And that's precisely why Star Wars Galaxies is a legend among sandbox fans despite the NGE disaster. It's a living museum of great MMO ideas from the past, of player-driven economies, of open-world housing, of high-end, game-supported roleplay, of roaming in a game that lets you dictate the terms of your play. It's a rare relic you should see in the flesh, today, right now, before it's gone. You can pick up a weapon and fight in any MMO (excepting A Tale in the Desert, that is), but there are so many things you can do in Star Wars Galaxies that you can't do anywhere else with the same level of immersion. And I'm going to tell you which 10 you should do first... before it's too late.
You won't find these long-necked, turtle/shark-hybrid Hammerheads in any other Star Wars MMO, at least not as a playable race. In fact, they weren't even introduced as playable characters in SWG itself until the Jump to Lightspeed expansion in 2004. Nothing screams adorable like an Ithorian with a beard, bellbottoms, and a really big gun. Just give over, Sullustans. Nobody likes you. Sorry.
SWG has an impressive array of player-crafted clothing and armor choices along with one of the earliest MMO implementations of an appearance tab/cosmetic system to cover up your matchy-matchy gear (or just allow you to wear a classic Slave Leia bikini over your assault armor). Find a Domestics Trader and get an outfit custom-crafted just for you, then hunt down an Entertainer who's willing to Image Design your ugly mug and give you a brand-new hairstyle, tattoo, muscle-mass, and even holographic emotes. Protip: Do not ask the IDer to make you "look like Neo."
While you're getting that makeover, check out the general ambiance of the Mos Eisley cantina. See those hawt-pants-bedecked dancers swaying to Exotic 4 and that crazy Rodian playing a nalargon with his feet? You should join them and give music and dance a whirl too; it might just be your last chance to play a non-combat class that can buff while dancing 33 dances and performing 18 songs on 12 instruments. Lord of the Rings Online's music system is neat, but SWG's takes the puffcake. If you're really into the cantina scene, make sure to catch a performance by an RP Entertainer troupe like Holowood Galactic Studios.
Roleplayers in every game gravitate toward /emotes to flesh out their actions in text, but SWG offers more than a do-it-yourself slash command. You can choose from among 377 built-in emotes, each of which causes your character to animate; /kowtow, for example, makes your character clasp his hands together and bow formally. The game also has a massive mood system: Choose one of 190 moods to give a semi-permanent emotion to your character's face and body and use "prose mode" to automatically retool your emotes and speech with emotion-laden flavor text. Why type something plain like "I'd like to buy passage to Alderaan" when you could instead use "'I'd like to buy passage to Alderaan,' Qasimir Qio says worriedly"? Take advantage of SWG's overhead bubble chat while you're at it, and change the look of those bubbles based on whether you speak using /say, /sing, /chant, /drone, /rap, and so on.
Don't worry, you can still be starwarsy and iconic without betraying your deep hatred of the NGE. Ignore the Jedi dueling in front of the starport and the Twi'lek who just ran past you wearing Cupid wings -- there are still lore-friendly places left in the game. Go visit them! You won't be able to check out the Lars Homestead on Tatooine or take orders from Princess Leia in Star Wars: The Old Republic. You can't be rescued by Han Solo nor see Naboo's Theed Palace there, either. If you truly want the grand tour of SWG's lore-centric locations, visit each one of the POI (points of interest) waypoints in your datapad. Rinse and repeat for each planet. See the world! No -- see all the worlds!
If housing is the mark of a full-featured MMO, open-world housing is the signature of a classic sandbox. In SWG, you can buy or craft a deed for a house, wander out into the wilderness, and erect your very own building -- and you should. Houses are wonderful for holding all your extra stuff and setting up a player-run shop full of vendors. Buddy up with a Structures Trader and get her to build you furniture so that your building is more than just an empty shell! SWG's item placement system allows you to position your decorations just about anywhere inside your structure, and at any angle, so with enough creativity, you can set up your house to look like a Jedi temple, a prison, a greenhouse, or a zoo.
No, I don't mean Coronet -- I mean a player-run city. SWG is one of the very few MMOs with a fully functioning political system that allows players to set up city boundaries, erect municipal structures, collect taxes, and run for mayor. The most prestigious and successful player cities have shuttleports, banks, cantinas, theaters, and other facilities for the use of residents and visitors. And the truly creative roleplay-oriented towns will often make clever use of storyteller items to enhance their villages, employing thousands of temporary facades to turn a simple village into a spectacular starport, military base, vacation destination, or dusty pirate hub. Find a city that suits you and contact the mayor to set up your home within its borders. It's easy to move -- you can pack up your entire decorated house (within your datapad) and simply carry it to its new destination.
Gamers who are gaga for player-created content will want to give the Chronicles system a spin. Much like City of Heroes' Mission Architect and Star Trek Online's Foundry, the Chronicles system allows creative types to assemble quests from scrap items and then distribute those quests to other players (you'll usually find them on the Bazaar for one credit). The quests can be multi-step and quite complicated, and they can be built to suit both combatants and crafters. Both the designer and the participant receive lucrative rewards, usually decorative, through the system, so jump into whichever end of the process appeals to you.
If your experience with MMO crafting is limited to MMO-lite titles like World of Warcraft, then Star Wars Galaxies' crafting complexity will blow you away (and encourage you to brush up on your math skills). Choose from among four formal Trader professions composed of specialization trees for Chef, Tailor, Armorsmith, Weaponsmith, Cybernetics, Droid Engineer, Shipwright, Architect, and Beastmaster. Unless he's rich enough to buy materials from dedicated industrialists, a Trader begins his day by surveying planets for quality resources, setting up harvesters to collect them, and for those items that cannot be hand-crafted, creating multiple factory schematics and setting those factories to work churning out products. Resource quality affects output quality, and most of the best items in the game are player-crafted, so dedicated Traders can level up, make their fortunes, and contribute to the economy without ever lifting a blaster.
Even before SOE introduced atmospheric flight as part of the game's last hurrah, SWG featured truly impressive, X-Wing-style, off-rails space flight and combat against both NPCs and players. Sure, you can click-click your way through nested interface flight menus in EVE Online or enjoy your on-rails experience in SWTOR, but in SWG, ship combat is best experienced with a joystick. Naturally, you purchase the best ships and ship parts from player Shipwrights and then take to the skies to complete a lengthy series of missions along the way to becoming a Master Pilot, something any class in the game can do as a side gig. SWG even has multi-person ships; the very best Pilots can bring others aboard their POB ships to hang out and man the various stations, taking over the co-pilot's chair, repair duties, or turret guns for space experience. Mos Eisley is a good place to find a Pilot who can whisk you to the stars and show you how it's done. Wookiee co-pilot sold separately.