Here’s generally my rule regarding rumors and hearsay when it comes to high profile games — take everything with a grain of salt. Unless it is information that has come through official channels or has been talked about or confirmed by a dev or the company, I don’t usually write about it until more has been substantiated. That said, there has been rumors over the last few days about the state of space combat in Star Wars: The Old Republic, and it all started from a write-up about an upcoming article on PC Action, a German magazine (Google translation of it can be found here).
The story has led to an explosion of speculation and interpretation, people claiming SWTOR space combat will be “on rails” or nothing more than a “tunnel shooter.” While devs have not made anything official yet, what they have done is acknowledge the discussions and encourage feedback on the forums. That’s not a confirmation by any means, but it does give me the impression that there might be something to this story. That’s part of the reason I’ve decided to write about this, but the main motivation has been of course Hunter’s post on his take on the topic.
Back in June, Hunter and I made a friendly bet with each other about whether or not there will be space combat in SWTOR. A few weeks ago, it appeared victory was mine! But little did I know that our simple little wager would become so much more complicated. The crux of the issue, of course, is defining what space combat actually is. And for the most part, I agree with him — there has to be a line drawn somewhere. For example, I think we would both agree that a turret based shooter, space combat is not. That’s why I was a bit concerned when I heard the first murmurings of “on rails”‘ and “tunnel shooter”, because I started wondering what this might mean for our bet. Hey, on the bright side, at least I’m not QQing about the actual game! I’ve got 10 credits and my pride riding on this, people!
Okay, all joking aside though, Hunter and I can at least rest assured space combat will not play out like, in his words, a “duck hunt.” From the community manager’s post on the official forums:
UPDATE : To clarify, Space Combat is not a Turret Shooter (this is probably obvious after seeing the screenshot but some people were mentioning it in the other thread).
That’s great news for both of us. And my own prediction for space combat remains the same — most likely scripted and instanced, possibly including cinematics, at these designated “hot spots” that players can travel to in order to initiate the action. The information in the PC Action write-up hasn’t really refuted that. To be honest, I think most people expected a polished and worthwhile space experience, but nothing overly elaborate. After all, SWTOR is first and foremost an MMO, not a flight simulator. The main game is driven by the individual class stories; space combat is and has always been a “side game” in my mind, perhaps even optional. Predefined paths, limited weapons, or repeatable quests be damned, I think as long as the gameplay doesn’t feel trivial, or that it’s thrown in as an afterthought, I would consider it space combat.
The problem is that it’s just so subjective. Realistically, Hunter and I might not even be able to settle our bet until the game launches and we get to try out the space content for ourselves. But I think that’s okay though. The most important thing is, I consider Hunter a good blog friend, and what has come out of our friendly wager is an opportunity for me to discuss news about SWTOR with someone else who seems just as passionate about the game as I am. That’s always a good thing in my mind, because God knows the blogosphere is the only place I can find others with whom to share my enthusiasm and love for SWTOR. No doubt we’ll both be keeping our eyes out for more information on this subject. I for one am not giving up convincing him that I’m owed my 10 credits!
Anyway, now that that’s out of the way, let’s take some time to think about the PC Action write-up. Even if it all turns out to be true, is space combat being on rails and pushed along from behind really that bad? Jaramukhti, a commenter on this blog, has likened this style of gameplay to Star Fox, which like he pointed out was an awesome game with some pretty fun flight mechanics.
Like I said, and like what Hunter has already alluded to, if you were looking for game with a huge emphasis on space combat and free flight, an MMO probably isn’t what you should have been looking for in the first place. Bioware has never claimed SWTOR would be a game centered around space combat, so why demand it to be? On the contrary, what they’ve always emphasized is story and we should expect all development to be built upon that. Personally, I’m happy enough with the fact that space content is even included. Hence I’m neither excited nor disappointed about the article.
It’s truly perplexing to see words like “ruined” and “deal-breaker” when it comes to the discussions I’ve seen pop up in the last couple of days about this topic. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I can’t help but wonder how people can be so affected (read: freaked out) by the new information that’s come out about space combat, authentic or not. In my view, misgivings should be reserved for bigger things instead of wasting energy complaining about something that’s an “extra” and that has never been touted as a main feature. A few weeks ago, we didn’t even know for sure if there was going to be any content based in space, let alone space combat. If the game excited you before then, why should these new rumors change anything?
For what it’s worth, I am looking forward to seeing the upcoming issue of PC Gamer that’s due on newsstands in another week or so, now more than ever. Hopefully, some answers about space combat will be provided there.