Star Wars: Squadrons Review — All Wings, Report In
Star Wars: Squadrons delivers on nearly all fronts with a tight focus on space combat, multiplayer dogfights, and immersive VR support.
As much as I love so many things about Star Wars–its universe, characters, and story–one of the most memorable elements of the series to me has always been its space battles and ships. Take it from someone that spent countless time building a Y-Wing (my personal favorite ship) out of LEGO and playing with X-Wing and TIE Fighter toys in the backyard as a kid: the starfighters and space battles of Star Wars have always stuck with me and been one of my favorite parts of the movies. Having sunk tons of time into the Rogue Squadron series, getting the chance to jump back into the cockpit of a Rebel fighter in a Star Wars game felt like a long-off dream, but Star Wars: Squadrons feels like that dream almost perfectly fulfilled.
Coming off last year’s Jedi: Fallen Order, EA and Motive Studios’ Star Wars: Squadrons is an entirely different type of Star Wars game that looks niche compared to Fallen Order, and even to Motive’s last release Battlefront II. As an entirely first-person experience focused solely on ship combat and flight simulation, Squadrons more immediately will draw comparisons to both the Rogue Squadron series and the classic X-Wing and TIE Fighter games. However, Squadrons manages to not only faithfully recreate the sights and sounds of Star Wars in a thrilling way, but is also one of the most purely fun Star Wars games that I’ve played in some time.
Squadrons puts players in control of 8 different ships from the Star Wars universe–mainly from the original trilogy–as they complete objectives and take down enemy ships and cruisers in exhilarating dogfights. Though notably it’s a $40 release, Squadrons offers a single-player campaign that spans about 6-7 hours, alongside two multiplayer modes with a variety of unlockable cosmetics and gear to chase after. Even at its lower price point, Squadrons overall still feels like a complete experience that will likely have a high degree of replayability, thanks to its multiplayer offerings and satisfying gameplay.
Each of the opposing factions–the Empire and the New Republic–have four fighters at their disposal with varying traits and builds. The X-Wing and TIE Fighter serve as all-purpose fighters that are geared toward multiple roles, while the A-Wing and TIE Interceptor are better-suited for fast-paced offense and striking enemies quickly. The Y-Wing and TIE Bomber are slower but more durable units with powerful explosives, while the U-Wing and TIE Reaper are support ships that are specially designed to provide backup to the other fighters on a squadron.
Given their history in the Star Wars canon, Squadrons does a great job at making each of the factions’ varying ships feel radically different from one another and giving them a clear role within a team. From piloting the zippy A-Wing to the more stocky TIE Bomber, Squadrons gives players the chance to specialize themselves while playing in a full squadron, especially with the game’s level of customization and options to outfit each ship with new components and gear. For the large part, most players should be able to find a ship that suits their specific playstyle effectively, but I do wish there was a wider selection of ships, especially with some notable missing Star Wars ships that could have added more unique designs and gameplay elements like the B-Wing or TIE Defender.
The single-player campaign of Star Wars: Squadrons largely serves as an extended tutorial for learning the ropes of combat and flight, but carries the experience with an engaging storyline and cast of characters with it. Swapping between both the New Republic and the Empire–with players creating their own pilot protagonist for each side–the main story of Squadrons follows both forces in the wake of Return of the Jedi and the destruction of the second Death Star. In the aftermath of the Empire’s fall, the New Republic seeks to finish building Project Starhawk, a new weapon designed to help the Republic finish off the remaining Imperial forces constructed from stolen Star Destroyers. The Empire, naturally, is seeking to intervene and thwart the completion of Starhawk by any means necessary.
While the campaign is brief and the storytelling is mostly a thread to tie together its different setpieces, Squadrons still manages to craft a fine Star Wars story that also serves its purpose to teach players the intricacies of flying ships. With brief moments in-between missions to interact with the other members of your crew and mission briefings to identify the next objective, Squadrons has its share of action-packed setpieces and characters to make playing through the single-player campaign enjoyable before diving into multiplayer. It doesn’t have the same sense of narrative focus that other Star Wars titles like Jedi: Fallen Order or the campaign from Battlefront II have, but Squadrons‘ campaign is still a satisfying addition for players that are simply looking for a fun ride in their favorite Star Wars ships.
If you’re looking for a more competitive experience though, Star Wars: Squadrons has its bases covered. As much as blasting down enemy fighters in the campaign is enjoyable and visceral, taking on human opponents in Squadrons’ multiplayer modes is an entirely different experience that requires fast-thinking and strategy, and is likely going to be where players spend the most time after finishing the campaign.
The multiplayer of Squadrons breaks down into two modes that each are in a 5v5 format: Dogfights (essentially Squadrons‘ Team Deathmatch) and Fleet Battles (its objective-based mode). Dogfights are the more straightforward of the two modes, as two teams try to take down the enemy’s fighters and be the first to reach a set score. However, Dogfights seem especially tailored to the faster, more nimble ships like the A-Wing and TIE Interceptor, making it hard to imagine that slower ships like the Y-Wing or TIE Reaper will have the chance to compete as effectively.
Fleet Battles, on the other hand, feels a bit more balanced in terms of giving each ship a chance to shine while also just being incredibly fun and challenging. A more objective-based mode, Fleet Battles puts the two competing teams of players against one another through multiple stages as they try to take down the enemy team’s Flagship, alongside a fleet of smaller Capital Ships. With the scale and expanded scope of working together to take down the enemy’s Flagship, Fleet Battles really puts the skill of players front and center and makes each team member utilize each ship’s capabilities in tandem with one another. Where in the Dogfights mode it can feel easy to be outmatched by ace players with fast ships, Fleet Battles feels far more like a challenging tug-of-war that evokes the best space battles from across the Star Wars movies, and it’s by far one of the strongest parts of Squadrons as a whole.
For the most part, Squadrons would live or die based on how well its gameplay fares, and in that sense, it soars. From chasing down TIE Fighters in an X-Wing, to taking control of a TIE Interceptor and narrowly dodging enemy fire while navigating an asteroid field, Squadrons perfectly captures the exhilarating feel of piloting a Star Wars spacecraft. From inside the cockpit, Squadrons handles incredibly smoothly and manages to tread a fine line between approachability and depth in how it controls. Most of all, Squadrons layers in power management and throttle control to make its flight gameplay that much more responsive and engaging for players. There’s a give-and-take at play with both systems to make flying a bit more involved, as pulling back on the throttle will give you more maneuvering options at the expense of speed. Likewise, the power management system–which lets you shift power between a ship’s engines, lasers, and shields–gives far more strategy while engaging with enemy fighters and whether to play more offensively or defensively.
As someone that is relatively inexperienced with flight sim games in this style, it wasn’t too long before I was able to get the hang of having to manage the throttle of each ship and how to fine-tune their performance for turning and speed. Eventually, playing through the campaign taught me some of the more nuanced elements of Squadrons, such as learning to drift and how to effectively manage power between each ship’s modules to more effectively lay damage on an enemy fighter or to pull out of a hairy situation with an enemy on my back. While it’s easy enough to get a handle on steering your ship and weaving in and out of combat, Squadrons has enough of a skill ceiling that players can really sink time into mastering the maneuverability and function of their ships.
Though Squadrons will likely be played by most with a controller, Motive Studios gives players a lot to work with in terms of added features and especially its number of accessibility options. Although during the review I played through the game on PC with a controller, veteran flight sim players will have the opportunity to use their favorite flight sticks and HOTAS setups to more authentically recreate the feel of piloting their favorite Star Wars ships. Likewise, right from the beginning, Squadrons brings players through an accessibility menu with additional features such as text-to-speech, colorblind profiles, subtitle options, and more. This is encouraging coming off other accessibility-minded titles from this year like The Last of Us Part II and Gears Tactics.
Additionally, both the PS4 and PC versions of the game offer support for VR headsets, and after having played a few of the campaigns in VR, it’s not hard to see that Squadrons would have worked just as effectively it was an exclusively VR-driven experience. While the game plays just as well outside of VR, that extra level of immersion from looking around the cockpit and seeing enemy fighters on your tail makes the experience that much more thrilling. However, your mileage may vary with how well you can tolerate playing Squadrons in VR for long periods of time — given that there is so much movement involved with your ship, I only tended to play in VR for short bursts before feeling a little queasy from it. Either way, whether you play with a mouse and keyboard, controller, fight stick, and with or without a VR headset, Squadrons is an incredibly versatile package that players will be able to enjoy no matter how they experience the game, which is a feat in itself.
With classics like Rogue Squadron and X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter in its rearview, Squadrons manages to deliver as the space-combat game that Star Wars fans have been waiting for. While Squadrons might not have the most extensive multiplayer offerings and the campaign is brief, the core experience of flying iconic ships and facing off with other players in chaotic dogfights is more than worth it, and its VR support makes hopping into the cockpit of Star Wars fighters that much more enticing. Few games have managed to effectively capture the thrill and tension of Star Wars‘ space combat, but for the most part, Star Wars: Squadrons is in a whole other galaxy.