A hail of green laser fire rips dangerously close to the cockpit of my X-Wing as I shoot through the wreckage of a downed star destroyer. A TIE fighter is chasing and my astromech unit warns me that a missile attack is imminent. I turned my X-wing and dived through a narrow gap in the wreck, narrowing and scratching a wall. At this moment, the Star Wars fantasy of piloting an X-Wing screams with excitement and shows just how exciting the aerial battle between Rebellion and Empire can be. The developers at Motive Studios have created a fantastic multiplayer experience that offers the visual details and thrills of the epic space battles of Star Wars, but only fires direct hits in the online area and is difficult to captivate with single-player content.
Star Wars: Squadrons will be discontinued after Return of the JediThe second Death Star dispersed into the cosmos and the Empire withdrew as it sought ways to repel the rebels. This era gives us the cool ship designs from the original film trilogy, but with more firepower than Luke Skywalker had on hand. Whether I was in a fighter in an A-wing against a TIE interceptor or in a Y-wing in a bombing raid on an Imperial flagship, each vehicle feels different and is an explosion to control. The movement is so smooth and precise that you can jump over the surface of an asteroid and snake your way safely through the interior of a space station without damaging the fuselage. And even if you do, the game is forgiving of damage, so you can quickly correct the trajectory.
Unlike most space shooters, Squadrons is only playable from a first person perspective. This is an odd design considering how iconic these ships are, but the locked viewing angle makes sense given the number of systems the player must be monitoring at any given time. Instead of littering the HUD with these gauges, most of them are visible in the ship’s cockpit. They all work great, allowing for a quick read of ammunition, radar, and most importantly, how performance is balanced across the ship. With the push of a button, the player can adjust the power to favor shields, weapons or speed. I’ve been constantly adjusting to different needs and it always feels good to get that extra boost in the engines or play more laser beams to shut down a TIE or A-wing.
The capacity utilization of each of the eight ships can also be adjusted in various ways, e.g. B. by setting a steady laser on fire or relinquishing hull integrity for shields. The number of components that can be interchanged is quite high, allowing the player to optimize performance in various strategic and satisfactory ways.
No matter which ship I piloted, the one-on-one battles against other player-controller ships are almost always intense. These duels can be quite long as the target ship can run away, dance through the crowded airspace to dodge laser fire, and perhaps gain the upper hand and shoot back. When an enemy is shielded and in full health, you are in for a good fight. Missiles are dodged with countermeasures and repair kits are used to restore health. The maps are beautifully designed too, with surprisingly crowded areas for the harrowing car chases and open spaces that can be used to trap enemies when coordinating with your teammates.
Online multiplayer in Squadrons is limited to just two ways to play: Dogfight, which is incredibly fun and based on the number of kills, and Fleet Battles, the heart and soul of this experience, which delivers incredible wars of attrition. Fleet battles flow towards a moving front forcing you into offensive and defensive positions. Victory is achieved when your opponent’s flagship is destroyed, which will take some time. The victory may be due to barely noticeable health shards on both enemy flagships.
Both multiplayer modes are 5v5 conflicts. The small number works well for dog fights as the cards absorb this. Fleet battles could use more players, but the scale feels massive thanks to the healthy presence of AI-controlled ships, many of which are larger. Both modes offer many exciting moments in aerial combat, beautiful backdrops to fly and legendary Star Wars music and sounds that set the tone.
After a game ends, experience points are earned and money is spent buying new cosmetics for your ship and pilot, including goofy bobbleheads that are always visible in the cockpit. The player can use another earned currency to buy new ship components and add even more depth to the cargoes.
I like EA’s stance on not having microtransactions or DLC, but the source for unlockable cosmetics is surprisingly shallow and relies too heavily on alternate colors for the same item. I only had my eye on a dozen or so items and the unlock time isn’t very long. While multiplayer is great on its own and just about having fun, it harms the urge to play more if you don’t dangle the carrot for new things that matter to you.
While Squadrons’ single player campaign features a number of cool Star Wars characters, most of the story is told while standing around in a hangar or at the meeting table. It doesn’t have a lot of pulse, although the narrative build of a mysterious “Starhawk” project is pretty good and remains an intriguing focus for the entire arc. When the action is delivered in mid-flight, the dialogue is rough and ineffective, and certain moments could be more clearly framed.
Flying all the ships in the single player experience is still fun, but the enemy AI doesn’t provide a good fight and is the worst part of the entire game. The AI pathing is also a mess. When I saw a TIE fighter go straight into an asteroid and then slowly spin around its axis to free itself, I winced. Some of the standards are good, but most of the campaign missions play like mini-tutorials, teaching new tactics even late in the game.
All Squadrons content is completely playable in VR and fits this medium perfectly. Battles feel a lot bigger on a headset (although they’re exactly the same as on TV), and I loved being able to peek at my astromech unit when it is chirping. A variety of flying sticks are also supported, although I haven’t played with one for my assessment. EA included a full suite of accessibility features, and cross-play is supported for all systems, including VR.
The single player of the seasons can often turn out like a buggy hyperdrive motivator, but the multiplayer mode is consistently impressive and is worth the price of admission alone. Flying in formation with a group of friends put a smile on my face, and that was just the calm before the storm. When the lasers start to fly, squadron multiplayer can be downright exhilarating and a great test of dexterity, pushing players to be smart in the cockpit for rethinking and maneuvering opponents. Given how pleasant it is to pilot an X-Wing or TIE Fighter, this is a multiplayer experience I’ll keep coming back to, even if EA doesn’t endorse it with new content. It’s just fun to play and offers something different from most competitive games today.