Lock S-Foils in Attack Position: SWTOR Galactic Starfighter Review

Hands on Review of SWTOR's new Galactic Starfighter expansion.

 Galactic Starfighter marks the second official expansion to Bioware’s Star Wars: The Old Republic, a franchise that can never seem to decide if it’s on the way out or thriving immensely.  This expansion, which will be free for all users, (with subscribers getting the first look) gives players the space combat they have dreamed about since launch.  The current space mini-game that was implemented before Galactic Starfighter has always been just an easy way to grind xp at early levels; leaving no real core players once endgame content becomes available.  The combat becomes repetitive and a bit boring over time, as your ship drives itself on “rails” and your only task was to obliterate enemies with a seemingly endless supply of missiles and lasers.  It’s hard to imagine ever playing those space missions again after what I have experienced with Galactic Starfighter.     

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Getting Started

When you are ready to begin your Galactic Starfighter adventure press H to bring up the hangar screen.  This screen displays everything you can customize before you take flight.  Here is where you can choose a ship, customize its cosmetics and components, and finally assemble your crew.  I recommend starting with tutorial to avoid the inevitable sense of helplessness you will feel if you just jump in.

The First Battle

 As soon as I jumped in the game I clicked the ship icon on the mini-map, next to the PVP and group finder icons, and joined a starfighter match with some fellow guildies.  The first thing that stood out to me was the queue instantly popped, and remained steady match after match.  It was almost as if hundreds of re-subscribers had come out of the woodwork and back into the fold almost overnight.  I had decided to skip the tutorial at first (big mistake) and get right into action.  Three ships were immediately available for use.  First, the scout; light, fast, and the sleekest looking fighter, this ship appealed to me.  So I made it my first choice in my inaugural flight.

 When the match begins, players are thrown out of hyperspace into battlegrounds filled with all sorts of fun things you’ll probably ram your ship into.  I immediately slammed on my afterburners and headed for checkpoint A.  Both maps in Galactic Starfighter–Kuat Mesa and Lost Shipyard–are basic capture point missions with three objectives to capture. The one that appears to be closest to your spawn is an ideal first cap.  The second closest capture point usually ends up being the most highly contested area, as both teams are found constantly fighting for its control.  After arriving at capture point A, I noticed two enemy fighters creeping towards my direction.  Engaging in combat in this game requires a slight learning curve, and multiple rounds of pure frustration.  However, once you start to get the hang of it, you’ll be blasting ships in no time, and each kill will fill you with pure organic adrenaline. 

 I continued my assault with my guild member by my side.  Due to my speed as a scout, I was easily able to maneuver behind the enemy and fire my blasters.  Now, targeting in this game is somewhat of an enigma at first.  You really have to pay attention to the multiple aiming reticles on your screen, and its difficult to pinpoint your targets at when they appear.  This is especially true when a targeted ship slips behind cover at medium distances.  However, once you get close enough to engage the enemy, pressing the E key will cause a circular reticle to appear–which will turn red when you are in the appropriate proximity of your ship’s cannons.  The reticle will be placed several meters ahead of the enemy allowing you to position your blasters at the percise angle for optimal damage.  My guild mate and I were able to take out the two fighters and defend our position for the remainder of the match. 

 I ended the round with 1 kill, 5 deaths, and three assists, netting only one trophy.  Not an impressive start, but a couple of matches later I was topping the leaderboards while racking up tons of commendations (currency used to upgrade parts).    

Ships

Besides the agile scout fighter, Galactic Starfighter contains two more ship classes to add a necessary variety to the game.  The Gunship is a heavy fighter with powerful cannons, and a unique rail gun that acts as a sniper rifle.  This ship is great for holding capture points and staying far behind combat–great for picking off other enemy gunships or fighters waiting for their engines to recharge.  Not most fun class for me, but with enough practice over time, a capable pilot in this ship could easily make the Gunship one of the most feared vessels.

The Strike Fighter is a good balance between the heaviness of the Gunship and the speed of the Scout.  This ship is perfect for both offensive and defensive strategies and was the most widely used ship in the matches I played.  An important thing to remember in any ship you are piloting is to swap out your power conversions.  If you are on the offensive, it would wise to allocate your power to your cannons so you can do more damage and fire longer.  Switch to your shield power for a faster recharge and to take on more hits.  If you need to get somewhere in a pinch, focus your power on your engine so you can travel longer.  You can toggle each of these conversions with F1, F2, and F3.

On a side note, it has been confirmed that in February–when the game goes live to all free-to-play users– a new ship, “the bomber,” will be added to the game. 

Crew and Upgrades.

Flying along with you is a ragtag crew that fills specific roles on each ship.  Among this crew, players can choose from class-specific companions, or a list of new allies that appear only in starfighter matches.  Each companion provides their own unique bonus to the ship and fills in one of the following slots: co-pilot, offensive, defensive, engineering, and tactical.  Players can also choose companions from different classes.  For example, a Jedi Knight can pick Bowdaar– a Smuggler companion for the price of a few thousand commendations.  Lore-wise this doesn’t appear to make much sense, but still adds a nice variety.

Component upgrades allow you to customize everything on you ship, such as laser cannons, engines, shields, etc.  With 11 customizable parts you can craft the perfect ship to fit your play style.  Even though the expansion is still relatively new, many sites are already posting custom builds for optimal combat roles.  Just another sign of that the SWTOR community is still flourishing.

Cosmetics

Everything from your blaster bolt color, paint jobs, and even what color your engine tail gives off can be found on this tab.  These are purely for eye candy and have no real effect on how your ship performs.  So far, the few that are available are impressive–but definitely has enough room to be expanded upon in the future.  Some of these you can buy with requisition points you earn in game, while others are unlocked with cartel coins.

 

Final Thoughts

Galactic Starfighter is a perfect blend of what I wanted, expected, and had no idea could be possible in a free roaming dogfighting mini-game set in an MMO.  While the lore and story may swept under the rug, Galactic Starfighter brings a lot more than just a new way to level your ground game character.  My only fear is that the lack of variety in maps and gameplay modes will get old quickly.  Nevertheless, I believe that it complements and even enhances the overall allure of the game.  I feel Bioware did a great job eliminating the notion that you have “pay to win” as only cosmetic customizations appear to be the only things you can buy with cartel coins.  The cosmetics are bit sparse, but have room to grow over time.  All I know is that Bioware has once again excelled in bringing an entertaining form of gameplay into an MMO that was once hemorrhaging players.   

8
Lock S-Foils in Attack Position: SWTOR Galactic Starfighter Review
Hands on Review of SWTOR's new Galactic Starfighter expansion.

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