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Galactic Starfighter welcomes everyone to The Old Republic's space battles today

Everyone who plays Star Wars: The Old Republic can suit up and enter their cockpits in the spaceship-focused Galactic Starfighter expansion, which is available to players of all stripes today, including the free-to-play crowd.

Galactic Starfighter became available to subscribers last December and to Preferred Status members in last month. Today, alongside the expansion's wide release, developer BioWare is filling the vacuum of space with several upgrades, including a new Team Deathmatch mode.

Lead designer Michael Backus said during a preview event last week that the new mode will enter the game in part because of player requests.

"Players were really clamoring for it," Backus said. "We knew it was a great addition. If you're tired of taking on objectives, now you're just going to be able to pummel each other and destroy each other."

Today's Galactic Starfighter rollout will also bring a few more new features. For example, power-ups are now scattered throughout the maps. Pick them up, and players will receive boosts to damage, engine and shield boosts. A new Battle Record implementation will tracks players' lifetime accrual of stats like kill/death ratio and hit/miss ratio. The scoreboard that appears at the end of battle will now have more detailed information. Premium ships, which are variations on the standard ships, will also be available, allowing players a further level of customization.

A new ship, the Bomber, will also arrive today. "The Bomber's strength really lies in basically drones and mines," Backus said. "It's a less agile ship, but it can take more punishment." Players will be able to customize the starship's look and feel with new engines, shields and weapons.

Kuat Drive Yards, a new "Tactical Flashpoint," will be available to players beginning at level 15. Players can earn rewards like mounts and paint jobs in a series of scenarios that can change with each playthrough.

One of BioWare's goals with Galactic Starfighter was to make the expansion accessible to all players, not just veterans. To that end, even new players will be able to enter dogfights quickly. All they'll need to do is download and install the game and then create an account and character. As soon as they start playing, they can hit Esc or H to enter the hanger or click an icon. They'll be in and flying shortly thereafter.

To get players used to the expansion, their first 10 matches will take place in a 8-versus-8 scenario. After that, the space battles will increase to the standard 12-versus-12 variety.

The ramping process is part of BioWare's overall goal, Backus explained, to make Galactic Starfighter accessible as possible.

"When Blane [Christine, senior producer] and I sat down, we came up with some philosophies behind Galactic Starfighter — tenets, if you will — things that we thought were really, really super important to the game itself," he said.

Players won't need to meet a minimum level requirement to access Galactic Starfighter's ships and space battles. The developers wanted to make it immersive, so that players would feel like they were part of Star Wars' iconic universe. To that end, they've included things like secret bases and trench runs.

"If you take a look at the climactic battles in the movies, I think you're going to see where we get our cues from," he said.

Finally, they wanted Galactic Starfighter to feel at home in Star Wars: The Old Republic's massively multiplayer online role-playing game. That's a big part of why they've included many options to customize the expansion's 24 unique starfighters and given players the option to bring their in-game companions into the cockpit as co-pilots.

Galactic Starfighter is is a unique and focused expansion. It's designed to be accessible and customizable. Despite its deliberate departure from the land-based game it joins today, it's still designed to feel like it belongs in the larger MMORPG.

"Star Wars: The Old Republic, at its core, is really a role-playing game," Backus said. "We thought it was really important to bring all of those elements of a role-playing game into Galactic Starfighter."

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