One idea I’m trying with JGR is to cover expansion packs. I think the theory for this is pretty sound. For one, expansion packs generally don’t get a lot of ink – presumably because everyone thinks they’re covered by the simple idea that “if you like the original game, this is more of the same.” That seems lazy to me, and you know how I like covering games that have been overlooked. The second reason is that, years after you’ve finished the original game, you may have a desire to play the game again without literally playing the game again. Such is the situation I found myself in with X-Wing, and so, hello expansion pack!
This is the second expansion for X-Wing, and features 20 new missions, a new ship (take a guess), and five more historical missions featuring that ship. The new tour’s plot centers around an isolationist alien race called the Habassa and their introduction into the Rebellion. You’ll fly sorties similar to the Sullustan campaign in the original tour – disabling transports to rescue prisoners, defending convoys, and helping hapless Habassans out of Imperial ambushes. You’ll also see plenty of various facilities made out of the same cargo container model, for increasingly lame reasons (oh, X-Wing…) The Star Destroyer Relentless is the primary source of interference through these missions, and the final parts of the campaign see you cut off her supply lines, take her on directly, and clear local surveillance for the Rebel fleet to make a clean break to Hoth.
The rollout of the B-Wing acts more like a side story (or a “B-plot!” ha ha..ehh…). You will not fly the new fighter in every mission. When you do though, you’ll find it quite the beast. It’s faster than a Y-Wing, sports three lasers, three ion cannons, a total of 12 torpedoes, and the toughest shields in the game. Transferring laser power to shields (a series staple) also pulls from all six cannons, giving it the fastest recharge ability of any of the fighters. It’s one mean mother, and well suited to whacking corvettes and frigates – which, unfortunately, means you’ll usually be doing exactly that.
The tougher ship is used as license to place you in tougher situations, and it’s not uncommon to find yourself clearing out entire minefields by yourself, or tasked with killing four Nebulon frigates at once (!!!). Also remember that this is before the targeting improvements in TIE Fighter, so you can’t target individual launchers and turrets to disarm those frigates. The pack seems designed to offer a challenge to veteran pilots, which makes sense in the release chronology, but I found many missions too frustrating after not having played X-Wing for about eight years. Though as I pointed out in my review of the Collector’s Edition, this campaign is where I gave up when I was actively playing and surely at my best. Maybe that’s a sign that casual Rebel pilots simply need not apply here.
One major frustration that frequently pops up in this campaign is with the limitations of X-Wing’s feedback system. All status messages, ranging from new craft arriving on screen to the progress of capture missions, are displayed in a text bar along the bottom of the screen. These queue up, and most are played in the order they arrive. Confirmation messages, like mundane throttle or power changes (which you do a lot of in combat) skip the queue and are displayed instantly. You must then wait for the bar to return to ticking off status messages, many of which are minutes old by the time you get to them. Oh, what’s that? The disabled B-Wings I’m supposed to be protecting got destroyed five minutes ago, I failed the mission, and you’re just getting around to telling me? Thanks!
It’s also just generally tough to track the goings on around you. Expect to spend a lot of time madly cycling through every nearby ship in the cockpit display – and to which you can only save three ships to hotkeys. There’s no distinction between targeting friends and enemies, only “closest fighter” (which doesn’t count shuttles, transports, or larger ships) and “next/previous ship.” This is definitely one part where TIE Fighter does it better. You also seem expected to rely heavily on the in-flight map, which dumps you out of the flight engine to look at. It’s pretty tough to know quickly if an enemy has slipped past your line in the crowded defense missions.
Your wingmen are still barely useful, and their greatest contribution is in carrying more torpedoes to at shoot corvettes and frigates. They still get tied up in unskilled dogfighting, die too easily, and can’t be ordered to protect a VIP or patrol an area. You can pretty much tell them to “cover you” – done so mindlessly and at their own peril – or constantly update an “attack my target” order. And like the original, you can only issue orders to wingmen in your squad, but never to the other ships assigned to protect you.
I could easily be mis-remembering the original X-Wing, but these points seem to cause real issues in B-Wing when they were more like “functional annoyances” in the original. It could be the numbers of enemies thrown at you here, because they aren’t shy about it. It could be the tight limits imposed on you – in two missions I can think of, you and your wingmen pose the only line of defense against oncoming fighters and bombers, and you can’t let even a single one through.
One upside is that B-Wing gives out medals like candy to a new pilot profile. The extreme amount of points involved means I literally got a new piece of the Kalidor Crescent at the end of every mission, and probably a ribbon or two for pissing in the latrine and hitting the center. If you’re on the CD version, that means cutscenes – so look forward to panning down over the same assembled crowd, Mon Mothma opening the box, and a shot of your oddly-shaped and cryptically-unexplained medal (the significance of each is in the manual). You’ll also get that wink from Mon Mothma every time, and it never, ever, gets any less creepy. What’s that supposed to mean Ms. Mothma? Am I to be receiving another medal in your stateroom tonight?
If you buy the X-Wing 95 CD (which you totally should), then B-Wing is included as the fifth tour of duty. So this review is really to cover if it’s worth your time, or give more info on the total value of that pack. The B-Wing itself is a neat fighter – slightly overpowered, and all the more fun for it – and the addition of a new fly-able ship makes this pack more attractive than Imperial Pursuit. However, the fact that you’re put in, frankly, absurd odds in it doesn’t mean you’ll be cakewalking through anything. I wouldn’t expect anyone but the most dedicated of hardcore pilots to finish it, and either way, this is probably the tour where you’ll be losing that impressive TOD score you’ve been building up through the other campaigns.
All screens are from the Windows 95 Collector’s re-release.
New ship to fly, and its impressive armament will make vets feel like a kid in a candy store. If you’re an X-Wing vet looking for a further challenge, here it is.
X-Wing was already famous for tough odds… this ramps it up even more. Campaign treads ground that’s been done before in the other tours (even fighting a Star Destroyer). Really, you’re here for the new ship and the Iron Man trial that comes with it.