Hey folks! It’s been awhile since posting here, but we’re back with some juicy info regarding the Star Wars: The Old Republic upcoming space expansion, Galactic Starfighter! We were lucky enough to be a part of the closed beta testing for the new content, and are now free to report on it! (Unfortunately the NDA still prohibits the sharing of any screenshot or video footage from the closed testing, so descriptions and explanations will have to do for now.)

As you know, Galactic Starfighter introduces “free flight” (aka, “not on rails”) space combat, in the form of 12 vs 12 PvP battles. The new space game definitely has a good amount of depth built into it, which I’ll dive into a bit here. With the “early access” go live date less than 3 weeks away, I’d expect to see this opening up to all on the Public Test Server any day now. And now, on to the exciting details!

Ships

During testing, we had access to four different classes of ship, most of which had multiple specific ships that fell into that category:

Strike Fighter
The Strike Fighter is considered the standard dogfighting ship, with all aspects being considered fairly average. Decent speed and maneuverability, good weaponry and defenses.
Available Strike Fighter Ships: F-T6 Rycer, F-T2 Quell

Scout
Scout ships are built for speed. What they lack in firepower and defenses they make up for in pesky elusiveness and raw speed.

Gunship
Gunships are unique in that they come equipped with a railgun for a weapon, which has a unique “zoom in and snipe” mechanic. Unfortunately, going into railgun mode leaves you very vulnerable to attack and the weapon doesn’t seem to do as much damage as would be expected considering the vulnerable position and the “charge time” associated with it.

Bomber
The bomber is a slow moving behemoth with strong defenses and not known for its one on one dogfighting ability. But what it lacks in head to head firepower it makes up for using its assortment of drones and mines. “Mine layer” may be a more apt description of this class of ship, as its weapons are really “fire and forget” type bombs that will either sit where they’re dropped and wait for enemy ships to approach or will actively hone in on nearby ships. No targeting is needed to deploy these mines and drones, which made them a popular choice during testing.Available Bombers: M-7 Razorwire

Components

I won’t get into this too deeply because the real depth of this aspect lies in the actual component upgrades and “spec” trees themselves, but the component loadouts of each ship is the main way you “build out” and improve your ship. Ships have different types of weapons, shields, engines, etc. that can be unlocked using the currency earned by participating in space combat. Additionally, each component has its very own “skill tree” that has enhancements that can be unlocked as well to further boost their power. Things like increased rate of fire for weapons, higher absorb value for shields, reduced cooldowns on abilities, and increased number of deployable drones are examples of some of the improvements that can be bought.

Crew

Another way to customize your flying experience is by assigning NPC crew members to specific duties aboard your ship. Not only will you find your class specific companions among those available to become part of your crew, but several new space specific companions have been introduced as well. Each crew member offers different special abilities for your ship, so mixing and matching crew members can lead to very different combinations of abilities. There are five different crew positions available. The Copilot position offers an “active” ability and provides the “voice” of your ship during combat, while the other four copilot positions offer “passive” bonuses:

  • Copilot
  • Offensive
  • Defensive
  • Tactical
  • Engineering

And here are the Imperial specific “space” companions newly introduced:

  • Aven Geth (Human)
  • Writch Hurley (Human)
  • MZ-12 (Astromech Droid)
  • Salana Rok (Chiss)

Cosmetics

I know what you’re thinking: “That sounds great! But can I customize how my ship actually looks?” Well, this shouldn’t come as a surprise since it was mentioned in the piece announcing the space content, but yes, you can.

Physical customization takes the form of paint jobs applied to your ship’s body and wings. During testing, there were generally two different pattern styles for each ship with five different color combinations. Of those, one style is available, while one is locked, and two color combinations are available with three of them locked. During testing, the indication was that these additional patterns and color combinations could be unlocked using Cartel Coins. There is also the option to “invert” the colors for no charge.

Battle Objectives

During testing, only one type of gameplay mode was available, the typical “Domination” mode where each team competes to control and hold several points on the map. In this case, the control points are three satellites spaced evenly across the map. Think of it almost like the Alderaan Civil War Warzone, except in space, where a team will want to capture and hold at least 2 of the 3 satellites for a long period of time than the enemy in order to win. Of course, just like the Civil War, getting a “3 cap” will speed along the process but spread out your defensive forces more.

Capturing a satellite is as simple as blowing up all the enemies in the immediate area and keeping your ship close to it. When your ship is in the process of capturing the satellite, a green visual effect surrounds your ship, letting you know the cap is progressing. There are lights on the prongs of the satellite that will change color based on the progress of the capture – Red means controlled by the enemy, white means neutral, and green means controlled by your team.

To add an extra little wrinkle to the game, satellites will spawn up to 3 defensive turrets over time as a team maintains control. These turrets will have to be destroyed by the enemy before they can attempt to capture the satellite themselves. The turrets don’t move and don’t have that much health, but they do pack a bit of a punch and do help supplement the defenses especially well if there are other players in the vicinity defending as well.

When your ship blows up, you will respawn shortly, usually back at the starting point for your team. (Although there is an ability called “hyperspace beacon” which allows for additional strategic spawn spots to be set.) You can also switch ships when you respawn, something that is used strategically to choose the ship that best suits the role you want to play based on how the match is going. The game ends when one team has controlled satellites long enough to reach the required score.

Flight Controls

Flight controls are fairly simple, though the overall concept of “free flight” can take some getting used to, especially when the mouse has so much control. Your mouse essentially “steers” your ship by controlling what direction it goes in. The popular “WASD” keys on the keyboard control throttle (W to speed up, S to slow down) and barrel rolling (A to roll left, D to roll right). The X key hits the brakes and brings your ship to a stop. And spacebar gives your ship a boost of speed, though it will only last as long as your ship has engine power.

Speaking of power, there are three different types of power: engine, weapons, and shields. The default setting is to have all three balanced in level, but the F1-F4 keys allow for overloading one at the expense of the other two. For example, if you want to be able to use your spacebar speed boost for longer than usual, you can shift power to the engines to get increased capability, though your weapon and shield power will suffer.

Combat

Actual combat is fast and furious, with enemies in all directions. In order to survive, you need to quickly locate the enemy and either blow them up before they blow you up, or get the hell away from them with your hull still intact. With three dimensional space, not only do you have to watch your back, but above and below you as well.

Luckily there are several different ways to target enemies. The first and most familiar is the Tab key on the keyboard, which will target the nearest enemy to you at first press. Subsequent presses of Tab will cycle through enemies. The range of targeting is fairly far, able to reach enemies as far away as the next objective. (In other words, if you’re at the leftmost satellite, hitting tab enough times will eventually cycle you to target enemies as far away as the middle satellite.) When a target is locked, several important details (such as its remaining shield strength and hull health) are visible in the target details part of the UI.

Tab is useful when first engaging in battle to find nearby enemies, but once the battle starts, different types of targeting become more important. If you’re being attacked, the R key on the keyboard will target the enemy that most recently attacked you. This is incredibly handy to identify where the danger is coming from to either turn on it or avoid it. Being the aggressor rather than the target? Visual lock on targeting is available by pressing the E key to target the enemy that’s currently under your targeting reticule. When an enemy is targeted but not in front of you in your field of view, a triangular indicator on your HUD UI will point you in the direction to turn to most quickly get them in front of you. This can be a little disorienting at times, since they’re moving as well which can cause the indicator to jump around a bit.

Speaking of targeting, there are two things to worry about when trying to blow someone out of the sky – range and aim. Primary weapons (generally laser cannons of some variety) are fired by pressing the left mouse button. Range of the weapon will vary based on the weapon type and any upgrades that have been applied. When an enemy is out of range, the targeting reticule will remain gray. Once they are within range, the reticule will turn red, and it’s time to blast away!

Getting in range is one thing, but actually hitting your target it another. They likely won’t be sitting still for you, and the way targeting works is that you need to aim your cursor and their “lead indicator” and fire. The lead indicator will be a smaller red circle that basically predicts the location of the enemy by the time your blasts get there, so it won’t generally be right on top of the enemy ship. The direction and distance of the lead indicator as related to your actual target will depend on its movement. It takes a little getting used to trying to aim in front of the target rather than actually directly at it, but it does become natural fairly quickly. When you hit the target, the familiar damage fly text will appear showing how much you’ve hit them far.

Secondary weapons vary from ship to ship, but the common “missile lock” mechanic is available as an option. This works about as you would expect, similar to the on rails PvE space game – keep the target within your reticule, press and hold the right mouse button while the missile “locks” on, and release the button. When on defense, there are audio clues as to when you’re being missile locked yourself, giving you a chance to take evasive actions.

Speaking of which, that’s a good lead in to talk about special abilities. These abilities include things like defensive moves (some of which will automatically shake missile lock), offensive abilities, and even an occasional group buff for friendly ships in your area. It will become important to become well acquainted with these abilities, what they do, what their cooldowns are, and when best to use them. Perfect timing of ability usage can often be the difference between life and death.

Summary

Overall, Galactic Starfighter is a new and exciting chapter to the SWTOR experience, and feels almost exactly like you would hope a free flight space combat game to feel. The action is fast-paced and non-stop. The options for changing your ship’s loadout gives players a chance to truly customize it to fit their preferred style of play. I’m surely looking forward to getting my hands on this once it goes live and taking my SWTOR heroics to space and beyond!

Hey people! So the fine folks over at BioWare were kind enough to take some time out of their busy days to answer some questions regarding the upcoming Rise of the Hutt Cartel expansion! Among those who provided answers are: Brian Audette,Content Design Lead on Rise of the Hutt Cartel; Rob Hinkle, Senior Systems Designer; Jesse Sky, Lead Designer; and Nathan Emmott, Systems Designer.

Topics covered in the interview include new types of gameplay in the expansion, some details regarding Makeb, thoughts on crafting, hybrid specs, the Cartel Market, and more! Special thanks to Community Manager Eric Musco for arranging this and making it happen!

And as reported by Massively and elsewhere, the RotHC expansion will be launching on April 14th!

During the Livestream Q&A back in October, a player asked about the possibility of mini-games, and Damion said that Makeb has a few features that are, “entirely new gameplay activities. Entirely new ways for you to encounter and explore the world, and they’re a lot of fun.” Could you elaborate a bit on what that means and how it works?

Brian Audette: What Damion was talking about was our new Macrobinoculars and Seeker Droid content and while they’re more expansive than what you might consider “minigames”, they definitely fit that category of cool new things to do in SWTOR outside of the standard game play that people are used to.

Macrobinoculars will allow players to see the world in a different way and to identify otherwise hidden or mundane objects in order to complete quests and rack up achievements.

The Seeker Droid will let players play “treasure hunter” and search dig sites throughout the galaxy in hopes of finding unique items, artifacts, and gear.

Both features are introduced by their own exciting series of story quests that will take players across the galaxy to address all-new threats to the Empire and Republic. There is also a set of daily and weekly quests that will offer commendation rewards as well as reputation with a new organization.

It’s been said that RotHC will not see a continuation of the class specific story lines. That said, will the overall story experience vary from class to class? In other words, will an Agent have the same story experience (outside of slightly different dialogue responses) as a Sith Warrior while experiencing the Makeb storyline?

Brian: While the main storyline on Makeb is per faction and not per class, our writers have done an amazing job of making the dialogue and choices feel even more tailored to both the character class and player decisions than anywhere else in SWTOR. Having played through both Makeb’s Empire and Republic storylines as several different characters I can say that while the major plot points were the same, it felt like my personal version of that story each time as opposed to the same narrative over and over again.

Does the Makeb story shed any light on the mystery surrounding the fate of the Emperor?

Brian: Well if I told you that then you wouldn’t have any reason to find out for yourself. I will say that repercussions regarding events surrounding the Emperor are a major impetus for both the Republic and Empire storylines in Rise of the Hutt Cartel.

What was the biggest technical challenge you faced in creating the new world?

Brian: The great part about developing new content for an already launched product is that in launching that product you’ve learned a lot about what you can and can’t do well. Because of that we went into Makeb with our technical and design limitations firmly in mind and were able to make something that reached further than existing content, but was still firmly within our grasp to create.

That being said, anytime we do a space with as much vertical geometry as Makeb, building the 2-dimensional maps is a unique challenge. There’s also a lot of animated geometry on Makeb and that forced us to think about visual optimization in different ways. Overall it was a pretty smooth experience though.

With new abilities added to each tree, it takes more points to reach the uppermost ability. What is the design intent regarding “hybrid” specs that attempt to go up several trees at once and can sometimes create very powerful combinations?

Rob Hinkle: Hybrid specs are a difficult beast to deal with. Most players use a more traditional and expected skill tree path and that is where we spend a majority of our validation time, we want to make sure those rotations and gameplay are really rock solid. Each of our classes have a series of targets (damage over 5 minutes, damage over an alpha burst, time to kill on players, etc.), and when hybrid specs emerge that exceed our acceptable tolerance, we look to make changes that prevent the combination. We are happy that players like to mess around with their skills trees and find fun and unusual ways to play that are exciting for them, but I’m sure everyone understands that when something pops up that outshines the other classes (and this goes for anything, not just a hybrid), we have to make some changes to bring it back into line.

Update 2.0 on the open Public Test Server includes the long-requested ability to resize the buff/debuff icons within the UI as well as a new “ready check” feature. Are there any other prominent “quality of life” features included with the expansion?

Jesse Sky: Update 2.0 is primarily focused on new content and systems, so aside from those you mentioned (and bits of polish here and there), there aren’t any major quality-of-life additions. We are always looking for things to improve, however, so if there’s a specific quality-of-life enhancement you’d like to see, please let us know!

The Cartel Market has been live for about four months now. Is there any thought being given to adding account-wide vanity item purchases in the future? For example, people buying the mounts would love if the purchase awarded the mount to every character, not just one.

Nathan Emmott: A great deal of thought has gone into providing wider access to Cartel items that players purchase. While we can’t give any additional details at this time, we should begin releasing more information regarding upcoming changes to Cartel item access after the release of Rise of the Hutt Cartel.

The Cartel Market regularly introduces new highly desired armor to the game. This has dramatically decreased the demand for armor created by crafters. Will the expansion provide new opportunities for crafters? How about the ability to create “adaptive” armor?

Nathan: Crafting is still an incredibly important part of our game, and we have at times struggled with keeping balance between the options from Crafters and those of the Cartel Market items. We will continue to support Crew Skills, and they will continue to offer unique items and appearances that will not be available through the Cartel Market. We have discussed internally the ability for crafters to make some items adaptive, but we do not want to make a decision lightly; there are many subtle effects such a change could have. While I won’t say ‘never’, we do not currently have plans to introduce this option.

There has been some feedback from BioWare on the official forums indicating that season one of Rated Warzones is still being worked on. Any update on the progress there?

Rob Hinkle: Stay posted for more info after RotHC goes live.

Speaking of PvP, is there any new content on Makeb targeted towards PvP players? How does it work?

Brian: In addition to our new bolster system for Warzones that should make high level PvP a much more attractive prospect for a much wider range of players, Makeb has more than a few areas where the Empire and Republic content crosses paths and I’d expect to see some interesting open world PvP taking place there.

The limited time world events have been extremely popular with players. Will there be an event to correspond with the introduction of Makeb?

Brian: While there is no event scheduled to go live along with the launch of Rise of the Hutt Cartel, we really enjoy making and playing those experiences ourselves so I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of them in the future along with continued visits from our friends the Gree.

Finishing up with two highly anticipated features: Server transfers and the Cathar species. Will we see either or both of these go live with RotHC? Will server transfers be purchasable with Cartel Coins? Any hint as to how much unlocking Cathar might cost?

Nathan: The Cathar species is an addition to SWTOR that many of us are very excited about. Since this is our first additional playable species, we are taking extra care with its presentation and as such will not be launching with Rise of the Hutt Cartel. However, additional information on when it will be available should be distributed not long after Rise of the Hutt Cartel.

Server Transfers are also an incredibly important player service that we want to release as quickly as we can. Something of this size, however, does require extensive testing and we do not currently have a release date that we are ready to share.

Thank you so much for your time and attention. I know myself and the SWTOR community are very much looking forward to Rise of the Hutt Cartel and the rest of what 2013 may bring for Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Hot off the presses from BioWare, a video taking an inside look at the making of Makeb. Enjoy!