Star Wars Squadrons on PS4
Speeding through the vast emptiness of some distant galaxy far, far away, tracking a troublesome TIE Fighter as the New Republic defend a prized possession, I glance around my X-wing’s HUD. Different instruments are illuminating on my dashboard, casting green, blue and red hues across the cold metal structure of the ship. A crack in the windscreen obscures my view, but unfazed, I lock on to the TIE Fighter’s helpless wailing body, and let the missile go. It bursts into a ball of flames tumbling into a nearby asteroid field.
Star Wars Squadrons is the most immersive Star Wars space combat experience there is. It made moments like the one described above make a kill –what would normally be an insignificant notch on my belt– these overwhelmingly satisfying, epic examples of my aerial prowess. It’s a continuation of the great form EA struck with the Star Wars license since the The Last Jedi last year, and my chief complaint is I wish there was more of it.
While Squadrons has been predominantly seen as a multiplayer-centric experience, there is a campaign packed in to boot and it’s a far more polished experience than I expected, especially given the $40 price tag.
The campaign follows the story of two new pilots. One serving in the New Republic’s Vanguard Squadron, and another in the Galactic Empire’s Titan Squadron. The story takes place near the conclusion of the Galactic War and frequently switches between these two perspectives throughout its roughly eight-hour duration, allowing players see how the Empire reacts to the leaked plans of the New Republic… or how they’ve fallen for a trap. Cue Admiral Ackbar! Speaking of Ackbar, yes there are a number of cameos from familiar Star Wars characters including Wedge Antilles, and Hera Syndulla as an additional treat for die-hard Star Wars fans.
The rest of the ensemble cast of character is believable, and outside of the general chatter on comms, you can speak to them in the hangar or briefing room of each faction’s respective flagship to get to know them a little better. I wasn’t all that interested in listening to everything my fellow squadmates had to say, but the hardcore Star Wars fans will certainly lap up this opportunity for more lore and background. The Hangar is where you’ll also be able to change ship and tweak your loadout’s before hopping into each mission.
For the most part, the 16 missions you play through in the campaign offer enough variation in their scenarios, additional objectives, and starfighters that you’re required to use to ensure it never gets too stale. I did feel mission objectives got a little repetitive during the middle section, but thanks to some epic final missions they weren’t a big enough issue to detract from the overall experience.
A lot of this gameplay variation comes from the different starfighter types. X-wings and TIE Fighters are your all-rounder fighters, capable of dealing damage to other starfighters as well as larger, Capital Ships. The TIE Bomber and Y-Wing are your bombers which specialize in immobilizing and eliminating larger ships in the opposing forces. Your A-Wing and TIE Interceptors are the perfect counters to enemy starfighters, and finally the TIE Reaper and U-Wing are your support ships, capable of buffing and healing teammates, and disrupting enemy starfighters.
Each of these different crafts feels distinctly different, and you’ll get the chance to pilot each and every one of the eight craft during the 16 campaign missions. You can customize the weapons, left and right auxiliaries, hulls, engines and shields, each affecting the ship’s firepower, speed, and toughness stats, as well as making them more or less effective against specific starfighters. This all comes together to make for an epic rock-paper-scissors-style affair in space. I found myself frequently shifting between the starfighters available to me mid-level towards the end in order to exploit weaknesses in the enemy forces.
What remains the same regardless of which starfighter you’re using is how satisfying they are to handle and gun down enemy vessels in. Drifting became a signature move for me, as I boosted through space at incredible speeds before performing a flash 180 while gunning enemies down as I delicately glided through the cosmos.
Utilizing your ship’s ability to divert power is also crucial to mastering how to pilot a starfighter. By default, your ship’s power will be balanced across your Engines, Weapons, and –where applicable (most of the Empire’s craft don’t have them)– Shields. But at any point, you can divert power to prioritize one over the others.
By diverting power to your engines, you’ll increase your speed and agility, and charge your speed boost ability when maxed out. Diverting power to your weapons increases the recharge speed of your blasters and creates a powerful overcharge when maxed out, while diverting power to shields increases their recharge rate and creates a damage-soaking overshield when maxed out.
Of course, by pouring all of your power into one of these, you’re leaving the other two significantly weaker. Careful power management becomes imperative to survival and success in the campaign, and key to dominating the cosmos in the multiplayer. You’ll also need to take into account the perfect throttle level for making sharp, erratic turns to avoid being hit by enemy missiles that have locked onto you. You can use countermeasures, but these are limited and must be recharged by a resupply.
To help you pinpoint specific objective targets, flagship subsystems or just rotate you through enemy starfighters, there’s a targeting wheel system than can be accessed by holding down L2/ LT. It felt a little cumbersome to use initially, given that you’ve got to use the left analog stick to select what you want the target system to focus on, but once you get used to how controlling your ship works, this becomes a lot easier, and incredibly handy. Particularly so in the multiplayer.
I initially thought that Star Wars Squadrons’ single-player campaign was simply there to prep you for the multiplayer, and to an extent it is. But it’s not as barebones as I expected and I came away thoroughly impressed and itching to dive into the multiplayer.
There are two modes that make up Star Wars Squadrons’ multiplayer –Dogfight and Fleet Battle. The first is a simple 5v5 dogfight. You’ll need to use the various ships at your disposal and communicate with teammates to tactically defeat your opponents and get the most kills before time runs out.
What can I say about it? It’s great because of how satisfying and enjoyable simply flying around, gunning down starfighters is. The servers seemed to hold up okay, but this was prior to the public getting access, so take that with a pinch of salt. Dogfight definitely feels like the secondary multiplayer mode, though, with Fleet Battles taking the forefront.
Fleet Battles are a multi-stage, objective-based mode similar to Battlefront’s Conquest mode. Players first duke it out in a traditional 5v5 skirmish (AI starfighters also accompany the five players on each side) in an effort to gain the first morale boost. Get the most kills and you’ll need to attack two enemy Capital Ships. These require a lot more damage to sink and have shields you’ll need to take down before you can start dealing hull damage. Destroy those, and you need to take down the enemy flagship.
It’s a simple premise, but the level of complexity, coordination and communication required between you and your teammates increases with each objective you complete. By the time you reach the Capital Ships, you’ll want to start utilizing ION weapons that deal huge damage to their shields, and immobilize the ship completely. But you’ll also want Interceptors to keep enemy starfighters off your Bomber’s and Support ships.
All of this comes to boiling point in the final, flagship stage of Fleet Battles. These assaults are multi-phased and require you use different starfighters and components to disable different subsystems. Disabling these subsystems –Shield Generators, System Power and Targeting Systems– in the correct order, with the correct vehicles can lead to devastating results. Using an interceptor to destroy turrets makes it safer for your bombers to disable the shields, which then allows your fighters to come in and destroy the shield generators.
What can be a very dull, enormous bullet sponge becomes this complex puzzle that players must decipher. Who can outwit the other with their choice of starfighters and components? Finally defeating a flagship feels rewarding on its own, and that’s before we’ve even got to the progression and rewards systems in play.
You’d be forgiven for being a little skeptical about Star Wars Squadrons’ multiplayer progression system prior to launch, given the state of Battlefront II’s at launch. Thankfully, EA have clearly learned from the past and not repeated the same mistakes. There are no microtransactions in Star Wars Squadrons. Instead, everything from pilot and ship cosmetic customization options, to starfighter components to upgrade or tweak your ship’s stats, weaponry, or auxiliary abilities is purchased with Glory and Requisition respectively.
Both of these are earned by leveling up, but additional Glory can be earned by completing Daily Challenges. Cosmetics aren’t outrageously priced, with rarity deciding whether they fall into the 400 (rare), 800 (epic), or 1200 (legendary) price points. Considering you earn 100 Glory per completed Daily Mission and a good chunk from leveling up, this doesn’t feel anywhere near the unfathomable grind that fans were initially presented with in Battlefront II.
By the time you reach level 40, you’ll have enough Requisition to unlock every starfighter component for each faction, and you’ll probably have enough Glory to get most of the cosmetics, too. Finally, there are Operations, Star Wars Squadrons’ equivalent of Seasons. Improve your Fleet Rank (based on your skill level) to earn huge additional amounts of Glory. Operations last for eight weeks and also have their own, tougher challenges which offer up additional rare cosmetic items that cannot be obtained any other way.
All of this culminates in a progression system that’s always offering you something new and exciting, without feeling so out of reach that you’re put off from even attempting the grind. XP is earned from doing pretty much everything in a multiplayer match and so comes naturally, propelling you up the levels at a rate that actively encourages you unlock and customize your ships. This, in turn, keeps you playing, kickstarting the loop all over again.
Star Wars Squadrons is the most immersive and authentic Star Wars combat experience I’ve played. That immersion is increased 10-fold when you pop on a VR headset. The entire campaign and multiplayer can all be experienced in VR, and it honestly may be my favorite way to play the game. Even in online multiplayer skirmishes, I didn’t feel like I was at any disadvantage. Plus, you feel like you’re strapping on your helmet before hopping into the cockpit when you whack your headset on, further adding to the feeling that you’re really fighting back against the Empire… or crushing the New Republic.
My only gripe when looking back at the time I’ve spent now is I wish there was more of it. In particular, on the multiplayer side.
With only two modes (one of which being very simple), six maps, and a handful of cosmetic choices for each ‘section’ per faction, I feel as though hardcore players could race up to level 40 and have everything unlocked in a matter of weeks.
This is a $40 game, but it’s also not a live game, according to EA. While additional cosmetics could be released, with the release of each new Operation, Creative Director Ian Frazier confirmed there was no new content planned for the game at this time. The price point makes this more forgiving for sure, but it’s so darn good you can’t help but want more of it.
If you enjoy aerial combat or Star Wars, then Squadrons is a no-brainer recommendation. It encapsulates everything that makes those epic dogfights from the movies so magical, and puts you right at the heart of it. From throwbacks to particularly iconic moments to the wailing scream of a TIE Fighter at speed, it’s all here and it all looks and feels fantastic.
Star Wars Squadrons gives you a decently-sized single-player campaign, an enjoyable albeit limited multiplayer and VR support for all modes on PS4 and PC, and all for $40. If only there were a few more maps and one or two game modes, this would have been near faultless.
- Great campaign with a typically ‘Star Wars’ storyline.
- Stunning visuals and authentic sound effects.
- Ship handling is great, easy to pick up and difficult to master.
- Fleet Battle is great fun whether you’re playing alone or with friends.
- Satisfying progression system.
- Campaign does get a little same-y towards the middle.
- More unlockable cosmetics to begin with would have been welcomed.
- Only two multiplayer modes.
Xbox One, PS4, PC
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