|Xbox One (Reviewed), PS4, PC
|October 2nd, 2020
Earlier this year, the reveal of Star Wars: Squadrons left fans wondering whether it would be like Rogue Squadron or X-Wing vs. Tie-Fighter. Some fans might be disappointed to find out that it is more like the latter, and others might be dismayed to discover that it isn’t as hardcore as that famous space-sim either. EA Motive carves out their path among the stars instead of pulling too much from one direction. I had my own reservations before jumping into the cockpit, but was ultimately satisfied with all that I had seen from this new entry into a long lineage of Star Wars video games.
Violence: In Star Wars: Squadrons, players take control of Empire and New Republic pilots that engage in galactic combat involving dogfights, bombing runs, and large-scale battles. The gameplay takes place in a first-person perspective inside the cockpit of a starship in which players will fire lasers, cannons, missiles, and more to shoot down enemies and avoid being destroyed. Explosions occur when opponents, ships, and other structures take damage. When playing as the Empire, the commander asks players to destroy fuel depots and other innocent facilities. During a campaign mission, an optional objective gives the option of destroying civilian transports.
Sexual Content: Keo in Vanguard Squadron identifies as non-binary and uses pronouns such as “They” and “Them.” Varko in Titan Squadron is gay; this information comes when he mentions his husband if the player chooses to have a conversation with him in the hanger between missions.
The biggest concern I had before jumping into Star Wars: Squadrons was how difficult it would be to play the game. I was concerned that it was going to be a hardcore flight-sim, but it doesn’t go that far. The best I can compare it to is Rebel Galaxy: Outlaw, because Squadrons also finds that sweet spot somewhere in the middle. The game can be as difficult as you want it to be, which I consider the right move to bring players of all skill levels into the fold. Though it took some time to get the hang of the controls, I felt like an ace pilot by the time I played through the campaign and spent hours in the multiplayer modes.
As Star Wars: Squadrons is played entirely in first-person, all HUD elements exist in the cockpit, and you have the option to play the whole game in VR on PS4 or PC. If you want to use that flight stick you recently bought for Microsoft Flight Simulator, that option is available as well. Having played on my Xbox One X, I experienced none of those things, but found the controller to work very well. Power diversion is mapped to the D-Pad, while more advanced techniques such as shield direction can be changed while holding down the X button (did you know Tie-Fighters don’t have shields?). Learning how to play could have been much more complicated from my experience with past flight sims, but the button layout is significantly better than I had anticipated.
When starting up the game, players choose two generic avatars for each faction that can’t be customized. That isn’t a significant issue as you never see your character, but it makes the idea that you are in the cockpit much less personal. The campaign begins with a tutorial and sets the stage for the story. A character named Lindon Javes makes a switch from the Empire to the New Republic that is seen through your two pilots’ perspectives, while cleverly having them in the same location but never crossing paths.
While it could have been better, the game’s serviceable story does feature some fun moments that made me feel like I was in a Star Wars movie. One of those moments takes inspiration from the famous Death Star trench run as I orbited a comms structure with my Y-Wing and eventually flew into the core to drop one last batch of bombs while making a narrow escape. There are a few more memorable sequences, but it was not the events that took place across each mission that made me care about what was happening—it was the characters.
You get some time to breathe in between each campaign mission by spending time in the hangar. That downtime offers mission briefings, edits to your loadout, and conversations with your fellow squadmates. Learning who these characters are is where the writing shines, and I wanted to hear their opinions on what was happening in the story. Some of them live to serve the cause they fight for, while others aren’t sure if their side is the right one. Getting to know them means learning their backstories as well. Fighting alongside Shen of Titan Squadron against Anvil Squadron was an unforgettable moment. During a mission, I flew alongside him as he was about to get the vengeance he wanted after being left for dead and the only surviving member of his previous team.
With Squadrons being a budget title, there were some expected limitations. One of those limitations is how missions work. Many of them take place in wide areas divided into gated checkpoints that involve the player jumping into lightspeed. Instead of sprawling setpieces, we get scenarios specifically built for dogfighting. This design also shows that the multiplayer component is the primary focus. But the single-player half of the game is already more than we could have asked for and ultimately satisfied me, as it will for Star Wars fans who don’t get into online multiplayer.
The multiplayer part of Squadrons is light in content yet entertaining if you want a break from the campaign. Five team members of each faction face off against one another in either Dogfight, which is an excellent place to practice your skills, or Fleet Battle, where most of the action takes place. As you rank up, you earn credits to unlock more loadout equipment and cosmetic options. Four classes of starfighters are available for varying playstyles also introduced in the campaign. When you got a hankering for some Star Wars space combat, this is the best way to feed your hunger.
While I enjoy Fleet Battle and Dogfight, I wish that the game contained more than just those two modes. Another issue I have is that there is only a ranked option for Fleet Battles, which means that players can drop out at any time without their spot getting refilled. That problem occurred frequently but eventually subsided as the more serious players stuck around after the first week. I wasn’t initially having fun in the early few days, but it got better as players began to embrace their roles instead of merely going for kills like many players were doing as if this was Call of Duty. I even played some matches with a community member on stream one night and had a blast.
I appreciate some nice touches incorporated into online play, one of them being callsigns. Each player is attached to a callsign that is either Vanguard or Titan One through Five. They make it easier for everyone to communicate with one another without having to learn their usernames. I had voice chat turned off most of the time to avoid toxicity, but a feature like that is essential for teamwork and a sure path to victory. When a match gets chaotic, it can be hard to coordinate strategy, but a full party has the potential to be deadly.
The multiplayer half of Star Wars: Squadrons is sadly lacking, and it is not being treated as a service game—meaning that there won’t be any new content or future updates. I find that to be unfortunate because there are ways that this game could evolve. While the campaign’s story is a worthy addition to the Star Wars universe and the multiplayer quenches the thirst for space combat, there isn’t anything left when we’ve experienced everything we came to see. Even so, I recommend Squadrons to fans, as they will find something to love and appreciate regardless of how they play the game.
The Bottom Line
Star Wars: Squadrons lets fans live their dreams of being a pilot, successfully immersing us in a galaxy far, far away.