(Otherwise entitled: “I wanted to write a post about TOR’s space combat, but GeeCee already took ‘Asteroids do not concern me, admiral!’ as her post’s title.”)
In a word, space combat is fun.
In a sentence, space combat is a fun and diversionary minigame that really gets to the heart of space combat in the Star Wars universe.
I think the best compliment I can give to the space fighting minigame is: I don’t have any screen captures of it. I mean, I wish I did, but I’m looking at my folder, and all I have are pics of my ship departing/arriving (which, in lieu of other captures, I’m using to populate this post).
The game is exactly what its early critics said it was: it’s fast, ephemeral, completely on-rails, you name it. But you know what? That’s really exactly what I want from a Star Wars videogame. Let me explain, by way of Star Trek.
Star Trek is all about space ships, including space combat. Maybe it’s the nature of the Federation’s vessels–well-shielded with phaser arcs covering all angles–but there’s a great deal of emphasis on maneuverability and fighting in three-dimensions. (cf. The Battle of the Mutara Nebula) The show also places a great deal of emphasis on the MacGuffins that keep Star Trek vessels puttering around. Think about all of the technical terms that someone with a passing interest in Star Trek might be exposed to on a routine basis–EPS conduits, warp nacelles, Jefferies tubes, Heisenberg compensators. The list goes on. One of the greatest strengths of Star Trek Online is that it is able to depict combat in a way that is true to the Star Trek “ethos”, all while employing the correct technical vocabulary.
So — nothing new. But now I’d like to advance the argument that The Old Republic‘s take on space combat is equally true to it’s universe’s “ethos”.
Every Star Wars movie — and I’m concerning myself with IV, V, VI exclusively — has extremely important space scenes, even space combat. But most of the time, our character’s interaction with their space ship is confrontational (repairing that damn hyperdrive), and especially time-sensitive (repairing the damn hyperdrive before the Imperials lock on a tractor beam). Unlike Star Trek, there’s also a greater sense of the different “classes” of vessels–our protagonists fly fighters, travel in cargo freighters, command from the deck of massive capital ships, blow up two battlestations the size of a moon.
The end result is that space combat is about large capital ships firing at each other from a distance (or maneuvering closer, so that even bigger ships have a hard time hitting them), while nimble fighters maneuver in close strafe/cover the larger ships.
And you know what? I think that TOR‘s mini-game really gets at that. At least, that’s what I thought after I caught myself shouting “jump to lightspeed, damn it!” at the computer screen one-too-many times.