Star Wars: Squadrons isn’t the first game to let you jump into the cockpit of some of the franchise’s most iconic ships, but never before has it been so immersive.
Available for somewhat of a budget price, Star Wars: Squadrons lets you take on the mantle of being an Ace pilot for both the New Republic and the Empire. In its single-player campaign you’ll be following a story that takes place after the events of Return of the Jedi, alternating between the two factions. In multiplayer, you’ll be engaging in epic space battles against real human opponents, levelling up and customising both your custom-made pilot and their ships.
Star Wars: Squadrons pretty much throws you into its story campaign from the outset. It makes sense really, as even once you’ve completed the two prologue missions that acquaint you with both your New Republic and Empire pilots, you’re still learning the ropes. You’d be wrong to dismiss the campaign as just an extended tutorial for the game’s online offerings, however, as it’s ultimately more than that. After a flaky start, it impresses with an engaging story and some truly challenging space battles.
Each mission is prefaced with a briefing, and after you can talk with your fellow pilots if you wish, or make a beeline for your ship to begin the mission. Initially your loadout is chosen for you, but you’re quickly allowed to customise it, with some missions even giving you a choice of ship. For the most part though, each subsequent mission is designed to challenge you in a new way, eventually giving you a rounded knowledge of each ships’ strengths and weaknesses, as well as the unique weapons and functions available to them.
You’ll find yourself engaging in dogfights, defending transports, and even putting Star Destroyers out of action. But thanks to the varied ships and loadouts, it never feels repetitive. It helps that the scenery is so breathtaking. As ever in the world of Star Wars, each location you visit, and ultimately do battle in, has its own character. When you’re not gawping at your intricately-detailed cockpit, or the other ships flying around you, there are moons, planets and swirls of coloured gas providing epic backdrops, as well as asteroids and the debris of previous battles.
The action itself is your typical space shooter affair, but it’s put together so well that any lack of true innovation doesn’t matter all that much. You fly, you shoot, you outmanoeuvre your enemy; rinse and repeat until each mission is finished. Star Wars: Squadrons is truly challenging though, forcing you to act fast and constantly shift your ship’s energy to either agility, firepower or shields depending on the situation. Fail to do so, and you’re likely to find your ship being shot to bits unless you have a handy repair droid to keep patching you up.
At the end of each mission you’re awarded badges based on your performance. As such, those wishing to fully complete the game are likely to find themselves returning to missions to master them. Some may even crank the difficulty up for a heightened challenge. Your first playthrough of Star Wars: Squadrons‘ campaign may only take about eight hours, but there are reasons to return. It’s just a shame that all that talking in between missions is nothing but hot air. It would have been nice if you could develop your relationships with fellow pilots, for example, making them cover your back more often when out in missions or being more receptive to your commands.
Once you’re done with the campaign, or simply want some more challenging opposition, there’s online multiplayer to get stuck into. Star Wars: Squadrons has two match types: Dogfight and Fleet Battles. Dogfight is team deathmatch, basically, with two teams of five pilots vying for space domination. The first team to thirty kills wins, unless time runs out first. It’s basic but it’s exhilarating, with the game’s mechanics providing as much depth as they do thrills and spills. If you’re a Star Wars fan or simply enjoy aerial combat, there’s nothing to dislike about it.
Next up is Fleet Battles, which can be played against human adversaries or against the AI. You can even do solo Fleet Battles if you wish, with computer-controlled pilots backing you up. This is like an epic tug of war, with the ultimate aim of taking down your opponent’s flagship. To be able to strike at it, however, you first need to gain the upper hand by taking down enemy fighters and then the two capital ships doggedly defending it. If the enemy takes down many of your fighters while doing this, the battle swings the other way, with you then being put on the defensive. It leads to a lot of unpredictability, though if both teams are evenly matched, it can also result in matches that feel somewhat drawn out.
All of your endeavours in Star Wars: Squadrons‘ multiplayer modes award you experience; gain enough experience and you rank up. Fleet Battles against human opponents, in fact, are locked out until you reach Rank 5. There are also a couple of currencies, too. Any requisition points that you earn can be used to unlock additional loadout options for your ships. Glory, on the other hand, is used to unlock cosmetic customisation options for both your ships and your custom made pilot. And don’t worry, there are no microtransactions in sight.
Playing on Xbox One X for review, it’s obvious that Star Wars: Squadrons was made with VR in mind. Alas, VR isn’t available on Xbox One, so the game is perhaps a more enticing deal on PS4 or PC. Being designed for VR doesn’t make the game redundant on Xbox One though – as space shooters go, it’s still up there with the best of them. In fact, it has a benefit; it means that everything is silky smooth, from your chin-wagging sessions with friends in the hangar, to the explosive escapades when actually out on a mission.
So, Star Wars: Squadrons is yet another sign that EA can do good – actually, scratch that – great things with the Star Wars licence. It’s not the biggest game in the world but its price reflects that. And besides, with a core so strong, it doesn’t really matter. Once you’re done with Star Wars: Squadrons‘ truly enjoyable single-player campaign, there’s tens of hours of fun to be had in multiplayer if you’ve ever wanted to jump into the cockpit of a Y-Wing, A-Wing, TIE Interceptor and more.