Ships and space battles are an integral part of the Star Wars universe. Each film begins in space, and some of the most exciting scenes are clashes between opposing fleets. In SWTOR, each character acquires their own ship to serve as their home base and transportation between planets, as well as a tool with which to take part in action-packed space missions.
Given how important space combat is to the Star Wars films, it is perfectly fitting that each character should have their own ship and be able to take part in the action. What has raised the ire of many fans is the degree of structure present in these space missions. In SWTOR, the space missions take the form of a tunnel shooter, like Starfox 64 or the space missions in the Lego Star Wars games. You are piloting your ship at a set speed on a set path from which you can only deviate very slightly. It is as if your flight is restricted to an invisible tunnel, where your control of the ship extends only as far as dodging obstacles and firing blasters and rockets.
It’s hard to tell if the tunnel shooter space missions available at launch will be enough to satisfy the many fans who are already very invested in this game. There are arguments to be made both for and against this style of space combat. I have fond memories of playing both free-form and tunnel shooter space combat games.
Back in the day, X-Wing was just about the best game I could imagine. The free-form space combat allowed me to live out my dreams of zipping around in an A-Wing, blasting TIE Fighters. Galaxies also had an enjoyable open space combat system, though it took me quite a long time to upgrade from my Z-95 Headhunter to something worth flying.
Free-form space combat games are fun, but so are their tunnel shooter and on-a-rail counterparts. Games like Starfox 64 and Rebel Assault were a blast. The space missions in the Lego Star Wars games weren’t half bad either.
The ship being on a set course and traveling at a set speed takes a lot of the creativity out of the combat, but it isn’t necessarily all bad. For one, it means that everyone will be able to take part in the space combat without investing in a joystick. In the preview videos it looks like you could probably do alright even on a trackpad. This might not seem like much to the hardcore gamer, but it means a lot to more casual players that want to enjoy all aspects of the game without spending an additional thirty dollars.
Another advantage of having the experience so controlled is that the developers can make the missions much more cinematic. In my mind the current system fits perfectly with the primary goal of SWTOR: to make you feel as if you are in a Star Wars movie. By controlling the action they are able to make the missions exactly as they want, and create a truly cinematic experience.
The downside of having such a scripted experience is that it means the space missions will likely play a somewhat small role in the game. It has been likened by many people to a mini-game, a distraction to fill time and provide a few rewards, but not a significant part of the experience. Your character may be able to fly a few missions in space, but he won’t be spending the majority of his time in the cockpit.
For those looking for a sandbox experience, SWTOR still is not your game. The goal through the entire development process seems to have been making the game more cinematic and story-focused. Bioware is bringing story into SWTOR as the fourth MMO pillar, and their vision of how space combat should be handled fits perfectly with that goal. Using this tunnel shooter space combat system they are able to make the missions accessible to all players and ensure a cinematic experience, continuing their goal to make you feel as if you are a character in a Star Wars film.
Personally, I think the space missions look like they are going to be a lot of fun. A part of me pines for the days of X-Wing with its hectic, free-form dogfights, but I trust Bioware to create space missions that will be both fun and cinematic. Besides, the devs have said before that if the fanbase is dissatisfied with the space missions available at launch, they will change it. It’s an evolving game, so if it’s bad, all we have to do is whine.
What do you think? Do you think the tunnel shooter space missions look like fun or do you feel like Bioware is dropping the ball by putting in a subpar space combat system?