Tuesday 6 October 2020

Star Wars: Squadrons ★★★★★

Welcome to our review of Star Wars: Squadrons, available for PC, PS4 & Xbox One.

EA and Star Wars had a pretty rocky start to their relationship. Underwhelming titles and a shamelessly excessive use of microtransactions led to a level of fan backlash that would go on to break records. Yet to their credit, the game publisher people love to hate seemed to listen to the feedback.

In the past few years, we’ve seen the release of the exceptional Jedi: Fallen Order and Battlefront II scrapping microtransactions, becoming one of the most polished multiplayer shooters available today. These factors have helped EA quietly redeem themselves in the eyes of many fans, and they once again seem like a safe pair of hands for the Star Wars IP.

That’s why anticipation for Star Wars: Squadrons has been at a fever pitch since the first trailer dropped. The first dedicated Star Wars space fighter game since 2003’s Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike, it had us salivating for intense dogfights, iconic fighter ships and the trademark series charm with high fidelity, modern graphics. But does it live up to the hype, or does it crash land quicker than Porkins? Read on to find out...

Firstly, don’t expect an easy ride. This is a true flight sim, and offers a very advanced experience for a title based on a property with such a widespread mass appeal. Not only will you have to familiarise yourself with the pros and cons of each of the 8 available starfighters, but you’ll also have full control of your ship’s various systems in the heat of battle. You can select to divert power to your speed, power or shields depending on the situation, either using presets or controlling things yourself to single point values if you’re feeling particularly bold.

If you’re like me and haven’t played a real flight sim for a while, it can feel pretty overwhelming. We ended up as a fireball more often than a galactic hero in most matches. Thankfully the game defaults to the more basic system of management, creating in my opinion the perfect balance between combat action and strategic multitasking. You just have to give it time for it to become second nature.
A good place to do this is in the story campaign. From a narrative perspective, like Battlefront II it offers a nice insight into the timeline following the Battle of Endor, helping to bridge the gap between Episode 6 & 7.

Again, in a similar style to Battlefront II, the story is told from the contrasting perspectives of both the buoyant Rebel Alliance as it becomes the New Republic, and the desperate Imperial forces. Fans of the Extended Universe will no doubt recognise key characters, such as Grand Admiral Sloane from the Aftermath novel trilogy, and Hera Syndulla from the Rebels TV show. But as we said, for people not overly invested in the wider, sprawling Star Wars narrative, it still offers a chance to get to grips with the nuances of piloting your craft before you hop into multiplayer. The various objectives give you experience at the helm of different fighters, getting used to managing your ship’s systems and much more. 

But yet again like Battlefront II, the real bulk of your playing time will be spent in multiplayer. This comprises of two main modes. Dogfight which is your classic team deathmatch set up, and Fleet Battle, which is more objective based, seeing you tasked with taking down enemy capital ships with the end goal of destroying their main flagship. Both offer a lot of high speed action, but we definitely preferred Fleet Battle, as it reminded me of the space battles from the original Battlefront II. 

It’s in this multiplayer that learning the ships becomes most vital. You’ll need a good balance of high speed fighters like your A-Wings and TIE Interceptors, heavies like Y-Wings and TIE Bombers, as well as your support healers like the U-Wing and TIE Reaper. However, if you’re new to playing, you can’t go wrong with the iconic X-Wing and TIE Fighter, which offer the most well rounded stats. 

Although playing online can be very punishing, it never feels unfair and the matchmaking seemed to be pretty good on our end. You might die a lot, but like a Soulsborne, there’s always enough incentive to get back up and try to be a little better next time. What’s more, it’s a relief to see there’s no microtransactions at all at launch. Not even cosmetics for your ship and cockpit (of which there are a lot) can be purchased, rather they’ll have to be unlocked the old fashion way. 

And finally, while we played on a regular controller, there’s plenty of different control setups to experience Squadrons your way. It has full VR support for PC headsets and PSVR on the PS4, which once you get past the motion sickness, must be incredible. It also has full support for flight sticks, just for that little bit extra immersion. Man I’m jealous of people with good set ups. To wrap up, Star Wars: Squadrons is an absolute delight, and a worthy successor to the original run Rogue Squadron titles. It offers challenging yet fair gameplay, that affords true fantasy fulfillment for anyone who used to pretend to pilot their own X-Wing as a kid. It’s worth your time getting over that learning curve, as once you do you’ll never want to leave your cockpit again.

Tom Baker

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