When Electronic Arts announced Star Wars: Squadrons back in June, it was a welcome distraction from the rippling effects of… well, all of 2020 up to that point. After all, who would not be eager to escape these parts for the opportunity to travel lightyears beyond our solar system to a galaxy far, far away to fly some of sci-fi’s most iconic starfighters?
Long gone are the days of the original X-Wing and TIE Fighter franchises of the 1990s. Going back to the immediate past, it has been two decades since we have had a Star Wars title that has been solely focused on space combat. The closest thing we have seen to fully realized space combat was the Starfighter Assault mode from Star Wars: Battlefront II – which was (as shared in the linked review), my favorite part of that title. It is into this vacuum that EA tagged Motive Studios, their Canada-based partner responsible for developing the single-player campaign for the aforementioned Battlefront II, to fill the void.
With this pedigree, and following the success of Respawn Entertainment’s Star Wars – Jedi: Fallen Order, that Star Wars: Squadrons enters the fray to fulfill the other Star Wars fantasy fan have (outside of becoming a Jedi/Sith) – the one where you get to be an ace pilot! Simply put, that is the heartbeat of Star Wars: Squadrons. In case you missed our first impressions, you can check that our here:
This is played out in a few different ways via a single-player story campaign and through multiplayer options. Players are encouraged to begin their experience (and teach them how to fly in a forgiving context) with the single-player campaign before moving on to ranked Dogfight matches or the more strategy-heavy Fleet Battles.
Within the story campaign, you will experience a conflict from the perspectives of both Imperial and New Republic pilots that takes place after the destruction of Alderaan. You begin, however, within the ranks of the Galactic Empire with Helix Squadron – an elite band sent to track down refugees for the Alderaan system in order to draw out the Rebellion.
After orders to fire on civilian cruisers, the squadron captain, Lindon Javes, is unable to follow through, but instead, defects to the Rebellion. Four years later, Javes, with crucial insight into Imperial tactics, finds himself playing a key role in within the New Republic: to secure its secret Project: Starhawk with the assistance of the rag-tag Vanguard Squadron.
On the Empire side, one of the scorned members of Helix Squadron, Terisa Kerrill, has ascended the Imperial ranks with vengeance fueling her fire to crush the New Republic. With betrayal at the hands of Javes and fresh intelligence connecting him to Project: Starhawk, Kerill calls in one of her fellow former Helix squadmates, you, to fill a vacancy within Titan Squadron.
In between missions, you will have opportunities to talk with your squadmates, ship mechanics, commanding officers, receive briefings on upcoming missions, and customize your ship’s load-outs. These sections feel like an homage to the early Star Wars titles as they have a “point-and-click” style akin to the ancestral games of the 90s.
The single-player experience takes around 9 hours to complete and it pretty good preparation for online play. It can be played at one of four different difficulties which cover the scale from “I like Star Wars and just want to experience this” to the elite, seasoned starfighter. Even after the story mode is complete, each of the multiplayer modes has practice variants to help you hone your piloting skills.
Speaking of multiplayer, this portion of the game is split into two different activities, as mentioned above: Dogfights and Fleet Battles. Dog Fights are a 5v5 activity that allow you to customize your craft and take the fight to the enemy. Within these battles, each side must secure supremacy by taking down enemy crafts.
Fleet Battles will require a bit more strategy. Within this gameplay mode, players participate in a multi-staged effort to take down the opposing team’s capital ship. Capital ships are accompanied by smaller, yet formidable, vessels that offer cover fire and support for their starfighters. As your team takes out enemy fighters, you will shift the balance of morale in your favor, which will enable you to work your way through the enemy entourage. The battle is over when a capital ship is destroyed.
Both Empire and Republic craft types have equipment that can be unlocked through currencies earned in the multiplayer modes and accomplishing daily challenges. These currencies, requisitions and glory, are used for separate purposes. Glory unlocks cosmetic rewards, such as ship paint jobs, helmet types, or player skins.
Requisitions, on the other hand, unlock parts – weapons, shielding, engines, etc. – which allow you to customize your ships. If a different class of ship can use the same equipment, it will be unlocked for that faction. However, since the Empire and New Republic have access to different iterations of similar technology, there is not any crossover between equipment; extra Requisitions will be required.
Climbing Into the Cockpit: My Experience
I am going to confess this on the front end: I am an aggressively mediocre pilot; I get by, but I’m probably not going to be in anyone’s action replays of ace flyers any time soon. At the beginning of my review experience, I struggled… hard.
Part of that struggle had a lot to do with my input device of choice. I made several attempts to get used to the keyboard and mouse control layout – which is my typical go-to for most PC games. However, after settling on an Xbox controller, I started to get better over time! As I started to improve, I started to understand where my issues were stemming from Star Wars: Squadrons truly does put players into the cockpits of their favorite fantasy starfighters and that is a lot more to manage than you might imagine.
Drawing from maneuvers and ship behavior we have seen across the Star Wars universe, there are multiple adjustments that can be made on the fly. Power adjustments can prioritize engines and weapons (as well as shields, if you are flying Republic ships). Pilots have the ability to reroute power to weapons or engines, change shielding priorities, deploy missile countermeasures and so much more. Want to kill the engines on your X-Wing at tops speeds, then whip it like your name is Indiana Jones? Go for it. Players are given an incredible amount of control, that, should they choose, they can master each craft. And this is such a Star Wars thing to do: to make battles about more than ships, but about the pilots in them.
Adding to this idea of the importance of pilots, the experience of Star Wars: Squadrons is enhanced by cross-play with friends. As long as each player has EA Origin, they can join forces to fight together. I tested cross-play out between the Origin launcher (where a review copy was supplied for me) and with friends on Steam. While it took a bit to find each other, once we did, we took to the skies and proceeded to dominate in Fleet Battles! The connections were stable and it the action was enhanced by flying alongside side trusted friends.
Before we move on, I need to go back and talk about the story for a moment. While the main action of Star Wars: Squadrons happens after its story mode, I appreciate the approach it took. When we think about Star Wars, it is often in terms of the Force, lightsabers, and the eternal conflict between Jedi and Sith, but this is a much more grounded tale: a story of soldiers, pilots, and military strategy. What we get to experience is a story told from two sides… and it gives a lot of perspective into the convictions of both the Empire and the New Republic.
References to characters found across the Star Wars canon can be found. From Wedge Antilles to General Hera Syndulla to references to Iden Versio, the protagonist of Star Wars: Battlefront II‘s single-player story more, this is a story that fits neatly into the greater universe it belongs to.
Unfortunately, some of this tale gets lost in the delivery. While some of the one-on-one conversations you get to have with characters feel very personal, once a second character is added to the conversation, it feels far more disconnected. I couldn’t quite put my finger on if it was just stilted delivery or something more. The cadence of dialogue feels just off enough to feel unnatural, so I was trying to give as much grace for voice-over artists trying to record connected dialogue during a pandemic as I could. It was all in the eyes. I counted the seconds between blinks. Some characters went as long as twelve seconds without blinking. Perhaps, the New Republic fleets keep their in-ship atmospheres extra moist when there are Mon Calamari onboard… maybe?
(I know… I am that guy…)
Star Wars: Squadrons does what it sets out to do: deliver the ultimate ship-based Star Wars fantasy to players and it does it in stunning detail. By giving players high levels of control and a degree of ship customization, you could truly become a pilot of some renown if you can master them. The single-player campaign helps with this by guiding players through a single-player narrative that also teaches the mechanics of the game.
As you spend time in each of the four different crafts types on both Republic and Empire sides – all with a variety of mission-based load-outs, players can get a feel for how each ship is supposed to play. The best part is that these even ships within the same class feel unique from one another.
When it comes to replay value, this is a $40 game at launch that both plays and looks amazing. The biggest question with any multiplayer game is this: will it thrive? I think it has potential. The real question is this: does Star Wars: Squadrons have longevity? I think that the answer really comes down to this: if Motive Studios and EA can continue to deliver interesting experiences and iconic locations for the Star Wars fantasy to remain fresh, I believe there is something here to keep players in flight.
Unfortunately, recent news suggests that there will be no post-launch content*. While this news is a bit disappointing, it shows that EA has listened to fans who were looking for an experience without microtransactions or paid DLC. This prevents any potential “buy-to-win” situations in the future, ensuring that the playing fields are truly level.
With all of that consider Squadrons handles the Star Wars intellectual property was handled extremely well and the gameplay is pretty accessible. It is visually stunning and immerses players in the universe by putting exceptional control into their hands, launching them immediately into the fantasy. Even if you are not the greatest at flight combat, the single-player experience, and AI battles can provide a great experience in a galaxy far, far away.
A review copy of Star Wars: Squadrons with provide by PR for EA Origin on PC.
*(Source: Liana Ruppert at Game Informer)