Archive for November, 2013

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!

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