Feature Article

Don't Get Cocky, Kid, in Star Wars: The Old Republic - Galactic Starfighter

Never tell me the odds.

Considering the importance of space battles in the Star Wars universe, it was disappointing that ship combat was given such a cursory role in Star Wars: The Old Republic. After all, I can't imagine A New Hope without the Battle of Yavin, which led to the destruction of the Death Star. (A useless gesture? I think not!) The Old Republic's single-player on-rails battles looked the part, but they didn't capture the essence of galactic warfare.

With Galactic Starfighter, that's set to change.

Star Wars: The Old Republic - Galactic Starfighter is the massively multiplayer game's upcoming expansion, and will allow you to take wing and engage in dogfights in 24-player aerial battles. I journeyed to Electronic Arts' offices earlier this week to get my hands on the expansion and duke it out with other games writers, though not before a rundown of the content's feature list and general mission statements behind Galactic Starfighter's creation. And part of BioWare Austin's mission is to make the expansion feel as "Star Wars" as possible--to recall Luke Skywalker's Death Star trench run and The Phantom Menace's Naboo space battle with the use of wide angles and riffs on recognizable ship designs. (I pray they don't also wish to capture the spirit of a young boy accidentally activating a starfighter and helping to shut down an entire droid army.)

I can confirm that Galactic Starfighter's visuals are a fine fit for The Old Republic's clean and stylized presentation, and in fact, the expansion looks a great deal like the game's current space battles. BioWare wants the content's visual landmarks to act as beacons for players, evoking our fond memories of the films' most exciting moments, and keeping us from getting disoriented in the three-dimensional vastness of space. One of the maps I explored featured mountainous spires that rose above the clouds, though I suppose this means that combat on this map wouldn't be a space battle as much as it would be a stratosphere battle. In any case, at no point did I feel lost or confused, and the sights were uniquely "Star Wars."

Another mark in Galactic Starfighter's favor is the way it meshes with the main game while not alienating newcomers and forcing them to dig through content before zooming into space. You can enjoy the expansion almost immediately without having to experience the ground game. There are benefits to dividing your time between both aspects of the game, however, given how you can assign your various crew members to different roles in space combat. When you choose a copilot, that companion character will shout out encouragement and react to events as they occur. I never chose a Wookiee companion, but I couldn't lose the mental picture of Chewbacca bellowing in Han Solo's ear. Nevertheless, Fideltin Rusk made a perfectly gruff and active copilot, and I eagerly switched to him after I tired of Kira Carsen's chatter.

Knowing that I was in danger made skimming through slim corridors and navigating tight spaces all the more exciting.

Before I charged into battle with my fellow writers, I had the chance to choose a ship and tailor it to my wants and needs. Galactic Starfighter features scouts, strike fighters and gunships, with scouts opting for speed over brawn and gunships acting as the cosmos' version of a sneaky sniper and artillery emplacement. I gravitated towards the strike fighter, which is the expansion's offensive powerhouse--a good mix of speed, firepower, and defense. Your ship is your cosmic avatar, so it's only fitting that you get all manner of ways of tailoring it, not just in cosmetic ways, but in ways that determine your role in battle. As I fiddled with my weapons and engines, I was glad to see my ship's appearance adjust to my decisions. At times, my ship looked much like an X-wing or Y-wing, while other setups had a unique look that nonetheless neatly fit into the overall Star Wars aura. You can alter colors as well, including those of your laser fire and trails, and in no time, I was soaring through space with a stream of green plasma tailing me.

Now it was time to prove the Imperial scum to be the nerf herders they were.

Armed with primary lasers and secondary torpedoes, and with a few different special abilities at my disposal, I was ready for dogfights and domination. I was immediately comfortable the moment I entered the match. It's a snap to maneuver your ship with a mouse and keyboard, making Galactic Starfighter play more like Freelancer than Freespace, though there are some details to bear in mind. One is that most vessels--though not all--have a defensive maneuver that allows you to roll out of the way of incoming missiles. Another is that you can use function keys to transfer power between engines, weapons, and shields. While I typically kept my power levels even across those three concerns, I did find myself dumping extra energy into my engines from time to time if I was in an extra hurry.

One of those moments comes at the start of the match, when you must rush to the defensive installations that the two teams fight over. In this sense, Galactic Starfighter Domination mode--the only one that's initially available--resembles a typical capture-and-hold mode in which the teams must take and retain control of a particular region. Once you boost your way towards one of these installations, it doesn't take long for conflict to reign. You can target the nearest enemy, the one in your field of view, or the one aiming its own weapons at your hull, making it easy to sniff out and eliminate the peskiest combatants. As in most space games, you must lead your target, but Galactic Starfighter pinpoints the proper aiming spot, and so you fire your weapons as you keep that vital mark under your reticle.

I had to manage my resources during battle, paying attention to my engines so that I didn't waste my boosting energy all in one go, and firing only when necessary so that my blasters wouldn't overheat. But my attention was focused on the opposition--not to mention on capturing those vital installations. Venturing off on my own to capture a point without backup, however, proved to be a disaster. When you capture an installation, attached defensive turrets protect the region; trying to take down several turrets by myself was a mistake. It was imperative I work with my teammates, and so I did, joining the biggest battles surrounding the central hotspots.

I died as much as I killed, though delightfully, many of those deaths were suicides resulting in collisions with asteroids or other obstacles. I say "delightfully," because navigating through perilous regions of space recalls great Star Wars moments, such as the Millennium Falcon's thrilling flight through an asteroid field. ("Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1!") I enjoyed having to remain aware of my surroundings, even though the collision model led to my death several times as I attempted to lose the scouts that were hounding me. And knowing that I was in danger made skimming through slim corridors and navigating tight spaces all the more exciting.

It's a snap to maneuver your ship with a mouse and keyboard, making Galactic Starfighter play more like Freelancer than Freespace.

Interested? Well, Electronic Arts is rolling out Star Wars: The Old Republic - Galactic Starfighter in convoluted waves. If you're a paid subscriber, you receive access starting December 3, 2013, and exclusive access to the gunship. On January 14, 2014, preferred players--that is, people that spend money of any kind--gain access, sans gunship. Lastly, February 4, Galactic Starfighter rolls out to all players, though Bioware intends to support the content with more maps, more customization options, and more modes. For more information on the details of who gets what and when, check out EA's press release on the subject.

I greatly enjoyed Star Wars: The Old Republic, but it was never likely to be my permanent online home, given its highly structured nature. Three matches may not seem like many, but those matches were enough to stoke my curiosity. Galactic Starfighter may not excite me in the way that space MMOGs like Jumpgate and Earth & Beyond excited me, but I'm nonetheless primed to let loose my inner Porkins.

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Discussion

42 comments
end15
end15

So has anyone tried the new Star Fighters?  I'm curious to see how they're shaping up. This seems like it would really help round out the game in a meaningful way.

Crush_Project
Crush_Project

this is the very definition of too little to late.

MateykoSlam
MateykoSlam

I read Bioware, Lucasarts and EA and i can't believe how shitty the game is. (although EA is a shitty company no one denies the quality of their games)

jessie82
jessie82

i quite liked the on-rails battles but just wish you had more time to do each and every bonus objective like destroying the bridge of an enemy ship

"Another is that you can use function keys to transfer power between engines, weapons, and shields"

^awesome^ it does remind me more of star trek tho being able to transfer power from the weapons to shields to take the barrages of tougher enemies

Hurvl
Hurvl

The expansion Jump to Lightspeed is what gave Star Wars Galaxies a lot of praise, so I don't know why they've been holding off on it. From what I've heard, from very unreliable sources i.e. anonymous internet people, SwToR isn't very popular anymore, so they could need this.

joedin2056
joedin2056

Dont know why so many people have a downwards attitude to this game. I was one of the beta testers for this game and i loved it even in beta and i was and still am a subscriber from day 1. I think this is a great game has good story's for the main quest and fun story's for the side quest. Not only that but it has lots of great star wars lore :) on of my favourite games.

MooncalfReviews
MooncalfReviews

While I find TOR mind-numbingly dull and tedious (I've put in about 60 hours and just can't do it anymore as I'm so bored with killing random NPCs every 10 steps ont on the way to the next fetch quest), I WILL come back purely for this. I'll play the dogfights and only the dogfights, until I'm level 50, and then I'll maybe do the main stories and skip all the dull side quests. Huzzah!

RC-Sev
RC-Sev

And as always. I read "Star Wars", get happy and the next second I get dissapointed because it's Biowares "Old Republic".
"Sigh" Anyway, not enough for me to sub or even play it again.

Maj_Wood
Maj_Wood

Thank god the rail systems gone; anyone got joystick?

stev69
stev69

Even after they made the mistake of trivialising space content in the beginning, now when they implement it, they throw in a moba. Swtor sinks to new depths.

billzihang
billzihang

It's annoying that it's only PvP, what a waste if a feature.

jonmar
jonmar

Looks like they did this properly. Seems like a really cool expansion. Now if they added subscriber only servers I would go back to the game.

JediLegacy
JediLegacy

Sounds like they reworked Star Conflict into a Star Wars theme. Count me out: I won't touch space combat unless it falls back on the tried and true TIE Fighter and X-Wing franchises.

Aryck1095
Aryck1095

Anybody know if this game will ever come out on the Xbox One or PS4? I haven't bought a really good Star Wars game in years (save for LEGO Star Wars 3) and I feel like I'm really missing out on a huge part of the Star Wars universe. This expansion makes me want to play it even more.

sakaixx
sakaixx

this game have gone F2P yet or not ?

CatAtomic999
CatAtomic999

This might actually get to me to go back. It's a shame they didn't launch with this in place.

spikepigeo
spikepigeo

too little too late, perhaps.

Looks great, visually, though. 

Sefrix
Sefrix moderator moderator

Sounds pretty cool actually :) 

Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

Yeah, I stopped playing this game when it went F2P, and I'm not coming back.

You should have just broken this out into its own game.

BravoOneActual
BravoOneActual

"Let loose my inner Porkins" had so many simultaneous double entendres it gave me a mini stroke.

HiroArka
HiroArka

I might just wait till April or so to pick this up again so this Starfighter things gets all the bugs that might be there worked out. I am excited about this none the less :D

jessie82
jessie82

@Maj_Wood but is it tho as it might be completely seperate as its a pvp mode not pve

so unless they tell you otherwise the on rail thing will probarly still be there

Kevin-V
Kevin-V moderator staff

@stev69 A MOBA? This is standard PVP. There's nothing MOBA-like about this...

dogman12602
dogman12602

@billzihang out least you don't have to worry about shotty AI. BF play4free is the same way, seems to make more sense for a free game.

Maj_Wood
Maj_Wood

@JediLegacy

you want those experiences mate go play them this is TOR it is different if you want repeatable experiences to bore you, go play star trek online that's a bore except for the foundry of course

Sl4cka
Sl4cka

@Aryck1095 Given how MMO's are a rare breed on consoles as it is, and swkotor was never designed to work on one - highly unlikely. Just get a cheap PC, you don't need a powerful one to run it.

stev69
stev69

@sakaixx You can play it free but it has restrictions, rather than taking the route of rewarding loyal players they make it obvious they are punishing nonpaying players. For example they actually restrict the amount of xp you earn, it would have been easy to go the other way and give paying players a boost rather than penalising nonpaying players, but as with everything SWTOR they go about it completely the wrong way.

befo72
befo72

@sakaixx Yes it is technically F2P but be warned that it is one of the more restrictive F2P models out there. That is, unless something has changed in the last year since I haven't been following it.

Maj_Wood
Maj_Wood

@Thanatos2k well you are missing out on a hell'va lot of great content numbnuts

befo72
befo72

@BravoOneActual This whole article reads like someone who is very much in tune with his inner Star Wars geek. Well played @Kevin-V . :)

Auriken
Auriken

@BravoOneActual I know! My brain processed so many of them at once that I actually hurt myself.

notorious98
notorious98

@HiroArka You probably won't have to wait until April for the bugs to be worked out.  Subscribers will get early access at the beginning of December and Preferred players (like myself) will be able to come in January.  With subs giving them a full two months to really iron things out, I would think that the February launch for new players will be relatively smooth.  As long as they listen to the criticism.

jessie82
jessie82

@stev69 @sakaixx i still managed to get two chars to 50 so the restrictions arent that bad

only thing i really hate is the chat limit to once every minute

OmegaGear
OmegaGear

@stev69 @sakaixx That may be true, but xp gain is still high enough to easily pace with the main story line, as long as you do most of the available side quests. I didn't even notice any difference in the first 20 levels, and am not sure there is one. I'd more believe payers are getting boost over the original xp rate in this case.

blitzinD
blitzinD

@stev69 @OmegaGear 


You're both right.


It certainly is a sign of them being ball breakers but I'm on a free to play account and I don't notice that I level up slow or anything.

stev69
stev69

@OmegaGear Its not really the point though is it, the point is they tell nonpaying customers that from such a point onwards they will restrict them. If they had done it the other way round as suggested it would be less obvious they are breaking your balls. Its an example of how inept they are about going about things.