There's a Tie Interceptor locked on to me. The first missile just barely missed thanks to my well-timed countermeasures, but the second round will be ready before I can do that again. I set my deflector shield to focus behind me, cut my thrusters by half, and try to shake them while bracing for the inevitable volley of laser cannon fire. My opponent chases me through the shattered hull of a long wrecked Star Destroyer, desperate to even the score after I successfully eliminated three of its companions. I turn hard into a bit of hull with a massive gash in it, put all of my ship's power into my boosters, and flip my ship to greet my opponent head-on.
A pair of rockets keep the Tie occupied long enough for me to reset my ship's power to its laser cannons. Both ships erupt with cannon fire simultaneously for a moment, but the shieldless Tie Interceptor is no match against this RZ-1 A-Wing face to face. Its hull splits apart, and as flame erupts from within, and I accelerate through the wreckage in search of my true objective.
I have been disappointed by space combat games wearing the Star Wars logo for longer than I can remember. Star Wars Squadrons, thankfully, is not those games. It's something new, something significantly better, and I believe it will keep a lot of people occupied for quite a while.
Star Wars: Squadrons What I like
|Category||Star Wars: Squadrons|
|Title||Star Wars: Squadrons|
|Controllers||HOTAS, Mouse & Keyboard, Gamepad|
At its core, this game is all about multiplayer space combat. You can either be a pilot for the New Republic or the Empire and choose between a straight-up dogfight or an AI-enhanced co-op takedown of a larger target. There's a campaign mode, but we'll get into that later. Each side can choose between four ships, each spectacularly recreated from the Star Wars universe. As you play, you earn the ability to unlock better gear for your ships and different personalization options. Mechanically, the game is relatively straightforward, and exactly the flavor of plain you'd expect from something bearing the EA logo.
But when you actually fly, it's something genuinely fantastic.
Each one of the eight ships feels different. They fly differently, they fight differently, and your loadout options for each makes a huge difference. In the right hands, each is incredibly effective, though I wouldn't exactly call them balanced. It's clear in most multiplayer dogfights, the fights will largely consist of X-Wing, A-Wing, Tie, and Tie Interceptors. The bombers and support ships are significantly more useful in the group combat scenarios, and honestly, that's exactly what I wanted. Artificial balance goes against the core design of these ships and would have made Star Wars Squadrons bland and boring.
My favorite part of using every ship is the in-combat options. Instead of making it all about shooting laser cannons and rockets, every battle in this game relies heavily on your ability to use your power meter and your per-ship specialties. You can prioritize how much energy you put into different parts of your ship, making you either faster or more deadly or more shielded if you're in a New Republic ship. In a Tie, you can place additional emphasis on weapons or speed, while in a Wing, you can choose to focus deflector strength on either the front or rear of the vehicle. Making all of these relatively small changes on the fly makes a huge difference, especially in PVP combat. They can easily be the difference between a kill and a death.
Star Wars Squadrons is pretty. I mean, really pretty. The faces of every character are unique and delightful and rendered beautifully. The cockpit of each ship is unique and brilliant and feels incredible just to sit in. Flying through all of the different environments created for this game is a genuine delight, complete with shattered moons and deadly space gasses and massive stellar graveyards from the rich history of murdering billions of people across the cosmos because that's what good guys do.
This game is gloriously Star Wars, warts and all. It doesn't try to paint the folks on the side of the Empire as confused or just doing their job. Instead, it points a special light on what a bunch of bastards the people in charge are, and not just to those who disagree with them. They're awful to their own people as well. It's clearly been designed by people who love this universe of stories and wanted to leave their mark on it without sugar-coating, and as a result, Star Wars Squadrons is everything you would possibly want in a space combat game.
Star Wars: Squadrons Control options
If you're playing this game on a PC, you've got three different options for flying your ships. You can use a standard mouse and keyboard, your gamepad of choice, and a selection of HOTAS controllers if you want to up your game a little. I've played for a few hours with all three, and truth be told, I'm unlikely to ever play with a mouse and keyboard.
Put simply, there are too many options for my fingers to enjoy gameplay on a keyboard. I could probably resolve this with a more functional mouse, but with my current layout makes playing this game less enjoyable than my alternatives. Some gameplay features like free look become more complicated when you use an Xbox One controller, forcing you to double-tap one of the joysticks to enable and disable the feature. Overall, using the controller is a great deal more comfortable and, frankly, more fun.
The ultimate experience is not something most folks are going to have access to. Flying with a HOTAS controller is a dream; it feels remarkably realistic and puts you in the game in a way few other experiences offer. Combine this with a VR headset, and you might as well be sitting in an actual Y-Wing. Combat is more intense, and the ability to freely look around feels great. I can't imagine a better way to play this game, but at a minimum, that's a $700 set up. It's clearly not for everyone. If you have the opportunity to play in VR, though, you really should.
Star Wars: Squadrons What could be better
For as much fun as all of the combat in this game is, the campaign mode is deeply underwhelming. It feels almost like there's a part of it missing, that something couldn't be finished in time and they just decided to go on without it. The individual missions are great; they ease you into each of the different ships in the two armies while introducing you to Star Wars characters, both classic and new. And while I genuinely got a kick out of seeing folks like Wedge Antilles and General Hera Syndulla so stunningly rendered, the story surrounding these characters is not all that exciting.
Star Wars Squadrons is everything you would possibly want in a space combat game.
Without spoiling anything in the story, the two characters you play in this campaign (one New Republic and one Empire) are members of elite squadrons in the middle of a fringe conflict away from any of the main Star Wars story. Each mission starts in your respective hangar bay, where you are either encouraged or flat out forced to engage with your fellow pilots and get little bits of their backstory. These aren't so much written poorly as they are oddly placed. These interactions don't feel attached to the rest of the game, making needing to complete them before moving on to the briefing feel awkward. Once you get to the briefing, you gain the information needed to help you choose the best loadout for the kind of fighting you're going to be doing, and then you're sent off to the actual gameplay.
When you get in the actual game, the individual character development you experience from mission to mission doesn't really matter. To be clear, the actual gameplay in these missions is fantastic, complex, and so much fun. The developers responsible for building the actual combat scenarios should be applauded. I regularly rail against defender missions in games like these, and Squadrons defies expectations here as it does in many other places. But I don't care about my crew; there's never a situation where you're tasked to choose which squadmate to help out or where you're asked to join a particular squadmate on individual missions.
The campaign mode's 14 missions are split between two armies and four ships, which means more than half of those missions are largely focused on introducing you to those ships. By the time I got to the end of the campaign, I absolutely had a favorite pair of ships, but you could replace these squadmates, especially on the Empire side, and I probably wouldn't notice.
Star Wars: Squadrons: Should you buy it? Absolutely
While I personally wish the campaign mode wasn't something I could beat in a couple of hours, this game is still fantastic. It feels like the developers left so much of the Star Wars universe unmined. Still, the online community will absolutely thrive, and I'm excited to see what Motive has in store for the co-op combat missions in particular.
Ultimately, that's what this game is. The online gameplay has always been the focus, from the moment it was first advertised to us. It's a thrilling space combat game, rivaling many of the experiences I've had in Elite: Dangerous with the bonus of being set in one of the most iconic science fiction franchises of all time. If space combat is your thing, you need to own this game.
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