A large part of the Star Wars series are the literal wars that take place among the stars. From trench runs along the surface of the Death Star to skirmishes between Jedi Starfighters and Vulture Droids, the intergalactic dogfights that take place in the cold vacuum of space in this series are top-notch. These large-scale battles have popped up in the video game medium on a number of occasions – from the old-school TIE Fighter and Rogue Squadron, right through to Battlefront 2, this style of combat has always been a fan favourite. Despite this, there’s been a severe lack of games that focus solely on ship-to-ship combat, which is why I was so excited when Star Wars Squadrons was announced. An authentic and intricate dogfighting game that has an extremely strong foundation, Squadrons is only let down by one of its two online modes having some engine troubles.
Flying towards a Star Destroyer is exciting and terrifying at the same time
As I said, Squadrons is a dogfighting game through and through. Unlike Battlefront, which mixes ground combat with spacefaring battles, Squadrons takes place completely in the confines of a cockpit, no third-person perspective, no exiting your ship. Just you, your instruments and your skill.
Before touching on the different modes and options I want to stress just how exceptional the gameplay mechanics are. Every aspect of the starships are controlled manually – from the obvious pitch, yaw, roll and throttle, right through to targeting, you’ll be managing the ins and outs of your fighter. The most satisfying element to gameplay is the power management. Your ship (depending on which side you’re playing on) can have up to three different power options: shields, weapons and engines. Initially, your power will be distributed evenly between these areas, but with a press of the D-pad you’re able to divert power into a single system to give it a sizeable boost, making blasters more powerful when you’re on the offensive, bolstering shields when you’re being fired upon or giving your ship a significant speed boost if you’re wanting to evade an enemy. This gives every encounter an extra layer of depth that’s greatly appreciated.
These elements go a decent way to build a sense of immersion, but the gameplay presentation takes it to another level. Instead of using a typical HUD that displays all of the information to the player in a very game-like fashion, Squadrons uses the instruments within the cockpit to relay the data. The targeting computer lets you know how far away the enemy is, the regulator shows you where the power is being directed and so on and so forth. This makes the experience feel authentic and really puts you in the helmet of a pilot among the stars.
Hello Wedge, nice to see you again
There are a total of eight ships that you’re able to pilot, four New Republic fighters and four Imperial. Each of these ships have their own distinct traits and abilities, acting as classes in multiplayer. The X-Wing and TIE Fighter act as all-rounders that have moderate speed and firepower, the A-Wing and TIE Interceptor are small, agile and hard to hit but have less health, the Y-Wing and TIE Bomber are self-explanatory heavies that pack ordnance to destroy capital ships, and the U-Wing and TIE Reaper are huge, slow ships that have increased health that can buff ally ships.
My personal favourite were the X-Wings, as they could fill just about any role on the battlefield. Speaking of which, it became clear to me that a mixture of these classes was necessary for success in multiplayer, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
Squadrons, though primarily a multiplayer title, does offer a singleplayer campaign that’s surprisingly worth playing. Clocking in at around six to seven hours, the story takes place after the destruction of the second Death Star, with the fractured Empire trying to re-establish control over the galaxy, while the New Republic attempts to unite it. Throughout the course of the campaign, you’ll take control of both an Imperial and New Republic pilot, switching back and forth multiple times. Acting mainly as a long tutorial that gets you acquainted with the controls and objectives of the game, the story does have some substance that Star Wars fans and gamers alike will enjoy.
You’ll be escorting friendly ships, protecting cruisers, attacking bases and getting into plenty of skirmishes on both sides of the conflict. Each mission is set up by a cinematic in the war room of a capital ship, where you’ll see a few recognisable faces and hear plenty of nods to Star Wars lore. If there was a downside to the campaign it would be the performance during these pre-rendered cutscenes, which can be a bit choppy, to say the least. You aren’t likely to play through the story more than once, but it’s a nice addition to a $60 title for sure.
The TIE Fighter cockpit limits your vision, but it’s worth it to see the intricacies and details
The real meat and veg of Squadrons is its multiplayer, however. There are two different five versus five competitive modes available at launch. The first mode, Dogfight, does exactly what it says on the tin, and it does it very well. As you would expect, this mode pits the opposing teams against each other to see who can reach 30 kills the quickest. Is it a revolutionary new idea? No. But hot damn this mode is tense and fulfilling. Screaming after an enemy ship while dodging and weaving through the debris scattered across the battlefield is fantastic and when you mix that together with managing your power levels it can be downright exhilarating. The most fun to be had is definitely in the maps that contain plenty of obstacles, as the chase (whether you’re the hunter or the hunted) is the best part of the action.
The second mode, Fleet Battle, tasks you with destroying your opponent’s flagship while protecting your own. In order to do this, your team will first have to destroy enough starfighters (enemy players) before focusing on two frigates that are protecting the opposing team’s cruiser. Once you’ve taken out those two fellas you can focus fire on the flagship and hopefully score a victory. The idea of this mode is that each team will go from attacking to defending multiple times over the course of the match, making for a grander-scale battle. This mode does feel larger in scale, but not necessarily in a good way. These matches feel a little too large for the ten-player limit, with AI ships being thrown in to boost the total ship count. Not only this, Fleet Battle can feel a bit one-sided at best, with one team steamrolling the other from the offset, or completely confusing at worst. Even after playing through the tutorial, which is decent enough, I still felt lost and aimless when playing against real people. The ship-to-ship combat is still there and it’s still amazing, but the inclusion of objectives, unfortunately, takes away from the enjoyment quite a lot.
Similar to the gameplay, the customisation within Squadrons has a surprising amount if depth. Each of the ships can be fitted with numerous kinds of blasters, missiles, shields, engines and countermeasures that all feature their own pros and cons. All of these upgrades are purchased with in-game points but don’t stress, they’re plentiful. Finding your favourite loadout is great and will give you more reason to keep playing.
Atop this, there are plenty of cosmetic items such as paint jobs, trinkets, pilot outfits and bobbleheads that sit in your cockpit. These are all purchased using a separate in-game currency called Glory. Again, don’t fret, you’re given heaps of Glory for just playing the game, so progression isn’t halted by any kind of micros.
You better believe that my first purchase was the Sullustan skin
I’m so glad that EA are doing more with the Star Wars licence as of late. We’ve seen an excellent singeplayer action-adventure title with Fallen Order and now we have a love letter to Rogue Squadron, who would have seen this coming? Squadrons won’t be for everyone (I’m still not sure if it’s entirely for me) but the gameplay is so tight that I can see if having a solid community down the track. Let down by a slightly middling multiplayer mode, the whole package is still worth picking up for Star Wars fans and flight combat aficionados alike.