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Space Combat

Michael Bitton Posted:
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The last time we discussed Star Wars: The Old Republic I brought up my (low) expectations for this year’s Comic-Con in San Diego. My expectations turned out to be relatively on the mark, though we did learn a few interesting things from the show including new information on the game’s quests and companions, but the real news of the event was the “secret reveal” that Bioware wanted their fans to earn (much to my lament). Well, it turns out fans weren’t able to meet the quota, but perhaps Bioware heeded my words as they relented anyways, offering players a doozy of a reveal: Star Wars: The Old Republic will have space combat.

Our forums, the official forums, fansites, and all over the ‘net have always been abuzz with all sorts of speculation for SW:TOR, but with such an ambitious (and costly) project as it was, most fans assumed that Bioware would not be including a real space component with the game’s launch. This prompted discussion along the lines of “How can you release a Star Wars game without space?” This is a valid concern to be sure and there is some precedent for such thinking. Bioware had been relatively hush-hush on anything space-related up until E3 2010 where they revealed player starships as a feature for the game, though they described the feature as being very similar to the way player starships were represented in the Knights of the Old Republic games. For those who don’t know, the Ebon Hawk in KOTOR and KOTOR II really only served as a base of operations and a hub from which to travel to locations across the galaxy (selected by way of a galaxy map). If this was to be the limit of the player starships feature, fans were decidedly underwhelmed. The hopeful hold-outs for a full fledged space component were left, ironically, less hopeful after the reveal of player starships at E3.

Fast forward a few months later to Comic-Con, and the pendulum swings back the other way with the confirmation of space combat. However, not detail was revealed other than the fact that players will fly their ships to “hot spots” on the galaxy map where they will be able to blast through “asteroid fields, enemy fighters, frigates, destroyers, and a variety of other obstacles that will evoke the memories of some of the great Star Wars space battles.”

That’s a relief right? Well, yes and no. We still aren’t sure on how exactly this will all play out, and the initial announcement wasn’t too reassuring. The feature is described as an “alternative gameplay experience”. So, what? That could mean anything: It could be a full-fledged “alternative gameplay experience” along the lines of Star Wars Galaxies’ Jump to Lightspeed or LucasArts’ venerable X-Wing series from the 90’s. Yeah, maybe, except that the next line of the announcement clarifies a bit more what they mean. Space combat will be an alternative to the “primary game of storytelling, questing, and ground-based combat.” The optimist in me wants to take that all at face-value; space combat will not be the main component of the game. D’uh.

However, this is all leaving me with the feeling that the space component of SW:TOR will really only be a side-show to the main event. Indeed, many fans have been wondering the same thing. Will we see an epic tale in space like the ground game below? A space game that embraces the same storytelling philosophy as the ground game, with the chops to draw comparisons to X-Wing Alliance or X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter with all the neat features to boot? Not likely, though the more realistic hopefuls could still reasonably hope for a full-fledged space game along the lines of SWG’s Jump to Lightspeed expansion. On the other end of the spectrum, space combat could boil down to what is basically a collection of mini-games ala Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures. It could really be on either end of the spectrum at this point, but I think it’s pretty safe to say we’re not going to see X-Wing Alliance re-created in Star Wars: The Old Republic. This isn’t exactly a huge disappointment, as it wasn’t much of a realistic desire anyway. But hey, the game does have a fairly ridiculous budget, so why not dream big dreams?

Personally, I’m still holding out hope for something similar to Jump to Lightspeed, which is a little bit more realistic. I know, I know, mentioning Star Wars Galaxies in a positive light? Get the pitchforks and torches out! But no, really, outside of the atrocious loot tables of JTL and the continuity warping fact that the prequel ships flew circles (sometimes literally, I’m looking at you Jedi Starfighter) around their contemporary counterparts, SOE really did a pretty dang decent job with the expansion. Jump to Lightspeed offered players many of the gameplay features of say, X-Wing Alliance, and then some. There were many ships to select from, including larger ships from the Star Wars universe such as the Corellian YT-1300 (Millenium Falcon) and the YT-2400 (Dash Rendar’s Outrider), many of which sported multiple-deck interiors (that were fully customizable to boot!). Speaking of customization, all the aforementioned ships could be customized in terms of both their components and aesthetics, with the former oftentimes producing an aesthetic change as well. Ships could be outfitted with custom (reverse engineered) engines, weapons, capacitors and all sorts of components, and many ships could even hold programmable droids (or at the very least flight computers), which were able execute a variety of programs ranging from simple things such as shunting power to from one component to the next or configuring shield alignment, to calling in bomber strikes, to emergency repairs, etc.

I’d even argue that Jump to Lightspeed took things one step further. Not only did it do a pretty good job at capturing the action of a Star Wars space experience, but it also, ironically enough, captured the Star Trek experience better than even Star Trek Online did in a certain way. The aforementioned larger ships often featured fully customizable interiors, multiple decks, and even multiple roles for players on the ship to fill. Players onboard these ships could man the turrets, pilot, execute programs and more from the co-pilot seat, or even actively repair the ship in the engine room. Sure, it didn’t allow for the city-sized populations of various Star Trek ships, but it did a pretty good job of re-creating the social atmosphere and multi-person crew that many Star Trek fans sought out to experience in Star Trek Online years later. Out of all the possible features, we can realistically expect this one in particular to be a strong possibility for SW:TOR as we already know there will be customizable multi-deck interiors to player starships, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that players could also man the ship’s turrets as well.

What are your expectations or hopes for space/space combat in Star Wars: The Old Republic? Share your thoughts below!


Michael Bitton

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager. Follow him on Twitter @eMikeB