Space Combat in SWTOR is Pretty Awful

This will be a day long remembered. It has seen the end of Kenobi, and will soon see the end of the Rebellion.
(Darth Vader)

Today was a good day for me in Star Wars The Old Republic. I accomplished two Smuggler quests that had long been an obstacle. In between I took care of my first space mission.

I had been assigned that mission a couple of weeks (and several levels) ago, when I first got my spaceship in the game. But I was more interested in pursuing the story arc I was involved in and delayed checking out space. When I finally did, I was greatly disappointed.

Space conflict in SWTOR is both too simple and too complicated. The mechanics are easy, your ship follows the mouse cursor, you shoot blaster shots with a left click, missiles (if you have any) with a right click. That’s it, extremely simple. But trying to figure out what you are supposed to do, and what wins and loses the mission is much more obscure, at least compared to the SWTOR ground game and to Star Wars Galaxies.

Space combat was a lot of fun in SWG and I did at lot of it. It was somewhat complex. Starships were crafted by Engineers, so you had to buy a deed for ship that matched your level, and then get it processed by a special NPC. Not all ships were the same, and even ships of the same class could vary depending on the skill of the Engineer and the resources used. Then you had to load them up with engines, blasters, shields, etc., all also crafted by Engineers and for sale on their vendors.

Once you got all that put together and launched into space, you had to map the various alternatives to a joystick. Beyond the simple SWTOR operations, in SWG you could vary your speed (and some to a stop in space if you needed to), toss in a quick speed booster, go to hyperspace, target friendly and enemy ships and even specific targets on ships (like their engines or weapons), and you could dock with ships and investigate their cargoes. Besides ordinary combat there was also the mining of asteroids in space, which gave valuable resources, but risked sudden attack by pirates, which had to be fended off.

None of that is found in SWTOR, except that there are NPC vendors that sell standard ship upgrades at fixed prices.

I failed my first mission twice, mostly because I couldn’t figure out what you were supposed to do to win. My teenaged son finally finished it for me, and pointed out that it was based on a very simple system found in many other games.

Star Wars Galaxies was criticised when it launched for not having space combat, which was felt to be an integral part of Star Wars. It wasn’t until the Jump to Lightspeed expansion,¬† more than a year after SWG was released, that space combat was introduced. But the wait was worth it. The player base had had a year to get used to the game, and it was far better to wait until space combat was ready for launch than to release an unfinished product.

Perhaps an indication that Bioware really doesn’t care about the space combat side of the game, is that in the otherwise extensive game forums, there is no category for space. It’s as if it doesn’t really exist.

Ironically, Lucas Arts, which co-owns SWTOR with Bioware, and which doomed SWG by withdrawing its support, has released several very exciting Star Wars space conflict games, like X-Wing vs Tie-Fighter. Why it killed the superior space conflict in SWG in order to replace it with the confusing yet simplistic SWTOR version is hard to understand.

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