What’s Good About: Star Wars Squadrons
So…EA seems to have largely figured out how to make decent to good Star Wars games, huh? All kidding aside; I think it’s both cool and interesting that after managing to turn around Star Wars Battlefront 2, they release Jedi: Fallen Order: an incredibly well made single-player Star Wars game with no microtransactions that pulled from a lot of different gameplay styles and became a whole greater than the fun of its parts like the original Star Wars was (it being made by Respawn Entertainment helped). And now the studio behind the single-player campaign of Battlefront 2 (which I never played, but heard good things about) has made a full-on space combat game reminiscent of the older X-Wing games. And as someone who never played those back in the day, I can tell you that it’s probably one of the most interesting and unique gaming experiences in years.
For starters, there’s a fully voice-acted, cinematic story in here that’s pretty decent. It takes place in the months following the end of Return of the Jedi and follows the perspectives of both the New Republic’s Vanguard Squadron and the Empire’s Titan Squadron. Both groups are the main combatants in a conflict revolving around Project Starhawk: a New Republic weapons project that I’m not getting into for spoiler reasons. But part of what makes the story work is the characters; both squads are made up of individuals who are doing everything they can to ensure victory for their faction, with motivations ranging from patriotism, to altruism, to even just straight-up survival. Frisk, Vanguard’s Trandoshan pilot is my favorite because he’s only with the squad because of gaining an imperial death mark for selling an obviously fake Painting to an Imperial Governor, who then sold said painting to Admiral Thrawn.
Of the two, Titan Squadron sticks out to me more because the writing makes them compelling without glossing over the fact that they, like the rest of the Imperial Military, are the enforcers of a fascist state. Particularly one in the midst of a power struggle following the death of its head of state. Shen, Titan’s Darth Vader Expy (a scarred and cybernetic ace pilot that keeps the helmet on at all times) stands out for his own personal belief of survival as a form of revenge against the enemy. It’s not a healthy way of looking at things, but it is interesting.
Which is a good thing considering that you spend the majority of the time in the single-player story shooting down TIE ships compared to piloting them. At the end of the day, Vanguard Squadron is the star of the show and it’s a fun one while it goes on. But that’s enough for the narrative, now it’s time to talk about the other main reason this game is good: the gameplay. Star Wars Squadrons is a space combat game that does its damnedest to fully replicate what flight in a space fighter in Star Wars is like, and on that front, I’d say that, while not being Microsoft Flight Simulator in space, it’s a rousing success. My experience with games of this kind begins and end with Star Fox 64, which is more of an arcade-y rail shooter, but I’m getting ahead of myself. The main thrust of the gameplay is piloting the various fighter ships from the series. From the iconic X-Wing and TIE Fighter to the more out there ships like the U-Wing and TIE Reaper support ships, each faction has five ship types they can choose from to fit certain playstyles depending on what story mission you’re doing, what your playstyle is, or what your team needs in multiplayer.
Even with the differing styles and customization offered in loadouts for your ship, they are all balanced around power and resource management. What I mean when I say this is that you have to manage your engines, weapons, and shielding and divert power to whichever is needed most accordingly; exceptions being all of the TIE ships that aren’t their Support ship due to not having shields, but can take more damage overall to compensate. Another layer to this is being able to focus power on engines and weapons to maximize speed or weapon strength. You can also control your speed to make it easier to perform evasive measures on top of countermeasures to better defend yourself from homing missles and the like. It all took some getting used to, but by the time I got the hang of it, I was starting to be a real flyboy. I played on PC with Mouse and Keyboard controls but I can see how the game would benefit greatly from Flight Stick controls. Plus it has full VR support right out of the box on PS4 and PC, so if you’re into that sort of thing, go for it.
And this isn’t even getting into the multiplayer, which has both 5v5 dog fights between Vanguard and Titan Squadrons and bigger Fleet Battles that focus on disabling the enemy capital ship. It’s chaotic and fun, but I don’t play much of it because I’m REALLY bad at it.
Overall, Star Wars Squadrons is probably some of the most fun I’ve had with a video game in 2020, and considering that this is a year with both DOOM Eternal and Hades in it, is saying a lot. Suit up, get into your fighter and get ready for some action pilot, Just don’t get cocky or else the enemy ace will give you a hell of a time.
(All images found through Google Image Search because, shockingly, there’s no easily available PressKit for this online)