When it was announced that Star Wars: The Old Republic would be getting free-flight PvP space combat, my interest was piqued; being a fan of the old X-Wing series, and having spent most of my brief Star Wars Galaxies tenure jumping to lightspeed, I thought I might as well resubscribe to be first in line for starfighter access. And for free hats. Mostly the hats, to tell the truth.
I’ve only dabbled a little in space fighting since the update arrived, and I’m not sure I’ll be throwing myself into it in a big way. It all seems nice enough, you have a variety of ships, can tinker with the crew and the fittings, level up various aspects of their abilities, but the actual flying-around-and-shooting side hasn’t really grabbed me. I think I’ve been spoiled by War Thunder, which uses a “virtual instructor” so all you have to do is point the mouse in the vague direction you want to fly, and the instructor accordingly adjusts the elevator, rudder, ailerons, elevons, upperons, downerons and any other control surfaces that happen to be kicking around; once you’re pointing the right way, the camera aligns, and you’re flying straight and level. It’s a brilliantly intuitive and easy system; I was showing the game to Van Hemlock, lined him up a Spitfire for a test flight, and with minimal instruction (“press shift to go fast!”) he took off, flew around, shot up a practise target and landed, without crashing. Galactic Starfighter, like a lot of other flying/space combat games, uses more of a mouse-as-joystick approach: move the mouse left and your ship goes left until you move the mouse back to the middle of the screen, a scheme that needs a bit more practise to get to grips with.
Needing practise, it would be a nice if you were thrown into battle with fellow novices so you could all bumble around together, with your wingman struggling to put his starfighter into gear while you accidentally turn on the windscreen wipers instead of firing your blasters. With a phased approach to release (subscribers having access now, ‘preferred’ players getting access on January 14th and completely free access from February 4th), it seems that the pool of potential pilots is too small for any matchmaking niceties like taking account of player performance or ship upgrades, and most rounds I’ve played so far have been dramatic mismatches differing only in whether the Imperial forces disconsolately hang around one of the three control points for an inevitable but prolonged loss, or just get camped on their spawn point.
At this point I could knuckle down and jolly well harden the ruddy heck up, keep on plugging away and gradually improving, or… not bother. And with War Thunder and World of Warplanes available to scratch the dogfighting itch, not to mention space games like Star Conflict if gravity and an atmosphere is too much of a drag, Option 2 looks rather tempting.
Though the space combat itself hasn’t been terribly inspiring so far, Galactic Starfighter has got me back into SWTOR more generally. I’ve been on an MMO-break for a fair while, but seeing as I’d subscribed again I thought I might as well have a look at the expansion, Rise of the Hutt Cartel, that added a new planet and raised the level cap. It was rather fun to dust off my Imperial Agent and chat to the old crew again, but upon landing and actually getting into combat it was the familiar old problem of having four hotbars of random icons to get to grips with again. Fortuitously the FRR posse were just piling in, a fine opportunity to roll a new character and get back into the swing of things, and it’s been most splendid rampaging around the place and discussing the quantum state of Schrödinger’s Black Talon Captain with others.
I may still try the odd starfighter flight, then, as a bit of downtime between quests and flashpoints; perhaps once preferred players have access there’ll be a brief flurry of newcomers I might have half a chance against, while the even-more-seasoned-by-then veterans enjoy a Happy Time in a potentially extreme case of free(ish) players being content for subscribers, unless the matchmaking system keeps them apart. As part of the wider whole of SWTOR it’s nice to have options alongside the main story, the PvE on-rails flying the game launched with, conventional PvP battlegrounds, flashpoints, operations etc., but I’m not sure Galactic Starfighter is really strong enough to pull people into the game by itself, especially with dedicated projects like Elite: Dangerous and Star Citizen inching towards playability. Still, the beauty of free-to-play is that you give it a try yourself from February without any financial outlay.