Game name: Star Wars: Squadrons
Release date: October 2, 2020
Genre: Space combat simulator
Developer: EA Motive
Publisher: Electronic Arts
If back in late 2017 you told me that I’d be getting a full-fledged first person space combat title set in the Star Wars universe, I’d have either laughed at you, or worse, felt insulted by the thought of EA ruining yet another part of this beloved IP with intrusive microtransactions and weird schemes designed to pump every cent out of the sci-fi series’ fanbase. We are not in 2017, however, and mistakes of the past like Battlefront 2 have been mostly fixed, with some great titles coming out of the often derided behemoth that is Electronic Arts. Last year we got a pretty enjoyable single player third person action title in the form of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, and this year we got the excellent Command and Conquer Remastered Collection. So, when back in June, a very enthusiastic team took to the virtual E3 stage to reveal Star Wars: Squadrons, I was actually quite hyped (even wrote about it!) Fast forward four months, and that game is actually here and I’ve been playing it for the past weekend. Was it worth the hype?
I’ll first talk a bit about the campaign, since the game encourages players to give it a go first before diving into the multiplayer modes, and I think it’s a good suggestion, considering you’ll get a good feel for many advanced maneuvers if you complete the campaign, and also because it’s a great showcase of the things Squadrons excels at. We play as both Imperial and New Republic pilots, alternating from each other at specific points. Sadly, this means that you can’t choose the New Republic campaign to relive X-Wing memories, and then go play an Empire campaign to get all nostalgic about TIE Fighter, since they are mashed together in a single storyline. For what it’s worth, I greatly enjoyed the way the story is delivered, and the alternating missions idea plays well enough here. Depending on your skill level, you will get around eight hours of fun out of Squadrons‘ single player offering, which is nothing compared to the DOS classics, but it’s more than what I expected for a mode that’s clearly intended to be an introduction for the multiplayer battles.
Still, this doesn’t mean that the campaign is undercooked. There’s a pretty cool storyline to get invested in here, and you get to meet your wingmen in between missions, a neat Wing Commander-esque touch. Sadly, there are no dialogue options or anything of the sort, so while interacting with my fellow pilots I felt a bit left out. It would have been a cool touch (especially considering that the dialogues almost seem written with player interaction in mind), but I’m assuming that since this is a budget release, the EA Motive team didn’t really have a lot of time or cash to spend on that aspect of the game. Aside from the usual starfighter blasting/escorting missions, there’s some sci-fi busywork to be done, which (once again) reminded me of the classic DOS titles. It might seem like a concession to older players made with the idea that this would be an easy way to score a nostalgia win, but from my point of view, that kind of stuff adds a lot to the fantasy of being a pilot in a real squadron, because not all missions will ask you to save the galaxy, or otherwise that would get boring fast. Overall, I did walk away from the campaign with a good feeling in my heart, and I hope that if the game sells well enough, EA will ask Motive to make single player mission packs, because this kind of game is screaming for that kind of extra content, and I’m willing to bet that most players wouldn’t mind paying an extra US$15-20 for it.
Of course, all the cutscenes and cool story bits in the world would amount to nothing if the gameplay loop wasn’t fun. Thankfully, when it comes to gameplay, Squadrons delivers in spades. This isn’t a “real simulator” like Microsoft Flight Sim (or even Elite Dangerous) but it’s far from something like Rogue Squadron‘s arcade roots. All the action takes place from the first person viewpoint of the pilot, and there’s enough depth to make hardcore TIE Fighter players weep with joy. The familiar energy management system returns, with the option to make granular adjustments for fine tuning of our ship’s capabilities, or binary “all or nothing” choices that will probably be the first thing players use, as the game defaults to a simplified control mode here. Speaking of control schemes, Squadrons has customization options for days, and it ran out of the box with my Logitech Extreme 3D Pro, which is always a nice thing. Of course, since this is a title that’s also available on consoles, you can also make do with a gamepad (or keyboard and mouse) but the preferred control method for people who own a flight stick will always be that, and the game was made with sticks in mind.
The flight model isn’t what you’d find in a more realistic title such as Elite, but that’s very much intentional, as Star Wars space combat scenarios have always been depicted as World War II dogfights among the stars, and that’s far from the real thing, isn’t it? At any rate, Squadrons is obviously focused on trying to capture the feeling you get from the movies, and it succeeds spectacularly at that task, while at the same time playing incredibly well. There will be an adjustment period for anyone who comes in from Elite or even Star Citizen, but from where I’m at, it’s 100% worth it, as the reward is countless hours of fun, something that I will never be able to say no to.
But how is that possible when the campaign only lasts eight hours? Patience young Padawan, for I haven’t yet talked about the real meat of the game, which is its multiplayer suite, composed by the Dogfight and Fleet Battles modes, and set on six different maps. Dogfight is easy to explain, two teams of five players each meet in a space battlefield and duke it out until one of them reaches thirty kills. There are four classes of ships available to each side, though Imperial ships only get shields in one of their spacecraft (this means that the other three can use more energy for weapons/engines though, so Imps aren’t exactly defenseless in a fight). Aside from the choice of starfighters, players can also customize their craft with different parts, unlocked through a Requisition system that’s pretty generous. New parts aren’t necessarily better than the default equipment, however, as they mostly act as ways of changing one’s playstyle and come with their own pros and cons that we’ll have to weigh before customizing our loadout.
The same selection of vessels and parts is available on the Fleet Battles mode, but here things change a lot, because this isn’t just a simple fight to the death, as there are AI ships everywhere, and we have objectives to complete in order to be able to destroy the enemy capital ship and win the match. This game mode is pretty much a tug of war scenario where we’ll attack and defend depending on how the battle progresses, and choosing the right ship type and communicating with our wingmen effectively will be key if we intend to succeed. I’ve had a lot more fun here compared with my time on the Dogfight queue, since I prefer objective-based modes, though of course that’s a personal opinion and won’t apply to everyone out there.
If facing off against fellow humans isn’t your thing and you’ve already finished the campaign, you can also go for the cooperative version of the Fleet Battles mode, which features the same objectives as its multiplayer cousin, but lets you either play on your own with a full complement of AI squadmates, or bring your party along with you and take on a machine-controller opposing force. There are two difficulty levels, and though I found the easiest one to be a bit too easy for my taste, the one labeled as “Normal” was a lot more entertaining, and I almost felt like I was playing PvP at some points in time.
Doing stuff in the multiplayer/co-op modes grants players experience points and a currency that can be used to purchase cosmetics for their ships or pilot. Squadrons is not a Game as a Service though, so there are no microtransactions in sight, and what you see in the game is what you get when you buy it, with the cosmetics and unlock systems acting as a way to keep players engaged and nothing else.
So far, so good, right? But wait! There’s more! The developers working at EA Motive saw fit to include full VR support, so those of us who have been fortunate enough to acquire a virtual reality headset can take part in both campaign and multiplayer battles while feeling like we are in a real starfighter. There’s no support for tracked motion controllers, but this is the kind of title that wouldn’t benefit much from them anyways, so I didn’t miss them one bit. Though the feeling of speed and the vertiginous combat can disorientate players who aren’t used to VR, those of us who’ve spent a few hours in it will be rewarded with more than just extra immersion, as VR players can easily move their head around, tracking opponents across their craft’s cockpit a lot better than their monitor/TV cousins can. Of course, this also means that the feeling of claustrophobia that some Imperial ships can create is accentuated tenfold, but I felt that it was a worthy trade to make.
On the tech front, I didn’t run into any issues, and the game runs far north of 100fps on my mid-range rig, but I’ve read way too many reports of people having trouble with their monitor’s refresh rate or the game outright refusing to run at more than 60fps in VR, something that can feel awful, since most headsets run at 90hz or more. This isn’t something that I’ve experienced, but I’d advice anyone on the fence to take it into account, and maybe try out the game through EA Play first (the basic US$5 subscription gives you 10 hours of play time, though you can’t complete the campaign with this trial). Considering that you also get a 10% discount of being an EA Play subscriber, that would mean you’d only be spending US$2.50 extra in order to test-drive the game, so I see it as a good way of checking whether the issues that seem to affect a sizable portion of the player base apply to you or not.
Aside from those issues (which I didn’t even experience), Star Wars: Squadrons is a dream game for anyone looking for a worthy successor to the X-Wing/TIE Fighter series. EA Motive‘s passion paid off in spades, as they’ve delivered a title that shines brightly as a beacon of hope for all who thought that Star Wars games would never reach the quality of pre-EA titles.
9.5/10 – Excellent.