Star Wars Galaxies: Jump to Lightspeed Hands-On

We get our hands on the upcoming space expansion pack for LucasArts' <i>Star Wars</i>-themed massively multiplayer game.

LucasArts producer Haden Blackman explains what happens when you jump to lightspeed. Double-click on the video window for a full-screen view.

At a recent press event, we had the opportunity to try out the space combat in the upcoming Jump to Lightspeed expansion for Star Wars Galaxies. The expansion will introduce four new character classes, including a shipwright (who can craft weapons and add-ons for ships) and some pilot professions. When the expansion launches, most players will likely be able to access at least one type of starship, and longtime subscribers who have played the game for more than six months will have automatic access to the "Lady Luck," one of the expansion's new cooperative ships that can be piloted by more than one player.

Space combat in Jump to Lightspeed accommodates players who use both flightsticks and their keyboards and mice. Mouse/keyboard control will actually feature a built-in aid in the form of a leading-crosshair display that will lead your weapon crosshairs ever-so-slightly to let you zero in on faraway enemy ships. On the inside of your ship, you'll have an all-new interface, complete with targeting crosshairs that indicate your ship's forward speed. You can use a throttle to accelerate forward. The interface will also display your weapon capacitor reserves. Remember to bear in mind that firing weapons drains your capacitors over time, so shooting repeatedly and blindly will eventually drain your weapons system, thus leaving you helpless. You'll also have a display that shows how damaged your ship's shields are. Logically, taking enemy fire or crashing into a space station will damage your shields and make you easy prey. Though you won't need to worry about refueling your ship, you will need to return home every so often to replenish your ammo and make any necessary repairs or replacements. Furthermore, you'll need to dock with a space station to return to the game's original terrestrial gameplay.

Actually handling a ship seems pretty straightforward. Hardcore fans who own or plan to purchase multibutton flightstick controllers should be able to ease into the control system easily, while the mouse-and-keyboard setup resembles that of a first-person shooter (with a few more hotkey buttons). Like the original Star Wars Galaxies, Jump to Lightspeed lets you target different enemies by pressing the Tab key, and then it gives you an indicator for your enemy's general direction. Ships will have their own slotted inventories into which you can add different weapons, shields, and engine add-ons that will affect their speed and handling in a balanced fashion. For instance, while you might be able to make your ship incredibly speedy, you may end up adding speed modifiers at the cost of turning control. We had the chance to try out an extremely well-outfitted TIE fighter as well as a turret seat on a YT-1300 freighter ship--which is the same class of ship as Han Solo's legendary Millennium Falcon. These larger, cooperative ships will not only let you fly and man turrets but also they'll let you conduct crafting and allow you to do pretty much anything you would do in the game's cantinas, including the performing of songs and dances to heal players' wounds. According to producer Haden Blackman, Star Wars Galaxies fans seemed very keen on having ships not only be combat vehicles but also be spacefaring houses where players could socialize on the go.

At today's press event, LucasArts showed off two new star systems, Dathomir and Yavin-4, both of which are home to beautifully lit nebulae and star systems, and both of which will be extremely challenging areas designed for high-level pilots. These areas will be dangerous simply because hostile space pirates will roam the area. But in these and other regions of space, you'll also come across huge space stations, like Corellian corvettes, which are armed with many turrets and which may take several players--who are working in unison--to destroy. While you're in space, you'll also be able to take on missions to hunt pirates, or you can engage in player-versus-player dogfights. Winning a PvP dogfight will earn you bragging rights, but killing off pirates may net you all sorts of rewards, including additional credits, specialized space combat experience, and prestige points with specific political factions. Unfortunately, you may come up against enemy forces that are too much for you. If your ship is destroyed, you'll respawn at the nearest space station, but you won't lose your ship. However, not all of your ship's add-ons may be recovered, so the threat of losing your expensive ship will give most players reason to think twice before going it alone.

The expansion pack will also introduce two new playable races, including one that was revealed today: the Ithorian. The Ithorian are the hammer-headed humanoids who were featured in the cantina scene of the original Star Wars motion picture and who also appeared as non-player characters in BioWare's Knights of the Old Republic. Ithorians, like the game's other races, will feature a full suite of appearance-customization options. In addition to Jump to Lightspeed's new features, the development team is also working on improvements to the basic content of Star Wars Galaxies, which includes revamped Jedi and an overhauled combat system. All of this, of course, is being worked on in tandem with the expansion pack. If what we saw today is any indication, Jump to Lightspeed will present a whole new layer of depth to Star Wars Galaxies with its accessible space combat and plenty of other intriguing additions. The expansion is scheduled for release this October.

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