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Columns: Space Combat Cont'd: On Rails Edition!

By Michael Bitton on August 11, 2010

Space Combat Cont'd: On Rails Edition!

Last week I used our weekly Star Wars: The Old Republic column to weigh in on Bioware’s “secret” Comic-Con announcement of space combat for SW:TOR. I also used that week’s column to spend some time analyzing the rather brief and somewhat cryptic announcement, and came up with some possibilities for the implementation of space combat within the game.


Like many other features of Star Wars: The Old Republic, I fully expected it to be some time before we learned some more specific and concrete details on the game’s space combat component, but here we are a week later and boy is the world a different place!

The language used in the original announcement, namely that the space combat component would be an “alternative gameplay experience”, something to do when not focused on the “primary game of story-telling, questing, and ground-based combat.” got me a bit worried. This was starting to sound like space combat would be a bit of a side-show, not something players could really sink into. In fact, I drew comparisons to the space combat mini-game featured in Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures , the Star Wars MMO designed by SOE for a younger demographic (think Free Realms with a Star Wars skin). However, I was hopeful that we’d see something more akin to Star Wars Galaxies’ Jump to Lightspeed, which actually did a really good job at capturing the Star Wars space experience overall.

Not long after the initial announcement came rumors that described SW:TOR’s space combat as a “tunnel shooter.” These rumors originated from German fansite Online Welten which discovered the details in PC Action magazine. This, of course, stirred up the hornet’s nest over on the official SW:TOR forums, and BioWare’s Sean Dahlberg wasn’t saying anything to deny the rumors. It was only a day later that we learned the same thing from the October issue of PC Gamer, a magazine well known to gamers. The scans confirmed the unfortunate truth: Star Wars: The Old Republic’s space combat will be nothing more than an on-rails shooter.

That’s right. Do a barrel roll, baby.

If it’s not obvious by now, I’m more than a little disappointed by this news. I was one of the people who would have gladly taken no space at all at launch if that meant we’d get a proper space component later. However, the scope of SW:TOR’s space offering at launch is likely to be the extent of space gameplay in the game. By that, I don’t mean that there won’t be additional features, in fact, Bioware did say they would be looking into adding PvP and/or group play options (yep, it’s a purely solo experience at launch), but the point is that they will be layering things onto a fundamentally poor experience. Why am I so convinced that the space game won’t be ever be more than an on rails shooter? Because it really makes little financial stance to pretty much throw away something you’ve put resources into in order to replace it with something else. Is it still a possibility? Sure. But I’d honestly feel more hopeful were there no real space component to speak of at launch than what we are getting.

What I find even more puzzling are the results of the poll attached to the discussion thread on the official forums. The poll asks if users are happy with the news, to which the second most popular response is “Yes.”, with “I need more information” being the top choice.

Who are these people?

Fanboys? Trolls? Who could honestly be happy about this announcement? Indifferent? Maybe. Thankful there is a space component at all? Sure. But happy? It boggles the mind. Are there really people out there who would prefer what is essentially StarFox with a Star Wars skin to something closer to X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter? Star Wars is as much about space as it is about the ground game, and it is entirely understandable if Bioware couldn’t deliver both at launch; but to boil the full space experience down to what would be more fitting as a cantina game similar to StarCraft II’s Lost Viking diversion is, well, honestly, borderline offensive.

I’d love to eat my hat on this one. I hope Bioware proves me wrong down the line, I really do.

What are your thoughts on space combat in Star Wars: The Old Republic?

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 as the site's Community Manager.