There are few fictional worlds as compelling as the one George Lucas created in the mid-70s, and over the following 43 years, Star Wars has become as much a religion and way of life as it is an entertainment behemoth. Despite that, its digital forays have often been met with criticism. EA’s tenure as keeper of the license might have been sparse, but it’s been more hit than miss, and after the enjoyable Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, fans will be hoping that Star Wars Squadrons can keep that (Kessel) run going.
Note: This review is an updated and scored version of our Review in Progress originally posted 1st October.
This fighter pilot sim set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, will have you flying some of the most iconic fictional craft of the modern era. Forget the Delorean from Back to the Future or the light-cycles from Tron, the idea that you could be flying an X-Wing or TIE Fighter from the comfort of your own home would make five-year-old me’s head spin.
The prologue to the game’s single player campaign takes place just after the destruction Alderaan is destroyed, introducing you to Imperial pilot Lindon Javes who, in somewhat expected fashion, doesn’t stay with the Empire for long, what with them being, you know, the bad guys. The main body of the story skips ahead four years to after the events of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, giving you dual perspectives from the eyes of your customisable characters, each from a different side of the conflict, set amongst the Republic’s first steps from beyond the Imperial cosh.
It certainly looks, feels and sounds like Star Wars, with some excellent voice-acting from the cast, even if there are a few sound-a-like moments that grate ever so slightly. There are points here that will have you punching the air in delight and it’s a genuine joy to be part of it, fulfilling all sorts of wish fulfilment. The only downside is that it runs a little on the short side, but it’s better to have kept up the quality rather than stretched things out with diminishing returns.
The game’s true longevity comes from its two multiplayer modes that you can take your X-Wings or TIE Fighters into. Dogfights are your standard, team-deathmatch-in-space type affair, placing two teams of five into a zero-gravity arena to duke it out. It takes some getting used to, as it’s not just about simply pointing an aiming reticule at a speck that’s zipping by. You also have to regulate your ship’s systems in the midst of combat if you’re going to have any chance of surviving.
Alongside all the lasering and missile firing, you can alter your craft’s power settings to help fit that moment’s needs. A simple tap of the different directions on the D-pad will shift the power to your shields, your lasers or your thrusters, giving you protection when you’re under fire or helping you to get out of trouble if you’ve strayed too close to something big and dangerous. Fans of the classic Star Wars flight combat games like TIE Fighter and X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter featured a similar dynamic with altering your shield deflectors and it’s as integral here as it was then, adding a tactical layer beyond your pure dogfighting reactions.
Fleet Battles expand the scope from the standard Dogfights, touted as a game of tug of war with capital ships. Built on the fundamentals from Dogfights, Fleet Battles is a multi-stage, objective based mode, with the aim being to ultimately take down the opposition’s flagship. They pull in a variety of objectives that ramp up as you head towards victory, starting with the enemy’s fighters, before moving onto their frigates and finally their capital ship. It’s similar to Star Wars Battlefront II’s Starfighter Assault mode, but with a push and pull between sides instead of one side always being on the attack or defence.
Destroying enemy ships increases your fleet’s morale, with that sliding scale sitting at the top of the screen, indicating whether the battle is swinging in your favour or not. With Morale completely behind you you’re able to confidently go on the offensive, blasting their flagship out of the sky. If you’re on the back foot you’ll spend your time frantically trying to stop fighters from getting to your larger vessels. The mode is fleshed out by AI fighters so they do still feel like large scale encounters, though it’s a shame it couldn’t all be populated with huge numbers of players instead – Battlefront II’s Starfighter Assault featured 12v12 battles alongside AI ships, for comparison.
Star Wars Squadron releases with full cross-play across every platform and control setup. So you can play on PSVR with a HOTAS against a PC player with a keyboard and mouse, or fully engage in the battle against the dark side by playing Xbox vs PS4 – which side is which is up to you. I personally found the standard controller play to be engaging and accurate, while playing with both Thrustmaster’s epic Warthog and their T16000 Space Sim Duo upped the immersion immensely; to the point where I felt like I was one with the Force.
In a game all about starfighter combat, it’s reassuring that it’s fast, fun and empowering. When you’re nipping through the debris of a rotting space hulk, or narrowly avoiding meteors with an opponent on your tail, Star Wars Squadrons makes you feel like the most incredible pilot that ever lived. Forget Wedge Antilles, Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader, you are the best starfighter in outer space… until someone blows you up, of course. Each faction has a choice of four different craft, from the speedier A-Wing to the slower TIE Bomber, and you can customise their performance to find something truly unique to you.
There’s two earned currencies that you receive from taking part in multiplayer battles, though you don’t necessarily need to be playing against other human beings. As long as you’re online you can continue to earn experience from playing against the AI, though there’s a daily limit to how much currency you can acquire in this way.
Requisitions are used to unlock starfighter components, letting you alter the way your craft handles or performs in battle, while Glory lets you customise the look of your starfighter, cockpit and pilot. You can earn extra glory as well for completing daily challenges, giving you a reason to hop back in every day, though it has to be said that the cosmetic differences here feel a little inconsequential when only you can see them.
There’s also a good range of unlockable components so you can find a setup that works for you. Each has a benefit and a downside to balance against it, and while it’s too early to identify a setup that trounces all the others, it feels like the options give you a decent chance of competing, and of finding something that suits your playstyle.
You can tinker with the hull, the shields, your engine and your weaponry loadout, and once you’ve unlocked a component for a faction you can use it across all of your ships. I opted to greatly up my acceleration and manoeuvrability, add in an emergency shield, and swap my lasers out for something with more power but a slower rate of fire. There’s plenty of alternative’s if you fancy being a slower tank, or making it virtually impossible to track you.
Star Wars Squadrons’ greatest success is that its multiplayer modes are competitive and often heart-pounding fun. There’s plenty of opportunity for last minute comebacks or for miraculously evading death by swooping through a space station or past debris. To do that while fulfilling every Star Wars fan’s greatest non-lightsabre desires is a remarkable feat.
The only niggling problem is that there can be times, especially after a death, where you’re thrust out of the action and it takes a little too long to get back into it. It’s not too far removed from Battlefront in that way, but when the dogfighting action is so good, these moments of downtime feel even more pronounced.