Platform(s): PS4, PC, Xbox One
Genre: Space flight sim featuring X-Wings & TIE Fighters
Up until last year, I bemoaned the fact that there were no decent modern Star Wars games. Then, Respawn Entertainment’s Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order arrived in 2019 and gave all Star Wars fans hope again. One year later, does EA Motive’s Star Wars Squadrons continue or break that streak?
Granted, Star Wars: Squadrons is nothing like Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order in terms of gameplay, of course. It’s a flight sim game. While I scoff at some reviewers’ notions that this game marks the rebirth of a forgotten genre, since it was never gone in the first place thanks to 2019’s Ace Combat 7 Skies Unknown, I can say that I’m both impressed and disappointed with Star Wars: Squadrons.
The Return Of The X-Wing (Vs Tie Fighter)
Star Wars: Squadrons is set between the events of Star Wars Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi and Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. The Galactic Civil War is down to its last legs, but the shattered remnants of the Empire aren’t giving up without a fight. The New Republic is struggling to finish them off, and the secret Project Starhawk might be the key to their absolute final victory.
That’s the gist of the plot and setting in the game, where players will experience from the perspective of two protagonists; one from the New Republic and the other from the Empire. However, they’re not characters who have a role in canon lore like Star Wars Battlefront II‘s Iden Versio or Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order‘s Cal Kestis.
Instead, you can customize these two protagonists to your liking; choosing their faces, voices and names. They’re essentially silent protagonists, so don’t expect much depth or personality. You’ll get those from your fellow pilots in the New Republic’s Vanguard Squadron and the Imperial Titan Squadron.
I consider myself an avid Star Wars fan, so I can’t help but ultimately feeling let down by the single-player campaign in Star Wars: Squadrons. I don’t see why other reviewers are praising such a by-the-numbers and bland campaign that honestly feels like an eight-hour glorified tutorial for the most part.
During the single-player campaign in Star Wars: Squadrons, you’ll drop into the hangar and have the option to speak with your fellow pilots and other characters on occasion. Then, you go to a boring uninspired holographic briefing and go back to the hanger in order to launch missions.
Rinse and repeat 14 times, and that’s the single-player experience in Star Wars: Squadrons. Sure, Star Wars fans will appreciate all the little references/easter eggs in the dialogue (which are mostly optional, by the way) and cameos (I won’t spoil them), but I’m disappointed by how it’s all presented.
Oh, and you can’t even walk around or explore the hangars, since it works sort of like a point-and-click game.
It’s a shame, really. I would really have liked to learn more about some of my fellow pilots in both squadrons. It would have been interesting to have a Mass Effect-like system for more meaningful interactions with them, but I guess it wasn’t worth the effort.
Look, I know that’s not the point of the game, but why include a single-player story if you’re just going to half-ass it anyways. Frankly, the moment I heard about Project Starhawk, I knew that the game wouldn’t bother featuring a story that’s a substantial addition to canon lore. The actual reveal falls flat as well.
The only other good thing about the single-player campaign is that it’s a good primer to prepare players for the multiplayer. The story missions don’t offer much variety in terms of objectives (besides a lot of dogfighting and destroying larger ships like Star Destroyers).
When they do diversify, it’s frustrating stuff like shooting down missiles before they hit the large ships you’re forced to escort – yes, there are lame escorting missions. One mission had me detonating floating mines by shooting them when the enemy ships pass by.
Another disappointing aspect of Star Wars: Squadrons is that there is literally only ONE one-on-one dogfight boss fight in the entire campaign, so don’t expect any epic solo dogfights. There are squadron-on-squadron dogfights, but they don’t do much to make you feel invested in what’s happening.
I’m not even asking for much. At least Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown had melodrama and high stakes aplenty, even though the story didn’t make much sense. Star Wars: Squadrons can’t even boast that much. Fortunately, at least the meat of the game; the flight sim combat, turned out to be an actual genuine blast to play.
The Quintessential Star Wars Dogfighting Experience?
The problems of the single-player campaign notwithstanding; Star Wars: Squadrons succeeds where it’s most important; the gameplay combat. It’s thrilling and exhilarating all at once to be able to hop into the cockpits of some of the iconic starfighters in all of pop culture and zoom through the vastness of space.
Unlike other flight sims, Star Wars: Squadrons is only playable from the first-person perspective. At first, I found it bizarre that the developers would limit the game in this way. However, I later realized that this was a great choice, consider how many systems the player has to monitor on the screen at any given time.
Most games have a traditional HUD with meters and bars all strewn around the screen. In Star Wars: Squadrons, all of that is made clearly visible and integrated into the ship’s cockpit designs. The attention to detail is incredible, complete with ammo count, radar, a speedometer, and most importantly, how power is balanced throughout the ship.
The biggest unique gameplay mechanic in Star Wars: Squadrons is that with a click of a button (directional buttons on the PS4’s Dualshock 4), I can divert the ship’s power at an instant to prioritize one of three aspects; speed (engine), damage (weapons), or defence (shields). It’s a nice mechanic that works within the context of how these starfighters work in-universe, which makes it all even more immersive.
It’s a constant balancing act and being a good pilot in Star Wars: Squadrons means that you have to master this mechanic of when to divert power to the necessary aspect depending on the situation. Need to make a run for it or chase an escaping enemy? Divert power into your engine by pressing the left arrow button and get a boost to your speed, albeit at the expense of your shields and weapons.
Each faction (New Republic and Empire) has four ships available (so far); a classic fighter (X-Wing/Tie Fighter), a speedy interceptor (A-Wing/Tie Interceptor), a powerful bomber (Y-Wing/Tie Bomber), and a support starfighter (U-Wing/Tie Reaper). While eight ships don’t sound like much variety, you’d be surprised at how different they all are.
Each of them boasts a distinctive cockpit design that incorporates all those aforementioned details in their own way. That said, this might actually be annoying at first because of how different the cockpits look. You may be used to the placement of where the ammo count rests in the X-Wing but will then have to adapt to a different placement in the A-Wing. Best of all, each of them feels vastly different to fly with, and aren’t simply carbon copies of each other with different stats and skins.
The loadouts of each ship can also be customized, adding more strategy to combat. These components do range from changing your rapid-fire lasers to short controlled bursts or sacrificing hull integrity for maneuverability. There are also many that do more than just tweak the performance of the ship, such as switching seeking missiles for concentrated beams or add the ability to repair your ship during combat.
It’s worth pointing out that Star Wars: Squadrons is not an easy game. I say this after years of playing Ace Combat games. It’s more complex than it seems to be at first, and it took me a while to get used to the controls, not to mention the number of different mechanics that the game throws at me.
The slightly steep learning curve might deter more casual gamers from enjoying this game. Even at the easiest difficulty, this game takes some skill.
Assemble Your Squad(rons)
After you’ve completed the mediocre eight-hour single-player campaign, what does Star Wars: Squadrons offer in terms of multiplayer? Well, there are only two modes (so far); Dogfight and Fleet Battles. Dogfight is simply a team deathmatch, as two squads of 5 fight it out in a straightforward match and the first team to get 30 kills wins. It’s simple and quick, providing a lot of fun in short but intense bursts.
Plus, while things might get frustrating in the single-player campaign, you might find the multiplayer modes to be more enjoyable. For some reason, it just feels better to shoot and aim in multiplayer compared to the campaign.
Once you reach Rank 5, you’ll unlock the game’s Fleet Battles. This mode requires more strategy and tactics than simple dogfighting, testing your mettle. It works like a tug of war, as the two opposing teams fight to build their momentum (Morale bar) by earning points via kills and earn the opportunity to attack the other side’s Capital Ship (there are also smaller large ships in the phases in-between).
Due to their back-and-forth nature, Fleet Battles take a long time to finish. Each match that I played were about 25 to 30 minutes. What gives Fleet Battles the edge over Dogfights is that they’re more open. Using bombers and support ships in Dogfights simply don’t make sense at all, as those ships would be annihilated by the faster and more agile fighters and interceptors.
That’s where Fleet Battles come in. The idea is that you don’t have to be an ace dogfighter pilot to contribute. You can focus on healing squadmates with the support ships or deal damage on larger ships and Capital Ship with bombers; thereby letting the fighters and interceptors deal with the enemy players. All playstyles are viable in Fleet Battles.
All of that may sound like it won’t work for random players, but once you have a more stable group of squadmates, you could eventually plan out entire strategies and plans for Fleet Battles (who plays what role, etc.). For those who want quick online battles, you’ll still have Dogfights to head straight into the action.
Still, the biggest issue with Fleet Battles is that they might feel like a slog or chore to actually complete. After several turns of trying to take down the opposing team’s Capital Ship back and forth, the thrill might wear off and make you feel like you want to get it over with.
However, I had the time of my life reaching Rank 10 in the game, especially after I settled into my role of being a primarily offensive dogfighter with Interceptor-class ships in Fleet Battles. Trying to get the upper edge in every phase feels as intense as it should be, at least, so far, and it doesn’t really feel like anyone has an unfair advantage, unlike in Star Wars Battlefront II multiplayer.
On the subject of microtransactions, there are none in Star Wars: Squadrons, as everything can only be unlocked through two in-game currencies. All the cosmetics which with to customize your pilots and ships can be unlocked with Requisition and Glory points. You can collect those simply by playing multiplayer and completing the daily challenges.
Ultimately, two modes in Multiplayer might not be enough to sustain long playthroughs for many hardcore gamers. The progression systems seems a bit slow as well, and it will take both time and effort to actually rank up. Still, it’s much better than the campaign, and it’s where you’ll probably be spending the most time with.
Vanguard/Titan Squadron Reporting In
Despite the game’s flaws, Star Wars: Squadrons is currently the only modern Star Wars game that truly fulfils the fantasies of many fans; allowing them to experience the epic space combat that they’ve seen in the franchise for more than forty years. EA Motive certainly could have done a lot more, but they’re already previously clarified that this won’t exactly be a AAA game from the very beginning.
For all its faults, this game does make you feel like a hotshot pilot in a galaxy far, far away. Is it as amazing as Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order? Nope, but if Star Wars Squadrons is any indication, it bodes well for the (near) future of Star Wars games. As it stands though, I can only recommend Star Wars Squadrons to the most avid Star Wars or flight sim fans.
- Good gameplay mechanics that add depth to combat.
- Intense and exhilarating dogfighting combat.
- All the ships feel different and have unique features.
- Fun multiplayer modes that make up for the story campaign.
- Attention to detail.
- Bland and uninspired single-player campaign.
- A slightly-steep difficulty and learning curve.
- Only two modes in Multiplayer.
- No B-Wings (just kidding).
FINAL SCORE: 70/100
This game was reviewed on a PS4 Pro with the Dualshock 4, with a review code provided by the game’s publisher.