicious lizards.
I closed the game and spent that night wondering whether I should bother logging back in the next day.
I woke up renewed and decided to jump back in. Maybe some new scenery would be the answer. Players can choose to set down on Tatooine, Naboo, or Corellia in the pre-CU so the population is a little more dispersed than it is on NGE servers. Naboo seemed like the most friendly of these planets so I hopped a flight to Theed and once again headed to the outskirts of the city to find something easy to kill.
Cue beat down by butterfly.
I logged out again.
The thing is, that gameplay session I just described sounds short, but in reality, it was probably about 30 minutes of precious gaming time down the drain. Nothing in pre-CU Galaxies is quick. Players move across the mountainous terrain like cold treacle off a spoon, there’s always a wait for the public transportation systems, and combat with even the most diminutive foe is a laughably slow affair of falling over, picking yourself up one limb at a time and hoping to get off one sad punch before you’re back on your butt.
I knew that if I logged in again I’d need to shift my mindset. I needed to slow down. I needed to give myself some clear objectives. I needed to ask for help.
When you need to find help in the Star Wars universe there’s one place you can rely on – the cantina. Thankfully, even though it was very early in the morning and I was in the slightly less populated city of Theed, I still managed to find an Entertainer, a Medic, and a few other stragglers in the entryway to the cantina.
I asked for some buffs and apologised profusely that I didn’t yet have any credits to tip them. With longer HAM bars (Health, Action, Mind), I ventured back out to take revenge on the butterflies. I managed to defeat one only to be swarmed by more. I left the cloning centre and headed back to the cantina with my proverbial tail between my legs.
“Back again?” remarked the Medic. I explained that I couldn’t find anything to kill, to which I was told to go pick up a quest from the Mission Terminal. I cringed as I remembered that they existed at all.
I selected a couple of missions and headed out to the nests. The enemies are mercifully scaled to something manageable. There’s still a considerable level of threat and it’s all obscenely slow, but with a little bit of tactical MOB pulling and a lot of patience, I’m able to finally make a smidgen of progress on this character.
I’m aware that there are optimal ways of doing all this stuff. Certain classes suited to earning more credits, taking down enemies faster etc, but I don’t want to just min-max my way to the endgame. I want to have an adventure – to play the game somewhat in the manner that it was intended to be played.
Those first failed attempts to get myself into SWGEmu made me seriously wonder whether to just write the game off as a relic of the past. Sure it’s great that SWGEmu exists, but perhaps its only purpose is to serve as a museum piece. An act of community-led game preservation.
Despite the CU and NGE’s obvious shortcomings, there’s a reason why Star Wars Galaxies underwent such a massive overhaul. It’s always been considered unintuitive, and let’s be honest here, a game where you’re struggling to kill a butterfly doesn’t seem like the most appealing Star Wars fantasy.
All of those things have been compounded over the past two decades, making SWG feel more arcane than ever. Yet, when I finally scrounged together enough credits to buy myself some cheap armour pieces after a few hours of play I felt a sense of satisfaction that’s rare in modern MMOs. I wasn’t gifted these new upgrades, I had earned them.
SWGEmu‘s Finalizer server may be hard to recommend to somebody looking for a bit of cheap fun, but there’s still a whole lot that can be learned and admired about its experimental game design.