Star Wars Squadrons is a space combat game released by EA and is available to play on PS Plus this month. Star Wars Squadrons is an exciting spiritual successor to the old X-wing and Tie fighter games and this games return is as triumphant as it is hyped. Featuring some stunning visuals, a VR experience that I am truly envious of and a surprisingly crunchy and involved web of gameplay systems both in its combat and in its customization.
This is a great game that a lot of people are going to enjoy but there are a lot of barriers that might stop someone from enjoying Star Wars Squadrons. Many of them stemming from the fact that Space Sims are a genre as complicated as they are niche and while Star Wars Squadrons does its utmost to enlighten the less familiar as gradually and carefully as possible. This arguably justified abundance of caution also means that if you’re hoping to just jump in and slag some people in multiplayer you might be staring at hours of homework before you actually get to do what you want.
Star Wars Squadrons opens up with an interesting choice from a design perspective. A forced two mission 45 minutes tutorial before you’re even allowed to so much as touch the main menu. EA has done this sort of thing before but to my knowledge this is the farthest that they’ve ever pushed the idea. The 2 missions are more than just a basic run through of the controls, following a self-contained mini story as members of the Empire and Republic battle over the fate of a convoy of refugees from Alderaan.
All things considered it’s a great cold open that does a good job explaining the very basics of the game to even a complete space combat noob. It also has the slick opening cutscenes that are half normal animation and half heavily stylized to look like the neon tactical maps from the movies constantly cutting back and forth between the 2 styles. I honestly wish the entire game looked like this because these cut scenes look tight.
The rest of Star Wars Squadrons however is considerably more grounded in the same way that Rogue One feels more grounded compared to the rest of the movies especially with the way it has designed its cockpits. Once you’re done with the tutorial you can go one of 2 directions either diving into the story or giving multi player a go. Though all that said everyone including myself in the game would recommend that you start with the story because the tutorial lessons aren’t even close to over yet.
Star Wars Squadrons is a surprisingly complex game that demands a lot of your attention simultaneously. You have different subsystems, you have to balance power to engine boost and weapon charge to balance with those systems, shields you can reorient on the fly, a whole targeting system to wrap your head around and the incredibly flashy drift to master. There is a lot going on here and you have to be paying attention to all of it all the time and that’s even ignoring the mostly subtle differences in how Republican and Empire ships work.
Star Wars Squadrons campaign makes for an excellently structured place to come to grips with all these different systems before you’re flung into the middle of a multi-player dog fight or have to stare down the surprisingly deadly guns of an AI Capital ship. It sets up a lot of unique interesting missions usually with situations designed to teach you how to fly one particular fighter or another. A lot of them can be pretty big and involved engagements as well.
Sometimes jumping multiple times to new locations in a single mission and other times spending 20 minutes absolutely trashing one space station or another. Mechanically story mode knocks it out of the park with no shortage of variety here. Narratively though it’s a pretty mixed bag here as a lot of interesting ideas with potential that never quite live up to it in execution. I actually like the idea of playing the game from both sides of the conflict.
Victories for one side make life more complicated for the other so you never have to endure a scripted loss for the heroes to get backed into a corner. You’re the one who put them there and for once the Republic are the ones making the cool super weapons and Star Wars Squadrons also focuses on a much smaller conflict. Instead of being a battle for the fate of the war it’s a much more personal conflict that hangs all of its narrative stakes on your 2 commanding officers who have opposing ideologies and a personal bone to pick with the other.
All of that potential is let down by a cast of almost universally paper-thin characters. There are attempts to build characters here but most of them only ever amount to a literal single bullet point that they’ll repeat over and over and those commanders while engaging in their rivalry are similarly left underdeveloped. But that fails in comparison to one of the most awkwardly shoehorned silent protagonists I’ve ever seen. This is Star Wars Squadrons greatest missed opportunity. It would have been a lot better to play as one of the 2 commanders instead you’re the silent tag along character.
After you completed the tutorial and got the feel of the game through the story, you want to blast people out of the sky in multiplayer but we have another roadblock. When you first jump into Star Wars Squadrons multiplayer you won’t be able to play the games main mode Fleet Battles. You will have to grind out about 2 hours of team deathmatch before you’ve leveled high enough to unlock it. In Star Wars Squadrons defense, if you haven’t played a game like this before you’ll need all that time to get comfortable and the process of getting there is fun enough that it’s hard to really complain.
Once I finally got through all the other stuff Fleet Battles was pretty fun. Instead of just shooting down the other team your ultimate goal in this mode is to destroy the enemy Capital ship. Instead of forcing both teams to balance offense and defense between only 5 players, each team takes turns performing each role and you have to go through several stages of progress as you work your way up the opposing fleets hierarchy until you eventually get to fight its flagship.
It’s a 5V5 match that starts with a quick tip off in the middle and whoever wins gets to go on an offensive drive while the other team forms a defensive scrum to try and keep them out and eventually once the first team is out of lives the other team gets their turn to try and slam dunk a big Ion bomb on the enemy Capital ship. This is a pretty solid mode as the constant back and forth means that 1 team can’t just run away with an early lead but you can’t just swoop in and reverse the games flow at the last second to steal the win either.
Matches are decently long but because of how they’re designed it’s rare that you’ll be sitting there for 20 minutes praying for the game to just end. It always feels like you still might have a chance and it also feels like the mode that Star Wars Squadrons was balanced around. Bombers and support ships can be absolutely devastating in the right hands in dogfight mode but Fleet battles give these ships explicit roles to perform during combat that your standard Tie Interceptor just can’t.
Dogfights are perfectly fine but this is the multi-player mode to come to Star Wars Squadrons for. If you’re looking to relive your old X-wing or Tie fighter memories or you just want to enjoy a passable Star Wars story you’ll find a lot to like here right from the get go. If the multiplayer dogfighting is all that interests you you’ve got a long road ahead of you even assuming you skip the story but it will be worth it.
Thankfully both sides of Star Wars Squadrons are pretty well executed but one is going to require a significantly larger time commitment then the other before you start getting anything out of it. Overall, it is a fun space combat game that any Star Wars fans or Space Sim fans should definitely try out and is a great addition to anyone looking for a challenge.
Online dogfighting feels very satisfying especially the Fleet Battles as the match can swing to anyone's favor. The campaign is decent but could have been better if you didn't have a silent protagonist and some NPC characters are very bare bones but overall a fun space combat experience.