It’s been a long time since I played a Star Wars game that let me hop into a starfighter and blast my way across space. So I was very much looking forward to Galactic Starfighter, the most recent expansion for The Old Republic that introduces a whole new side game of pure space combat with 12 vs 12 PvP matches. Unfortunately, Galactic Starfighter isn’t quite the robust return to the likes of Rogue Squadron and X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter some of us have been hoping for.
One thing that Galactic Starfighter expansion has going for it, is its surprisingly in-depth starfighter system. Fighters are split into three categories; scouts, strike fighters, and gunships, and currently each category has several ship variants to pick from, each with their own strengths, weaknesses and customizable gear. As you play matches, you’ll earn ship requisition points for the fighters you use in that particular match, and fleet requisition points which you can use to buy new variants of ships, ship components or to unlock crew members that provide different passive and active abilities, like in-match healing or damage boosts.
Combat is a much more strategic affair than one would expect. Starfighters are more resilient than what you may have seen in the Star Wars movies or other games in the franchise. This leads to a much higher emphasis on maneuvering, using your active abilities and being accurate with your fire versus being the pilot who shoots first when it comes to scoring a kill. You’ll often find yourself engaging an opponent, exchanging shots for a few seconds, then breaking away from each other to heal up or to try taking on another target that’s nearby. It does make getting in a last fatal shot on a target all the more satisfying (and it’s really cool to fly through a cloud of exploding debris after a tense dogfight), but at times this style of combat can feel slightly boring when you go through a whole match without scoring a single point.
Unfortunately, when it comes to earning ship and fleet requisition, it’s a slow process. Depending on how well you do in a match, you might earn a few hundred ship points and a few dozen fleet points (unless you’re a subscriber, in which case you’ll rake in much more). But when upgrades or new ships cost anywhere between 2,500 and 5,000 points, it can get awfully grind-heavy trying to accumulate enough resources. This is further aggravated by how long it can take to get into a match once you join a queue; while it may be due to the fact that the expansion is only available to subscribers and preferred access players at the time of writing, I often found myself waiting five or ten minutes for a game to kick-off – not the best of signs.
Each of the fighters has its own large selection of components you can choose from, and offer up various ways you can deck out your ship – provided you have the points to buy them. You can turn your nimble scout into an armored torpedo-launching speedster, or deck out your strike fighter with various configurations of laser and ion cannons to perforate your opponent’s shields. Each component also come with its own miniature skill trees you can spend requisition on, letting your blasters deliver a few extra points of damage or use up energy a little more efficiently. It’s a nice system offering a lot of RPG-style customization, but given how slowly you’ll accumulate ship and fleet requisition, the same grindy feeling that comes with trying to buy new ships is also apparent when you try to max out your gear.
Currently, Galactic Starfighter has one mode available. Domination pits teams of Republic and Empire players against each other to control various satellites, and whichever side is able to accumulate 1000 points first wins the match. Sadly, there are only two maps to play in, and a second mode, which is a straightforward team deathmatch, won’t be enabled until the expansion becomes open for all SWTOR players on February 4th.
As it is right now, Galactic Starfighter is an underwhelming addition to The Old Republic that does have some potential, provided Bioware consistently updates it over the game’s lifespan. The RPG-style system it uses for fighters and gear is interesting, and you can see where there are opportunities for future updates to introduce more ship classes and game types. But ultimately, with its slow progression and limited mode options, one can’t help but feel that it’s severely lacking in actual game play.