A strangely worded official poll was posted on the SWTOR forums last week asking, essentially, what vehicle related madness players would like in the game (my paraphrased interpretation). The choices were:
- Full 3D space battles
- Vehicle combat (eg. AT-ATs)
- Pod/speeder racing
- Capital ship battles
As of right now (11-Apr @ 13:13BST), there have been 2993 votes in total and the first option, 3D space battles, leads with a tally of 1391. I don’t know if this actually means anything though but I thought I’d capture the information for posterity anyway.
I should also add that one of those votes is mine.
I quite enjoy the on-rails shooter version of space combat in SWTOR as it is at the moment. It’s a good source of credits and XP, takes 10 minutes or so to do each pair of missions required for the daily and is a nice distraction from the rest of the game. I like that there additional bonus objectives appear after a while (e.g. in Syris Evacution, pictured above, at level 38 you get an additional objective to destroy 40 capital ship turrets.) and there are hidden objectives too (e.g. destroying the communication relay on the space stations in the Balosar Outpost mission.)
I do have some issues with space combat too. It is on-rails, it is predictable and repetitive, and I don’t find it overly difficult, even without all the right ship upgrades. (After fully gearing out Rouf’s ship and realising that the first couple of mission tiers were a breeze, I limited the upgrades on Thrace’s Thunderclap just to increase the challenge for myself.) It’s a fun diversion but hardly on the same level as SWG’s Jump to Lightspeed expansion.
Two things that you should know about me: the first, which might be obvious and I’ve probably mentioned once or twice before, is that I’m a Star Wars geek. The second is that some of my favourite games in the history of ever are space combat games. My introduction to them was with Braben & Bell’s “Elite” on the BBC Micro-B way back in about 1985. I sunk hours into playing that game as a spotty teenager. Ten years later and pretty much the sole reason I bought my first PC was so that I could play the collector’s edition of “X-Wing”¹. I played both that game and its sequels “TIE Fighter” and “X-Wing: Alliance” to death. They were fantastic. X-Wing: Alliance provided some jaw-dropping moments that I’ve never forgotten (the first was the sudden appearance of the SSD Executor in an asteroid field – that thing was mahoosive! – and the second was escaping the Death Star core and trying to outrun the wall of flames).
When the SWG expansion, “Jump to Lightspeed” was released, my game experience shifted entirely. I spent nearly all of my time doing space missions and levelling all of the different pilot trees to the point where I ignored most of the ground content. If I wasn’t flying, I was reverse engineering equipment and looking for good parts on the vendors. Space combat became the game for me.
Since then, I’ve played other games: Freespace 2 (still one of the best space combat simulators around), X2 & X3 (enjoyable for what they do but the combat wasn’t great) and others. I’m also intrigued by the idea that Notch, creator of Minecraft, has this week announced a new project called 0x10c which might be interesting – but it may not even be a space flight game at all (and if it is, I suspect it will feature a Newtonian model of space flight which, to be perfectly honest, I can’t stand.) The idea of there being a Jump to Lightspeed equivalent for SWTOR fills me with delight.
Much of the appeal comes from the “twitch” nature of the game – a dogfight became much more of a “gotta get them before they get me” scenario in some cases. There’s also more specific control over your ship functions, as featured in all of the X-Wing games, where you could shift power between guns, shields and engines, possibly sacrificing speed for increased weapon recharge. Switching between laser and ion cannons in order to disable ships rather than destroy them, choosing specific missile loadouts or even type of ship for a mission introduced a basic level of strategic planning to missions – something which is definitely missing from SWTOR’s space combat.
But I also have some reservations. One of the joyous things about the current incarnation is that the missions are quite epic. Being on-rails allows for dizzying flights through asteroid fields and around containers, weaving through the debris of destroyed capital ships and around the enemy fleet. A twitch-based, joystick controlled game might not quite have the same sense of thrill and I suspect that for a large number of people who hadn’t played such games for before, it might be a significant challenge. Does having one preclude the other though? Probably not. Then again, despite the developers claims, in the movies the space combat was never quite so… uber. When the Millennium Falcon escaped from the Death Star, they struggled to blast their way past a mere 4 TIE fighters. In SWTOR, I can kill hundreds of enemy interceptors and take on half a dozen capital ships in my little XS Freighter without batting an eyelid, all while single-handedly destroying a space station.
If Bioware were to implement “Full 3D Space Combat” into the game, how would I personally like to see them do it? To be honest, I’d like to see it done less like Jump to Lightspeed and more like X-Wing: Alliance. I much preferred the structure of story-based missions over the more free-roaming, zone based SWG variation. It would also lend itself more to a possible PvP incarnation of the game – either something like X-Wing vs Tie Fighter or possibly even the space combat portion of Star Wars: Battlefront 2 which let players fly different types of ship and challenged them to destroy the oppositions defences and then board the ship. I’ll also admit that I have mixed feelings about level based progression in space combat but perhaps it makes sense in terms of earning ship-piloting qualifications. I definitely think that space combat should have its own XP bar though.
At PAX East this week, there were some comments about the future of Space Combat in SWTOR. In particular, James Ohlen said on Day 1
So I can give you my answer that I’ve given several times which is we do have a secret project in the works right now involving expanding the space game that I actually got to try out a week ago.
And then hinted the next day that, yes, there are “big, big plans” for space combat in the works. When will we see these? Who knows – the devs are proving reliably tight-lipped about anything that isn’t slated for release yet. I’ll be keeping a watchful eye out to see what the future brings.
¹I had to learn DOS in order to correctly configure the memory to play the game and, in a roundabout way, this lead to me demonstrating some PC skills in a job that landed me my first software developer role. That game has a lot to answer for.