Let me start this review by saying that I was a big fan of the original X-Wing, Tie Fighter and X-Wing vs Tie Fighter games. I absolutely loved them. So the news of – dare I say – a “spiritual successor” had me excited. I haven’t been interested in an EA published title for quite a while now for numerous reasons, but Star Wars Squadrons appeared to have a lot of potential. Add to that the fact that it would not contain any MTX, and that it would not be a “live service” game and… well… I was really optimistic about it.
Surprisingly enough, and after having spent around 15-20 hours with the game so far, I must say I’ve come away with a relatively good impression of it. However, I do have one major concern that I’ll get into a little later in the review.
So, let’s start with the available game modes. Star Wars Squadrons has 3 modes; a campaign and two multiplayer modes.
The campaign is basically a glorified tutorial across the 14 missions (16 if you include the prelude missions). You’ll be switching between the Rebel Alliance (Vanguard Squadron) and the Empire (Titan Squadron) while learning the various game systems and becoming familiar with the 8 available ships that can be piloted. You also get to create a character at the start, but the creation system is pretty simple.
As far as the story goes though, it’s really nothing special. An Empire commander defects and joins the Rebels, and then tries to create a new weapon (The Skyhawk) to defeat the Empire.
Between each mission, you’ll get to talk to various squadmates at the base. You don’t actually walk around and your character is a silent protagonist. You can only look around and interact with squadmates (if they have something to say) or customize your ship/get your mission briefing. It really feels – at least to me – that this was designed with VR in mind.
The story itself is passable, but your squadmates feel as generic as they can get. These characters lack any kind of personality, charm or interesting dialogue. As a result of that, I didn’t care at all about any of them (or what they had to say). While it doesn’t ruin the experience (because you can just skip all this dialogue), there are no memorable or impacting moments at all in the campaign.
The missions themselves are pretty typical and standard; go here, destroy that, escort this. Nothing groundbreaking by any stretch of the imagination, but the core gameplay is excellent so they eventually end up being enjoyable to play.
Overall, the campaign lasts between 8-12 hours give or take, depending on your skill level and the difficulty setting. There may be some replayability if you want to get all the medals on each mission or play them on harder difficulties.
Needless to say though, the focus of Squadrons is not its campaign. Therefore, and If you are only interested in the SP mode, you are most likely going to be disappointed by it.
Multiplayer is the main focus of the game, and the developers have been pretty upfront about that. There are two modes; Dogfight and – the flagship mode – Fleet Battles.
Dogfight is a 5v5 mode with no capital ships and no AI fighters. The first team to reach 30 points or the team with the highest score when the timer runs out wins. That’s it.
In Dogfight, there are occasional resupplies that appear in the area and can be collected to refill your missiles and repair your ship, after which it goes on cooldown. I did find this a little odd as it breaks immersion due to its “gameyness“. I mean, you’re collecting what is essentially a powerup. It’s out of place. I would’ve preferred if they just had a frigate that can resupply you at the edge of the map for each side (similar to the ones in Fleet battle mode) or alternatively, just have one of your team choose a support ship to fill that role (this would encourage more teamwork).
Dogfight is fun, but due to it only being about kills and not really requiring actual teamwork, it feels shallow and can get repetitive. It’s a good mode for a warmup though. However, if you want a more authentic Stars Wars experience, then Fleet Battle is the way to go.
In Fleet Battle, each side starts with a capital ship and two frigates (Rebels)/cruisers (Empire). At the start of the round, each team is attempting to fill up the morale meter by getting kills. Once the meter is filled they are able to attack the enemy frigates/cruisers, taking their shields down and eventually destroying them. During this time the enemy needs to defend their ships, destroy the enemy raider ship and also try to regain morale by killing enemy pilots or AI. Once the morale meter fills, it switches sides, and the other team gets to attack. And while It is possible to attack the frigates/cruisers even when your meter is not maxed out, you’ll most get destroyed almost immediately so it’s not really advisable.
Players can fly back to the frigates/cruisers to resupply, or back to the capital ship to switch out their craft or loadout. If your team is on the defense, you’ll have to make the longer trip back to your capital ship. That, or you can rely on a support player – if you have one – to heal you and/or give you a shield. After all, resupplying at the frigates/cruisers is not possible when enemies are too close to them.
Once these frigates/cruisers have been taken down, your team can begin attacking the enemy capital ship. Unlike the smaller ships, the MC75/Star Destroyer have subsystems (a power generator, 2x shield generators and a targeting system). Taking these down will make for a significantly easier assault (once destroyed they are gone for the rest of the match). These large ships also have tractor beams as well as an array of turbo lasers, missile launchers and turrets, all of which can also be destroyed.
The match is over as soon as one team’s capital ship is destroyed.
In addition to all of this Fleet Battles has tons of AI fighters flying around which makes this feel like more of a large-scale battle. These AI fighters aren’t very tough, and don’t pose a significant threat. However, they can kill you if you’re not careful. Also, players get less morale by killing these AI fighters than human enemies.
The tug of war that happens in this mode also adds a sense of progression and tension, keeping it interesting and enjoyable even if you end up losing the match. It’s a battle of attrition and matches can last upwards of 30min.
Lastly, Fleet Battles features a total of 6 maps, all of which are pretty different and add their own navigational challenges which is nice.
Squadrons is 5v5 game at it’s core. Each team has a choice of 4 ships, 3 attack craft and one support craft. Each ship comes with its own strengths and weaknesses.
- X-Wing (All purpose)
- Y-Wing (Bomber)
- A-Wing (Scout)
- U-Wing (Support)
- Tie Fighter (All purpose)
- Tie Bomber (Bomber)
- Tie Interceptor (Scout)
- Tie Reaper (Support)
Each of these ships has 7 components that can be switched out to further customize. Thus, you can build a ship to be more effective at taking down larger ships, have more health, go faster or specialize in close-quarter dogfights. In theory, no custom ship is better than another since each one has pros and cons. However, and like any MP game, players will inevitably find builds that are overpowered or exploitable (which will most certainly require some balancing tweaks).
Each ship has a primary fire, two secondary gadgets (repair droid, missiles, mines etc) that can be chosen in any combination, and an anti-missile device.
The game also has a power management system. When playing as the Rebels, you can divert resources/energy to engines, weapons, or shields. If you divert the energy to the engine, you gain a speed boost. If you divert the energy to the weapons, you get an initial burst of fire that deals double the amount of damage. Lastly, if you divert your energy to the shields, you get double shields. Additionally, you can enhance and tweak both your front and back shields.
Playing as the Empire is slightly different since 3 out of the 4 ships don’t have shields. However, the Empire ships have the ability to “shunt” power from the engines to the weapons or vice versa, allowing imperial pilots to quickly refill their boost or overcharge their weapons, making up for their lack of shields.
These differences require varied approaches to combat, though both sides have the ability to gain boost while engines are maxed out. Boost is self-explanatory, however, you can also drift… in space. This enables pilots to make sharp or even 180 degree turns mid-flight. It will take some practice, but when you’ve got a good grip on this it can make a significant difference in combat.
Learning all the nuances of when and how to use all these systems is crucial to being a successful pilot, getting more kills and dying less frequently. The game also has a decently high skill ceiling. It’s relatively easy to get up and going, though it will take time and practice to master it.
All in all, the combat in Star Wars Squadrons is excellent. The controls are really responsive, and it is very satisfying killing your enemies. It may not be as deep as something like Elite, but it’s certainly deep enough to not feel like an arcade game. I personally think it strikes a balance somewhere in-between, perhaps edging closer to the original X-wing. There is also no 3rd person camera, so it’s cockpit mode all the way.
Controls, VR & Issues
The game can be played with a mouse and keyboard, a gamepad or a HOTAS (Hands on Throttle and Stick). For this review, I used my Logitech X-56.
At launch, the game had some serious issues with many HOTAS setups. Some setups were not being properly detected, certain axis didn’t work on other setups, and most setups suffered from a massive deadzone issue which required a workaround in order to actually play the game. Thankfully, all of these issues have been addressed.
The game allows you to remap all of the buttons, which is another plus. Using the basic power configuration is simple enough, though it does not allow for enough customization of the power system for more advanced tactics. Using the advanced power configuration allows you to manually move notch by notch between engines, weapons and shields which is more precise to your needs. However, trying to do that while someone is trying to kill you is a bad idea.
I ended up setting macros via Voice Attack to quickly switch between various custom power configurations for different situations (I use this in Elite as well).
Regarding VR, unfortunately, I no longer have my review unit for the Rift S, so I was unable to test the game in VR. However, there are some reports of performance issues and crashes, so keep that in mind.
Another issue that is still present is the refresh rate bug. Running at a refresh rate higher than 60 causes the game to run at what feels like 30fps. So until that is fixed, I suggest capping your refresh rate to 60. While the game is capped at 60hz, it runs flawlessly without noticeable drops. I also suspect this is the reason VR users are having performance issues (since VR runs between 80-120fps in most cases – depending on the headset)
For those of you who play other sims and use TrackIR or an alternative head-tracking solution like me, you’re out of luck as it’s not currently supported. What makes this more annoying is that the freelook option is locked behind a toggle, and once you enable it, you lose control of the ship. So you can either look around OR fly the ship. You cannot do both at once (unless you’re playing in VR). This is a really odd decision as the game natively supports VR (and the ability to look and fly around at the same time). I can’t imagine it would be difficult to implement head-tracking support. Here is hoping that the community will find a workaround for this.
One final issue I have with the game (that is currently pretty common in other games too) is players dropping or leaving mid-match. PvP Fleet Battles are considered “ranked“, but if any player leaves the match it is no longer counted toward your ranked progress. I really hope this issue gets sorted out soon because this can lead to players feeling like they have been wasting their time, and put out any desire they have to continue playing it.
Overall, I’ve really enjoyed Star Wars Squadrons so far, though I have to say that my biggest concern is its longevity. Its campaign mode is short, Dogfight mode is pretty shallow, and the Fleet Battle mode has only 6 maps. In addition, the developers have already stated that there will be no further content released for the game. In my opinion, the game would significantly benefit from some new modes and maps.
Star Wars Squadrons has a lot of potential. It really does. However, I fear that due to the lack of content, it will eventually fade away (to make room for another microtransaction infested live service full of surprise mechanics that no one wants). And that’s a real shame.
Even though Star Wars Squadrons is not a full-priced AAA title, I’m still not convinced a game that’s essentially ONE mode with 6 maps is actually worth the asking price of $40. I do think it’s worth picking up at some point, especially if you enjoyed X-wing, or are looking for a deeper Star Wars space battle experience than what’s currently available, but I would suggest waiting for a sale.
- Space combat is excellent
- High skill ceiling
- Fleet Battles
- VR support
- HOTAS support
- No MTX
- Short Campaign
- Uninspired backstories
- Only 6 maps
- No future content
- No headtracking support
Computer Specs: Windows 10 64-bit computer using an Intel i7-6700k CPU@4.5gh, 32GB Ram, and an nVidia RTX 2070 Super graphics card.