Star Wars: Squadrons is far from the first game that lets players pilot iconic spaceships from the legendary sci-fi franchise. After all, there have been dozens upon dozens of Star Wars titles and many of them feature space combat in some shape or form. There have even been a few dedicated games that allow you to jump into the cockpit of an X-Wing or TIE fighter.
It now seems like EA has realized that many Star Wars fans just want to be able to relive moments they’ve seen on-screen or feel what it would be like to be part of the fictional universe. So creating a space combat game that takes place just after the original trilogy and features all the classic spacecraft makes complete sense. Fortunately for players, EA and Motive Studios have actually managed to capture the fun and excitement of Star Wars to create one of the best games based on the series in years.
The first thing to note is that Star Wars: Squadrons is not an arcade game like Rogue Squadron. It is much more on the same wavelength as the highly acclaimed X-Wing and TIE Fighter series from the 90s; the game attempts to immerse you in every aspect of being a pilot in the sci-fi universe. You’ll have to manage the power to your various systems, understand what the various dials and readings in your cockpit mean, and learn how to use your shields most effectively. Juggling everything can seem like an arduous task at first as the sheer amount of information players have to take in might be overwhelming for some.
Mercifully, Star Wars: Squadrons does a good job of introducing different gameplay mechanics in a way that gently eases you in. The campaign slowly provides the player with different systems and information as missions progress. This is better than a simple tutorial trying to cram everything in and helps you to learn on the job, understanding exactly how each element works during gameplay while being challenged in new and interesting ways. The story mode also provides a good understanding of the different crafts that you can pilot.
It also helps that the controls are quite streamlined, making the complex systems rather easy to use. Other games might have made something of a mess of meshing together the different mechanics, but Star Wars: Squadrons has a policy of keeping things simple. Almost every single function is just a single button press away and you can easily reroute power to a different system by pushing the d-pad. This completely gets rid of the need for menus or tricky combos and the game is all the better for it as it just allows you to get on with the action.
The campaign itself is obviously not as in-depth as EA’s other big-budget titles, although it doesn’t feel like it has been just tacked on. While the story isn’t incredibly long, sitting at around 10 hours or so, it certainly puts quality over quantity. Set just after Return of the Jedi, the campaign thrusts you into the shoes of two pilots. One is part of the New Republic that was forged after the Battle of Endor and the other is part of the remnants of the Imperial Navy fighting to stay in control after the death of the Emperor.
Seeing the conflict from two sides actually adds a lot to the narrative thanks to the different perspectives. The cast of characters that make up your various squads all have compelling backstories and it’s a refreshing take to see what motivates the rank and file of the Empire. It’s just a shame that the campaign can feel so barebones at times. Much of the story is spoken to you during static cutscenes, which give away that this is not a full-price AAA experience. Yet, what is there works and the narrative does help to make the single-player mode feel like more than an extended tutorial.
Before each mission, players are given the opportunity to spend some time in the hangar, where you can customize your spaceship. However, there isn’t much in the way of being able to explore the base or speak with those also hanging around the area, so you’ll spend very little time actually outside the cockpit. Once you get a mission briefing, you are simply sent out with the rest of your squad to complete your goal.
These objectives are varied and don’t just involve repeating the same task over and over again. Some missions require you to take out Star Destroyers in creative ways due to a lack of resources, while there are also plenty of thrilling dogfights and a few stealth-based goals. Star Wars: Squadrons also has a nice reward system in place to encourage replaying levels via a badge system. Unlocking all the badges requires mastering each mission, which will appeal to those who love getting 100% completion.
Although Star Wars: Squadrons has a campaign, it’s the multiplayer that most people will stick around for. While the online play is great for the most part, it is not quite as enthralling as it might have been due to a distinct lack of modes and content. With just deathmatches, involving two teams of five facing off against each other, and the larger-scale fleet battles with multiple stages, players might be disappointed with the limited variety.
However, the multiplayer is a nice change of pace from the single-player campaign as squaring off against human pilots adds an element of unpredictability to proceedings. Because the basic gameplay in Star Wars: Squadrons is so fun, though, the fact that there are just two modes isn’t too much of a problem. The deathmatches are exhilarating and full of drama, with matches often going down to the wire. There’s also a good pace to these frays that keeps the excitement up and leaves you little time to breathe.
Meanwhile, fleet battles have a layer of strategy to them as each side tries to gain the upper hand, even though they can sometimes drag on a little if the teams are similar in terms of talent. Whatever the case, there will often be lots of toing and froing in this game mode as people experiment with loadouts and figure out a working tactic. Usually, those who feel most comfortable using a wide variety of ships and systems will do well in Fleet Battles, as they can switch up their approach for the specific situation at hand.
Thankfully, Star Wars: Squadrons has no microtransactions or loot boxes of any kind, even though there is an extensive unlock system. After every match or mission, you are rewarded with requisition points and Glory. As you progress and earn more of each, you’ll be able to unlock new customization options for the appearance of the different ships. But there’s also the welcome ability to get access to new weapons and ship functions so that you can develop a loadout that works best for you.
Squadrons is also incredibly immersive thanks to the detail in every aspect of its presentation. The sound effects are so authentic that you feel like you have been thrown into the battles you’ve seen in the movies countless times. The excellent orchestral score helps to create that atmosphere too, and there are some nice changes to familiar musical themes. This same quality is present in the visuals—this might be the best looking Star Wars game ever made.
Star Wars: Squadrons shows that EA is capable of producing a great Star Wars game, even if the publisher has had some missteps since acquiring the license from Disney. Any fan of the franchise will enjoy the attention to detail and immersive nature of the presentation. But there’s also enough here to satisfy those who just wanted an excellent space combat simulator, as the gameplay works seamlessly and always remains enjoyable. The shorter campaign and lack of game modes in multiplayer can even be excused somewhat by the lower price of the game. Especially when Star Wars: Squadrons still manages to offer hours of fun, making it a must-play for any Star Wars fan.
A code for Star Wars: Squadrons was provided by PR for the purposes of this review.
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