A Star Wars flying game? Now there’s a game I haven’t heard of in a long, long time. A long time. Some haven’t played such a game since, oh, before you were born – provided you were born in 1998 (the release year of Star Wars: Rogue Squadron).
Yes, for you space jockeys, Star Wars is back through EA and Motive Studios to provide an experience that puts you exclusively in cockpits in a variety of space battles. Star Wars: Squadrons is a budget title, checking in at $40, which adds another bit of throwback in terms of pricing on top of the general experience one you get by playing such a game.
What Is It?
Squadrons mixes things up between a single player story and its multiplayer. It’s an odd balance because while the game is clearly a multiplayer focused one, it squeezes in framing that tries to prioritize playing the story before hopping into multiplayer. I took it as it’s more than experience; it would include spoilers. Not really.
Story-wise, most things hinge on an Imperial Navy Captain, Lindon James, defecting to the Rebellion shortly after the destruction of Alderaan. You play as two ace-level pilots for both factions just shortly after the destruction of Death Star II at Endor. The Imperial ace is part of Captain Terisa Kerill’s Titan Squadron and she hopes the pilot can help her gain retribution on her former mentor. Meanwhile, the New Republic ace is the new protégé of James’s Vanguard Squadron, tasked with protecting the Republic’s secret Starhawk project. You’ll jump back and forth between either side, often playing through Cause with one and Effect as the other.
Otherwise, it’s a straightforward multiplayer experience with dogfights and Fleet Battles. The former is your standard deathmatch, while the latter is a bigger group effect in which you try to gain an upper hand in order to take down the enemy’s flagship vessel.
Why Should I Care?
In some ways, the game is perfect. It’s a mix of a flight sim and arcade game that harkens back to the 90s games like TIE Fighter or X-Wing vs TIE Fighter but gives you refreshed graphics and online play. It’s a great way to connect with your friends in these pandemic times. But that only holds up so much, as once you look beyond the surface, it’s just a fine game that’s an advanced point-and-click with some flying.
Starting with the story, it’s just not overly exciting. You have yet another Imperial defector, seen in Battlefront II, but you aren’t playing as them. The motivations are almost exactly what we saw in Battlefront II, but with significantly less time dedicated to fleshing it out. You certainly get chances to talk “with” your teammates between missions, which is where the point-and-click comes into play. Talking with them is really just selecting the squadron member and listening to them talk before moving onto another briefing or mission. Personally, I didn’t connect too much to the fellow players on either side. They’re fine and very specifically a diverse group, but it didn’t do too much for me.
First, you don’t get to spend too much time with them. Second, you have to care about the type of attitudes they have. As someone who hasn’t fawned over too many Star Wars pilots, it just wasn’t something I cared too much about. And as far as diversion goes, it’s tricky. It’s very obvious, in that no main character is white. Instead, you have characters of color and aliens, which is great. Just because I didn’t connect with them doesn’t mean others can’t. But when Squadrons tries to take it further, we find problematic tropes or sheer laziness. There’s a non-binary character, but they are an alien. Here’s one source that outlines the problems with this dehumanization. There’s also a gay character, but there’s absolutely no impact on the story because of it, which makes it a lazy assignment to simple have something than nothing (arguably, the same could be said of the non-binary alien, because that element also has zero story impact).
Another problem I had with the story was the glorification of the Empire in the current times, specifically within the United States. For complete transparency, I’ve always been an Empire guy for my Star Wars fandom. Rae Sloane, included in this game’s story, is one of my absolute favorite characters. I have more Imperial Funko Pops than Rebel (but more Spider-Man than anything else). But Squadrons suffers from just absolutely horrible timing. It was hard to feel comfortable playing as an Imperial pilot with squadron members who express zero remorse for what they are doing, or being tasked to shoot down civilian vessels. The best example of this had to be with one character expressing that those in power are the ones that matter most and ultimately decide who lives and who dies. In the real world that I (and others in America) live in, it’s hard to separate fiction from reality. It’s just a gross feeling.
Stepping down from my soapbox, there’s the multiplayer. It’s fine. Matchmaking wasn’t quite a nightmare, but it wasn’t a dream either. My matches tended to be absolute slaughters, with widely different levels being matched together but sometimes with the balance completely out of whack. In one case, my level 2 was with those around my same level and a single 10+, while the other side had multiple 10+s. This would definitely need some work in order to maintain better order (ironic statement about order considering the anti-Imperial slander I talked about in just the prior paragraph? Too bad! This is my review). Elsewhere within my experiences, I felt like 75% of my matches were spent being targeted by missiles. Far, far too often. Too many matches went like this: start match, get targeted upon first encounter, die, spawn, get targeted within seconds, die, spawn, targeted within seconds, die.
And with this being a budget game, you really do just get two modes: dogfights (unranked) and Fleet Battles (ranked vs players, unranked vs AI). You can customize your pilots and ships, with the best news of this being microtransactions are out. In order to get custom options (weapons, paint jobs, interior decorations, etc), you need to build up currency through gameplay/experience. It’s a nice touch and can certainly have you go through plenty of matches to build out each ship or just your preferences.
I was also limited to basic controller experiences, so I can’t speak much to the VR or joystick experience, but those are also available to those who have the means/equipment. The regular experience can certainly be fine, but lots of mine was spent spinning (a good trick) and being constantly targeted. I did find Fleet Battles to be a more well-rounded and fun experience due to the slight uptick in variety.
What Makes It Worth My Time and Money?
I’d call this a niche game, so if you fall into the space jockey fanbase who loved the 90s games and couldn’t get into the experiences delivered in Battlefront II, this is absolutely your game. It’s a straight-foward flying experience that delivers enough of a simulation experience mixed with the arcade feel, all with updated graphics and the ability to play online with your friends. Can’t ask for much more out of your $40.
But if you aren’t the biggest pilot fan, it’s fine. The story gets by and the multiplayer leaves things to be desired. You can only expect so much within a budget game, so you really have to love going through the same experiences over and over again. I wouldn’t totally take the risk unless you fall into the former category and just really want to relive those nostalgic experiences.
So much of this is going to depend on how much you’ve ever loved flying in general, but more specifically, the aurora of pilots within Star Wars. If you’re one who grew up loving TIE Fighter, X-Wing vs TIE Fighter, or even reading novels, it’s absolutely going to be worth the $40 budget price. There aren’t many frills. There’s never a non-flying segment just to change things up. It’s straight up flying with your friends. Especially good if you haven’t quite liked the flying experiences of games such as Battlefront II.
But if you’re not at that level, you’re running a major boredom risk. That was more the case for me, personally, but I’ve never been the biggest fan of flying experiences. Star Wars: Squadrons certainly has some value and has its moments, but it’s definitely a game geared towards the space jockey types.