F2PvP: SWTOR's Galactic Starfighter

Sometimes it's nice to come back to a game after a period of inactivity
to see what's all new and exciting in the world you love. For me, it's
been a busy summer and I haven't had a lot of time to stay in step with my
regular games, so now that the weather is miserable and I'm spending more
time indoors again, I find myself playing catch-up.

This has been pretty easy in Star
Wars: The Old Republic
. BioWare/EA has been quite generous
with their regular updates to the game, and there's loads of new content
to get me all caught up and geared well enough that I don't feel
half-naked when trying new things. The most recent update, 2.4:
The Dread War
, introduces a new moon, Oricon, which is a much
different experience than the Czerka-controlled moon that was introduced
with 2.3: Titans of Industry. 2.3 was all about the new self-contained
dailies without a whole lot of story getting in the way. 2.4 continues the
story of the Dread Masters, and tasks the player with confronting them on
the volcanic moon of Oricon.

SWTOR Galactic Starfighter - Oricon mission

Better yet, the single-player missions on Oricon have direct, high-value
rewards rather than just grind-for-'em tokens. There are 5 single-player
story missions leading up to a pair of operations, and each of the
missions rewards a piece of artifact-quality armor with level 66 mods.
Since Ogregunk was still rocking a few embarrassing 58s, every mission was
a fairly substantial gear upgrade. By the end of it, Ogregunk was pretty
much geared up for the operations that cap off the Oricon experience.

It seems wise to do my catching-up now, because there are interesting
things in store for SWTOR over the coming months. The game's second
expansion, Galactic Starfighter, is scheduled for a
December release (for subscribers; everyone else has to wait until January
or February), and will finally take space combat off the rails. This is
the "Super-Secret Space Project" (or SSSP) that BioWare/EA has been
talking about for a long time - pretty much since launch, when people
started complaining about the bottled, on-rails space missions not feeling
very much like Star Wars.

SWTOR Galactic Starfighter - current space combat system

For whatever reason, though, the much-anticipated free-range space combat
won't use the tricked-out starships the characters have been flying since
leaving their faction homeworlds. And it will be Player-versus-Player
only, with big 12-on-12 battles. It's not going to be the exhilarating
sandbox in space that so many of us have been expecting.

The really bizarre thing about the Galactic Starfighter expansion is that
it is planned to launch without much in the way of PvE content of any
kind. According to one post
by Community Manager Eric Musco
on the SWTOR forums:

There will not be a new planet and there is no increase to the level
cap with this expansion. We really wanted to focus this expansion around
space off of rails where you get to fight your friends (and enemies!)

To that point, there will not be any Space based PvE content with the
Digital Expansion. It is only going to be PvP.

It's worth noting that he's isn't saying that there will be zero PvE
content at all coming with the new expansion. There's no new planet and no
level cap increase, and the PvP-only, off-the-rails space combat is the
focus of the expansion, but that doesn't mean they might not sneak in a
flashpoint or something. Although, by the tone of the message, and by the
complete lack of any mention of PvE content in any of the company's press
regarding the announced expansion, there probably won't be.

SWTOR Galactic Starfighter - space combat

Normally, I hate PvP, and I haven't engaged in much of it in my entire
SWTOR career. And I'm certainly not alone in my distaste for PvP. A big
chunk of the SWTOR community is there for the story and the
Player-versus-Environment gameplay. Many of these players are very vocal
about expressing their disappointment over non-PvE space combat. But the
idea that Ogregunk could emulate Darth Vader even more by becoming an ace
starfighter pilot has a raw appeal that can't be denied. And maybe my
Powertech will become the Sith Empire's version of Wedge Antilles... but
they're both vastly more likely to flame out and die like Biggs or

Even though SWTOR's new space combat will be limited to PvP, it has the
potential to greatly change the overall tone of the game. The space battle
sequences from the movies are one of the top reasons that the Star Wars
franchise has so many fans in the first place, and that's been a core
experience that has been missing from the game since launch. The "space
combat on rails" system that's currently in place has felt rather flat for
the past two years. There's no room for real Han Solo-esque feats of
derring-do, or using the Force to guide the proton torpedo into the
2-meter ventilation shaft opening. You can do barrel-rolls all day long,
but you cannot deviate from the pre-programmed flight plan - no unexpected
charging the Star Destroyer bridge and then button-hooking around to latch
onto the hull to avoid detection. Clearly, Han Solo was an exploiter.

SWTOR Galactic Starfighter - pilot outfits

The new Galactic Starfighter space combat will have its own system of
leveling and progression, according to another
by Eric Muso. This, and the enigmatic reference to "Maximum
leveling and progression" on the official
Galactic Starfighter page
(at the bottom of the Subscriber Early
Access column), likely refers to ship upgrades and such - a series of
unlocks that one attains via ranking, or by earning space combat tokens
and buying starfighter upgrades from a new vendor on fleet, or something
along these lines. Evidently, with whatever system they end up using,
subscribers will get some kind of bonus and will be able to advance faster
than preferred or F2P players.

The Galactic Starfighter space battles will use small ships in a variety
of combat roles - think in terms of Star Trek Online's starships, how the
science vessels have very different loadouts and capabilities than the
gigantic, cumbersome cruisers, which are flying cities built for very long
voyages, or the tiny, agile escorts that seem to have one starship weapon
per crew member.

SWTOR seems to be following a similar pattern, offering at least three
combat roles: Gunships, Strike Fighters and Scouts. Just like in STO, the
starship's role is separate from the combat role of the pilot - it is
conceivable that a Jedi Guardian could pilot a sneaky Scout starship to
track enemy movement and then book out to safety without being seen, and
an Imperial Operative could come raging into a dogfight at the helm of a
Gunship with all blaster barrels blazing.

SWTOR Galactic Starfighter - space combat

Personally, I feel that this kind of new content can only be
good for the game, even if it is slated for PvP only. It's something new
and fresh that should draw in new players, or coax a few former players
into giving the game another shot, and inspire more growth in the rest of
the game. It adds a new facet to the PvP game, one that might be more
appealing to some players who have otherwise felt uninspired by the
current PvP.

Perhaps the new system can even serve as a proving ground for
implementing a similar sandbox-style space combat system in the PvE game
at a later date. It would take a lot of tweaking and inventive design, I'm
guessing, and content would likely have to be designed around it rather
than shoehorning the whole complicated mess into the existing on-rails
space combat system. But it's a starting point, at least - a foundation
upon which great works can be built. That's the essence of every

SWTOR Galactic Starfighter - space combat, Imperial ships

And really, the best part of Galactic Starfighter is that the expansion
will be completely free... eventually. It will be a tiered release - 
Subscribers get first access in December, then Preferred Access players a
month later in January, and finally F2P players in February. And February
is going to be crunch time for SWTOR: Elder Scrolls Online and WildStar
are due out shortly after that, and BioWare/EA is going to need to up
their game to stay competitive next spring.

What are your thoughts on space combat being PvP-only in the Galactic
Starfighter expansion? Let us know in the comments!

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Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016