By W.B. Wemyss (Tagspeech)
Star Wars: The Old Republic is undoubtedly one of the most famous and high-budget MMORPGs on the market. With their relatively recent transition to the free-to-play model, TOR has allegedly seen an increase in playerbase and a surge in income. With the budget for the game said to have been in the tens of millions, one can only hope for the sake of the developers working on the game that this is true. The game's AAA status is undeniable, with a rich, well-crafted, professionally voice-acted storyline for every class (a different one for each faction, even), and now, a free-flying, PVP-centric starfighter aspect, TOR is shaping up to be a well-rounded online gaming experience.
The new Galactic Starfighter expansion is a 12v12 game mode entirely focused on getting your ground character into a custom ship of your making, and battling it out with four different classes of fighter-craft: the scout, the strike-craft, the gunship, and the bomber. Engines, drives, blasters, wings – all of these things alter your abilities and specializations within your own class of starship, and all of them appear in real-time on your ship, adding a huge layer of uniqueness and ownership over your personal craft. Things like the color of your engine trails and blaster shots can be altered as well, though to get the widest selection of dyes, you'll have to visit the cash shop.
I was introduced to Galactic Starfighter by a man named Blaine Christine, the senior producer for the expansion who also happened to lead the game's free-to-play transition. According to the woman who gave his introductions, he can "lead you to the beer at any party." He was quick to show us his enthusiasm for the game and the franchise by showing off a very real, very fresh-looking tattoos on his right arm – it was the symbol of the Old Republic, a half-and-half marking of the Republic and Empire faction symbols. In his own words he, "... bleeds the Old Republic."
After an enthusiastic introduction to the expansion by Blaine (as well as one instance of him asking us to 'please play it[TOR]'), we were handed off to a man with a much more relaxed bearing, and then into a Q&A session about the game itself. As a responsible journalist I felt it my duty to ask if the ink-branding of employees would become mandatory at all EA subsidiaries in the future, but my question came too late in the session, and was ignored in the end. We confirmed that progression in the Galactic Starfighter content does level up your ground character, but that unlocking the companions to be used as co-pilots and ship crew in Galactic Starfighter can only be done in the ground game. So, one thing (the progression of the main story) should come before the other, ideally.
The matches do not yet have a PVE mode, as apparently more than half of the TOR community wanted to see these games as PVP-centric. There are different modes of competition, usually based around objectives and free-flying through some truly dazzling arenas. And of course, there is the 12v12 team deathmatch, in which players simply kill each other until no one on the opposite team is left to fight. During the demo, I was surprised at how immersive and striking the gameplay was, and it was hard to imagine the Galactic Starfighter content coming from the same engine as vanilla TOR. The whole expansion is remarkably well done, and captures much of the iconic space conflict in the Star Wars movies.
To go along with this expanion, a new flashpoint called Kuat Driveyards is being introduced. It's linked to the Galactic Starfighter games, and is apparently 'dynamic,' in the sense that the content of the flashpoint changes every time players run through it. This would of course do well to reduce the tediousness of back-to-back flashpoint running, and is a feature welcomed by the playerbase. According to its developers and what I saw in the demo, TOR continues to lead the pack in art, player customization, and immersion. It is first and foremost a Roleplaying-Game, and that's a rare thing in the MMO genre.
In the future, players can look forward to the Starfighter content in TOR being greatly expanded, with some speculating that the next great space arena will include some manner of gigantic, asteroid-dwelling space-worm. Only time will tell. New modes, new ship parts, and new ways for the ground game to interact with the spaceflight game are on the horizon, and it seems that the developers at TOR are only just getting started with what they describe as a regular, reliable rhythm to game updates and expansions. It's purely speculative at this time whether or not the next expansion will be for the ground game (increased level cap, continuing the story, etc.) but it's probably safe to assume they have to get back to it at some point, no matter how expensive it is to pay all of those writers and voice-actors to keep the story going on eight different plotlines.
So why not start your journey today? A certain tattooed producer would love to welcome you to his world.
Tagspeech is the alias of author W.B. Wemyss, who was responsible for the bizarre cyberpunk fever dream called Children of Athena.