Star Wars Galaxies: Episode III Rage of the Wookiees Impressions - New Areas, New Quests

We take an up-close look at the next expansion pack for Star Wars Galaxies, including a sneak peek at content that will appear in the <i>Episode III</i> motion picture.

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Going online in most massively multiplayer games usually involves creating a pointy-eared elf character to venture into a persistent world where hobgoblins guard piles of treasure, and where thousands of other players await to help you wallop said hobgoblins and relieve them of said treasure. It's a slightly different story in Star Wars Galaxies, which takes place in the futuristic Star Wars universe, somewhere in the timeline between the upcoming Episode III motion picture and the 1977 classic, Episode IV: A New Hope (more commonly known as Star Wars). Galaxies already has interstellar travel and space dogfighting thanks to the first expansion pack, Jump to Lightspeed. The next expansion pack will add a whole new world with a very comprehensive set of quests that involve, you guessed it, the howling, hairy furballs known as wookiees.

Star Wars Galaxies is constantly being updated with new content, such as the upcoming enhanced combat system that will be released to the general game later this month. The new system will highly streamline the complex system the original game had--you'll still have three meters (red for health, green for action, and blue for mind), but they won't correspond with different body parts. Instead, the health bar will become your character's general health reserves (and will be the only meter that can take direct damage), while your action and mind meters instead measure how many special attacks and options you can use in and out of battle.

In an effort to make combat more compelling, the game's character classes are being rebalanced to be more complementary to each other, and the combat queue is being removed from the game (so battles will no longer be about looking away from the keyboard and hammering on a single attack key repeatedly to queue it up forever). The new updates will also include a huge set of new items, especially different suits of armor that will all be powerful but will have distinct strengths and weaknesses, so that players won't all end up wearing same armor. They'll instead wear different suits with varying levels of protection against what will become the two primary types of damage: kinetic (physical damage from melee weapons) and energy (such as from blasters and jedi lightsabers). The game's character and skill systems are also being rebalanced so that as you gain enough experience in each skill to advance to the next level, you'll always gain some kind of additional upgrade, like a skill modifier or a new ability.

The expansion pack itself will add about a dozen new areas in and around the planet of Kashyyk, home of the wookiees. However, the new content will be for all characters of all races, though it will highlight the conflict between the wookiees and the reptilian trandoshan (who, according to Star Wars lore, are slavers who have impressed many of Chewbacca's brethren into servitude). The planet itself is being referred to by LucasArts as an "adventure planet" that will be home to a series of story arcs that will lead up to a single, in-depth quest with a definite ending. The feedback from fans has suggested that players want to see more story-driven content and some real context behind their quests.

As such, you'll begin your adventures on Kashyyk in a much more directed fashion, starting at the wookiee proving grounds high up in the treetops, and you'll eventually undertake the natives' rite of passage, which involves descending to the dark and foreboding forest floor below (you may even encounter the fearsome katarn monsters, which previously appeared in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic). Apparently these new zones are all hand-crafted, unlike the landscapes of the original game's planets (which have rendering limits set on them to accommodate random terrain features and player housing). The new planet's adventure areas are self-contained zones that have let the game's art teams focus much more effort on making detailed alien landscapes, like the swaying dandelion fields of the Kashyyk shadowy forest floor.

In addition to new features made to the existing game, you can also expect to see references to content from the Episode III motion picture, including vehicles like the BARC speeder and new player mounts that come right out of the movie. You may even be visited by the infamous bounty hunter Boba Fett, and apparently, one of the expansion's most challenging quests involves exploring the caves below Kashyyk's surface, where a mad scientist has somehow gotten hold of the designs for the fearsome General Grievous.

However, even if you don't wish to participate in the story-driven quests, you'll be able to take advantage of the expansion's new space content, which will include all-new space mining gameplay. Basically, you'll be able to take your spaceship out to the reaches of space in search of mineral and resource deposits that you can harvest with mining lasers. You can then use these resources to craft certain objects, or you can just sell off what you've gathered on the general market for cold, hard credits. As you approach more-dangerous territories in search of paydirt, you'll also find more and more jealous pirates and bandits waiting to jump your claim. For instance, if you decide to go off in search of the rare and valuable space diamonds that can be found only in the Kessel system, you'll want to bring a heavy-duty starship and some serious backup.

However, many of the expansion's new resource areas will have much lower threat levels, so you'll actually be able to use these areas to play for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Considering the small time commitment and the relative ease of use (if you don't wish to try out the game's complex crafting system, you can simply sell your harvested minerals and get on with your life), the expansion should also have a lot to offer new players as well as veterans. In all, Episode III: Rage of the Wookies seems like it will add a whole lot of story, a whole lot of quests, and new space content that just about anyone can get into. The expansion will be released for digital download on May 5 and will make its way to stores shortly afterwards.

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