STAR WARS – SQUADRONS [Review]: Dark Side Of The Moon.

“Saint” Patrick Obloy

As you can guess this won’t just be a regular review. No, this isn’t a quick write up after a few days of hardcore gameplay. Many places have provided those instant impressions of Star Wars: Squadrons, offering up their opinion of the game during those initial “honeymoon” moments of a brand new experience. Instead, we’re here three weeks after release to see how things were, are and what we hope they become…

Let me get two things out of the way: 1) I’m a Star Wars nerd, and 2) I love a good space/flight sim title. So — yes — this game was on my radar the moment it was announced. Having played and enjoyed Elite Dangerous, I was extra excited to learn they were putting extra effort into Squadrons beyond the usual arcade flyer. Preordered and preloaded, I was ready to go on October 1st, just counting down the hours until the game went live at 9pm PST that night. My set-up includes a VR headset and HOTAS controller – that’s Hands On Throttle And Stick, which is a more accurate and proper way to experience a flight simulator.

For those looking for specifics I use a Vive Pro headset with Logitech X56 controller system. Now this isn’t required, but is a great way to experience any title like this. Upon launch, I had my Twitch channel online and was loading up the game. Loaded up the title and began configuring the controls and graphical settings, I ran into a little bug that others were already experiencing and looking for workarounds.

With HOTAS controllers such as mine, where the joystick and throttle controllers are separate USB devices, people found they had to unplug the throttle controller so that they could configure certain parts on the joystick controller. For me that was the twisting action that I was reconfiguring as the yaw control. One bug down, hurray! I was now on my way to configure my character for the Imperial and Rebel sides. That’s right– you get to configure each side separately, including the name.

At this point I switched over to VR (a simple toggle in the options menu, nice!) and continued through the tutorial and the first mission, except now we’ve reach bug number two. That’s right– I ran into another issue. This one occured during a scripted chase moment where you’re ship is rendered inactive and requires mashing the controller buttons to restart the systems. However, rather than bringing my ship back to life, the moment only brought out frustration, as the game basically locked up and had to be restarted. The second time through I was able to reactive the ship and continue on, but that was definitely not a great first experience.

I’mmmm in trouble.

Since then I have put in several hours in both the story and the multiplayer experience, including both the 5v5 Dog Fight and Fleet Battle modes. The story isn’t amazing or anything that will leave a major lasting impression, but it’s a great addition to the game and does help provide experience before dropping out of the launch bay and out into online battles against other live players. While enjoyable well enough, here’s to hoping they expand on it in the future.

The multiplayer is the heart of this game, and its obvious this was the case from the beginning and just from the initial screen. You are presented with an option at the bottom to start or continue the story mission, but everything else points to multiplayer. From the multiplayer game mode button, to the challenges and profile views, and even the Hangar area where you can customize your pilot and the loadouts for each ship including different liveries and color schemes, Motive and EA knew this would be the main draw to this title.

They weren’t wrong; it’s fun as heck to hop in with a few friends or even solo, zipping through the structure of a starbase or drifting around an asteroid field to manuever your way into position to take down an enemy craft. It’s quite a thrill and brings me back each time. There are a few aspects that make the battles less than fun. People have learned a few tactics that work well, albeit a bit shady. Some have used ramming as a tactic to knock you out of aim of their teammates, which while useful it’s also annoying and should leave to instant destruction.

Another frustrating moment in MP: when you have someone in your sights, only for them to pull up to try to get behind you, leading to you both just going in circles until one of you either gives up or is shot down by another ship. That one happens more often than I’d like to admit, and for me that takes the fun out of the game. There are definitely ways to combat it such as the various ship upgrades that you can equip. While they do require earning points to unlock, none of them give a major advantage, and earning points is rather quick.

For situations of getting caught in the circle chase, you can equip a bomb drop that falls behind the ship and will move towards closeby ships and explode. That should deter a few combatants from continuing those manuevers, and for the ones it doesn’t, you end up with some quick kills. It’s not terribly hard to avoid them, and a good loadout will change how you approach those situations. Fleet Battles are the same way, except that you quickly learn to configure not just the quick fliers like the A-Wing or Tie Interceptor, but also the support ships such as the Y-Wing and Tie Bomber. This mode requires more strategy as you need to first focus on taking out the smaller fleet before you can plan the attack on the main battleship and reach for victory.

A good strategy is to set up an A-Wing/Tie Interceptor that can zip around to take down the small attack fighters, and then when the moment presents itself switch to a Y-Wing/Tie Bomber that is prepared to take a beating and dish out powerful long range attacks. You’re left unable to attack any fighters that come at you, but the shields hold up well enough to unload a barrage onto the fleet ships and take them out quicker– while teammates will help pick off the fighters. In this way, Fleet Battles is a great mode for the tactical-minded player that want not only dogfighting but also a target or mission to complete for the win.

Almost time to clock out.

Squadrons also quite stunning to see in action. Not only in the graphical department, but also in audio and controls. First and foremost you will notice the details put into each ship. The only view you have is from the cockpit, and the dev team worked with Lucasfilm to recreate them as they intended and were scene in the movies. And the view is so great that you don’t need the usual on-screen UI, and instead can just rely on the actual guages and displays on the in-game cockpit. It really leads to an immersive experience.

Speaking of the controls, EA/Motive went the extra mile to go beyond the usual steering and throttle, with pew pew guns, and gave us a more complex setup to work with. Now players can also balance between the power of the engines, weapons and shields, or route the power to either of the three to suite your needs in the moment. Need a quick getaway? Maximize power to the engines, kick in the boost, and drift a corner. Heavy fire from behind? Maximize power to the shields and can even focus it on the rear of the ship. And as I said earlier with my control setup, a HOTAS makes for a great way to handle all of this with the extra buttons and toggles.

If you are fortunate to be playing on a PC or PS4, there is always the option for VR as well. And let me tell you, this is the final piece of the puzzle for an amazing experience. Once you strap on that headset and head out into battle, you really get a feel like you’re in the actual cockpit. Being able to look around and track a ship as it flies over head is a great feeling. You’ll never want to go back to a regular flat screen.

As said, we are looking at the third week since the launch of the title. The wedding is done, honeymoon is over, and we’re back home unpacking the bags looking back at the memories of those first moments together. Does the game still hold up or has the fun faded? For me it has faded a little bit, but once I load up the game and begin racing around the debris field of a battered starship, the excitement returns. The fade mostly comes from the repetitive nature of the game with no future plans to expand things.

This Ride Share might be a little bumpy.

EA/Motive have already said that they did not plan to do any further work or additions, that they did not plan it to be a game-as-service title. This left fans a bit disheartened, as we have been given such a fun experience with obvious ability to keep adding new features and maps, only to be told that was all there would be. But if the rallies of Battlefront 2 and other titles can tell us anything, the fanbase can be quite convincing. Since that announcement there have been posts requesting for more content and discussions about how to go about this process; how to add more and still keep it balanced for all. Many are ready and willing to pay extra if needed to keep things going.

While many don’t like microtransactions, I don’t think it would hurt for some things such as vanity items that affect the gameplay or lock people behind a paywall. Actor and gamer Sam Witwer even made a tweet professing his gratitude for the title and a request to further expand the content. So we shall hold out hope that EA/Motive give it a chance and maybe enter into talks with the fans to find a solution to provide more and make it worthwhile for the studio. In the end Star Wars: Squadrons is still a fun title for only $40, providing a solid space fighting sim, wrapped in the theme of Star Wars. You can still find people discussing tactics on Reddit, and organizing tournaments in a discord group. I for one am glad I made the purchase and hope to see more. 4-4.25/5 TIE Fighters.

Patrick Obloy

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