As any veteran of Star Wars: TIE Fighter knows, flying for the bad guys is a thankless job. You're a disposable hunk of sentient meat piloting an equally disposable spacecraft. What they lack in sentimentality, the Empire makes up for in the raw numbers. Go ahead and gloat over those kills, rebels. There are more where they came from. After spending some hands-on time with Star Wars Battlefront II's new Starfighter Assault mode, however, I have a greater appreciation for TIE fighters – not for the sacrifices that their pilots make, but for how these much-maligned ships are actually quite great.

Our battle took place over the planet of Fondor, around one of its orbital shipyards. A recuperating imperial star destroyer was in dry dock, and as an imperial pilot, my job was to ensure that the rebels didn't take out the incapacitated titan. Fortunately, I was part of a team of 12, bolstered by a variety of A.I. controlled ships to add to the delightful confusion and visual impact of this 24-player battle. 

When I spawned into the game, I had my initial pick of three different ships. First up was a run-of-the-mill TIE fighter, followed by its interceptor and bomber variants. I started out with the standard ship, expecting a fragile but deadly ship. It delivered on that front, allowing me to help teammates take on much larger ships, such as Y-wings. I took a "run in and run away" approach, darting into skirmishes to antagonize any X-wings I came across with laser fire, and then taking advantage of the ship's maneuverability to escape. It seemed to work well, but I found myself dying more than I'd hoped. That changed as soon as I selected the TIE interceptor. 

For some reason, the interceptor and I clicked. It seemed faster than the regular fighter, and I had an easier time evading ships and their inevitable missiles. The speed made it particularly thrilling to try and shake pursuing X-wings by flying dangerously close to the docked star destroyer, darting around its radar array and watching as enemies crashed trying to keep up. 

It was a lot of fun, but it got even better once I amassed enough points to pilot one of the game's special unique ships. I could have picked Darth Maul's stealth ship, but it had to be Slave I. That was the right decision. Armed with concussion missiles and luxuriously thick armor, I felt like a flying tank. I'd chase down X-wing after X-wing, turning them into clouds of burning debris with Boba Fett's notorious vessel. Larger ships like the Y-wing would get my attention, but even they were easy to evade and then destroy. It felt like cheating, but I'm not complaining. The rebels did their best to take out the star destroyer, but our team made it impossible. After destroying their last large ship, we were victorious.

The mode was a lot of fun, even though we ended up losing the next several battles. There's a nice sense of scale at play, and enemy density is consistent without ever seeming overwhelming. There weren't many times where I had to spend more than 10 seconds looking for a fight; hang around a defensive objective long enough, and you can be sure that a rebel jerk would descend on it like a vulture. And I couldn't tell you much more about Fondor beyond its name, but the planet was a dazzling backdrop amid the chaos of battle.

I was fairly ambivalent about the space battles in the last Battlefront game, but I'm definitely excited to spend more time in the cockpit starting November 17.