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Star Wars: The Old Republic Previews: Taking to the Sky in Galactic Starfighter

By Blake Morse on November 15, 2013

Since EA and BioWare Austin launched Star Wars: The Old Republic, it has gone through a lot of changes. Moving to a F2P model along with getting consistent, scheduled updates has made it a game with strong community and brought in new players. Now though, they’re ready to make what is probably the most dramatic update to gameplay the game has ever seen. And it’s coming in the form of full-on, free-flight space battles.

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The Galactic Starfighter update for SWToR is definitely a departure from the standard MMO set up fans of the games are accustomed to. There are still many elements from the regular game that carry over. For instance, you’ll still gain XP and be able to upgrade your main character through battles, but you’ll also be able to upgrade your ship with better parts a maneuvers as you progress. Upgrading your engines will give you different evasive moves, like a barrel roll, or a retro thruster you can break missile locks with. Primary and secondary weapons like machine gun turrets, and swarm missiles can be used to augment your arsenal. A lot of work has gone into making the ships customizable to the players personal playstyles, so even within standard combat roles, there will still be a lot of variation to playing styles. Paint jobs and engine configurations will help give everyone their own sense of space fashion.

You can choose a crew made up of your in-game companions, including selecting one to be your co-pilot. 100’s of hours of new voice dialog have been added for all companions so they can provide color co-pilot commentary throughout matches, much in the same way Han and Chewie would always bicker in the films.

Capturing those classic Star Wars space battle moments from the film was key for the features development and other aspects of the new mode, like it’s widescreen, cinematic visual layout. The two levels we tried out were a good mix of planet-side and space skirmishes, offering up one level with steep cliff sides and plateaus with plenty of sniping spots and an asteroid field filled with mining stations. The gameplay mode we tried, Domination, had teams fighting for three waypoints on the map. If a team managed to control a space, three or four sentry turrets would pop up around the parameter that had to be destroy before control could switch sides.

More game modes and more movie moments are definitely on the way and players can expect to be doing trench runs, hunting down secret enemy bases on asteroids and taking on ginormous capital ships as the Galactic Starfighter content progresses. And the best part of it all, is that the content will be available to everyone right from the start. So even if you have no interest in playing the ground game, you can still enjoy everything this new feature has to offer as soon as you create an account.

For now, there will only be three ship classes available at launch: Scout ships are the fastest, but have the weakest arsenal. The Strike Fighter is the middle of the road balanced combat ship, it resembles the signature X-Wing model more than the other ships. And finally the Gunship, who bring out the long-range, heavy artillery. The scout and striker are both great for players who enjoy close-up frantic dog fighting, while the gunship is pretty much a sniper class. During the demo I definitely found myself using the gunship to take out long-range targets with my chargeable bolt rifle then finding a cliff or meteor to hide behind before repeating the process. Finding my niche definitely took a few rounds, but getting used to the controls was not, pardon the pun, rocket science. Unfortunately, since the controls are still based off Old Republic’s UI, there’s no controller support for folks who want to use their fancy flight rigs, but hopefully this won’t be a deal breaker for folks.

Star Wars: The Old Republic subscribers will be the first to get their hands on the content in a few weeks on December 3rd along with exclusive access to the gunship at first.  Preferred customers (anyone that’s ever spent any money on anything for the game) will get access in January and F2P players can expect a launch on February 4th. A fourth “Bomber” class of ships is in the works for all players to enjoy along with premium ships from various playable areas in the ground game are also going to be made available in the online market for folks who really want to show off the bling.

As someone who has never really been into the World of Warcraft-like factors of the Old Republic, this sort of gameplay style had a more immediate appeal and did not have the learning curve associated with such games. Galactic Starfighter is definitely an interesting way to bring a whole new set of gamers into the online universe of Star Wars, and BioWare is banking that it’s something long-time players will enjoy as well, since this is one the most asked for features. Fans will be able to try it for themselves soon enough depending on whether or not they want to pay or wait patiently until Feb.

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