Star Wars: CAS Strikes Back!
Updated: Sep 22
The counterattack on Takodana in Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens solidified Poe Dameron's position as "one hell of a pilot". In under a minute, Poe's black T-70 X-Wing took down ten TIE fighters while strafing First Order Stormtroopers. Getting as many starfighter kills that fast might be a bit unobtainable in Star Wars Battlefront II (2017), but it's still the best place to experience Star Wars themed combined arms combat.
It goes without saying that Star Wars: Squadrons (2020) is the tailor-made pilot experience, but it focuses on space combat against starfighters, warships, space ports, etc. Because of that, Battlefront II continues to be the best place to experience providing close air support (CAS) for ground forces even in the year 2022.
Multiplayer Combined Arms Combat
Ever since "a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away" (a.k.a. the 1970s), fans of this multi-decade series have played all types of Star Wars games of various genres and quality. Few have been able to give the same epic battle experience that mimics what is shown in the movies and TV shows. I have nothing but love for the Star Wars Battlefront games of the early 2000s, as they represented combined arms pretty well for the most part. But the opportunities that starfighters had were restricted by which maps or game modes they were available in. This trend continued even into the 2010s with Star Wars Battlefront II.
Its important to note that the type of combat we are discussing is only truly available in one game mode: Galactic Assault. There two teams of 20 players each fight in large battles which include the four standard player classes, powered up Reinforcement units, well-known heroes and villains and an assortment of vehicles. Not every map in Galactic Assault has starfighters available, but when they are, a starfighter in the right hands can make a difference in the ground battle.
Flight System Overview
It's clear that video game developer DICE designed Battlefront II to be very accessible to players of all skill levels. There are similarities in its design and gameplay to their long-running Battlefield series. Within seconds players can be embroiled in deep space skirmishes or planetside battles without having to worry too much about the physics and controls behind it all. This game restricts full control over the roll axis and utilizes automatically coordinated turning: pitch, roll and yaw working together during a single directional input to provide flat, easy to control turns. Even at minimum throttle and maximum turn input, stalling is not possible. Armor and shields regenerate when players are not under attack for a certain amount of time. There is no mid-air collision and friendly fire is disabled. The most complicated things players would need to worry about it throttle inputs for maximum turn rates, managing shield strength and selecting the right system upgrades for the task. A lot more could be said about flight in this game across all game modes, but let's refocus.
Something to remember while providing close air support in Battlefront II is that Galactic Assault maps have a wide horizontal play area but usually not a very high vertical play area. The exact height restrictions differ on each map, but the vertical play area is always smaller than the horizontal play area. For pilots, this translates to more ground attacks at more shallow angles giving them more time on target, but increasing their exposure to counterattack from below. The ideal high angle top attack profile is harder to achieve but is still possible. Pilots using the high angle method will have a very short time on target window before they must pull up to avoid crashing into terrain.
Starfighters come in three variants: interceptors which focus on high speeds and excel at shooting down other starfighters but suffer have low armor. Fighters maintain a nice balance of armor, firepower, and maneuverability. Bombers have high damage output, the best armor, and the lowest maneuverability. That may be how they are generally described, but gameplay and descriptions are two different things, especially when striking ground targets is the focus.
Each Starfighter comes with slightly varying weapons systems. The primary weapon system is their blasters which have varying rates of fire and base firepower. Take note that these blasters also have a limited amount of splash damage around them. This splash damage can be utilized to hit even troops hiding behind cover, depending on the pilot's accuracy. Enhancing their ability to fire faster, hit harder or fire for longer periods of time is ideal.
Secondary systems include momentary laser barrage bursts, afterburners, droids that repair damage and different types of torpedoes (i.e guided missiles). For ground attack, laser barrages and torpedoes are the best as they provide a substantial extra attack ability. Though torpedoes on starfighters do not lock onto anything but other starfighters, they can be fired without guidance using the on-screen crosshair in the starfighter's heads up display. This essentially makes them unguided rockets that fly along a fairly predictable path.
When it comes to starfighter classes, the Interceptor and Bomber classes are the most effective in the ground attack role. Though Bombers do not carry bombs in this game, their high damage output blasters and torpedoes can make quick work of any land based foe. Their high output shields and heavy armor are also a factor. It may be surprising that the lightweight Interceptor was even considered, but its high rate of fire blasters can deliver respectable damage within seconds. Although its light defenses restrict it to quick slashing attacks and its high speed actually reduces the amount of time on target depending on how players approach their targets. The balanced rate of fire and damage output of Fighter class vehicle is formidable in dogfights and against capital ships, but for ground attack its somewhat meandering damage output combined with short ground attack windows caused by speed, distance and altitude restrictions diminishes its effectiveness.
Application of Close Air Support
Troop Buildup: The most common target for starfighters. Groups of three or more opposing players moving as a squad. The minimal splash damage produced by starfighter blasters will strike all targets within your firing point, making multi-kills more likely to happen. Being able to visually identify and trace their blaster fire helps with target identification. There are very few handheld weapons that can counter starfighters, besides Ion Torpedoes and Ion Turrets. While these launch small guided missiles that can chase starfighters, they are moderately easy to evade.
Ion Disruptor Suppression: If the goal of the enemy is to deploy Ion Disruptors to drop the defenses of large assault vehicles like CIS Separatist MTTs, Imperial AT-ATs or First Order AT-M6s, interception of ground forces transporting them is needed. Pilots are able to fly past the front line and promptly fire upon the Ion Disruptors before they are fired. Even forcing the troops carrying them into less favorable position buys precious time for friendly ground forces to reach the troops carrying the Ion Disruptors themselves.
Anti-Vehicle: Arguably the primary target for close air support. Whether they are hover tanks or multi-legged walking armored vehicles, starfighters can inficlt substantial damage on them in a short amount of time. Friendly ground forces will often be drawing all of their attention, making them easier to attack. Well aimed unguided torpedoes with damage upgrades are even capable of one-shot destroying vehicles at full health, if you can hit their weak spot directly. Even much larger vehicles like AT-ATs or MTTs, the primary objectives in many Galactic Assault matches, can be attacked with ease from the air at long distance. All of this can be applied to static defenses as well; E-Web Heavy Blaster emplacements, DF.9 anti-infantry batteries, V-232 artillery emplacements, etc. The weapons these vehicles carry can dish out equally high damage onto starfighters, so approaching them while they are actively firing upon you is unwise.
Hero and Villain Counter: In this game, players can use the iconic characters of Star Wars to lay waste to all other infantry. With their boosted abilities, special weapons and Force powers, they can spread chaos throughout the area. Starfighters are one of the most effective counters to these characters. The splash damage caused by blasters, laser cannons and torpedoes cannot be deflected or blocked by a Force barrier or a light saber. While characters trained to use the Force will be harder to hit because of their ability to dash quickly and jump far, two or three effective strafing runs will almost completely deplete their massive health pools. Their lightsabers, while intimidating, do give away their positions when they are ignited, making them easier to attack from the air. Other characters that use blasters and are less mobile are generally easier to deal with but are capable of firing back.
The most effective Hero or Villain characters against starfighters is actually Leia Organa. Her secondary fire ability not only delivers a moderately powerful single blaster bolt, but this bolt actually tracks targets. The farther the target is from Leia, the more accurate the blaster bolt tracks the target. Because the pilot receives no missile lock warning or missile evasion cues, pilots are usually caught off guard by her. This, strangely, makes her one of the most effective anti-starfighter defenses in Battlefront II.
Self-Escort: In Galactic Assault, the number of starfighters available is always much more limited than the other game modes. Pilots providing CAS will need to be able to defend themselves against enemy starfighters before returning to ground attack. Even with a dedicated ally providing escort for the ground attacker, these minimal numbers will force all starfighters airborne to combat one another for air superiority.
Being able to destroy walking tanks and strafe Stormtroopers definitely fulfills a lot of big screen movie desires within the players of Star Wars: Battlefront II. Han Solo is famous for saying hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster. The heavy blasters of high speed space craft tend to agree.
About the Writer
Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza
Co-founder of Skyward Flight Media. After founding Electrosphere.info, the first English Ace Combat database, he has been involved in creating flight game-related websites, communities, and events since 2005. He explores past and present flight games and simulators with his extensive collection of game consoles and computers. Read Staff Profile.