Star Wars: Squadrons review - It's not a trap

Delivering casual starfighter combat at a casual price, EA's latest Star Wars title is surprising in its simplicity.

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A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Disney cut George Lucas a fat check for the rights to milk the Star Wars cow in perpetuity. Following more fat check exchanges, EA became the predominant supplier of Star Wars video games to the masses. After an uneven string of massive tie-in games with massive budgets, EA is back with a mid-sized space combat game by the name of Star Wars: Squadrons. By simply sticking with a tight focus on starfighter combat and seemingly eschewing the typical EA formula of attempting to be all things to all players and relentlessly assaulting buyers with microtransactions, Squadrons comes off as a refreshing change of pace.

Why can’t we be friends?

I’m not exactly a professor of Star Wars history and, to be honest, I couldn’t accurately describe any of the story arcs presented across the movies, but I am pretty sure that the Rebel Alliance has been at war with the Galactic Empire since the dawn of time. Oddly enough, the opposing ideologies are also at each other’s throats in Star Wars: Squadrons. Light on force chokes and sucking blue milk directly from the source, Squadrons adds its bit of lore to the overall Star Wars saga by way of dogfights in space.

The narrative presented in Squadrons is spread over more than a dozen missions and gives players the opportunity to experience the featured altercations from the perspective of the Imperial forces and New Republic forces. It is a fairly clever way to get more mileage out of the mission environments and gives Star Wars fans the chance to blast away with 4 unique ship classes. These include starfighters, bombers, interceptors, and support craft. Each class has a New Republic and Empire variant. In the case of starfighters, you get the ever-popular X-wings and TIE fighters. The space crafts can also have their payloads customized prior to most missions and in all competitive modes.

The story itself is typical of the fare found in most Star Wars games that weren’t aiming to relive the events in the movies. While you will spot some old favorites, the primary players are new to Squadrons. In the name of avoiding spoilers, I’ll abstain from any campaign story specifics, but I’d wager that most Star Wars fans who crave any tales from this universe will be more than satisfied with Squadrons and things are not so bland as to turn off folks who are only here for the pew-pew. I didn’t really buy into the story in the same way I did when I spent many summers of my youth with Kyle Katarn, but it in no way lessened the ride for me.

Around halfway through the story campaign, players will have unlocked and learned all the core mechanics needed to succeed in the multiplayer modes which are the true meat and potatoes of Squadrons. 5v5 dogfights are available for online play and serve as your basic starfighter team deathmatches. The showcase mode for Squadrons the Fleet Battle. It retains the same 5v5 team construction and builds out the experience with objective-based gameplay. 

In what amounts to a space tug of war, the dueling squadrons will attempt to blast each other in order to gain a momentary opportunity to push the tide of battle in their favor with the ultimate goal of wrecking the opposing team’s flagship. Once a team wins the opening skirmish, the battle turns toward eliminating capital ships. Should a team dismantle these ships without getting wiped, the encounter moves onto the flagship. Certain ship classes excel at certain tasks within Fleet Battles and players are able to swap ships and loadouts as needed.

At its best, the mode is comparable to large battles from the movies, though things may seem less grandiose and pleasing if your squadron is being railroaded. There are several environments to play out these battles, but they only really act as a background painting. Both Dogfight and Fleet Battle modes are also available to play against AI-controlled opposition. Sadly, private online matches or any other way to play against your friends does not seem to be possible as the game pushes all players to matchmaking for online play.

On the audiovisual side of things, Squadrons is about what you’d expect. The solid sound presentation that seems to come with all Star Wars games is here and accounted for. Graphically, things can be hit and miss, but it’s hard to complain for the price. Some of the real-time cutscenes with characters look fantastic to the point that they make the pre-rendered segments look out of place, but the gameplay can often look dated. The ship interiors are the star of the show when you are actually playing, particularly the patina seen in the X-wing cockpits. VR is supported by Squadrons and will likely be the most immersive way to play as the cockpit seat view offers all the best parts of VR with almost none of the drawbacks. Losers still stuck with TV screens and monitors can at least take solace in the solid HDR implementation that VR players will miss out on.

Operating the various ships worked well during my playtime with an Xbox One S gamepad. Throttle control, energy management, and target acquisition became second nature within the first few missions and the options menu is extensive enough to allow players to tailor the controls to fit their liking. Those who own HOTAS setups will likely get the premium experience as you can’t truly feel like Jek Porkins without a joystick. Such setups will have to be manually configured, though Squadrons promises support for the most popular HOTAS kits on the market. Those with an affinity for getting dressed up will enjoy the decent amount of cosmetic options and items available to unlock with your rewards from Fleet Battles.

Torpedoing the exhaust port

In recent times, I have lamented the dearth of AA video games. Fifteen or more years ago, games of this scope were ubiquitous and some of the best experiences you could have in gaming. Against its super-budget, monstrously ambitious peers, Star Wars: Squadrons manages to stand out by not trying to be larger than life. Simultaneously a franchise cash-in and love letter to the classic LucasArts PC space combat games of the 1990s, Squadrons sticks to its mission and comes out the other side of a warp-speed jump successfully. Pummeling a star destroyer against the Wild Berry Skittles-esque backdrop of Yavin Prime doesn’t require my undivided attention or multiple scans of my credit card. Seems like a fair deal to me. 8/10 burning embers of Alderaan

Contributing Tech Editor

Chris Jarrard likes playing games, crankin' tunes, and looking for fights on obscure online message boards. He understands that breakfast food is the only true food. Don't @ him.

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Pros
  • Tight focus
  • Solid sound design
  • Lack of microtransactions
  • Attractive price
  • VR and HOTAS support
Cons
  • Ho-hum story
  • Mixed graphical presentation
  • No private Fleet Battles
From The Chatty
  • reply
    October 1, 2020 5:00 AM

    Chris Jarrard posted a new article, Star Wars: Squadrons review - It's not a trap

    • reply
      October 1, 2020 5:05 AM

      Sadly, private online matches or any other way to play against your friends does not seem to be possible as the game pushes all players to matchmaking for online play.

      ouch. very ouch.

      • reply
        October 1, 2020 5:07 AM

        Only if you have friends. Looks like I dodged that bullet!

      • reply
        October 1, 2020 1:04 PM

        But you can group up with your friends on the same team right? For PVP and PVE?

      • reply
        October 1, 2020 2:09 PM

        what if i want to play co-op with my daughter? is that possible?

    • reply
      October 1, 2020 5:29 AM

      I AM EXCITE

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      October 1, 2020 7:17 AM

      How much of a single player campaign is there?

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        October 1, 2020 7:45 AM

        According to the article there's roughly a dozen missions.

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          October 1, 2020 1:36 PM

          Oh :(

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            October 1, 2020 2:03 PM

            The article does mention that you can play the 12 missions from the Rebellion or Imperial perspective, and thought that was a clever way toe extend gameplay.

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        October 1, 2020 12:47 PM

        It ain't so big or so long. The Fleet Battles are kind of the main attraction here.

        • reply
          October 1, 2020 1:56 PM

          does the campaign allow for coop / is there cooperative multiplayer other than 5v5?

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