Well, the starfighter is out of the bag as it were, and it’s time to talk about what Galactic Starfighter is, what it isn’t, how this will impact the game. Unlike most of the guides and write-ups that flooded the net the instant the Non-Disclosure Agreement was lifted, detailing every feature of the system and how it will work, I’d like to write from the perspective of someone who pretty much dislikes PVP and quite frankly, much of the PVP culture amongst gamers. I’m the sort of PVE player who resents when special events like Warcraft‘s meta holiday achievement forced players to PVP, or that you have to enter a PVP area to do a few quests in the recurring Gree event in Star Wars: the Old Republic. As a casual player who doesn’t go in for all the theorycrafting, I’m not qualified to give you a breakdown on which ships and customizations are the best and what companions you should pick for the ultimate space PVP experience. I can only tell you what I enjoyed playing the most.
The ships available for testing included a Scout, a Strike Fighter, a Gunship, and a Bomber. In terms of what they tend to do, the Scouts are your go-to ships for speed and swift capture of objective and shooting turrets with non-locking missiles. Strike Fighters can cap objectives and down turrets, but their strength lies in dogfighting with lock-on missiles. A Gunship is your sniper, able to nail targets at a great distance, but were vulnerable to attack while their railgun was charging up. The Bombers are your tanks, able to drop drones down to help defend objectives and with the heaviest armor (and they turned like a bantha). The ship you’ll excel with will depend upon what you like to play the most. Me, I tended to prefer the Strike Fighters the most because I liked the flexibility the ships offered and I didn’t mind switching from turret runs to dogfighting at the drop of a hat.
What I can tell you is that I, a diehard PVE player, spent hours and hours for much of beta in there cheerfully blasting the dickens out of other players and turrets and in turn getting blown to smithereens. Part of the fun for me was seeing the names of folks I know from the community and other fansites and podcasts and either teaming up with them or, better yet, going after them. Teo from OotiniCast and Bam from fellow Shadowlands guild WOOK were frequent targets. I do not apologize, because they got me just as much as I may have gotten them. Dulfy shot me down more times than I’m willing to admit because it’s embarrassing. If anything, I’m sad there isn’t cross-realm PVP, simply because I won’t see folks who aren’t on the Shadowlands ever again.
So, this is off-the-rails space PVP. It’s not the full-on expected Super Secret Space Project that so many of us pinned hopes on, things such as guild ships and open space travel. This isn’t Star Wars: Galaxies’ Jump to Lightspeed. It’s not even attempting to be, and I’m okay with that. For what it is, how it fits into this game, it does its job. However, what we get in Galactic Starfighter in launch will ensure that BioWare could never have charged even $9.99 for a subscriber to buy it. It’s not a full expansion in the sense that this content is useful to all players like Rise of the Hutt Cartel was, it’s more like an overgrown minigame like pazaak was for Knights of the Old Republic. There are no new planets, no new questlines, no new crafting opportunities, no new level cap. All it is is simply timed space PVP. BioWare has said repeatedly that there is no PVE content included in this, and there isn’t. There is a substantial portion of the SWTOR community who will not play any PVP at all full stop, so this expansion does nothing for them.
A couple of months ago, when various voice actors such as Timothy Omundson (Aric Jorgan) and Cat Taber (Vette) tweeted that they were working on new stuff for the game, this is what they meant, confirmed November 14th by Andrew Bowen (Doc) on his twitter feed. Your companions play a role in your PVP experience by manning stations on your starfighter. It’s a bit strange, considering the fighters themselves are the standard one or two-man snubfighters we’re used to from the movies, but we don’t see them on-camera, only hear their voices on comm. Still, I keep having a mental image of a Star Wars clown car whenever I see the ship and then know I have several crewmembers aboard. However, if you haven’t yet met those companions in-game, the game provides a full roster to fill up all the slots with previously-unknown NPCs that you only use in Galactic Starfighter, and we were told that you will be able to use same-faction unlocked companions if you wanted. Companions have little biographies to read and skill proficiencies, and you can pick and choose who goes where to ensure the optimal survivability. For the most part, you’ll hear voiceover from whoever you pick to be your copilot, and you’ll then get to fire off that copilot’s special ability on a hotkey. Personally, I prefer having my primary crew member have Hydro Spanner as their skill. Instant repair for the win.
There have been hints made that what we’ll see at launch is just the tip of the iceberg. Players who visited the Cantina Tour stop in San Francisco reported seeing features that were not included in beta, and we’re already seeing posts on the forums noting that all players will get a brand new paintjob for their Scout starships as a two-year anniversary present. On the Twitch broadcast on Friday, Community Manager Eric Musco cheerfully dodged questions regarding upcoming ships, maps, and other additions to the Galactic Starfighter repertoire. He did, however, confirm that there would be a level and role-neutral flashpoint introduced in February that will link the Galactic Starfighter content story-wise to the rest of the game. Most other questions regarding any upcoming content was met with the usual ‘we’ll tell you when we’re ready’ sort of answer. What was startling to me was how positive the players were in the chat channel for the stream. There were a couple of trolls and several people asking off-topic questions, but for the most part, people were surprisingly well-behaved and eager to see what was going on. It was a complete 180 from the last stream the game hosted.
As with much of the game now, the Cartel Market is heavily involved with things. However, before anyone lifts a finger and begins to mouth the phrase ‘pay-to-win’, please don’t, because Eric confirmed more than once during the livestream that only cosmetic items will be available on the market for Galactic Starfighter. There would be boosts to help you speed up the harvest, as it were, but nothing that you have to buy in order to succeed, just like the current Warzone Experience Boosts we have now. Unfortunately, as the crafters are lamenting, there isn’t anything for them here either.
The entire Galactic Starfighter update is self-contained. You can start getting your pew-pew on as a level 1 character and completely ignore the regular character questline. All of your actual ship upgrades and additional ships are purchased through Requisition you earn by playing, and subscribers will earn more Requisition than preferred players or free-to-play players. Requisition is divided up into individual Ship Requisition and universal Fleet Requisition and it works only per character, not legacy-wide. There is a nominal cartel coin fee to convert unused Ship Requisition to Fleet Requisition. You don’t need any ground game gear to play or even get off the starter planets or pick an advanced class or anything. There is a tutorial for folks who weren’t in beta or who might take up starfighting at a later date, so while everyone starts on day one at the same level, people who start sooner will eventually be rolling up in tricked-out ships and will nuke folks who just started if they were in the same match. This was one of my problems with PVP in just about any MMO, the feeling that anyone who didn’t start at day one would always be at the mercy of the folks who were.
However, most of my fears were laid to rest in the livestream, when Eric remarked that there would be reasonable matchmaking done so that players who are jumping in for the first time in February won’t get completely owned by someone who’s been playing since December. He didn’t go into any great detail as to how the matchmaking would be done, but it stands to reason that the easiest method would involve judging how many Requisition someone has spent on upgrading their ships and buying later-released ships and matching based on that. Thus, there couldn’t be level-based grouping like there is in ground PVP right now. Speaking of grouping, you can group with up to three other players to join the same queue, but they won’t allow ops groups to join all in one, to avoid having premades rolling in and smashing an opposing pick-up team. Unless the queue magically chose two groups from the same guild, it’s highly unlikely that you’d get an entire team made up of your guildies. Also, Eric stated there would not be any leaderboards available at launch, but indicated this would be a future release.
In all, this is a nice addition to the game. There are problems with it, of course. Many of the hardcore space sim players will want their controller and/or joystick, and there isn’t any support for them (yet), nor is it a high priority to make it happen. I’ve heard stories of players who had certain controllers they could program to work with it suitably, but they’re unconfirmed. Personally, I played it perfectly fine with a trackball and topped the leaderboards more than once. On the other hand, a big request from players was the inclusion of an inverted XY axis, and BioWare added it to the beta a couple of weeks ago.
At the end of the day, if you’re looking for another JtL, then you’re going to be disappointed. If you’re looking for PVE tie-ins or PVE-related components, other than the one tie-in flashpoint Eric mentioned, you’re going to be disappointed. If you’re looking for a fun way to kill a few hours and get a bit of space PVP on, then you’re in the right place.
What’s your take on it, TORWarriors?