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Star Wars: Galaxies - Episode III Rage of the Wookiees (Windows)

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Written by  :  BurningStickMan (17745)
Written on  :  Feb 03, 2011
Rating  :  3.6 Stars3.6 Stars3.6 Stars3.6 Stars3.6 Stars

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Summary

Episode III: The War-Worn Wilderness of Wookie-World

The Good

Rage of the Wookies marks Galaxies' third expansion; timed to release as Revenge of the Sith hit theaters in the U.S. The expansion opens up the Wookie homeworld of Kashyyyk to exploration - both ground and space areas - adds new equipment, new quests, and for better and worse, includes some fundamental changes to the Galaxies system.

First off, the planet itself: While woodlands had been done before (the SWG interpretation of Endor being the obvious comparison), Kashyyyk still manages to stand on its own as a distinct location. The entire planet has an appropriate jungle vibe, helped by new artwork (such as tropical plants and Wookie villages) and new filter effects. The lack of technology, coupled with the abundance of unique, free-roaming critters, certainly makes Kashyyyk seem like the untamed world it's supposed to be.

The main Galaxies game had areas dubbed "theme parks" by the players. Adventurers who happened upon them would find a linear series of missions (still not quite quests in the traditional sense) that would lead them around the galaxy and into the confidence of various characters from Star Wars canon. Kashyyyk itself is built like an enormous theme park. Multiple mission threads can be picked up and followed, covering everything from Clone War relics, Rodian politics, and freeing (or enslaving) the Wookies from their Imperial and Trandoshan captors. The quest writing here was some of the best up to that point, and the diverse tasks were a welcome and entertaining change from the daily Bol grinds.

A major issue with the theme parks was their outdated reliance on timed loot drops located out in the world, which led to lines of campers waiting up to hours for a mission-critical item to respawn. Rage fixes this by introducing instanced areas to the game, and wastes no time in putting them to use on Kashyyyk. Unlike any other planet, Kash features a central area acting as a hub, with other major sections of the planet instanced off and accessed through gates. The hub area (where all incoming players arrive) is based around Kachirho - the closest thing the Wookies have to a capital city. Kachirho already looks like nothing previously seen in the game, so it says something that the outlying areas of the planet continue to look strikingly distinct.

From Kachirho, players will hit canonical highlights such as the multiple levels of the Rryatt trail, the hunting grounds of Etyyy, or even the Trandoshan slaver base Avatar Station in orbit. Each of these areas have characteristic art and use of filters, like the white ash of the Mysess Glade, or the green haze of the main area. These really are different areas than anything else seen in Galaxies, and a joy to visit.

The expansion isn't obsolete in today's SWG, either. All of the created content comes together to give new players a rich path of content to ride all the way to the level cap. Kashyyyk fits neatly into an early-mid level (CL 25 or so) player's path to 80. After finishing the Legacy quests, you'll be in good shape to head to Kash and enjoy a strong series of quests taking you to about CL 50 - after which, Meatlumps and Mustafar await.

The Bad

Most of the "bad" things about Rage are a combination of genuine improvements hampered by bits of poor planning or execution. One example would be how tightly intertwined the expansion is with Jump to Lightspeed (which was included with Rage). Many quest threads started on the ground will have missions up in space - such as chasing a smuggler, completing a mining contract, or infiltrating Avatar Station.

It breaks the rigid separation between ground and space that was enforced in JtL, and is overall makes these quests more engaging. However, it requires the player to invest in the space game. Missions require a pilot at least midway through their separate JtL leveling, and the ground side can't be continued until the space side is done. I had no issues with this "back in the day," when players had been galavanting around in space for nearly half a year prior to this release. But when playing more recently on a character that hadn't spent much time in space, I was completely stuck.

Similarly, space mining introduced a new potential economy connecting JtL players to traders. New recipes (such as an extremely useful vehicle repair kit) required asteroid resources to produce. These required outfitting ships with special mining lasers and cargo holds, then blasting away at floating rocks and collecting their fragments. Every so often, you'd have to land your ship to clear out a full cargo hold, then head back up and repeat. This wasn't exactly compelling gameplay.

Nor was it that profitable, as the asteroid market never really took off. My trader friends basically settled on a policy of "bring me the asteroids and I'll make you the gear," instead of keeping a stock of resources on hand themselves as they did with everything else. Making matters worse, the new Y-8 multiplayer mining ship - specifically designed for harvesting asteroids on a massive scale - was pretty rubbish at this task. Turrets and tractor beams were not placed optimally, and even a full crew couldn't pull yields worth the time and trouble. This limited miners to using fighters, which were restricted to smaller beams and smaller holds, but maneuverable enough to chase down the fragments. However, mining with a fighter kept returns low, which helped keep the whole enterprise as a sort of tertiary oddity.

As said before, there were some great quests - from helping a clone get revenge on his corrupt commander, to helping Boba Fett himself track down some relics (you even give some dude the severed finger of his partner to get him to talk). These quests also dropped some stellar loot, from poison swords to complete starship deeds. A particular quest gave a set of clone armor that bestowed the benefits of the highest factional armor to players at a level nearly half the required cap. Naturally, this armor became a new standard for growing players.

So while this loot was great, it was also far better than anything the player traders could produce. Rage had top-of-the-line rewards in almost every area, cutting out player crafters at every turn. Traders complained that these items should have been schematics instead, and they had a point, but SOE pretty clearly wanted to encourage everyone else to enjoy the quests, without having to rely on the delayed services of another player to collect their reward. The writing for traders was on the wall.

The instanced areas did help prevent other players from interfering with your quest, but it didn't solve another big issue - hidden items. In a presumed attempt at realism, quests would often ask you to find an object (such as a lost backpack) with only a general area of where to find it. Like looking for a dropped contact lens, you were expected to walk around and search the entire area for the tiny object needed to continue. Rage continues this trend gloriously, hiding small objects within lush jungle foliage. Luckily, players could pull coordinates from websites or forums and create in-game waypoints (complete with shining in-game beacons marking the way). Without this feature, many of Rage's quests would be nearly intolerable.

Rage introduced cybernetic parts to the game, both as rewards and as a death penalty. Quests led players to find cyber limbs on Kash with useful special powers (such as an accurate sniper shot, or a recharging resurrect ability). Players could have their limb replaced with the new part, for a fee, and see the new limb on their character model. At the other end of the spectrum, dying gave a random chance to be brought back with stat-lowering cyber parts. While clunking around in spindly metal legs was somewhat amusing, having to keep paying an NPC to remove them wasn't.

Finally, Kash is the only planet in the game that prohibits vehicle travel outside of the central area. The ubiquitous speeders can't even be called up, making crossing these large zones a plodding nightmare. Creature mounts can be called, however, easing the pain of taking these areas entirely by foot. It's unclear as to whether this is done to preserve AI pathing, preserve the "wild jungle" feel, or to show the creature handler economy a little love, but having your travel speed crippled is fairly annoying.

The Bottom Line

Though not directly related to Rage, it was between this release and Trials of Obi-Wan that the "Combat Upgrade" hit. A far lesser step than the drastic New Game Experience, the CU still changed the way the game was played - from a unique sandbox experience to something closer to successful MMO standards.

This fixed some things, like combining the Stamina and Mind pools and ending the "buff wars," but eroded others. Consumable items faded, replaced by recharging powers. Doctors no longer had to craft medicines, they simply cast a healing "spell." Traps and grenades similarly lost their customizability, replaced by simple powers for those classes. Traders also really started to feel the pinch, as economies shifted and fewer things needed to be bought. It wasn't the "game-destroying" change of the NGE, and, in fact, most players could continue within the new system. It did, however, mark IGalaxies' gradual shift away from the freeform experience you couldn't get anywhere else, to a directed, quest-controlled experience different only in the Star Wars trappings.

As for the expansion itself, Kashyyyk offered a fun, beautiful adventure for players. It was a worthy addition with something for (almost) everyone. Even the more annoying points, like forced space combat, could be overcome with the right friends from a community still enjoying itself and happy to help. Rage of the Wookies unquestionably had its kinks, but was also, arguably, the last great hurrah of original Star Wars Galaxies.