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SWTOR: Galactic Starfighter now available to everyone along with a gargantuan patch

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SWTOR: Galactic Starfighter now available to everyone along with a gargantuan patch

Star Wars: The Old Republic’s latest expansion, Galactic Starfighter, has now been made available all players. Previously, premium players were the only ones getting to flit around space and engage in some starfighter PvP.

Galactic Starfighter lets players customise their own ship, engaging in PvE and PvP battles. Along with the doors being opened to everyone, a recent update adds a slew of new features from the Bomber role to a team deathmatch mode.

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Star Wars: The Old Republic's 2014: two new expansions and a storyline to span "the whole year"

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Star Wars: The Old Republic's 2014: two new expansions and a storyline to span "the whole year"

SWTOR’s 2013 wasn’t anything at all like its 2012: last year its live team witnessed the game’s playerbase shift from subscription-only to primarily free-to-play; instigated the release of its first proper expansion; and oversaw mammoth construction of an all-new PvP dogfighting mode to banish the memory of on-rails space combat.

In 2014, BioWare Austin hope, there will be no paradigm shifts. Free-to-play will continue to draw in thousands every day, and there’ll be another two expansions - one about the size of a Hutt Cartel, the other as big as a Galactic Starfighter.

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A new hope: The Old Republic subscriptions "decline" as free-to-play "continues to grow"

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A new hope: The Old Republic subscriptions "decline" as free-to-play "continues to grow"

I don’t know what it’s like to be a subscriber of an MMO that suddenly goes free-to-play, but it must be pretty galling. Every month, I imagine, it becomes tougher to convince yourself that whatever in-game privileges you might have add up to another $10 your peers aren’t paying.

It must be somewhat easier in The Old Republic, where despite change for the better, free players are still visibly second-class citizens. Even so, as free-to-play numbers climb, subscriber rates are plummeting in the opposite direction.

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The Old Republic Galactic Starfighter expansion brings the dogfight to (some) non-subscribers

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The Old Republic Galactic Starfighter expansion brings the dogfight to (some) non-subscribers

Since early December, interstellar jousting has been the preserve of SWTOR nobility - its remaining pocket of subscribers, sheltered under an upturned boat in an otherwise free-to-play sea. But BioWare could hold back the tide no longer, and have made the new Galactic Starfighter expansion available to the riff-raff, the rabble, and the Rattataki, effective immediately. So long as they’ve bought something from the in-game shop.

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BioWare's Old Republic studio hammering away at "several" unannounced projects

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BioWare's Old Republic studio hammering away at "several" unannounced projects

BioWare Austin was born to make The Old Republic. That’s not a comment on the studio’s suitability to build Star Wars MMOs, but a literal fact: its staff were brought together in 2006 explicitly to make that game, and since its release five years later they’ve done nothing else but run its operations, reconfigure its systems for free-to-play, and develop its expansions.

Or so we thought. A couple of new job listings ask for hires with experience in both MMO and action games to help out on some of “several unannounced projects".

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EA implicate shrinking interest in MMOs in The Old Republic's free-to-play fate

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EA implicate shrinking interest in MMOs in The Old Republic's free-to-play fate

Imagine you’re a shit-hot PI looking into the mysterious disappearance of The Old Republic’s prospects. There’s a few places you’d be tempted to start: its publisher’s investment in comprehensive voice acting it would take years to recoup; a broadly conservative game design in an era of Eve and Guild Wars 2; and reliance on a subscription model already starting to look dated in 2011.

But here’s EA’s femme fatale tugging at your ear, pointing to something else - the declining fortunes of MMOs in general.

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Watch a minute and a half's footage of Star Wars: The Old Republic's dogfighting mode

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Watch a minute and a half's footage of Star Wars: The Old Republic's dogfighting mode

BioWare have changed. In Baldur’s Gate II, dog fighting meant handing over 10 gold pieces to a sprite-man named Surly in an iffy pub, and getting 20 back if you were lucky. And lots of barking in the interim.

The Old Republic’s dogfighting, built by an Austin studio that didn’t exist in Baldur’s Gate’s day, is all high production pew-pew and free-flight weaving. It’s like nothing else the developers have ever assembled.

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The Old Republic update 2.4 kicks off the Dread War

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The Old Republic update 2.4 kicks off the Dread War

“CONFRONT THE DREAD MASTERS AND COMPETE IN THE WARZONE ARENAS OF DEATH!", suggest BioWare in anticipation of SWTOR’s next big update. If you find yourself in the Deathzone Arenas of War, you’ve taken a wrong turning. You’ll know you’re in the right place if you can spot new endgame operations, story missions and 4v4 arenas.

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Star Wars: The Old Republic expansion Rise of the Hutt Cartel now free to subscribers

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Star Wars: The Old Republic expansion Rise of the Hutt Cartel now free to subscribers

Now this is the way to encourage subscription. BioWare have used their stick to dig a trough in the earth and plant carrot seeds. After six months spent slowly relinquishing their stranglehold on free players, the developers have pledged access to their first and only expansion to new, old and returning subscribers for a fee of zilch.

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Star Wars: The Old Republic's "super secret space project" yields ten super secret spaceships

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Star Wars: The Old Republic's "super secret space project" yields ten super secret spaceships

Nobody knows anything for sure about SWTOR’s maybe-PvP, maybe-free-flight new space mode, but everybody knows it’ll be better that what we’ve currently settled for: crude rollercoasters and half-hearted barrel rolls.

Whatever it is, it’s merited a slew of new ship models from BioWare’s Austin team: none of which have been cleared for public eyes, but several of which have been unceremoniously unveiled by The Old Republic Reddit’s very own Toto, swtor_miner.

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BioWare tease "super secret space project" for Star Wars: The Old Republic

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BioWare tease "super secret space project" for Star Wars: The Old Republic

If there’s one problem with The Old Republic - sorry, let me start that again - if there are 99 problems with The Old Republic, one of them is that compelling spaceflight is something that largely happens in cutscenes, to other people. More often than not, you’ll teleport up to the mothership and back down to another planet without once glancing out the window to take in the great black beyond. That's probably not quite right.

BioWare Austin might just be doing something about it. Their “super secret space project" looks like a major rethink of the game's limited interstellar combat.

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Star Wars: The Old Republic 2.3 update trailer is full of threats and foreboding

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Star Wars: The Old Republic 2.3 update trailer is full of threats and foreboding

Can’t there be just one futuristic mega corporation which isn’t evil? I’m not asking for them all to have charitable arms and invest heavily in renewables but just one. Bioware aren’t keen on the idea, so, Czerka Corporation remain stereotypically evil.

The new trailer shows just how dastardly the corporation inhabiting CZ-198 really are.

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Star Wars: The Old Republic 2.3 update comes bearing Tauntaun mounts and new activities for the over-55s

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Star Wars: The Old Republic 2.3 update comes bearing Tauntaun mounts and new activities for the over-55s

Somewhere in Austin, the shadow of a stern-looking exec falls over a lowly coder.

“I need a sit rep on 2.3."

“The Pocket Sarlacc has acquired a taste for male characters with Body Type 1, sir. And heads have been restored to Weequay NPCs throughout the galaxy, who requested better protection for their vulnerable floating eyeballs."

“Keep up the good work."

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Star Wars: The Old Republic to get a tauntaun mount

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Star Wars: The Old Republic to get a tauntaun mount

Everyone’s favourite sleeping bag, the tauntaun, is coming to Star Wars: The Old Republic as the first animal mount in the MMO. There's still no word on whether you’ll be able to slice open their gullet and survive a cold night on Hoth by snuggling all up in their guts.

We’ve only images to go on, currently, so we can’t say whether it’s due out in the 2.3 or 2.4 update but it’s likely to fall into the 2.4 camp. The beast looks mighty stately.

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Star Wars: The Old Republic 2.4 update is "shaping up to be very big", due in October

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Star Wars: The Old Republic 2.4 update is "shaping up to be very big", due in October

On a nondescript moon in the Outer Rim Territories live six powerful Sith lords, fuelled by hate. They hate all the civilised races for their grasp of synonyms, of words like ‘maleficent’, ‘fell’ and ‘malevolent’. They are the Dread Masters, and we will fight them in two new, similarly-titled Operations: the Dread Fortress and the Dread Palace.

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Star Wars: The Old Republic, now with added bounties

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Star Wars: The Old Republic, now with added bounties

Bioware have announced that each month they’ll be adding new bounties - the killing kind, not the delectable chocolate kind - to Star Wars: the Old Republic. The bounties will take place all over the galaxy and encourage players to investigate their targets as they track them down for the kill.

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