I can safely say that for a long time my biggest childhood fantasy was to pilot an X-wing from Star Wars, ever since first watching the mesmerising battle for the Death Star I’d dreamt to be able to play a Star Wars space combat game, and some years later, EA answered the call. Star Wars: Squadrons is exactly that, a fully fledged space combat game which is the new addition to EA’s growing arsenal of titles for the franchise. It offers fast paced combat and beautiful visuals that at times really do make you feel like you’re right there in the cockpit and it is a truly amazing feeling, but a pretty lacklustre campaign and slow paced gameplay bring the experience down to earth.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away
The game kicks off with an 8 hour campaign, that serves as an introduction to the core mechanics of the game and provides you with the opportunity to take a test drive in the different types of ships the game has to offer. To this regard the campaign does an excellent job, with each mission game drip feeding the different controls and functions in an easy to digest manner, throwing plenty of combat into each mission to put these new acquired skills to the test. When it comes to the actual story however, it really does fall flat; the campaign allows you to play as both the rebels and the empire, and it does make an effort to add depth with features like sitting you through the visualised mission briefings and providing plenty of opportunity to get to know the various characters from both sides with lots of optional dialogue. Ultimately however, the main story is very bland, the rebels have built a giant space weapon unlike anything seen before and the imperials want to destroy it… all sounds a bit too familiar, right? Very quickly on I realised that the campaign did not serve to provide a thrilling, captivating plot, but rather to solely serve as an introduction to the game. You can tell that they’ve tried to make an effort to set the scene with all the optional dialogue and briefings, but it quickly boiled down to listening in on slow, dreary monologue that won’t be winning an Oscar any time soon. Playing Squadron’s campaign feels like being made to eat your vegetables before desert, it has to be done, but you just want to get it out of the way to start the good bits.
Squadrons’ gameplay is very in depth, allowing a lot of different options for playstyle, and is one of the standout aspects of the game. There’s a number of various ship types on offer, each with their advantages and drawbacks: The interceptors allow for fast paced run and gun action but are easy to take down if you can catch one, the bombers allow you to hit the enemy where it hurts the most but are hulking and slow to manoeuvre, support ships help resupply and heal teammates and can disable enemy controls but lack any great firepower, and the famed X-wings and Tie Fighters serve as the jack of all trades class. Once you’ve chosen the ship for you and have launched out of the hangar, this is where the fun begins. The ships are great fun to fly, the controls are responsive and the movement is incredibly fluid, the constant twists and turns once you enter a dogfight is a moment that feels more akin to a chess match than a chaotic battle, trying to outmanoeuvre your opponent to get them in your sights. When you do finally lock them in, scoring hits and taking down ships is an incredibly satisfying experience with each hit bringing a flash of fire and sparks, the billow of smoke from a low health ship indicates for you to up the ante and go in for the kill, and the visceral explosion of flames and debris once you manage it feels very weighty and serves as a satisfying reward.
The one negative element for me is that in comparison to the ships from both of EA’s Battlefront titles, the ships in Squadrons feel noticeably slower and less nimble, and whilst this may be due to the Battlefront game modes having a more arcade game style the combat in Squadrons is just a bit too slow paced and laboured for me. The benefit of combat games is that there’s action around every corner, and so the pace of gameplay that the devs have chosen to take is a bit slow for me, as due to the relatively low time to kill dogfights end quickly, but it then becomes a long trek from the spawn to be able to enter another. This issue may be a matter of personal opinion, and the pace of gameplay does edge closer to a more realistic milsim style like Ace combat, but if you’re looking for the same speed of engagement and fighter movement that is in the two Battlefront games you might be disappointed.
All Wings Report In:
After a pretty low-effort campaign you get to head into the bread and butter of Squadrons, the multiplayer. Two game modes make up the multiplayer with the first being Dogfight, a smaller scale 5v5 team deathmatch in which the objective is to eliminate the enemy team, first to 30 kills wins. This is the more arcade style mode of the multiplayer games and offers combat in it’s rawest form, the relatively small map size condenses the action and the different maps are scattered with asteroids and ship debris which you need to duck and dive around. This is the most fast paced experience of the two, but much like the core gameplay the game makes efforts to slow things down, adding a frustrating 10 second respawn time and a relatively far off spawn, paired with the somewhat slow ship speeds makes it feel like you’re spending too much time finding the action and less being in it.
The second game mode, Fleet Battles, is the main event of the multiplayer, this takes the form of a large scale battle with multiple objectives to seal the victory, using 5v5 teams and some AI ships. It first starts similarly to Dogfight where you have to eliminate enemy fighters to gain morale and swing the balance in your favour, once enough momentum is gained you them move to destroy the two large capital ships and if you’re still on the offensive, you can then go for the flagship. The different objectives provide a lot of variety but the best feature of this mode is the fluidity, if you commit too much to the secondary and final objectives without defending from attack the balance of the game can swing in the other team’s direction, halting your progress whilst you go on the defensive. This can create a war of attrition if the teams are evenly matched, slowly taking chunks out of the enemy objective health bars before either clinching a glorious win or suffering a crushing defeat.
Outside of the actual game modes themselves, Squadrons adds depth to the multiplayer with a wealth of customisation options available. Pilot customisation allows you to change appearance with gender or species and cosmetic elements, boasting a range of helmets, flight suits, clothing and emotes. There’s a lot you can change with the actual ships too, for the external you can add skins or decals and you can even jazz up the cockpits by changing the holograms, adding hanging charms or even small figurines to truly make it feel like a home away from home. Given EA’s pretty poor track record with cosmetics & add-ons in the other two Battlefront games you’ll be pleased to know that there are no microtransactions! Everything is purchased with in game currency that can only be earned through gameplay and challenges, which is welcome news in the current state of gaming, and without the added incentive to dip into your wallet these credits are earned relatively quickly allowing you to fully deck out your ships and pilots in no time.
Graphically, this is one of the nicest looking games to come out of the last gen/next gen transitional period, and it really does the franchise justice. Every minute element of the game from the whizz of particles in hyperspace, the flash of sparks flying off of battered ships or the individual cockpit buttons and switches are all captured with incredible detail. The fact that they went to such effort to make the cockpits look as real as possible with no rough edges really adds to the immersion, and this combined with some excellent sound design like the atmospheric music or the roars of the Tie Fighter makes Squadron’s feel like one of the most immersive games I’ve played recently. Performance wise the game runs incredibly smooth with frame rate barely dipping below 60fps on PS5, I was hard pressed to find any stutter or bugs. As with Battlefront and Jedi: Fallen Order, EA has done an excellent job with Squadrons in accentuating the minute details that make the Star Wars world the cinematic masterpiece it is. It also comes with full VR support which is something pretty rare even in today’s market, and from what I’ve read this mode performs very well and is incredibly immersive.
At it’s best, Star Wars: Squadrons has some terrific moments, the thrill of victory in a drawn out Fleet Battle or finally finishing off an opponent that nearly got away once too many times is as good experience as you’ll have in combat gaming, but unfortunately this is marred with some shocking lows. The campaign leaves a lot to be desired, and whilst gameplay is well thought out with deep mechanics, it boils down to the pace of the game modes putting the brakes on the fun. I do think that it is a fantastic platform to build on, and with it’s low price of £20/$28 currently at Amazon this may seem like a bargain, but I fear that without a steady stream of content updates to add new game modes and keep things fresh the fun may quickly dry out, taking the player base with it. When all is said and done through, Squadrons is still a great game with a dynamic that gives more than enough reason for players to keep climbing into the cockpit and taking to the skies.