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Written by  :  BurningStickMan (18027)
Written on  :  Feb 22, 2010
Rating  :  3.33 Stars3.33 Stars3.33 Stars3.33 Stars3.33 Stars

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Episode IV: The Lethal Location of Lava-Land

The Good

Star Wars Galaxies' third expansion again pays homage to Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith - this time, primed to hit alongside the film's DVD release. Sure, no SWG player was likely to turn down an entirely new planet and its associated content, but another Episode III tie-in? Really? No Hoth or Cloud City? Galaxies was really starting to feel like just another marketing tool for LucasArts to exploit.

This release also earned a heavy dose of infamy, as SOE timed the "New Game Experience" overhaul to drop, without warning, just a few days after Trials. It was a surprise move that actually prompted one of the few instances where an MMO publisher offered a refund to dissatisfied purchasers of the expansion. I used my review of the Galaxies Starter Kit to talk about the NGE, so I won't rehash any of those issues here. This review will simply cover the quality of the Trials expansion (which mostly got overlooked by copious NGE rage), and give you an idea of what to expect if you visited its content today.

Trials of Obi-Wan invites players to the lava world of Mustafar. The remote planet was introduced at the very end of Episode III, and is mostly notable as the site of Anakin Skywalker's last stand (subtle pun intended). Mining operations have resumed in the years since the events of the film, and most quests start from, or revolve around, the employees of the Mensix Mining Facility - a massive structure conveniently built to the same specs as the one damaged in Episode III.

Since so little of the film actually took place on Mustafar, there's not much sightseeing to do. You can spot little references to Obi-Wan and Anakin's final battle (like the remains of the giant antenna they dueled on), but much like Kashyyyk as featured in the expansion Rage of the Wookies, the content here is fresh and required to stand on its own. You'll learn some of the backstory of the planet (hint: it involves Jedi ruins and Sith skullduggery), traverse the length of each of its six major zones, and participate in two major quest lines - one out to stop a Sith Lord from acquiring ultimate power, and the other to stop an old "friend" from KOTOR from constructing an unstoppable droid army. And yes, Obi-Wan's ghost does make an appearance to lead you along one of the quest paths. No, you do not have to be a Jedi character to participate in them.

Mustafar is designed as a high-level planet, and pretty much any character below level 70 is going to be something's lunch. New critters are high-level and deadly, and the game's continued bug/ability for creatures to run at warp speed means they can easily chase down and kill any non-combat character planning to simply drive by. The planet itself is also dangerous, using deadly lava flows to divide the land into six mountainous islands. This also has the effect of foisting uncompromising travel times on any player (even the highest level character can only take about 3 seconds of lava damage) as they route around the lava and drive to the only bridges connecting the islands. There's only one shuttleport, located at the main mining facility near the center of the planet, meaning that travel to the major quest complexes in the upper corners of the map is going to be a real burden. Two vehicles immune to lava do exist, but are so slow that they end up being more trouble than they're worth.

The expansion brings with it a number of graphical engine updates, mostly to improve the way the game renders Musty's lava floes and ashen surface. Heat shimmer and a slight glow effect will the most obvious, and any player standing next to lava will see it sizzle and haze appropriately. Bump mapping is also apparent, giving depth to the pebbles and dirt of of the landscape. The new effects do impress, and Mustafar does feature more stark and thematically-appropriate effects than Kashyyyk from Rage of the Wookies. Even things like a red tint applied as soon as you step outdoors, or a black ashen fog sweeping across the sky, help make the planet feel appropriately inhospitable.

Quest lines are generally well-written and creative, with little recycled content. Early sub-quests trend toward the "fetch" variety, but later facilities and epic battles are unique experiences for the game. Rewards are generally worth the trouble. You can get some decent, high-level weapons as well as some useful clothing with stats or buff items. There's also the "Chu-Gon-Dar" cube which takes pieces of special "glowing" loot and spits out a unique item based on the combination of items you put in. The exact recipes are now easily available online, of course, but it can be fun to play around and see what the Cube burps out. Certain Cube combinations made with rarer loot provide excellent lightsaber crystals with damage bonuses, and some Musty quests reward PvP boosters still considered mandatory to this day. You'll get enough benefits for your journey from level 70-80 (or 80-90 under the current level cap) here to make it worth the trip.

The Bad

Unfortunately, setting your expansion on a barren lava planet has its disadvantages as well. It's certainly a different location than any other in the game, but overall, it's a boring place. Mustafar can be succinctly described as a giant coal-colored world with occasional scenic spots or installations. Now, every Galaxies planet is guilty of featuring long drives with little in the way of scenery, but almost all of the original seven (Dathomir being the bland exception) have different regions of the planet with different looks - the coasts of Corellia's Tyrena versus the central plains, versus the snowy mountains of Doba Gurfel. Here's it's just black or shiny brown. Everywhere. Except for the rivers of lava, which are glowy and red.

Also, Mustafar is relentlessly group focused, which is both a benefit and a significant hindrance. It's great in the sense that it's one of the few places in the entire game that truly rewards teamwork. There are some pretty unique challenges in store for a skilled team, including limited puzzles and "flip these four switches at exactly the same time" kinds of challenges. I had fun running through them with a knowledgeable guide, and they can be rewarding (not just in terms of loot) if you can get a good group together.

... but there's the real trick. These quests require players with strong knowledge of their own class specialties and a willingness to pay attention and follow directions - something that was difficult to find in a pick-up group when the expansion was release, and nearly impossible now. As subscribers bleed away, the chances of finding enough old players willing to run the final missions again, or new players at the same place you are, become extremely slim. This puts Trials in a unique place. A great deal of Rage's content can be soloed with the right class, but easily a third of Trials staunchly requires a group. That's a lot of content players stand to be locked out of. I was even in a guild, and though the trip was repeatedly promised, no one really wanted to go back. I finally had to accept that there were parts of Musty I was never going to see, and a YT-2400 I was never going to fly. (It's a shame too, because those final battles at the droid factory sound epic).

Unlike Rage, no new space sector was included, and no new space gameplay has been added. Players must use travel terminals from Corellia (and oddly, only Corellia) to travel to Mustafar at 1000 credits each way. No new space content was promised, of course, but its absence was still obvious and disappointing. Ground missions were obviously the focus here, and space additions relegated to a background role. Likewise, nothing here contributes to the Galactic Civil War. Aside from a mention of the Empire in one of the quests, Musty seems completely oblivious to the state of the galaxy.

Finally, there's not much here for non-combat characters. Entertainers can pick up a new song and dance, and ply their trade at the only cantina on the entire planet. Weaponsmiths can use new schematics, but will require a combat character (or group of them) to retrieve them. Again, don't go to Musty without a blaster or blade at your side.

The Bottom Line

The planet's dreary, but the quests are not. Galaxies got many things wrong over the years, but the quality of the writing has always improved, and Trials follows that consistently. It's completely designed as high-level, endgame content, and as such shouldn't fit into anyone's plans until they've spent a considerable amount of time with their character. It's also not so radically different from the rest of Galaxies to make it a goal players should strive for. But if you're still having fun with SWG at level 65-70+, by all means, pack your armor and buy a ticket for Mustafar.