BioWare launches its second expansion for SWTOR today. This addition to the game takes us into the thick of the centuries-long struggle between the Galactic Republic and the Sith Empire. Players take command of one of 12 different dog-fighting starships in two possible 12v12 skirmish maps. Far different than the on-rails shooter-minigames the MMO launched with, these maps are completely free-roaming and play more like a flight simulator than StarFox 64. Of course, that alone doesn't necessarily make the expansion worth it. Let's examine the features that could make this expansion worthy of your subscription.
I'm still on the fence about the most unique feature of Galactic Starfighter, but it does make the gameplay interesting. The average flight simulator offers a reticle in the center of the screen and never moves. Your spaceship or airplane or flying beast acts similar to a turret; you can hit only objects in the middle of the screen. With Galactic Starfighter's firing arc, the center reticle can move several degrees from center in any direction, placing the job of hitting the target more in the hands of the player's ability to aim and less on the dexterity of the ship engines.
However, this unique feature has its drawbacks as well. If you're used to standard flight simulators, then you're used to your ship moving as soon as you yaw with your joystick or mouse. In Galactic Starfighter, there is a bit of a delay because of the firing arc. Since the mouse controls the aiming reticle and the direction of the ship, your ship starts to move only when you've hit the edge of the firing arc. I cannot classify this as a bad thing because you soon get used to it, but it did take me some time to get the hang of that type of steering. And it is a noticeable departure from how most sims are played. This feature also makes joystick support nearly impossible.
NPCs who assist the player have been featured in BioWare games since forever. And since the launch of SWTOR, we have seen the number of companions steadily increase, each with his or her or its own unique abilities and roles. Galactic Starfighter continues this trend by giving us four companions per faction specifically for assisting us in our starfighters. These companions, along with the existing SWTOR companions, come with two passive and one active abilities each. You may have one copilot and three other flight assistants. The copilot grants you an active ability for use during combat, which I outlined last week.
On top of the abilities, which are clearly the most useful additions granted by the companions, your copilot will also talk to you while you're in the midst of battle. This makes understandable companions more valuable to me from an in-combat perspective. For instance, the first companion I dropped into the copilot seat was Malavai Quinn. At that time, I didn't have a complete understanding of the active and passive abilities. Quinn would warn me when another player would have missile lock on me, giving me enough time to dodge out of the way or deploy some kind of countermeasure. Unfortunately, the alien and droid languages didn't exactly give me this warning. My chat log would translate what the companion said, but by the time I could see it, it would be too late. But unfortunately, not all companions even give you enough advanced warning for missile lock -- even the ones you can understand.
I do like the Hydro Spanner active ability, but the best companions for my playstyle that have this ability are Blizz and T7-01. Neither of those companions speaks in a language I can understand immediately. Perhaps I will eventually get used to the beeps and chitters, but this certainly makes the choice of copilots more difficult than just deciding which active ability I would like to utilize.
Lastly, I want to touch on another unique idea from Galactic Starfighter: gunships. In first-person shooters, the idea of a stationary high-damage sniper is far from unique, but Galactic Starfighter might be the first flight simulator to employ a sniper mechanic. These giant ships do not move quickly. Scout ships can easily run circles around them, but with the right player at the stick, these beasts can be deadly. On the top of each gunship sits a massive cannon. When it's activated, the ship comes to a full stop and the player sees just the objects in radius of the targeting reticle. In a single shot, the gunships can take out a well-geared starfighter in a couple of blasts. I have seen video of some players one-shotting ships while piloting the gunship.
According to BioWare's analysis, the gunship is not overpowered, and for now I will concede that assessment. It does take a steady hand and good eye to operate a gunship, but in close-ranged dogfighting, a good strike-fighter pilot can take out a great gunship pilot. I guess the true test will be the expansion's launch.
Obviously, I cannot cover everything about Galactic Fighter in one article; I've written two others since the NDA lift. And I wish I could say emphatically that you should or shouldn't restart your subscription for this expansion, but I can give you a reason why you should consider it. Along with the features I mentioned above, it's only $15 -- the cost of resubscribing to the game. BioWare is essentially giving the expansion away for free. You really don't have a lot to lose, and with the number of people coming back just for this expansion, you're not going to be waiting very long in a queue to find out whether this is the game for you. I hope to see you in the next dogfight.
The Hyperspace Beacon by Larry Everett is your weekly guide to the vast galaxy of Star Wars: The Old Republic, currently in production by BioWare. If you have comments or suggestions for the column, send a transmission to email@example.com. Now strap yourself in, kid -- we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!