Spaceships are fun. I can’t think of anyone who hasn’t once at least thought about getting in their own spaceship, shooting down enemy fighters and being the big hero. Star Wars: Squadrons lets you do this, and has the added advantage of being the most popular sci-fi series in pop culture. You can choose your faction, get in the cockpit and start shooting down enemies before you can even say “Yippee!”
But where does it sit on the scale of Wizard to the actual coolness of the phrase “Wizard”? We got in the cockpit to find out.
The Look Of It All
The very first note once you start playing Squadrons is that this game looks amazing. One of my favorite parts of every Old Trilogy movie is the interior cockpit shots. Surprise, surprise- this game almost entirely consists of cockpit shots. Something about the old, analogue feel Old Trilogy ships use gives this a very nice retro feel.
The ships are all very faithfully rendered, too. They’re specifically done in that old-trilogy style, where they don’t really have any reflective parts (due to being miniatures used for film). I’ll take the L here and say that it’s a complete nitpick- but good grief am I glad there’s no glossy sleek ships in this game.
Since the game was made to be played in VR, the ships interiors are incredibly detailed. You can look around you, even if conventional driving wisdom says to not turn your head 180 degrees while operating heavy machinery. The game has a feature called Instruments Only- here, you can turn off the game’s HUD, instead using only the ship’s on board instruments to tell you how the game’s doing.
To this end each ship’s dashboard is gorgeous. It’s got all the tools you’ll ever need to fly, complete with targeting computers and a mini display to tell you what you’re currently tracking. As you push buttons and adjust outputs, you can see your pilot’s hands doing the same on the ship’s dashboard. It’s a small detail that I’m so glad they put in.
Of course, this faithfulness has its drawbacks. The Imperial TIE Fighter has a laughably terrible cockpit. Naturally, it’s terrible in this game as well. It can be off-putting, but personally it’s one of those nerdy details where I’m glad they went with the inconvenient route instead of making it have some fake holographic interior.
Star Wars: Squadrons has a really nice selection of ships. Both sides, Imperial and Rebel, only have four ships of their own classes. These are bombers, Intercepters, support and all-rounders.
There are actual stat differences between Imperial and Rebel ships, so you may find yourself frustrated if you get matched out of your preferred faction. It’s actually impressive how they’ve made the ships canon-compliant, since the far more mass-produced TIE Fighters lack any shields. Unfortunately rather than make up for it with more health, they compensate with a smaller profile.
This is technically an interesting way to balance the ship, but profile size isn’t exactly easy to give feedback on. So don’t be surprised if you feel extremely frustrated because your TIE fighter keeps blowing up, since you never feel the shots you avoid.
Interceptors are a pretty fun class, especially in the game’s Dogfight mode. They’re a lot more skill intensive, since their main damage dealer is their primary guns. These require you to lead your shots, so they’ll need some time to get used to.
Ships No Substitute For Skill
While four ships per side may seem small, I think it gives it a nice gameplay focus. Matchups are less about the ships, and more about your ability to make the most of your ship.
You’ll also be able to customize your ships, both gameplay wise and cosmetically. For multiplayer this will require Experience, which can be gained through playing online matches. You can do things like increase your ships’ resistance to missiles, increase overall speed as well as buy custom auxiliary equipment and countermeasures.
None of these upgrades make a ship objectively better, but definitely more specialized. For example, one of the body upgrades raises your defense against missiles, but makes you take more damage to beams. It’s not about making a god-tier ship, but making one that can best suit your playstyle.
Meanwhile, the cosmetic customizations are where the game’s whimsy is. At first I was ready to roll my eyes at the game’s tiered upgrades- seeing paintjobs be followed by rankings such as “Legendary” or “Common”. Thankfully the game doesn’t actually do loot boxes, and these only reflect the amount of Glory you’ll need to buy them.
You can’t get too wild with the customization options, since the game enjoys being steeped in canon. That’s probably for the better too, but it’s hard to resist the urge to wish your Y-Wing had hotrod flames or a neon pink paintjob.
Thankfully you can also customize your interior as well, with decor like severed Protocol Droid heads. I kind of wish they’d put more whimsy into these, since I’m sure Star Wars pilots are exactly the kinds of weirdos who would mess around like this. However, it’s more wishful thinking, and ultimately doesn’t really affect anything.
Get In The Spaceship
Okay, let’s get down to brass tacks. Star Wars: Squadrons is a hard game that overwhelms you with the number of things you’ll have to keep track of at any given point in time. The rules it expects you to play by is completely alien if you’ve never played a flight sim, so many Star Wars fans should slot an extra hour into their play sessions just to get the hang of what’s happening.
And you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The game is just as much about management as it is about reflexes. You have control of all manner of a ship’s resources- from its power routing to even its shields focusing. Make no mistake, this is a a game for nerds.
I mean that in the nicest way possible, by the way. As someone who bungas their way through most games, Squadrons is extremely punishing. You can’t just just hammer down the throttle, you’ll actually need to maintain speed a lot of the time, like when dodging missiles.
Similarly, you’ll need to balance your power between your shields, weapons and boosters. There are buttons to hit that focuses power on either of the three, which is great for different situations. The fact you’re doing all this while you’re being shot at creates a videogame experience you wouldn’t have gotten out of the dogfight mode in Battlefront.
You’ll also want to manage your ship’s auxiliary equipment. These are essentially power-ups, and can be quite valuable to keeping you alive. The basic one they give you is a hull repair, which tops up your health. It’s not much, but it can get you through one or two more impacts than you would have made without it.
Despite not using the game’s instruments only mode, you’ll still need to be able to read the game’s dashboard to keep track of all of these. Unfortunately this is a lesson best learned the hard way, so be prepared for an incredibly steep learning curve as you learn to pay attention to the all the blinking lights beneath you while you’re flying.
I Couldn’t Do A Barrel Roll
Of course, this game is a lot more than just managing your instruments. There’s a decent amount of piloting skill involved, too. As someone who got into this game for the Star Wars instead of the flight sim, the game has a unique skill requirement.
One of the hardest things you’ll learn in this game is that, just like in life, you have to keep moving on. There’s several moments where you think you could probably steal a win just by throttling down and opening fire, not realizing you’re practically opening a sign that says “MISSILES WELCOME”. This is a lesson best learned in the waiting to respawn screen, or the continue screen if you’re in story mode.
Aside from a high-speed turn, you won’t need to do any fancy maneuvers here. That being said, flight sim veterans might find it entirely possible to do so anyways, if nothing else just to style on people.
Shooting is also incredibly hard for anyone who’s new to flight sims. You’ll need to lock on to your target, then lead your shots to make sure they hit. Main guns will turn the crosshair red to tell you when the shot will hit, thankfully, so its’ not like you’re going to be doing the calculations on your own. Missiles will require you to train your focus on your target as it locks on, though thankfully the game won’t punish you for doing a bad Darth Vader impression as you go “I have you now” before firing.
That being said, once you get into the groove of things it’s actually quite rewarding. Shooting down enemy starfighters is fun, all things considered. Though if you’re the type that doesn’t have the patience to be bad at something for an hour or so, you may want to reconsider picking this up.
The Actual Modes
The game has two modes, Story and Multiplayer. Story mode is fun, though it’s really more of a glorified tutorial. It slowly weans you into the mechanics of the game, starting you off with a basic TIE fighter and then moving up to more specialized ships from both Rebel and Imperial fleets.
The story mode has an interesting premise, taking place after the events of Episode 6. It’s a fairly standard story about cleaning up the remnants of the Empire, but it also manages to incorporate some main canon names like Wedge Antilles.
Where you really want to be spending your time is the game’s multiplayer. Squadrons gives you two choices of modes: Dogfights and Fleet Battles. Fleet Battles are the game’s objectives-based mode, where two teams take turns attacking and defending their fleet of ships from the team of enemy pilots.
This mode is a lot of fun because it makes use of the class-variety of both factions. Naturally, you’ll want your bombers to destroy objectives, but not without some interceptors or X-wings to keep you safe from enemy fighters.
The fact that you’re rotating offense and defense is a pretty clever move, too. It keeps the game focused, after all. You’re also capable of swapping ships on respawn, so you can adjust your team compositions based on the flow of the game.
If you’d rather just hop into the spaceship and start blasting with abandon, you can try the game’s Dogfights mode. This plays way more like a Team Deathmatch. While not as structured as Fleet Battles, it’s also a lot of fun since the developers took care to keep the area full of floating debris. Your piloting skills really matter here, since boosting into wreckage is just as likely to get you killed as an enemy TIE fighter.
Star Wars Squadrons is hard sell. Considering how big the reach of Star Wars is, it’s reasonable to assume many people looking to play every Star Wars game would probably find Squadrons mildly off-putting with its high skill floor and minimal tie-in to any mainline Star Wars movies.
On its own merit though, it’s an incredibly fun flight sim. It’s a game for every fan who only played the ship fights in Battlefront, but also wished those were deeper. Combining your resource management with your piloting acumen leads to an incredibly fun time, once you get the hang of it. After you’ve taken a bunch of games to get used to the system, you’ll probably have earned enough Experience to customize your favorite ships, letting you further push your enjoyment of the game.
That being said, the multiplayer modes can last to the longer side, and not having a mode where you’re faction-locked can be frustrating if you’re tired from work and just want to make the space planes go boom. I get why these functions are there, but players who wanted a casual time would probably have to think hard about this one.
Despite that, it’s also only RM160, contains no microtransactions or paid DLC. Given previous outcry about Battlefront 2’s monetization, this game’s lack of Triple-A-isms already make it a notable entry in the long list of Star Wars games.
What I’m trying to say is that this is a good game, and it seems to be making all the right decisions to get people to like it. We’ll be watching its career with great interest.
|Deep combat systems||Steep learning curve|
|Spaceships interiors look wonderful||Story missions are really just a tutorial|
|Factions feel different since ships are all lore-compliant|
Review copy provided by EA. Game reviewed on PS4.