Following on from the one-two punch of the Galactic Moon Festival and Life Day events which take place at the end of every year, January always feels like a quiet month. Of course, the Ewok Festival of Love event will be spinning out in the next few weeks, but beyond that, there’s plenty of server-specific content being worked on ready to keep players hooked to Star Wars Galaxies throughout 2023.
This month has seen a lot of reflection on the accomplishments of the year that’s passed, and a little bit of excitement building for what is coming down the pike. We’re still mostly in the dark about what some servers have planned, while others are continuing along their roadmaps or building upon larger projects they began last year.
The big question remains to be answered: Will this be the year that SWGEmu finally launches the Suncrusher server? One thing we now know for sure is that serious development has finally begun on implementing space flight, and while this is still doubtless some years away from completion, it’s something that will provide a major boost to pre-CU servers once it enters into public testing.
Here’s this month’s biggest news stories from across the Star Wars Galaxies rogue server-verse.
In what is a first for NGE-based servers, new player races have been added to the game. New players can pick from one of nine new species options, including Togrutan, Chiss and Nightsisters. Those who already have characters on the server can utilise a Species Respec Voucher for a one-time change to a new species.
Empire in Flames (Pre-CU)
Following on from the success of their Taanab Harvest event at the end of last year, January saw the return of the Boonta Eve Celebration on Empire in Flames. Compete in Skyhopper races, track down or free runaway slaves, and defend against rival gangs to earn rewards from the Hutt clans who have graciously organised the event.
Since the release of the City in the Clouds expansion in 2021, the Legends server have been decidedly coy on what they’re working on next. This is a theme which is continued in their latest Community Transmission, which looks back on what’s been happening on the server over the past few months, and shines a spotlight on the community, including the incredible Seed Project.
Replies in their community Q&A section confirm that more space content is on the way and that the long-awaited second part of the Jedi Themepark is still in active development, but other than that we’re mostly in the dark as to what’s next. Last year saw the huge new ranching system shadow drop, so perhaps we might get a similar surprise later this year.
Playing an MMO in an unofficial capacity has evolved quite a lot in recent years. Way back when, Ultima Online fans set up private shards (or free shards) that would allow them to play custom versions of the game. Sometimes these would be just for themselves and a handful of friends to enjoy, and sometimes they’d see thousands of other players flock to them.
In time many other MMOs both popular and niche would find themselves in a similar position. Oftentimes, this was done to restore a version of the game that players preferred over the live game, where updates may have changed certain aspects of the experience. Just as popular these days however are servers which revive MMOs that have been shut down altogether.
There are no firmly defined ways to use the terms commonly associated with these different methods of playing MMOs, and admittedly I’m just as guilty of using them interchangeably here on this site. That’s something I’d like to rectify though as there are certain instances where it’s absolutely correct to use one term over another, and I think it would be to everyone’s benefit if the different types of ‘unofficial servers’ were more clearly defined.
This is a layman’s approach to things. I’ve absolutely no knowledge of how to reverse engineer a game myself and save from messing around a bit with local server set-ups I’ve never operated a game server of any kind. This is purely an attempt at adding a bit of clarification for those dipping their toes into these often murky waters.
What is an emulator?
In its simplest form, an emulator is a version of the original game which has been rebuilt from the ground up to replicate as closely as possible the game as it was at a certain point in time.
This is, in effect, the code which most private/rogue servers are running. The other being versions of a game’s source code which were released to the community either officially or leaked out into the public via some kind of security breach.
I would hasten to call leaked source code emulators as they’re not actually emulating anything. It’s not uncommon however for incomplete versions of source code to be obtained, with teams then working to ‘fill in the gaps’ with code which emulates the bits which were missing.
On the flipside, emulators may make changes or additions themselves to the game’s code. Just because they’re not emulating anything with this new code though, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t still emulators.
Examples of emulators include CMaNGOS (World of Warcraft), ACEmulator (Asheron’s Call), and EQEmu (EverQuest). While some emulation teams will also operate servers which run their code, these servers are not emulators themselves, but private/rogue servers e.g. SWGEmu (emulator) and Finalizer (the rogue server which the SWGEmu team operate).
What is a private server?
This is where things get a little bit trickier. Historically any server running an emulated MMOs code would be called a private server. But is a private server still a private server if they’re not trying to stay private? While some are more brazen than most, it’s fair to say that most private servers for games which are still in live operation try to keep a pretty low profile. That’s not to say that you need to know secret handshakes to get an invite (most are found with very simple searches), but it’s more likely that you’ll find them rather than they find you.
There are of course private servers of all types and sizes, and occasionally one will start to gain mainstream attention. This can end badly – such was the case with the WoW private server Nostalrius – or positively, as with Project 1999, which was officially sanctioned by EverQuest developer Daybreak.
Private servers and rogue servers alike often alter the code of an emulator – sometimes significantly – but as this new code isn’t emulating a pre-existing game it would be incorrect to label them as emulators.
With servers for long-shuttered games like Star Wars Galaxies, Warhammer Online, City of Heroes and Toontown reaching ever-wider audiences, it makes sense to designate them by a term which doesn’t lump them in with servers that are running alongside games which are still in live operation. Many of these servers have active communities across social platforms, have been featured on major gaming news sites, and present themselves in a legitimate manner. They’re really anything but private as they attempt to make as many old (and new) players aware of their existence.
That’s not to say that these servers have been officially sanctioned. Rather, it’s generally seen that they’re operating in some kind of legal grey area. So long as they’re not profiting from what they’re doing, it’s probably not in anybody’s interest to take action against these relatively small communities at the risk of engendering ill will towards future projects from the studios or IPs.
So, there we have it, from now on I’m going to try to follow the definitions I just set out in future articles that I write here at MMO Folklorist. Personally, I think it makes a whole lot of sense to differentiate between the two different server types, but what do you think? Will ‘rogue server’ ever catch on in general conversation? I’ve heard the term ‘zombie server’ used before, but I don’t think a shambling corpse is the best descriptor for the amazing work that volunteers have done in resurrecting, not to mention preserving these abandoned virtual worlds.
These days it’s easy to be sceptical about indie MMOs. The Kickstarter era brought big promises from developers – sometimes earnest, sometimes not – and left us with mostly empty hands (and for those who funded them, empty pockets). So, it is with a mix of optimism and slight caution that I’ve been keeping one eye on the progress of Starkeepers – an indie MMO which has opted to forego crowdfunding – since its announcement last summer.
While its first teaser trailer was too short to offer any insight as to how the game might play, it’s immediately obvious that, at the very least, Starkeepers has an appealing and identifiable visual sensibility. Oh sure there are all the usual castles, mountains, and forests that you’d come to expect in an MMO, but in amongst all the stonework and foliage are shocks of bioluminescent blues and purples. What these vibrant flares of colour are exactly we don’t yet know but given that the game is being referred to as a “celestial MMO”, it’s probably fair to say that there’s something space-y going on.
Rather than the traditional fantasy races of humans, elves and dwarves, you play as one of the titular Starkeepers. Some of these characters have already been revealed, with the general style being anthropomorphic spins on earth cultures such as Vikings and Kabuki. Again, the specifics of what a Starkeeper is are still clouded in mystery, but one thing that’s known is that the game won’t feature the kind of character creation that you’d expect from an MMO. Rather, there’s some sort of astral projection involved, whereby you take control of different hero characters each with unique playstyles and abilities.
Between Starkeepers and the recently announced Wayfinder, it seems like this might be a new trend in MMOs. The idea that in Starkeepers you play an astral being which finds themselves switching into these other forms at least offers an interesting reason behind why you don’t get to create your own character, and it still leaves an opportunity for players to roleplay, albeit as a metaphysical entity.
If the world of Starkeepers still feels a little vague (if intriguing), the gameplay is somewhat more fleshed out. Rather than the throwbacks which defined many indie MMOs of the last decade, this is very much a future-facing MMO, with an action combat system that looks remarkably fluid even at this early stage in development. The team’s love of the fighting game genre shines through, with attacks looking unusually impactful for an MMO – as though they’re actually connecting with the opponent.
Movement is one area where MMOs have lagged behind the rest of the industry, and it’s something I’m happy to see developers committing time and resources to bring up to scratch. The team at Wolfpack clearly want Starkeepers to be a zippy and engaging gameplay experience, and nailing the feel of running, jumping, and attacking is essential if they’re going to convince MMO veterans to accept the kind of platforming gameplay which has typically been an exercise in frustration.
All of this sounds great, but if the game is to have a hook, it would be its building system, which is equal parts player housing and fort building. Guild vs Guild battles could be interesting with the kind of team-based building that has been teased, but I only hope it isn’t entirely Sisyphean and that there will be opportunities for cooperative building without the fear of it all being smashed to pieces later in the evening.
Starkeepers feels like a game which is ambitious enough to stand out, yet honed in enough in its vision so that it doesn’t feel like something which will never see the light of day. With its mid-poly, stylised graphics, Starkeepers immediately brings to mind indies like Valheim and V Rising, and with its base-building mechanics and accessible horizontal progression, it’s easy to see Wolfpack’s MMO finding a similar audience.
But Starkeepers is very openly calling itself an MMO in its marketing, and it is how the game executes this which might elevate it to something more than just a flavour-of-the-month experience. Without a distinct avatar, Starkeepers will have to keep on thinking outside of the box if they want players to feel tied to the ethereal world they’ve created.
The horror genre has always been popular with gamers, but there have been relatively few horror MMOs. While games like Hellgate and Dark Eden were earlier examples of MMOs which tried to fill this niche, it wasn’t until The Secret World came along that the genre got its first, and arguably only, game to put not only horror imagery but horror gameplay at its fore.
Another core element of The Secret World which set it apart from its competitors was its modern-day ‘real world’ setting. Players visit locations from across the globe, with the only difference between this world and ours is that in The Secret World, every conspiracy theory is true. Accordingly, players must join one of three factions at the start of the game – the Templars, the Illuminati, or the Dragon – each with their own ideas on how to handle a world overrun with zombies, demons, and Lovecraftian entities.
Guiding The Secret World’s development was Ragnar Tørnquist, the acclaimed creator of adventure games The Longest Journey and its sequel Dreamfall. Initially teased by Tørnquist as The World Online, the game that would be revealed later in 2007 as The Secret World had been in development as early as 2002 under the name Cabal.
Following a mysterious poem posted on the Eurogamer website, a hidden secret code sent players to a forum that unveiled the game to the public for the first time. Further details on the game following its formal announcement were similarly eked out via an alternate reality game with fans scrabbling around the internet for clues. This set the tone for the game’s quest design – something which would become its most lauded feature.
As the ‘kill 10 rats’ style of quest became the genre’s most tiresome trope, The Secret World attempted to differentiate itself from its competitors by incorporating ‘investigation’ missions into its gameplay. These quests took inspiration from the modern adventure game that Tørnquist had helped to usher in with The Longest Journey. Rather than giving players a task and pointing them in the direction they need to go, The Secret World might present players with a piece of famous artwork – the artist of which players would need to find out if they wanted to unlock a nearby computer terminal whose password is the name of said artist. Other quests required players to decipher morse code, translate foreign languages, or even fold origami.
Because of this complex questing – fully voice acted by a cast which included recognisable names like Jeffrey Combs, Tim Russ, and Tara Strong – the game launched with a focus on quality rather than quantity. The three starting hub areas of London, New York, and Seoul would lead players to New England, Egypt, and finally Transylvania. Tørnquist had plans for a further 10-15 years of content which would see players reaching the highest levels of their respective secret societies.
With a lack of endgame content and only a scant few PvP maps at launch, players and critics alike were worried whether the game would suffer with retaining a large enough playerbase. Its faith in the subscription business model also seemed misplaced given the fast-spreading popularity of free-to-play and hybrid models being deployed throughout the genre.
Reviews were otherwise largely positive, with praise being heaped on the game’s investigation quests and world-building. The reception to its classless, horizontal character progression was mixed, with the consensus being that while it was a positive step forward for an element which had become a stale part of the MMO experience, some found it overly complex and not as radical as it had been hyped up in the pre-release marketing.
The Secret World presented its major updates as Issues, receiving a total of 15 between 2012 and 2016. With the launch of Issue #9: The Black Signal (November 2014), the game opened its fourth adventure location: Tokyo. While the next issues would continue adding content to this new area, Issue #10 would be followed by a sizeable patch in March 2015, dubbed the Enhanced Player Experience.
Yes, a studio really did give their update this name 10 years after the debacle of Star Wars Galaxies’ NGE. Although the combat changes in the EPE were generally well-received, as it would happen the patch was something of a CU to Galaxies’ NGE, with a bigger revamp to the game coming two years later.
The launch worries that The Secret World would struggle with player retention turned out to be not entirely unfounded. Some six months after launch the game shifted to a buy-to-play model, with a cash shop added alongside it. To generate further revenue for the game, later Issues were available as paid DLC rather than free updates, although this angered certain members of the community who had paid a considerable sum for the ‘Grandmaster’ lifetime subscription to the game.
By 2017, key members of the game’s development team – including Tørnquist and Game Director Joel Bylos – had departed the game, new content releases were becoming further spaced apart, and Funcom was emerging on the other side of several financially challenging years.
In an effort to revitalise the Secret World brand the studio released three small-scale spin-off titles (Hide and Shriek, The Park, and Moons of Madness), optioned the rights to a television series adaptation, and rereleased The Secret World as Secret World Legends.
Legends replaced the horizontal progression of the original game with a somewhat more traditional level-based system and changed the combat from a click-to-target to an action combat system. The biggest change of all though was the decision to finally make the game fully free to play.
But such a thing requires a large critical mass of players to support, and unfortunately within just a few months player numbers had levelled out to how they were before the revamp. The first major content patch, which took players to South Africa, wasn’t released until almost a full year after the relaunch.
Active development silently ceased thereafter, with the game’s story being left on an unsatisfying cliffhanger. The next planned location for the game was the Congo, with other locations, including the moon, having been teased over the years, but sadly never delivered upon.
Following the release of Secret World Legends, the old version of the game remained playable, but only for those who had already purchased it before the relaunch. With some players preferring the older version of the game and with no way to transfer characters from the legacy servers into SWL, the playerbase has been split ever since.
Thus, distinct communities have built up around the two versions of the game, both of which remain in maintenance mode.
Although these communities are small, the game’s legacy has only grown stronger in recent years, with the investigation missions and the story still being touted as some of the best that the genre has ever offered. Even if its Whedonesque dialogue falls a little flat a decade after the game launched, there’s still a lot to love in The Secret World, and it’s a shame that its failure has perhaps contributed to the genre’s continued unwillingness to venture beyond the safety of fantasy and sci-fi settings.
It’s probably fair to say that MMOs don’t have a history of remarkable cover art designs. They’ve frequently opted for a simplistic logo-only approach, which while clean and inoffensive, is highly uninspired. Their other great fault is that they all too often ignore the genre’s most obvious appeal – bringing characters of all different races and classes together to battle either monsters or each other.
Of course, these days physical game releases are mostly a thing of the past. Sure key art is still created to sell the game, but its function isn’t quite the same as the good old days of having to stand out against scores of other games on the shelves of bricks and mortar games stores.
Here are my favourites – some of which I have personal memories of, and others which I’ve only just begun to appreciate more in recent years.
10) Champions Online
This one sneaks onto the list simply by being the only box art for a superhero MMO which isn’t completely pants. City of Heroes – and its spin-off City of Villains – opted for a bland character render composition, while DC Universe Online put the focus on its cast of licensed characters (the one original creation, representing the player, is a terribly generic Flash lookalike.
Champions Online trumps them all by trading in on the comic book aesthetic. A dust-up between two derivative but colourful ‘supes in the foreground teases PvP combat, while behind them a host of other heroes zooming around an oversized robot hint at group PvE content.
I remember thinking this one was super naff and assumed it was a cheap Matrix rip-off when I saw it on shelves (which, let’s be honest, it very clearly was trying to emulate). With its skin-tight PVC outfits and over-sexualised posing it didn’t really do much to entice me into its virtual world.
Kudos however goes to the excellent tagline “You’ll never die alone!”, which goes so hard that it just about saves the whole thing.
8) Lego Universe Online
Despite arriving at a time of both peak hype for Lego games and kids’ MMOs, Lego Universe Online failed to take off. This box art kind of has it all though. You can play as a knight, a ninja, a pirate, or Doc Ock.
The foreground displays several different locations and there are even some evil minifigs. One thing I also like is the inclusion of “Massively Multiplayer Online Game” under the title and several other statements at the bottom ensuring that parents are exactly aware of what they’re buying for their children.
7) Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning
On its surface, this could be a piece of art from any of Warhammer’s range of miniatures, books, or games. Look closer though and you’ll see amongst the melee every kind of race, gender and class represented.
With Age of Reckoning’s emphasis on PvP, this box art does exactly what it needs to do to appeal to fans of the franchise.
6) Final Fantasy XIV (Collector’s Edition)
Is it cheating to include a collector’s edition? It’s Yoshitaka Amano so who gives a hoot. You could just as easily swap this out for any of his other Final Fantasy XI/XIV collector’s edition artworks, but I feel as though this one, from the FFXIV base game’s collector’s edition, is the piece which could most easily stand alone. It’s also a great representation of the Warrior of Light as Hydaelyn’s chosen hero.
5) Dragon Quest X
It’s frankly absurd that Dragon Quest X – an actual mainline title in one of gaming’s biggest franchises – has never been ported over to the west. I refuse to believe that a game with such vibrant cover art – featuring character designs by Akira Toriyama – couldn’t have made an impact.
4) Phantasy Star Online
Speaking of anime-inspired MMOs, Phantasy Star Online was not only the very first console MMO but also one of the first big MMOs to be released in the west which wasn’t fantasy based.
Arriving at the height of the late-90s anime wave, and at a time when most people outside of the PC gaming hardcore had no real knowledge of online games, let alone ones which were cooperative RPGs, this game’s box art (on the Sega Dreamcast no less) carried an aura of mystique which would be hard to explain to gamers growing up today.
Ah, Vanguard. What promise ye had. Releasing at the zenith of World of Warcraft’s success, there were a lot of MMO fans clamouring for exactly the kind of game that Vanguard’s box art appeared to offer.
With EverQuest 2 having gone for a similarly stylised aesthetic to WoW, and Ultima Online and Everquest starting to get a little bit long in the tooth, there was a certain appeal in the kind of ‘serious’ high fantasy that Vanguard was rocking. Sadly, despite a literal golden land shining in the background of the cover art, there was nothing of the sort to be found in the game itself.
2) Star Wars: The Old Republic
The Old Republic’s box art was the perfect embodiment of the big-budget blockbuster that the game promised to be. Featuring an illustrative look rather than the ‘futuristic’ CG renders which had been the hallmarks of every other sci-fi MMO cover art to this point, The Old Republic felt like both a serious entry in the Star Wars franchise and a very serious contender for the MMO crown.
As it would happen this would turn out to be one of the last MMOs to get a physical release. It’s only fitting that the best would be one of the very first…
It would be hard to overstate the impact which the late Keith Parkinson’s key art for EverQuest had on the MMORPG genre.
While EverQuest’s main rival – Ultima Online – had opted for a very simplistic but classy box art, Parkinson’s boldly nerdy fantasy art was a calling card to every D&D, Tolkien, and Games Workshop fan who longed to live out their fantasies in a shared virtual world.
Parkinson would go on to illustrate Firiona Vie and her party on all the key art for EverQuest’s early expansions, and would also contribute to Vanguard’s box art. For two *ahem* quite obvious reasons, you wouldn’t be seeing fantasy art like this adorning game boxes today, but its aesthetic is still, in a way, timeless.
No other MMO cover approaches the iconic, enduring status of Parkinson’s EverQuest artwork, thus securing its place forever as the best MMO box art of all time.
Agree, disagree? Let me know your own favourite MMO cover designs down in the comments section.
Of course, procedural generation has been used in game design for a while now. No Man’s Sky uses it to produce its 18 quintillion planets, Dwarf Fortress creates “deeply generated world[s]” which have earned it a fanbase which belies its uber-simplistic aesthetic, and Source of Madness combines the roguelike experience – a genre rife with procedurally generated level design – with AI-generated Lovecraftian monsters.
As far back as the late 1990’s Raph Koster was working on procedural generation technology for use in the cancelled Privateer Online, and advancements in this tech would later make their way into Star Wars Galaxies. I confess, that a lot of the tech jargon here goes over my head, but it’s interesting to imagine how this latest round of generative AI tools might be used in future MMOs.
Daily quests could be made a lot more interesting with something like ChatGPT generating flavour text, but what might be more exciting still is to integrate this technology with player-created content. After a micro-boom some years back with systems such as Star Wars Galaxies’ Chronicle Master profession and Star Trek Online and Neverwinter’s Foundry systems, this MMO feature has been disappointingly neglected.
The main reasons for this are likely that a) most player-created quests were rubbish, and b) it requires a lot of moderation. Both problems which could potentially be solved with some integration of procedurally generated scripting. It may not necessarily allow for quite as much raw creativity from the players who excelled at quest creation, but I would hazard a guess that really good examples from thoughtful creators would still be able to stand out from the pack, while the general mass would be of at least a baseline level of acceptable quality.
Another problem with these quests has traditionally been that they don’t allow users to offer interesting rewards for completing them. Could integration of a tool such as Midjourney allow unique paintings or other decorations for players to hang in their homes?
Of course, these things substantially inflate the game’s database – something which held back early games in the genre from having too many unique items – but I can only hazard a guess that it’s less of an issue today.
Perhaps we will see entire quest lines created, or indeed procedurally generated on the fly, with these new tools. I don’t however foresee them taking over entirely from those created by actual human minds and hands. While basic kill, collect, and deliver missions could probably be handled fairly efficiently by the technology, I would guess that we’re still some ways off an AI-generated story which is quite on the same level as Final Fantasy XIV’s, or from quest design that could match up to The Secret World’s.
On the whole, I think procedural generation will result in something of a paradigm shift in how we distinguish between ‘content’ and ‘art’. In the new few years, I speculate that there will be a lot of projects spring up across every creative industry touting that they’re entirely AI-generated. This will include games themselves, and the websites – such as this one – that provide content around them.
It’s possible that we may even see an entire MMO created by AI. And it might be very popular – as with all the projects which will be first through the door in offering exclusively AI-generated content.
But they will be a novelty. Because AI cannot create art – it creates content.
Beautiful though that content may be, people will always want to know that a song, film, book, or game is reflecting a genuine human’s emotion if it is attempting to say anything beyond the surface level. It’s something I’m frankly looking forward to in the hopes that we can finally move away from the current trend of referring to everything as mere content. A devaluation of all the manhours and emotion which is poured into the act of creation.
Let me know in the comments how you think AI will be integrated into MMOs. Would an unending supply of procedurally generated content be a good thing for MMOs? Do you care if a game contains a human fingerprint at all?
Star Wars Galaxies’ official servers were shuttered in 2011. Even before it closed however players were keeping the flame alive on rogue servers (sometimes also referred to as private servers or emulators) such as SWGEmu. Over a decade after that shutdown, there are now a whole host of options for players wanting to either relive their time in the game or experience it for the very first time.
Sadly, getting into the game isn’t quite as easy as hitting install on Steam, but thankfully it doesn’t require too much time and effort once you know how.
Where can I find a copy of the Star Wars Galaxies discs?
Remember when you had to put actual CDs into your computer to install a game? If you want to play Star Wars Galaxies in 2023, most servers will require that you have a physical copy of the game.
If you played the game back on the live servers you might still have your copy stashed away in your garage, or if you’re like me, proudly displayed on your shelves. If that isn’t the case, then you’re going to have to go shopping.
Unfortunately, it’s rather unlikely you’re going to find a brand-spanking new copy in your local retail game store (if your town or city even still has one of those). It’s possible that a nearby retro, used goods, donation, or thrift store may have a copy, but your best bet is to find a copy online.
Amazon and eBay should be your first port of call, but as the game has been out of print for many years you may have to prepare yourself to hand over a fair bit of cash. You will find however that some versions of the game are cheaper than others.
Which version of Star Wars Galaxies should I buy?
Between its launch in 2003 and the shutdown in 2011, the game was re-released in several different versions. Any physical copies of Star Wars Galaxies will work so long as they include a copy of the base game. This means that individual expansion releases and beta discs are the only ones to avoid (unless you want them as collectable items).
You do not need to have physical copies of the expansions in order to play that content on rogue servers.
At launch, Star Wars Galaxies was released in a regular edition and a collector’s edition. The regular edition was available both as a big box release and in a standard jewel case, while the collector’s edition came in a larger package and featured several additional trinkets such as a pewter figurine, pin badge and art book.
While the regular edition of the game is relatively easy to come by, an intact version of the collector’s edition is far less common and likely to set you back significantly more money.
When SWG’s first expansion, Jump to Lightspeed, was released, it was only made available as a stand-alone physical release. Therefore, having a copy of these discs would not be sufficient to play one of the Star Wars Galaxies rogue servers, as they won’t install a full copy of the game.
Alongside the second expansion for the game, Rage of the Wookiees, a physical edition dubbed The Total Experience came packaged with both the base game and the Jump to Lightspeed expansion. Similarly, the third expansion, Trials of Obi-Wan, was released in a comparable package called The Complete Online Adventures. As they contain the base game on the discs, both The Total Experience and The Complete Online Adventures are valid copies of the game which will allow you to play on rogue servers.
Finally, a version of the game called The Starter Kit was released alongside the game’s major NGE overhaul in 2005. This version is also sufficient for playing on rogue servers.
How do I play Star Wars Galaxies without a disc?
Towards the later years of its lifespan Star Wars Galaxies was available as a digital download from SOE’s online store, as well as other digital storefronts such as Steam.
Unfortunately, you can no longer buy Star Wars Galaxies from Steam, but if you purchased it on your account before the game closed down then you can still install the game from there.
Otherwise, downloading an ISO of the game’s installation discs is considered a legal grey area and is therefore not advisable. If you have a copy of the discs however but do not have a disc drive from which to install them you can find an ISO of the game on the SWG subreddit.
Alternatively, some rogue servers, such as SWG Restoration, come with a copy of the game’s files in their installer. It is however still advisable that you own a physical copy of the discs as the game is not officially classed as abandonware.
Can my computer run Star Wars Galaxies?
When it was released, Star Wars Galaxies was a demanding game for even high-end PCs. 20 years later however the game will run on pretty much any desktop PC or laptop. The game was notorious for its poor optimization, so even the fastest computers may still encounter the occasional stutter with shadow and terrain options at max, but many rogue servers have done additional work to improve this.
Although the Steam Deck is still quite new, some players have already managed to get Star Wars Galaxies running on it. Video footage shows that the game runs quite smoothly, but Reddit user Dr_Fumi reports that “The FPS can drop in certain areas, the controller configuration can be buggy at times, and I’ve had it crash on me once so far.”
Which version of Star Wars Galaxies should I play?
There were three distinct eras in SWG’s lifespan. These are commonly referred to as the pre-CU, CU, and NGE eras. Each one offers a different kind of gameplay experience, and while the pre-CU may regularly be hailed as the best version of the game, it may not be the best version for you specifically.
With so many different rogue servers offering their own spin on these eras, things are complicated even further. If you played the game while it was live you will likely already have a preferred era and if that’s the case then you’re best off heading towards one of the servers which reflects that.
Each rogue server will have its own installation process, but they’re all simple to follow. Once you’ve installed the game’s files from your discs, you can go ahead and download the installer from the rogue server you want to play on.
When running the installer, you will usually have to point it to the folder where you installed your discs, and then the rogue server will create a separate folder with its own server-specific files.
For servers which run on the SWGEmu code (An Empire in Flames, Sunrunner II, Dark Rebellion etc), you’ll need to install SWGEmu beforehand. This isn’t the case for servers running the NGE source code (Legends, Beyond, Restoration etc).
You can go ahead and install as many servers as you want at a time without conflicts. Just like any other MMO, future updates to each server are downloaded and installed via their own launchpads.
Is Star Wars Galaxies worth trying in 2023?
There are several different reasons why Star Wars Galaxies might still be worth playing – whether you’re a new player or a returning one.
If you played the game some years ago the main reason why you may want to return is nostalgia. Even if you don’t want to devote tens or hundreds of hours to the game you can still have a great time in SWG just by creating a new character, listening to John Williams’ score, and hanging out in the cantina.
If you’ve never played the game before you may find a similar sense of enjoyment doing the same things, but the dated aspects of the game may somewhat hamper the experience. SWG’s lightly stylised graphics aren’t quite as jarring as other games from the same era, so that isn’t so much of an issue. The main thing you’ll have to keep your expectations in check for is the lack of accessibility and quality-of-life options that you would expect from modern games.
This is less of a problem on the NGE servers which feel more akin to the MMOs of today, but if you want to experience the older version of SWG which many people still rave about, then you will have to be willing to spend quite some time getting to grips with the game’s many complex systems, arcane controls, and grind-heavy gameplay.
If however, you’ve got a passion for video game history – or just want to experience a true Star Wars sandbox – that shouldn’t hold you back from trying the game out. We’re extremely fortunate to be in a position where it’s even possible to play the game again, and the community in general is more than willing to offer help (and gear) to new players.
Now Strife isn’t saying here that all games should be shorter, or that shorter games are in any way preferable to longer games. He’s just saying that length doesn’t have any direct correlation to quality.
Naturally, the replies are… a mixed bag, but one bothersome remark which comes up several times is that, in essence, “If I pay $xx for a game I expect it to be at least so many hours long”.
The issue with trying to impose some minimum required number of hours per $ spent on a game is that it just further reinforces the idea of games as mere content rather than as art. Something made to do nothing more than fill, by any means necessary, the increasingly more precious yet undervalued hours of our overburdened days.
And look, I’m not saying that sometimes a game that’s just full to the rafters with hours of simple, repetitive, non-faculty-straining stuff to do isn’t exactly what you need. Heck, I mainly play MMOs, so I’m quite familiar with the idea of whiling away the hours of an evening doing dailies so I can get that little dopamine high that comes when you get yet another token to add to your currency chest.
I don’t walk away from those sessions thinking “well, that justified the half buck that made up today’s part of my $15 monthly subscription”.
On the flip side I haven’t ever watched the end credits roll on a game I spent $60 on and pulled out a calculator to work out how much each hour of the game cost me. And I’ve played a lot of movie tie-in games down the years, so trust me, it ain’t all hundred hour JRPG epics up in here.
Of course I’ve played games that were disappointing. I’ve played straight-up howlers that I genuinely regret handing over money for. But that had nothing to do with how long the game lasted.
I’m not coming at this from a position of privilege either. I’ve very rarely ever brought a game at its full retail price. When I was growing up a ‘new’ game was more often than not a deeply reduced game that was released three years ago. Usually, my only exposure to chart titles was a weekend Blockbuster rental, in which case I’d be dead chuffed if the game was short enough that I could play the whole thing before I had to reluctantly hand it back over.
These days I’ve got an unending backlist, and because I’m always on the lookout for a freebie (thanks Epic Games Store), I seldom feel as though I can justify buying a game when I have so many great ones already waiting to be installed.
Outside of the never-discounted realm of first-party Nintendo games though, the last two games I brought at full price were Star Wars: Battlefront II, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, and Star Wars: Squadrons (noticing a theme?). All of them had a completion time of around 8-20 hours, and I didn’t feel short-changed by any of them.
And let’s be honest, that wasn’t because they’re masterpieces. I had a good time in them and they didn’t outstay their welcome (I’m talking about the single-player campaign for Battlefront II, not the multiplayer). I wasn’t misled by any marketing which had me believe that they were sprawling epics so all in all I felt as though I got what I expected.
Not what I expected for the dollar amount that I spent buying the game, but rather, what I expected of the game itself.
There’s another argument which goes something along the lines of “I don’t mind if a game is only 20 hours long, as long as there are 80 more hours of extra things I can do if I want to”. It’s just totally nonsensical to expect or desire the people who set out to create games to bulk them out with more story, more side-quests, and more banal collectables, just so they can justify slapping a full price tag on it.
There are some games which suit this kind of thing. RPGs being the most obvious genre. Perhaps the best example of this is the Pokemon games, which have a main story generally in the region of 30-40 hours but have a secondary goal (catching ’em all) which is just as important as winning the Pokemon League.
It’s a fantastic template because the ‘extra stuff’ is baked into the very fabric of the game design. If every game had to have such a meaningful secondary goal running parallel to the main story though it would just be a wild burden on creativity.
Among all this chatter you’ll find people sensibly arguing that we don’t impose lengths on books, movies, or music, so if we want to hold up videogames alongside them we have to treat them the same way.
My worry is, that rather than slowly seeing videogames pushed in the direction of those mediums, we’re starting to see attitudes to those other mediums match that of videogames.
The strange thing is, I’m not actively seeing people ask for 3-hour movies in the same way that they ask for 40 hour (minimum) games, but I wonder if movie studios are clued into the present mode of thought where games, films, television etc are thought of more as content than as art and are giving us a constant barrage of almost-3 hour movies just because they think audiences will feel less aggrieved by ever-rising ticket prices if they can justify that their transaction is filling a sufficient portion of their 24 daily hours with content.
Huge games are fantastic. It’s great to feel completely sucked into a big open world where you know you can spend hours and hours growing your character and seeking out every little secret. That’s the reason why a game like Elden Ring was showered with praise and awards for all of last year. Just building such a game on that scale is an almost unfathomable feat. But to build one which is that good? It’s borderline magic.
That’s a term they use for films too: “Lawrence of Arabia is movie magic”, you’ll hear. A big, lavish, wildly ambitious production that never misses a beat for the entirety of its whopping 227 minute running time.
Well you know what, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is movie magic too, and frankly I’m perfectly happy that it’s over in 83 minutes.
Usually, it’s pretty easy to get started playing a new MMO. These days you don’t even have to head out to a bricks and mortar store. Just find the game’s digital store page, hit download, create an account and you’re on your way.
Some games, such as World of Warcraft and RuneScape have alternative versions of the game available, but it’s pretty clear which is suitable for each kind of player. That’s not the case for Star Wars Galaxies though. There are now over a dozen different rogue servers hosting versions of the game, each with its own rulesets, content, and gameplay systems.
Whether you’re looking to try the game for the first time, or a returning player, finding the server that’s right for you can make getting started a difficult proposition. Suffice it to say, there’s a Star Wars Galaxies server for every kind of MMO gamer, and this guide is here to help you figure out which ones you should try out for yourself.
Pre-CU vs CU vs NGE
Before we get to it, there’s one essential difference between many of the servers, and it makes a massive difference to how the game plays. During its eight-year lifespan, there were two major overhauls which changed SWG’s fundamental gameplay mechanics. These updates were known as the CU and the NGE. Each version has its fans (and haters), so it’s important to find the one which best suits the kind of MMO you enjoy.
The period of the game which spanned from launch in 2003 until May 2005 is commonly known as the pre-CU era. This was the era you’ll have likely heard people waxing lyrical about down the years, as it is so different to most modern MMOs. The pre-CU was a true sandbox experience, with an emphasis on player customisation, interactivity, and economy. There were few quests, with players instead encouraged to cooperate with the rest of the community to enact their own Star Wars fantasies.
The CU was the shortest period in SWG’s lifespan and is something of a middle ground between the two versions of the game which existed on either side of it. It retains many of the sandbox elements of the pre-CU, but it has faster-paced combat and a more traditional levelling system.
The NGE changed the game from a sandbox to a more modern themepark style MMO. The number of professions was trimmed considerably, and quests became the main way to level your character. Combat was fast and dynamic, and crucially you could play as a Jedi right from the start. NGE servers also allow you to play the game’s Jump to Lightspeed expansion, letting you build and fly your very own spaceship.
With that in mind, even if you sound like the kind of person suited to the recommendations I’ve made below, you may find that you simply don’t get on with one version of the game. If that is the case, then try an alternative suggestion which is based on another version of the game.
The First Timer: Legends (NGE)
If Star Wars Galaxies had never shut down, then it’s entirely possible that it may today resemble the SWG Legends server. They’ve continued on a similar trajectory as the development team who were working on the game in its final years, adding new quests, balancing and diversifying professions, and fostering the community through in-game events.
In recent years they released a full-fledged expansion, The City in the Skies, which takes players to Bespin, and they’ve also created an entirely new profession with their ranching and farming system.
Most importantly for new players, they’ve made a huge number of optimisations both to how the game runs and to how it plays. This not only makes it one of the most stable servers but also one which is the friendliest to players who are used to the kind of quality of life features typically found in modern MMOs.
Alternative suggestion: An Empire in Flames (pre-CU), has rebalanced many systems in the game, removing some of its more impenetrable aspects without oversimplifying them.
The Historian: SWGEmu (Pre-CU)
If you want to take yourself back in time to 2004 to experience SWG in the form which is commonly hailed as the game’s golden era, then SWGEmu is the perfect server for you. Faithfully recreating the game in the image of its final patch before the CU, SWGEmu is for better or worse, a relic of gaming’s past.
The secrets may all be revealed, the combat may be an unbalanced flop around, and the gameplay may be as alien as the residents of the Mos Eisley cantina, but it sure is great that this time capsule exists. The Finalizer server is the latest, and final, testing server before the ‘launch’ server (tentatively known as Suncrusher) launches alongside SWGEmu’s upcoming 1.0 patch. From there on out the team has intimated that they will develop new content, although a server hosting the game in its final, untouched, pre-CU state will remain.
The Alternative: Restoration (CU)
Is this the server that will bring balance to the Force? Primarily recreating the combat of the CU but borrowing a little bit from every era of the game, Restoration found itself a gap in a crowded market when it launched in 2022.
They’ve got big plans for the future and want to present a modern vision of the game. With a unique philosophy on the core aspects of the game, Restoration isn’t afraid to push boundaries in its quest to bring SWG to new audiences.
Alternative suggestion: Infinity (pre-CU) isn’t a server you’ll hear mentioned often in general conversation, mainly because they have no social media presence. That hasn’t stopped the server from quietly adding loads of new content and features over the past few years, including most recently a themepark based on The Mandalorian TV show.
The Cool Kid: An Empire in Flames (Pre-CU)
Barely a month goes by that the Empire in Flames team doesn’t release or tease something that doesn’t blow me away. Whether it’s adding cool new immersive features like holocomms, yet another player species option or planet, or new weapons like miniguns, flame thrower gauntlets, or inquisitor-style spinning lightsabers, An Empire in Flames epitomises the phrase “I didn’t know I need it until I saw it”.
Alternative suggestion: When it comes to just offering a sheer abundance of new things to do, SWG Legends really can’t be beaten. Every aspect of the game has been built upon in some way, with every kind of player catered for.
The Indie Gamer: Sunrunner II (Pre-CU)
No matter what version of SWG you played, it might be said that the concept of the game was more beloved than the often rather janky end product. Raph Koster and his team envisioned a game with ambitions that never quite aligned with the mass-market blockbuster that LucasArts and SOE wanted. So things were rushed, systems were cut, and ultimately the game was repackaged to try and capture a completely different kind of player.
It’s perhaps surprising, given fans’ love of the franchise, that there wasn’t a dedicated SWG roleplaying server until last year. Dark Rebellion isn’t your average SWG server though. While it’s based on the pre-CU code, the combat mechanics, game systems, and even the world design have all been completely overhauled so that the game plays like a tabletop D20 campaign.
Alternative suggestion: If you want a more traditional Star Wars Galaxies roleplaying experience then Empire in Flames is a great option, with heaps of amazing improvements that help build immersion. No other server has as many ways of letting you customise your character, and you can even play a fully functioning game of pazaak.
The Endgamer: Beyond (NGE)
If you like the challenge of tough endgame content and regular PvP, Beyond has you covered every night of the week. Friday night is always fight night on Beyond, but events running on other nights of the week might have the community challenging their exclusive 16-person Tusken Army: Hardmode heroic or taking on one of their legendary world bosses.
Alternative suggestion: Similarly, the long-running Sentinel’s Republic (pre-CU) server has been holding regular community events for years now. These events are story driven, with the community having to come together to solve a mystery, take down an invasion force, or even figure their way out of an escape house.
The QA Tester: Project SWG (CU/NGE)
Whereas the existing NGE servers operate from a leaked version of the SWG source code, Project SWG is attempting to rebuild the game from the ground up, just as the SWGEmu team have done for the pre-CU version of the game.
As well as an NGE emulator, they’re also working on an emulator for the CU. If you’re the kind of player who enjoys testing and breaking early access games, then the Project SWG server could use your help as they continue to regularly implement new features.
The Villager: Awakening, myswg, New Beginnings, Reckoning, Resurgence, Rogue One, Tarkin’s Revenge
Star Wars Galaxies isn’t just a live service game. It’s a virtual world. A place to make friends, hang out, and immerse yourself. A huge community and constant changes aren’t necessary, and if you’re the kind of person who just wants to find somewhere new to hang your hat then there are a handful of rogue servers out there that are just as worthy of your attention as any of those mentioned above.
You’d be hard-pressed to think of a fictional universe with better MMORPG potential than George Lucas’ Star Wars. LucasFilm were one of the genre’s early pioneers with their title Habitat debuting way back in 1986, and their partnering with Verant Interactive – the studio behind EverQuest – seemed like a dream match when Star Wars Online was announced in 2000. That same year Verant was acquired by SOE, with Ultima Online veterans Raph Koster and Rich Vogel heading up a new Austin-based studio to begin development on the game that would become Star Wars Galaxies.
Much of their vision for the game was built upon the same ethos which had guided Ultima Online’s development, as well as the MUDs which had in turn informed the development of that game. The decision to make SWG a player-driven sandbox rather than a more on-rails virtual world had a certain appeal to hardcore Star Wars fans who relished the prospect of co-inhabiting the worlds they had grown up watching on the silver screen.
At the same time, there was a growing concern that the game may struggle to entice a wider, mainstream audience, given the insistence by the developers that – in keeping with the franchise canon – players would take on a role more akin to Uncle Owen than Luke Skywalker. This sentiment was echoed in the game’s middling reviews when, following several delays, SWG finally hit store shelves on June 26, 2003.
Still, the game’s playerbase quickly grew to become the second largest in the genre. While its points-based skill system alienated those looking for more action-oriented gameplay, those who stuck around enjoyed the freedom that it offered in being able to build a unique character. As well as traditional MMO roles such as rifleman and medic, players could choose to add non-combat skills to their builds such as crafting, merchant, and entertainer skills.
Mounts, player cities, and droids were among the many aspects of the game which were either added or improved upon in the first year of the game’s release, with many fans remembering this as its golden era.
As subscriber numbers failed to climb however LucasArts’ focus turned to Jedi in the hope of reviving interest. Envisioned as an alpha class that few players would ever unlock, the producers instructed the development team to begin dropping hints on the forums to hasten the game’s first player Jedi. The first unlock happened on November 7, 2003, with many more joining them in the subsequent weeks and months.
In October 2004 the Jump to Lightspeed expansion was unanimously hailed as a triumph upon its release. In allowing players to build and fly their own starships, a second development team, which had been working on the expansion since before Galaxies had launched, effectively added a whole new twitch-combat space sim onto the original game. Just as some players chose to play the game entirely as non-combat entertainers or crafters, so did others elect to spend their time almost entirely in space, landing only to perform maintenance on their starship.
Two years after the game had launched however it was becoming apparent that the existing class system was unsustainable if the game was to continue growing both in content and subscriber numbers. The queue-based combat was turgid, and the developers were in a constant battle to balance the game’s 30+ skill trees.
In early 2005 an overhaul dubbed the Combat Upgrade (CU) was launched to a less than enthusiastic reception. Subscriber numbers dipped as a result, but a quick succession of patches began to fix the new system’s early woes and player numbers swiftly returned to their pre-CU levels.
While some maintained that the old combat system was better, swathes of the population were beginning to concede that the CU was an improvement – one that was not quite as radical as the kneejerk reaction had made it seem.
Internally however plans for an exponentially more ambitious overhaul were being drawn up between LucasArts and SOE as World of Warcraft’s behemoth subscriber base redefined the measure of success in the genre.
The New Game Enhancements (NGE) launched on November 15, 2005 – just a few short months after the Combat Upgrade. Promising an FPS-lite, twitch-based combat system and a more traditional levelling experience which did away with the skill points system and replaced it with just nine “iconic and Star Wars-y” professions, the game’s new mandate was to effectively abandon its sandbox roots and become a sci-fi clone of its leading competitor.
The backlash was both widespread and immediate, attracting attention from mainstream media outlets such as The Washington Post and The New York Times as players angrily protested the changes and quit in droves. LucasArts and SOE’s mishandling of the situation cemented the debacle as an enduring example of how not to operate a live service game.
The negative reception to these changes overshadowed the two expansions which launched in 2005, and it would be another two years before the game began to see new content added in earnest as successive patches were dedicated to getting SWG back to a playable, if never truly polished, state.
Subscriber numbers eventually rose again but never exceeded the game’s early numbers, let alone approached WoW’s. Later updates improved the game dramatically and brought back many of the sandbox elements, but that didn’t stop LucasArts from sunsetting the game when it launched The Old Republic in 2011.
Since the launch of the CU in 2005, a group of players had been working on rebuilding an emulated version of the game as it was before the changes. As of 2022, the SWGEmu team have almost completely accomplished their goal, with public test servers having been in operation since 2011.