SWTOR – Galactic Starfighter Review: Finally, space
What may come as anathema to most is that I’ve never really bought in to Star Wars as the world changing and overwhelming epic that many of the big fans see it as. Sure, the movies in the original trilogy are great while the prequel trilogy are just George Lucas butchering the brand and patching over the scars with CGI. I just have other things that I like more.
This doesn’t preclude me from jumping on the hype-train though. I did so on the release of Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR) and found it ultimately lacking. Oh sure, the stories were sufficiently great, but it was all too brief, for an MMO that is, and there was little at the time to keep you coming back for more, which the fall in subscribers highlighted quite well.
This is why improvements and new content in patches, alongside large quantities of new content featured in expansions, have been added to SWTOR since the release. This second expansion, which is also the better of the two, is Galactic Starfighter. Starfighter is currently in closed beta for subscribers, opening up to people who have bought items from the cartel store in mid january and finally making itself available to all in Febuary.
What Galactic Starfighter brings to the game is something that was sorely lacking in the original release, and that is space combat. While this was included, of sorts, in the initial release, I don’t class it as such due to the linear on-rails nature it follows, making itself a simple shooting gallery with nice scenery, rather than free-roamy whoosh-bang-kapow laser fun that we all expect from a Star Wars game that features space combat.
Bioware have finally managed to capture what is expected in an outstanding way, though this doesn’t guarantee you’ll have fun with it. Not if you’re going to give up, because there is a rather steep learning curve. Though I say this from the experience of your average egomaniac, the one too proud to accept the hand-holding of a tutorial. “I am a Jedi Knight”, I state, “You cannot help me. I have the force!”. Then I proceed to crash into a wall.
Learning curve aside, the mini-game on offer here is one in the same sense of those you would find in old RPG’s or practically any of the modern greats. This is SWTOR’s Triple Triad (Final Fantasy VIII) or Blitzball (Final Fantasy X), a minigame that you are willing to slog through a completely different game for. Thankfully forcing you through the main game isn’t required, unlike most minigames. So long as your account is applicable to play Galactic Starfighter, just create a character, click the required menu to enter your hangar screen and hop in.
This is where the simplicity ends and the fun begins. As any open space game or underwater game should have taught you, it’s very easy to get lost. The full 360 degrees motion, combined with the awkward at first controls (A to roll left, D for right), makes it very easy to lose where you are without a point of reference. Even then it’s still very easy. However, this is exactly what space should be like, getting lost behind an asteroid, turned upside down and left utterly confused while some Sith bugger shoots at you.
The confusion can also extend to the weapon systems early on as the game never seems to want to lock onto which target you want it to, although this could partly be due to my ham-handedness at the game and also how fast the battles actually go. Beyond that, once you’re locked on or in a big fight with multiple players from each team it’s especially exciting to be chasing down a Sith while other enemies, and team mates alike, are firing at each other. It sets up tension quite brilliantly.
All of this just covers the basics or combat and dying. Of course these are more complex than it first seems but where Galactic Starfighter really comes into itself is the host of customisation on offer. In combat you have further control over your energy direction through the F1-F4 keys. Do you pump your power into Weapons, Shields or Engines or keep it balanced. Doing this on the fly can be the line between life and death. These finer details come into everything, including the base components of your starfighter, which are selected and upgraded in your hanger.
The hanger also offers more variety through letting you unlock new ships, varying between types like Fighters, Scouts, Gunships and Bombers. Some of them are sadly locked out as cartel coin (real money) purchases, while others are unlocked through ship requisition tokens or fleet requisition tokens, both obtained through combat with you getting more if you take a more active role. Also bought with the tokens are the aforementioned components, each category offering around four options, and the upgrades for the components.
Not only that, you manage your ship further by choosing who your crew are. There are five slots to fill with other characters, each character befitting an area more than the other as they have abilities, both passive and active. Managing these, alongside the components of your ship, and basing them around specific roles are sure to be one of the more compelling aspects of Galactic Starfighter, specifically for those who enjoy the theory behind gear optimisation.
Galactic Starfighter is the Star Wars space combat game I’ve wanted for a while. It’s specifically the thing I wanted when SWTOR was released and it’s also what I want out of a Battlestar Galactica fighter. While I doubt this is the sort of thing that will bring the millions flocking back that EA and Bioware need, I wouldn’t be surprised if it increases the user-base and also keeps it higher than the current level.
Why? Because this is fun. When the fights are in full flow it makes it both tense and a brilliant spectacle. The visuals are still at TOR’s high standard and when further maps are added, as well as ship flashpoints, the content will be something that keeps players coming back for more.