Today is May 4th, 2015, and as all geeks know, May 4th is unofficially Star Wars day. This is also the FIRST May the 4th holiday in which the entirety of the X-Wing series (X-Wing, TIE Fighter, X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter and X-Wing Alliance in release order) are finally available digitally, both on GOG and on Steam. As a huge fan of these games, along with the genre they helped flourish into superstardom (space combat sims, of course), these games are iconic pieces of gaming history. The caveat here is you need a joystick to play these. I mean sure, you can fudge it with a mouse and keyboard and some software, but it’s not the same, and not the way these games were mean to be played.
Now all of these games are self-contained pieces of Star Wars storytelling, so while they were released in a specific order, their stories don’t need to be experienced in any specific order. This is why I’ve come up with this list of which games are the most important to the series, from most to least, in terms of both gameplay and storytelling. I’m making this for a couple of reasons. First, so new players know which games to focus on first, and secondly, to spark a discussion with veteran players who I know will disagree with me. ;) With that said, let’s get to the list.
The X-Wing Series in Order of Importance/Awesomeness:
- TIE Fighter – Now sure, X-Wing came first, but TIE Fighter not only has a better story, much more varied gameplay and a wider variety of ships, it also has a lot of technical improvements over X-Wing that make this game really the best in its class. I mean I can’t even play the original X-Wing anymore after this due to the lack of one vital command: match speed (yes, I know it’s in the special edition version, but whatever). That said, TIE Fighter is still one of the best games of its type in general as well, with an excellent combination of engaging storytelling and vibrant combat that, in my opinion, is only surpassed by one other game, Freespace 2. The merits of this game have been discussed by me and others repeatedly, so I doubt I have to make much of a case for this game. The next ones on the list, however…
- X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter – If you had asked me to write this a year ago, this game would’ve been at the bottom of the list, but boy how times change. X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter was really an incomplete product when it came out. I, and many others, were expecting a continuation of the brilliance of TIE Fighter’s story-based excellence, whereas instead we got what felt like a disconnected series of battles (which was later fixed with the Balance of Power expansion, but by then I’d moved on). The biggest problem, however, was that the game was ahead of its time. Back in the late 1990s, home-based Internet connections were crappy, voice communication online was VERY rudimentary, if available at all, and making games with your friends wasn’t the easiest thing in the world. NOW, however, the technology is in place for seamless voice communication, and GameRanger allows you to easily make games just with your friends. THAT ALONE has helped bring me around to the game. NOW this game is a joy, truly, as it offers online space combat that is kind of unmatched in this day and age, even with games like Elite: Dangerous out there. Sure, it’s a bit old and a bit clunky, but when you get some friends together and fight against the AI, there’s really nothing that can touch it.
- X-Wing – The game that started it all, this far down the list? Blasphemy, I’m sure you’re saying, but hear me out. While X-Wing was an excellent game in its day, it’s been surpassed repeatedly by not only its own sequel but by other games as well. TIE Fighter is a game I’ve played through half-a-dozen times due to its combination of exceptional storytelling and fantastic combat. X-Wing? I’ve played through once, maybe twice (the fact that I don’t fully recall says something). This is because, at least in its initial release, X-Wing was crushingly hard. I’m not just talking about the infamous medical frigate mission, I’m talking in general. Sure, this heightened the difficulty of the task facing the rebels, but in thinking on the game, I just am not sure I have the patience to go back to it. The 1997 special edition version apparently made the game a bit easier, but by then I had TIE Fighter, which was much more balanced in this regard (even if it also could be difficult at times). While X-Wing was a groundbreaking game, and one can’t deny its place in space gaming history, there are nowadays better games one can play.
- X-Wing Alliance – Hate me all you want on this one folks, but I personally thing this is the weakest entry in the entire series, and I’ll tell you why: The stupid, annoying, wasted, useless family missions. Sure, I get what the Totally Games folks were trying to do: Tell a unique story by giving us characters we’d connect with, rather than simple wingmen. The problem being that NO ONE in that damned family was likable. NO ONE. Also the missions with the freighter were horribly boring and annoying, which constituted a good chunk of the game. Once your avatar finally joined the rebels, things got a bit more fun, but still, the gameplay wasn’t as fun as TIE Fighter, I found. I’ll be honest, I never finished this one, and I’m still sad that I never did. Honestly though, I still have no desire to go back and finish it, because it’s just, to me, not very good, especially in comparison to earlier installments in the series. The multiplayer is also lacking in comparison to X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter, I feel, which has a more robust and interest spate of content.
So there you go, the X-Wing series, rated for how awesome and important they are. What do you think? Am I right, or totally bonkers? If you’re a new player who wants to know more, hit me up in the comments. Same if you’re a veteran who vehemently disagrees with me, I’d love to hear from you too. Thanks for reading, and May the 4th be with you! ;)