The Best and Worst Space Fighters

The iconic X-Wing...
You knew this had to be on the list...

I’ll admit, right off the bat, that this was a tough article to write. I’ve played many, many space combat sims in my day, and through research and my own memory I strained to find fighters that actually stuck out in my mind. Sadly, while I’ve enjoyed flying around in fighters in many of the games I’ve played, I’ll be damned if I could really remember the horror or joy at flying specific fighter craft in many of them.

With that said, after a lot of thought, I’ve come up with a list of — what I think are — the best and worst fighters in space gaming. Again, this is based on my memory and opinion. ;)

The Worst Space Fighters

Pew pew! That's what she kinda sounded like too...
Oversensitive piece of crap...

The A-Wing was the first fighter I thought of when I asked “What’s the worst fighter you recall flying in a space game?” From it’s underpowered weapon layout to its overtly-sensitive steering, this fighter was a giant pain in the ass to fly. Sure, it was tough to be hit by enemy fire in an A-Wing if you knew what you were doing, but it was also god damned hard to hit anything else because it was just so damned finicky. In X-Wing or any of its sequels, I DREADED being made to fly this damned thing, and longed for the stability of a B-Wing or the exceptional mixed-performance of an X-Wing. Nearly ANYTHING besides the damned A-Wing. This is, by far, one of the worst fighters I ever flew in any space sim.


Nimble as hell, but so fragile...
Stupid bucket with wings...

Let’s stick with Star Wars for a bit and mention the god damned TIE Fighter. Sure, she was a nimble craft, and manufactured in such numbers that she could overwhelm many an opposing force, but she was basically a bucket with wings, engines and a couple of cannons. A few good shots from an enemy craft and you were toast, and I couldn’t STAND the fragility of this fighter. I prefer my fighters a bit…meatier, and this is one of the leanest fighters you can fly in any space game. I mean hell, at least the A-Wing had some shields. You had to graduate up to a TIE Advanced for that. While TIE Fighter is my second favorite space sim ever, the craft upon which it’s named is one of my least favorite fighter craft ever.

Only memorable for its craptitude...
Sigh, it could have been so much better...

I couldn’t pick one fighter in X-Com Interceptor because they were ALL horrid to fly. Apparently there WAS a joystick issue when the game came out that made the controls too sensitive, but even after that was supposedly fixed, trying to fly any of the damned things was a horrid exercise in frustration. It’s a damned shame too, because X-Com Interceptor is one of the very few space sims with a dynamic campaign, and it actually had some good ideas once you got past the horrid spacecraft performance.

And that’s all I could think of in terms of fighters I flat-out couldn’t stand to fly. Now, let’s take a look at the other side of the coin.

The Best Space Fighters

Scary, tough as hell, and a joy to fly...
The TIE Defender was an amazing ship.

Going back to Star Wars for a moment, let’s look at the glorious TIE Defender. Four laser cannons, two ion cannons, shields and a hyperdrive, this thing might’ve made the game a bit unbalanced at the time, but who cares? She was a wonderful craft to fly. Still nimble even with her increased size and weapon load, yet powerful enough to take on anything the Rebel Alliance could throw at you. The TIE Defender was a pure joy to fly.

X-Wing setting up the Death Star trench run...
The famous X-Wing goes to work...

Keeping with Star Wars for a moment, let’s look at the X-Wing. It’s without a doubt the most popular fighter in all of the Star Wars mythos, but it’s also the best. Maneuverable as heck, able to take a pounding thanks to her shielding, and with four laser cannons, she could give as good as she got. The X-Wing is the iconic Star Wars fighter, and there are reasons for that besides its sleek styling and famous pilots, such as her stability and reliability. There’s a reason some of the best pilots in the Alliance flew the X-Wing…the odds were she’d get you back to base in one piece despite what the Empire threw at you.


The Dragon is the best, toughtest space fighter I know.
I want one for realsies...

Finally, we have to talk about not only my favorite fighter in all of space gaming (yeah, I might be a bit biased), but the greatest fighter I’ve come across in all the space games I’ve played, the Black Lance Dragon from Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom. Armed to the teeth with four laser cannons, two ion cannons AND two amazingly powerful fusion cannons, as well as the ability to deploy mines, missiles and the dreaded FlashPak device, it ALSO had a cloaking device and was the first fighter in the Wing Commander games to have a built-in hyperdrive.

The Dragon, such a thing of beauty...
I love the Dragon so much I includes TWO images of her. WHAT OF IT?!

She was also fast as hell, stable as could be and very maneuverable. It’s a shame one didn’t get to fly her too much in Wing Commander IV, because every time I flew her, I felt like I had come home. She was probably the greatest fighter-based weapons platform I’ve ever come across in any space combat game I’ve played, and I only wish I had more time to get to know her better. Sadly, because of her illegal creation and production, the Dragon was never used by Confed, and therefore didn’t show up in Wing Commander Prophecy, and I’ll be honest in that her absence was keenly felt.

So there you have it. The best and worst space fighters in all of space gaming, according to me. Why was Star Wars in there so much? I think due to the iconic nature of the series, those fighters stuck out more, honestly. They were also pretty well designed to stand on their own, I believe.

Think I forgot one? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Thanks for reading!

Author: Brian Rubin

24 thoughts on “The Best and Worst Space Fighters

  1. I'm with you with the A-Wing. I also didn't like the A-Wing missions. If I recall correctly the problem seem to be the shields or the hull. The goddamn ship was simply too weak.

    TIE Defender and X-Wing are good choices. In the opposite side of the A-Wing they were sturdy and reliable.

    As we are in the subject, Y-Wings were ok. They provided quite a punch but … they lacked the speed :( Clearly one to get behind the line, however in some missions you were the line, against TIE Advanced. Not fair.

    1. Yeah, while not the best, the Y Wing was a very stable and underappreciated weapons platform that I enjoyed flying until the B Wing stole my heart. ;-)

  2. Haha! Never noticed that both the Tie Defender and the Dragon have four laser cannon, two ion cannons, launchers, and the only fighter in the fleet to have hyperdrive. Damned Bothan spies…

    The A-wing was tough to learn, but eventually I grokked it and now prefer it to anything except the X-wing. The Y is a tank but soooo slow, and I never could get the hang of hitting anything with the Bs crazy weapon layout. Vanilla Tie Fighters are junk, but the Tie Interceptor was just tough enough to be very useful.

    1. Maybe that's why I love the TD and Dragon so. Sadly I never grokked the A-Wing, but OMG did I love the B-Wing.

  3. I really loved flying the A-Wing in the X-Wing games. I always felt like the faster, more maneuverable ships had an advantage in the X-Wing/TIE Fighter games, and once you could get the hang of flying circles around your opponents you were unstoppable. Not to mention that aesthetically I think the A-Wing is much cooler looking than the B, X and Y wings.

    1. My problem is it was too fast and too maneuverable to feel stable at all.

  4. I couldn't enjoy the flight model of any craft in any of the Wing Commander games. In Tie Fighter you really feel like you are in a dogfight. But in Wing Commander I feel like you are a stationary turret with "space" spinning around you, and combat turns into these weird space jousts instead of dogfights.

    I didn't play the later games so I may be judging Wing Commander harshly based on the early games in the series.


    1. HEh, I felt the latter three games dwarfed the feeling of space flight that was less than present in the first two games. :)

  5. The Wing Commander games got better and better with the dogfight feel. The last game Prophecy: Secret Ops has some of the best dogfights in space sims, IMO.

  6. Freespace had good fighters worth mentioning, except they were so balanced it's hard to single any out as the best. For certain, the black ops superfighter near the end of Freespace 2 was that game's Wing Commander Dragon. But Ulysses, Herc 1 & 2, Apollo, and the interceptors were also great at their roles. The bombers weren't as fun.

    Wing Commander Academy included the Wraith, which outperformed every other WC ship put together. WC1 & 2 had the Rapier and Saber, respectively. WC2SO2 added the Morningstar, which was enormously powerful but lacked personality. Privateer's Centurion was a joy after the cramped cockpits and other limitations of the weaker ships.

    A-Wing was fragile and lacked laser power, but it was great for taking on TIE Advanced, especially with its missile payload. Nothing else could keep up with those pests. I racked up at least 60 kills with it on that solo reconnaissance mission. Good ship for pure dogfighting.

    TIE Interceptor is fun to fly even though it shares most of the TIE fighter's faults. The extra guns, speed, and armor make all the difference. More satisfying than the superpowered Defender. Lousy when capital ships are near, of course. Missile Gunboat's overpowered, yet too fiddly to rank among the best.

  7. Not saying it is the best but I loved the Raptor from Wing Commander 1. It had the perfect mix of weaponry and defensive systems in the game. Sure the Rapier was sexier but I actually liked the look of the Raptor more.

    The only knock I have on the Freespace games is that their fighter designs were not as attractive to me as the WC or Star Wars ones. I did love their Capital Ships though.


    1. Alright, calm down, no need to yell, mate. ;-) Welcome, by the way. :-)

  9. I always enjoyed flying the missile boat in TIE Fighter. Sure, two whole batteries of advanced concussion missiles were hideously, hideously overpowered, but taking down two whole squadrons of X-Wings by yourself before turning on the SLAM and running 20km away felt amazing.

    1. Yeah, I could see that. Honestly, I think at the time, anything after the TIE Defender just seemed lame in comparison. ;) Welcome to the blog, by the way!

  10. I have to agree with your best fighters list, but have to chime in defense of the A-Wing. The A-Wing was an amazing fighter for its role. It was designed as a combined long range interceptor and recon fighter unlike the space superiority role of the X-Wing or the Bomber/Assault role of the B-Wing and Y-Wing. In this its biggest strengths were shields just shy of the X-Wings, the fastest speed of any Rebellion era fighters, the longest ranged fighter sensor system of its time and 12 fighter scale concussion missiles. Still remember a couple of missions in xwing where speed was needed and I just dropped the hammer without needing to transfer power to the engines or if I did just from the shields or guns (but the times where I needed more than 120 MGLT were few and far between) and with the missiles was still fight capable when I got to where I was going. On the other hand, I would never plan an assault on an Imperial-II class Star Destroyer with A-Wings as my first choice.

    1. Hey, welcome to the blog Daniel, and thanks for your comment. :) I totally see what you’re saying, and I guess in the hands of someone who prefers an interceptor, it makes sense. Me, however, I’m always for the big guys with the big guns. B-Wing FOREVA! ;) Seriously though, your points make total sense, and when I get to X-Wing, I’ll try to look at the A-Wing differently. :)

      1. Another good fighter that never made it in when the X-Wing series got cancelled was the E-Wing. Classed as an escort/recon fighter it was built to be the successor to the X-Wing, but wound up eventually replacing the A-Wing. 2 x laser cannons, 16x proton torpedoes, same speed as an A-Wing, Long mission duration capability, solid shields. Int the novels and comics, it was one of the only fighters besides the X-Wing that Rogue Squadron flew. Biggest Drawback was that it was expensive. It was a very solid design once it got past the initial design problems. Trivia note it was developed by the same designers who designed the X-Wing for the Empire (and then stole it and the plans when they defected to the Rebel Alliance.

        As for Wing Commander fighters what was your opinion of the Thunderbolt and the Excalibur from WC3? Very solid performance and heavy weapons loadouts. The Excalibur in particular started out with 4 tachyon cannons and 2 Reaper particle cannons plus 12 missiles (usually the Image-Rec Missile). Light Fighter Speed and Heavy Fighter punch and defense. The Wing Commander novels even noted that the Excalibur was the design predecessor for the Dragon. The Thunderbolt was an amazingly solid Heavy Fighter with near Medium Fighter maneuverability despite its slow top speed but had a great loadout on its own.

        my least favorite fighter in any mainstream or indie space sim was the Babylon 5 Starfury. I could never get the inertial combat system to work right and it would bounce all over the place. And only two guns with no missiles was a pain in the rear.

        1. Heh, I stopped reading the SW novels around the time they first began mentioning the E-Wing, so I never learned much about it. Sounds like an impressive ship on its own.

          The Excalibur is likely my second favorite Wing Commander fighter. A totally solid weapons platform that was just a pleasure to fly. It WAS my favorite until the Dragon dethroned it. The Thunderbolt, however, never made much of an impression on me. It felt like an in-between fighter, you know? Not bad in any respect, just not exceptional either.

  11. The Eagle from Elite: Dangerous is SO much fun to fly – More so than anything else in that game.

    1. It IS fun to fly, shame the damned thing is made of balsa wood and falls apart if you look at it funny. ;)

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