Those of you who cut your digital teeth on flight simulators likely look forward to skimming enemy space stations and making that skill shot down a ventilation shaft. (How many of the rest of you are picturing the Death Star exploding right now?)
If you’re like me and you aren’t all that coordinated, you might dread having to make that same shot. I’m here to assuage your fears, if you fall in that latter category.
While I hate to disappoint those of you who want to reenact Luke Skywalker’s epic run, in SWTOR space combat offers a great deal less flexibility. That does not, however, make it easy.
If you understand nothing more about space combat in The Old Republic after reading this, remember that your ship will follow a pre-determined path. You have a time limit and a number of objectives awaiting your attention at the beginning and the game swoops you around, sometimes sending you straight into enemy fire and sometimes frustratingly hiding that last turret or Interceptor behind giant asteroids of rock or ice.
In the beginning, space combat is fought with just the mouse. You control your ship along that set path by moving the mouse to dodge laser blasts and obstacles. Your own blasters fire with the left button, which you can hold down continuously for maximum carnage, and you lock on and launch your woefully-limited missiles with the right button.
That sounds painfully simple but in truth objects, ships, and other damaging things come at you from all three dimensions. SWTOR runs you through enemy fleets that all choose to fight in asteroid belts. You quickly learn to dodge, to bob and weave between floating death and the bolts from enemy blasters.
Hitting things damages your shields and when you run out of shields you take damage. Take too much, you explode and, more importantly, fail the mission. You need to watch for ships, rocks, laser shots, and exploding enemies. That makes a four-minute mission damned exciting even if you can’t control where you go on the whole of the battlefield.
You can hold down that blaster button and shoot the heck out of everything in the quadrant but your shields only recharge when you’re not firing. At beginning levels your missiles are woefully limited and you have to ration them carefully as you go and you don't even have shields until you buy them.
Ship upgrades can be purchased from vendors at spaceports around the galaxy. Improved shields, blasters, missiles, and—eventually—EMP generators and more become available as you level up your character.
You can get more complicated weapons and things get wilder and woollier out there in space after the first couple of missions. But you’ll never get that far if you don’t learn to sit back and enjoy the ride that The Old Republic wants to take you on for ship-to-ship combat.
Enjoy the shouts of victory and admonitions from your companions as you blow yet another enemy to smithereens. Try to dodge asteroids and enemy blasters without hitting either. And savor the sweet taste of victory as the last seconds tick down on your clock. The jump to hyperspace when you win will still give you a vicarious little Star Wars thrill.