Starfighter Assault: Galactic Starfighter By Another Name

Today we'll be learning what changes will be coming to Galactic Starfighter in SWtOR. It's been a long, long time since this mode received any love, and tomorrow's 5.5 patch will be changing things extensively. I fully-expect them to nerf Repair Probes and Charged Plating in particular, because ships like the FT-7B Clarion - albeit one of my favourite ships - just has a shedton of defensive potential without really trying.

On a similar subject to Galactic Starfighter, I've been indulging in the Star Wars Battlefront II Beta since Wednesday, and have been having an absolute blast in the game's Starfighter Assault mode. To summarise its mechanics, it is basically a significantly simplified version of Galactic Starfighter.

To start with the similarities:

Targeting an opponent is the exact same as in GSF; you need to aim for a small circle in front of your target which is showing which direction they're heading if you want to deal maximum damage or lock-on to them. There are some exceptions to this which we'll get to in a moment, but on the whole if you know how to dogfight in GSF you pretty much know how to play Starfighter Assault.

Indeed, to make the transition easier you can of course remap controls to fit your GSF playstyle. For example the Right Mouse-Button by default is a "Zoom" while your abilities are initially keyed to Q, E, and F, with the third ability being your missile. I personally prefer to scrap the zoom entirely (it's pretty useless) and remap the missile to it instead as an alternate key (since you can remap to a keyboard and to a mouse simultaneously) and remap the other two abilities to 1 and 2 respectively since I use those far more frequently than keyboard letters due to having a programmable mouse.

That's pretty much it for the similarities. Yes, there's only one. I did say it was significantly simplified!

The differences are more than a bit extensive:

By default, a system known as "auto-levelling" is turned on, which rights your ship to the 'proper' level automatically should it become too tilted. This makes no sense in space and can thankfully be toggled off via turning on "Advanced Flight", and this drastically improves flight in general and makes it more akin to GSF flight.

In GSF there are only a couple of missiles which can be fired unguided without requiring a lock-on. In BFII, every missile has both unguided and lock-on capabilities; holding (or toggling, waiting, and then toggling again, which is another option) the button will cause it to lock-on, while tapping it twice in quick succession will fire it off unguided in a straight line. This is good for quick fly-bys of objectives provided you can be sure that your missile(s) will hit.

Health automatically regenerates for everybody after a while of not being hit. Whilst some ships do have ways to repair the damage taken, you don't need to have these abilities to restore health in general. This means that you can keep fighting for longer, even if you have to dip in-and-out of combat just to heal back up again. On a similar subject, there is not the option to prioritise shield, weapon, or engine strength. There isn't even a directional deflector shield, which is somewhat surprising considering that they're audibly made use of in the battle of Yavin in Episode IV.

There are only a handful of ways to evade missiles. Only a couple of ships (at the moment) can break a missile lock entirely, while everyone else either just has to outrun them or hope that they can not only survive the hit but avoid taking damage long enough for them to heal straight back up. On a similar note, only a few ships (AKA Fighters which don't have an Astromech heal and all Interceptors) have a speed boost, which then goes on cooldown. The most that can be accomplished at any other time is pushing throttle to full, and it is worth noting that the acceleration key does not need to be held down; your throttle will remain the same speed you push it to at all times unless you turn or deliberately slow down.

Similar to Domination, each side has offensive and defensive objectives as well as the opportunity for dogfighting and you ideally need a good balance of both; the dogfighters need to eliminate opponents so that other team members can focus on objectives without interruptions. However, the differences here are that the objectives aren't necessarily to capture, but rather destroy, and one faction has a clear-cut advantage in that if they eliminate all of the reinforcements in a single phase the game ends immediately with their victory. In the thirty or forty games I've played, I've only seen the Rebellion win six times often due to priority errors, some of which will be highlighted in a video at the end of this post.

While each side can have a maximum of 12 players, in actuality there are far more ships flying around than the supposed max of 24. This is because AI ships are flying around on both sides as well, some of whom are generic pilots while others are objective-NPCs for the defending faction to kill. Destroying the Objective NPC ships - be they Cruisers, Corvettes, or Bombers - has a significant impact on the team they support; either the phase progresses or the attacking team loses reinforcement points per each successful complete destruction.

All ships have good offensive capability, although it is worth stressing that time-to-kill itself in Battlefront is significantly lower than in GSF. The ship classes themselves are fairly similar to GSF; you have the fast light Scout/Interceptor, the middle-ground Strike Fighter/Fighter, and the spongy Bomber. However, unlike GSF where the Bomber is the weakest in terms of general attack, in Battlefront it's as good as - if not sometimes better than - the other two ships. For example, the TIE/sa Bomber has access to a multi-missile ability which targets three random targets in its flight path, while the BTL-A4 Y-Wing has an ion turret which both weakens and damages its target.

As you have probably already guessed from the above paragraph, the lack of mention of Gunships means that there aren't any in Starfighter Assault. The only Gunships which exist are slow-moving on-rails ships available as reinforcements for the ground Galactic Assault mode. The lack of an at-range sniper ship means that fighters have the opportunity to get up-close and personal and engage in some proper dogfighting, and it's amazing how much difference it makes.

Whilst there aren't Gunships to worry about, there are exclusive Hero ships which can also be seen flying around the place. Some of these are only a tiny bit bigger than standard ships, so the normal hitbox and targeting mechanic applies, but others - notably Slave I - have got a far bigger hitbox because the ship itself is a lot bigger and thus easier to hit. In the previous game, Heroes could only be found as a pick-up, whereas in this game you earn them by playing the game and being good at various things, which is a significant improvement because it means that - theoretically - everyone has a chance to become one rather than have to solely rely on chance alone.

The worst difference - by far - surrounds the method of progressing through individual ship levels and acquiring upgrades. In GSF, it makes sense. You play the game, earn currency, and spend it on purchasing individual upgrades, thus improving your ships slowly and deliberately as you play more of the game.

Battlefront II's system in general makes Galactic Command - even in its original state - look good. In order to get your ships higher in level or with the right upgrades, you need to be lucky with RNG Crates which can give you anything for any one of your four ground soldiers, three ships, four reinforcements, or twenty-odd heroes (although range-specific crates can be purchased, this supposedly only guarantees you one item of the three for your chosen range and even then this isn't a certainty - I once got two sets of Crafting Parts and a Han Solo MvP victory pose from a Starfighter-only Crate).

Playing the game only raises your overall level, not the level of your chosen ship or soldier. Considering that it will be possible to buy these Crates with real money at-launch, some people will be going into any mode with several additional character or ship levels and upgrades over other players should they decide to inject money into it. It doesn't matter how much you play your ships; you may love Fighter and play it most of all, but due to the 'progression' RNG your highest-level ship might be your Interceptor even if you haven't played a single match with it.

This isn't right, and ideally it needs fixing. However, we're only a few weeks away from launch now, so it is exceedingly unlikely that anything significant will be changed between now and then, but a lot of people are making noise about it so hopefully things will improve at some point even if it isn't immediate.

Then again, this is EA we're talking about.

Anyway. I've prattled on for long enough.

To conclude, it's clear that both GSF and Starfighter Assault, while similar on a fundamental level, both do something better than the other somewhere along the line. Assault is far better at allowing proper dogfighting and balance between ships is pretty damn good, while GSF has a significantly better progression system and all of the ships do have their own identity.

Such is my love for Starfighter Assault that I recorded a few matches earlier this morning and uploaded one to my now-rather-bereft YouTube Channel. I fully-intend to continue doing so when the game launches properly since this is probably the most fun mode I've played in a game for quite some time.

Earlier in the post I mentioned that a balance was needed between dogfighting and objective-completion. This first video highlights two dangers of focusing too much on the former personally and not doing enough to help with the objectives; firstly, that the match itself was a close defeat in the second phase and secondly, that accomplishing a lot of kills can of course have a negative effect on relationships with individuals on the enemy team.

We here at Galactic Antics would like to apologise to any individuals whose feelings were hurt during the course of this match. Your feedback is appreciated and will be taken into account for future renditions of your Galactic Antics product.

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