Massively multiplayer games typically let you play as an elf, dwarf, or some other fantasy character. Then you are sent to fight skeletons and orcs until you gain levels and fabulous treasures. However, Star Wars Galaxies takes place in the sci-fi universe made famous by the Star Wars motion pictures, and in the upcoming Jump to Lightspeed expansion pack, you assume the role of a futuristic "starship pilot" rather than becoming your typical medieval fighter, wizard, or thief. In addition to playing as a human, you can also play as a member of one of two all-new character races in the game, the Ithorian or the Sullustan. We recently had a chance to try out the process of going from flatfooted farm boy to hotshot space pilot, and we're ready to share the details with you here. Please note, however, that the following impressions are based on time spent with a prerelease beta version of the game, so any and all of the following details are subject to change.
At this time, it seems like the best way to get into space as a fighter pilot is to join one of the game's three factions: the Galactic Empire (led by the Emperor and his infamous henchman Darth Vader), the Rebel Alliance (for whom the valiant Luke Skywalker fights), or the Hutts, a neutral mercenary faction affiliated with the dastardly Jabba of Tattooine. Once you're affiliated with one of these three groups, you'll be able to play as a pilot who's aligned with that particular faction. This lets you receive specific training so you can take that faction's ships into space. For instance, signing on the Imperials' dotted line will earn you the deed to a TIE fighter, while siding with the Rebels will get you access to the classic X-Wing fighter. The Hutts have their own proprietary vessels, and all three factions have additional ships available. If you care to, you can also learn an all-new trade--that of the shipwright, who crafts powerful add-ons for starships.
Once you have a blueprint in your possession, you can hit up the starship vendor in any nearby starport to procure your ship for a sizable chunk of credits. You'll start off with a beginner ship for free, though at this point in the game, your vessel can't be upgraded. Regardless, all ships need to be equipped with at least a reactor and an engine to be spaceworthy, though they also all have many different hardpoints for additional upgrades. For instance, a midrange TIE fighter has single slots for shields, front armor, rear armor, a capacitor, a booster, a droid interface, a weapon, ordnance, countermeasures, and droid/flight computers. You'll acquire these upgrades from one of two major sources. First, you can employ industrious shipwright characters to build these upgrades by using the game's existing, mined materials, and second, you can forage through trade-skill systems to gather minerals and organic components to build laser cannons and energy shields from scratch. (This is in addition to foraging through the debris of destroyed enemy ships, many of which drop rare ship parts that can be reused.)
Once you've procured a ship, you can use a ship-management terminal to swap upgrades into and out of your ship's various hardpoints before you launch directly into space. Currently, the game limits the extent of your space travels based on tiers. That is, starting pilots won't have access to the outer reaches of space until they complete some space-based missions and get some battles under their belts. To help you complete both, Jump to Lightspeed will begin players with a rudimentary space mission, and it will also provide help in the form of some very handy navigational maps. One displays your location relative to numerous galactic hotspots (along with any custom waypoints you care to add), while the other is a larger intergalactic map reserved for hyperspace travel only.
Hyperspace travel takes you to a different star system, but it can't be used instantaneously. Your ship has to complete the proper calculations before your cockpit's view is engulfed by the familiar-looking streaks of light that signal your jump to lightspeed. Since hyperspace travel is automatic, and since regular navigation also includes an autopilot option for you to more efficiently reach your destination, space travel actually seems surprisingly easy--as does keeping your bearings. Even if you do venture out to the bandit-infested Kessel Run on the outskirts of Endor, or even if you try to tackle the freeform player-versus-player territory of deep space, you can always autopilot back to a more familiar location...assuming you can withstand a few parting shots from whatever unfriendly types you might encounter.
Even though the expansion is still in a beta testing state, we're happy to report that--if nothing else--space travel isn't the bewildering prospect it otherwise could have been. Assuming it can execute on its potential, Jump to Lightspeed will offer hassle-free space travel and fast-paced, real-time space dogfighting. The expansion is scheduled to ship later this year.