It's been more than a year since Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided launched, and in that time, the game has undergone a lot of major changes. Vehicles, mounts, player-created cities, and new dungeons have been introduced, while professions have been revamped, and Jedi players have become a relatively common sight. The most significant and eagerly anticipated addition to the Lucas-inspired massively multiplayer online role-playing game, though, is space flight, which finally became a reality when the Jump to Lightspeed expansion pack shipped. Star Wars Galaxies is undoubtedly a better game now that it features X-Wings, TIE Fighters, and all the other starships that have been conspicuous in their absences from the game for the past 15 months. However, Jump to Lightspeed isn't an expansion that can be recommended unreservedly--not yet, anyway.
Space flight finally arrives in Star Wars Galaxies in the form of the game's first expansion pack.
If you're familiar with Star Wars Galaxies, you'll know that the preexpansion game boasted some 30 different character professions, many of which (although not horribly out of place in the Star Wars universe) have very little in common with the movies on which the game is based. There have always been plenty of combat-based professions in the game, but if you've played during the past 15 months, the chances are that--at some point--you might have contemplated a career as an architect, dancer, musician, tailor, doctor, or chef. If you have scout skills, you might have even spent some time milking wild animals before killing them for their hides, bones, or meat. Jump to Lightspeed adds four new professions to Star Wars Galaxies: shipwright, freelance pilot, Alliance starfighter pilot, and Imperial Navy pilot. The shipwright profession works in much the same way as the existing artisan professions, and, as such, it requires you to spend a number of your character's 250 skill points if you wish to pursue it. The pilot professions, on the other hand, are free of charge (as far as points are concerned), although for obvious reasons you'll only be able to pursue one of them at a time.
You'll have to decide which of the three pilot professions you're interested in the first time you play Jump to Lightspeed, and, although it is possible to change your mind at a later date, doing so will cost you all of your hard-earned pilot experience points. Furthermore, since each of the 21 starships in the game can be used by only one faction, any ships that you own will no longer be of any use to you--with the exception of the Sorosuub luxury yacht that you'll be given as a veteran reward if you've been playing Star Wars Galaxies for at least 180 days when you log in with Jump to Lightspeed enabled.
Once you've chosen your pilot profession and one of three different planets from which to fly your early missions, you'll be assigned to a non-player character trainer. Next you'll be given a starter craft (which can't be upgraded or, since it lacks a hyperdrive, flown between planets), and then you'll be offered some relatively easy missions (which consist of, for example, shooting down enemies that can be seen by everyone but only destroyed by you) to complete while you familiarize yourself with the starships controls and earn your first pilot experience points. Jump to Lightspeed can be played with a joystick, gamepad, or mouse, but you'll also need to memorize plenty of keyboard controls as your experience points afford you access to additional equipment and space combat abilities. Starship combat in Jump to Lightspeed is far more twitch-based than anything that has appeared in Star Wars Galaxies to date, and it initially comprises little more than targeting an enemy craft with the push of a button, pursuing it with the aid of an onscreen arrow and radar, and then shooting at the intelligent crosshair that appears ahead of the target, which actually takes into account the target's speed and direction of movement as soon as you're within range of it.
The act of blasting away at foes in outer space is reminiscent of classic space combat sims, but it becomes numbingly repetitious.
Later, the enemies will become much more challenging, so you'll need to put every skill you've learned to good use if you're to succeed. Since you'll need to earn a lot of experience points before you can get your hands on new craft and before you can employ new abilities, the learning curve in Jump to Lightspeed is very gradual; in fact, it's too gradual. You'll literally have to destroy hundreds of enemies at the same skill level as you before you have enough experience points to learn each new skill. While defeating enemies that are significantly better than you theoretically rewards you with experience more rapidly, you'll quickly discover that the tier ratings assigned to enemies refer primarily to the strengths of the crafts that you're facing rather than the skills of the NPC pilots. If your ship's weapons aren't up to the job, you'll often find it difficult to penetrate your target's continually recharging shields, let alone inflict any real damage--even if you have no trouble keeping the enemy in your sights.
Player-versus-player combat is exactly the same, incidentally, and no matter how skilled you are, it's unlikely that you'll ever defeat a player who has unlocked significantly more skill boxes than you. This is not because he or she is a better player; instead it's because his or her ship will be equipped with superior components that afford more-responsive controls, more-powerful weapons and shields, and special pilot commands that--depending on the pilot's faction--will allow him or her to carry out repairs midflight, call for ammunition from a reload ship, or even request assistance from friendly NPC craft in the vicinity, for example. Fortunately, unlike the ground game, player-versus-player combat in Jump to Lightspeed is purely consensual, meaning that you can attack as many enemy NPCs as you like...but without becoming a viable target for other players. If you wish to dogfight with other players, you'll need to visit one of your faction's space stations and switch your faction status from covert to overt, much like you would if you were planning to assault an enemy base on the ground. The downside of this system is that it's not unusual to see players in TIE Fighters and Rebel starships paying no attention to one another as they pursue non-player targets, which is clearly not in keeping with Lucas' universe.
The combat that makes up practically all of the gameplay in Jump to Lightspeed is actually quite enjoyable, but it's also very repetitive and not nearly as fast-paced as the old X-Wing and TIE Fighter games. Like just about every other aspect of Star Wars Galaxies, space combat is best enjoyed (and safer) as part of a group. The downside to grouping with other players is that you'll often end up chasing after the same targets, and, because it can be tricky to communicate with one another effectively while flying, your interaction with teammates can often be limited to trying to avoid collisions with them and perhaps expressing your displeasure at the fact that they're getting all the loot from fallen enemies because they have a better ship than you.