3 Dec 2011

SWTOR Space Combat: Missed Opportunity

As I’ve been playing the beta for Star Wars: The Old Republic, I’ve been trying to experience as much of the game as possible. A significant chunk of that is the Space Combat minigame. Basically this involves using the ship you earn at around level 15 to take part in space missions, such as escorting a ship, disabling an enemy space station and so on.

While this minigame is fun in it’s own way there are some significant limits on how this combat works. All the action is on-rails – your ship flies a preset path from one point to another. All the action takes place around you, from enemies coming in to intercept through to capital ships dropping out of hyperspace.

What this means is that the experience gets very repetitive very fast. While you can move your ship around your limited field of view to avoid asteroids and debris, there’s no opportunity to do things differently. Enemies arrive at the same time every time, so once you’ve recognised the pattern to the attacks you can sail through it easily.

The only gating mechanism to the harder missions is what level you are and what ship upgrades you’ve purchased. There is literally nothing more to it than working out how much damage you can take. Everything else is putting your mouse over the target and pressing the button to blow it up. Auto-aiming makes that even easier – as soon as the ship’s a small cluster of pixels on the screen it can be shot at and blown up.

The big issue I have with this is that we’ve had strong space combat in PC games before, and they were very good and did very well. I grew up on the X-Wing series (X-Wing, Tie Fighter, X-Wing Vs Tie Fighter) and others like Wing Commander. These were off-rails space combat games that were fun, challenging and had a threaded storyline.

Importantly, there hasn’t been a new Star Wars space dogfighting game released in the last ten years. There’s not even any competition for it. EVE doesn’t do dogfighting at all, while Star Trek Online is more of a capital ship combat affair. The only one that would have come close is Jumpgate Evolution, a game that’s now never likely to emerge after NetDevil’s various problems.

It’s still possible for BioWare to sieze the opportunity. Make a bold statement to say that in an upcoming content patch to be delivered in a specified timeframe, space combat will be expanded significantly. Provide an off-rails mode, support joysticks (and maybe do a tie-in with Razer again) and cater for PVP space combat.

The Star Wars franchse used to be known for legendary space combat during the 1990s. I’d like for BioWare to return to that form. I’d remain subscribed to the MMO purely on that basis.

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10 Responses to SWTOR Space Combat: Missed Opportunity

  1. Ahtchu says:

    Very, very visually appealing. Watching the vid, and as you mention, immediately make my heart flutter for the X-wing series. It’s sad to learn this isn’t the case. It’s great that it’s a style of gameplay that the industry doesn’t have at present, but such a missed opportunity indeed. Amen to this: I’d remain subscribed to the MMO purely on that basis.
    I am getting the feeling that this game is wholly a ‘collectively single player game’ at its core. Nothing really massive or even multiplayer really, with the entirety of the content on rails*. Confirm?

    * This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s just a design point.
    Ahtchu recently posted..Mind Scooting Over?My Profile

    • Gazimoff says:

      The game does suffer from being heavily single-player, I’ll agree. I’m picking up the game because the story (and the way it’s told) is excellent, but I don’t know if I’ll be playing long-term.

  2. Khaa says:

    Star Wars Galaxies actually had a great space combat engine. Probably one of the few things that kept it around for as long as it lived… until it’s slow, agonizing death…

    • Sam says:

      Stumbled across this article and immediately thought “SWG had such an incredible space combat system.” It was extremely intricate and an excellent flight simulator in itself. I would resub in a heartbeat, even for 9 days, if I could

  3. swtorSPEC says:

    I haven’t made it that far in the beta yet, but I see your point. How often would you play these space combat mini-games during normal gameplay? Is it so much that it will drive you nuts or just once in a while?
    swtorSPEC recently posted..How to win at HuttballMy Profile

    • actiblizz says:

      When game content gets so repetitive that it’ll drive you nuts when you do it often, does it help or hurt a subscription based game’s retention? I submit that for a P2P mmo, this decision may worse than a missed opportunity.

      • Gazimoff says:

        I am a little worried that it’ll become a gimmick that gets seen as a way to make some easy XP or credits on the side when it could be so much better. But because it’s not crucial for progression, I think people will drop it as soon as they get bored of it.

  4. AeroFlai says:

    Regarding space combat, back in May in a Q&A, as published at mmorpg.com Daniel Erickson was characterized in the article as saying:

    At launch space combat will be singleplayer only. They are looking to expand the feature further post-launch, and they are very open as to where it goes from here based on player feedback after the game goes live. They’d love to do ‘free fly’ stuff, multiplayer, etc, but again, this all depends on feedback.

    So be sure to put in your two credits on the new forums after the game goes live. There is a strong cadre of support already.

  5. chris says:

    Don’t forget Star Wars Battlefront – which it was a sandbox, it was pretty fun.

    I suspect they realize that space combat is a huge opportunity for a separate end game progression path – take it off rails…big time epic dog fights & space battles would make me play this game for a loooong time! They’ve already talked about Guild Capital Ships – imagine light vs dark…launching fighters from your guild capital ships??

    Now that would be awesome.

  6. ObiNob says:

    Don’t forget that galaxies didn’t include space combat until the first expansion Jump to LightSpeed. I guess we could have waited until 2013 for them to release this or maybe 2020 so we could make sure everything everyone wanted was in the first release.