Hyperspace Beacon: The official launch of SWTOR's second expansion

Hyperspace Beacon: Announcing the official launch of SWTOR's second expansion!
Today, Galactic Starfighter officially launches in conjunction with Star Wars: The Old Republic Update 2.6. Free-to-play players as well as preferred and subscribed players can now jump into 12v12 freeform space battles. All players can choose to pilot one of four Starfighter archetypes: scout, strike fighter, gunship, or bomber. Two team deathmatch maps joined the pre-launch domination maps, giving pilots four possible arenas to dogfight. But if space isn't your thing, BioWare also introduced a new dynamic flashpoint called Kuat Drive Yards that changes every time you run it.

It's not often that the Hyperspace Beacon coincides with the launch of a SWTOR update let alone the official launch of an expansion. This week, I intend to give you all the juicy details of the new type of starfighter, the new Starfighter PvP maps, and the brand-new flashpoint. I also had a moment to ask a few of questions of Producer Blaine Christine and GSF Lead Designer Michael Backus. But first, let me show you a few screenshots from the new content below and a launch trailer after the break.
Gallery | 30 Photos

SWTOR Galactic Starfighter Launch

SWTOR Galactic Starfighter Official Launch Trailer

Evasive maneuvers!
In december when Galactic Starfighter first launched, I was one of the few able to jump in before the other subscribers. I described it as a "fun game within a game." Of course, that still stands. Nothing has hit Galactic Starfighter that has changed its ability to immediately launch you into the action of space dogfighting. In fact, as players have tested the balance between the different types of ships, the minigame has only improved.

In this latest update and official launch, we experience two major changes to the overall minigame: two new maps and a new starfighter type. But before I get into those, I want to point out what could actually be a huge change that few people will notice: match records.

When I gave SWTOR a report at the end of last year, I used the Bartle MMO player types as a test to score the different aspects of the game. The Killer aspect rated the lowest, even with the addition of Galactic Starfighter, mostly because one of the key measuring sticks for Killers is how they compare with other players. In the previous iteration of Galactic Starfighter, there was no way to see your progress or how you measured up against friends or opponents. With the records interface, this has changed.

Now, Galactic Starfighter tracks nearly everything. From total number of kills to weapon accuracy to damage taken, you will be able to see just about anything you'd care to know (or not know) about your GSF performance. And to top it off, you can share this information with your friends in-game with a simple click of a button that pastes it into the chat window. The developers explained that the information is not yet available in the API or other external format but that functionality is not off the "wall of crazy," the infamous wall that contains all the things the developers wish to do in the game.

Team deathmatch
Second only to the ability to share your performance with other players is the deathmatch maps. Taking a cue from the popularity of the ground arenas, the GSF team developed brand-new maps where the object is to kill the other team dead. Unlike the arenas where you stay dead until the next round, this map scores based on total number of kills for the team. Sometimes players just want to leap into battle and annihilate everything in sight. The Lost Shipyards and Kuat Drive Yard deathmatch maps allow you to do just that.

Bombs away
Not only do we get two new maps with this official launch, but we also get a new ship archetype: the bomber. This slow-moving, high-defense starfighter has been designed to give tactical support to the other ships as well as additional abilities for node defense. If we were playing a classic arena shooter, the bomber would be the engineer. He strategically sets the turrets and watches them do their work. The bomber's arsenal contains damage-dealing turrets as well as repairs turrets, but the most interesting addition has to be the hyperspace beacon. Not only is it named after my favorite column on Massively, but it gives the bomber's teammates a new place to spawn, allowing them to immediately jump into battle without the sometimes annoying travel time.

Kuat Flash Drive Point Yards
Since my review of the newest flashpoint a couple of weeks ago, I have found that little has changed. Don't get me wrong; Kuat Drive Yards is a fun, quick flashpoint, but it when compared to the other more interesting small-group instances, it doesn't come close to measuring up. Even the short Czerka instances seemed to have more depth to them from a story standpoint.

The first two levels of the flashpoint do not contain any bosses, but they do host one of five different scenarios. Each time you launch into the flashpoint or take the elevator to the next level, a new scenario appears. On the third level of each flashpoint sits a boss, and just as on the other two levels, you never know which boss you might get.

Kuat Drive Yards also introduces the term "tactical flashpoint." These flashpoints are scaled to work with any combination of roles. You have only four DPS? No problem. Two healers and two DPS? You're all set. Four tanks? OK, that's never going to happen. And to top it off, all players from level 15 to 55 can participate in these "tactical" instances. Players not at max level will be bolstered up to 55, giving them the same damage output and defensive strength as their friends. Although the flashpoint itself might get a mixed review, this specific portion gets my seal of approval.

A word from our designers
Although Christine and Backus spent a lot of time answering my questions about the new items coming in Update 2.6, I had to ask one specific question about the current state of starfighter balance. Specifically, I asked about the issue with scouts and evasion. Christine stated that the lead designer for GSF is the perfect person to answer this question, and this is what Backus said:
"We want every role to feel that it has a place in a battle. We don't care as much -- or least it's not the goal -- to have one ship dominate all other ships. We want there to be strengths and weaknesses. What we really want to promote is people playing together. We want a gunship to have a scout or a bomber nearby to help defend them. We don't want everyone just free-for-all trying to kill everyone. The guilds that we watch play and the people who play internally a lot -- when we play as a team, we are far more successful. So really that is more informative on where we'll make balance changes, but specifically, the battle scout is getting a little bit of a nerf. He is a little too good when it comes to evasion. The percentages were a little too high."
GSF is free to play right now, so I guess the only thing left to ask is, "When am I going to see you in game?"

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 larry@massively.com. Now strap yourself in, kid -- we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!
This article was originally published on Massively.