Review: 'Star Wars: Squadrons' is a Top of the Line Video Game
Written by Edwin Francisco • Staff Reviewer
Ever wonder how it felt like piloting star fighters like the X-Wing, Y-Wing, TIE Fighters and more?
I have been a fan of Star Wars for as long as I can remember. When LucasArts (formerly known as Lucasfilm Games) released X-Wing for the PC in 1993, I was excited to get that feeling of piloting star fighters in the Star Wars universe. Now, Star Wars: Squadrons just came out this October 2020! 27 years since the original X-Wing, 21 years since the last X-Wing game (Alliance)! To tell you the truth, it was disappointing that they didn't release any game after Alliance. I suppose that's why the Motive Studios made Star Wars: Squadrons.
For the people who have played the Star Wars Battlefront Rogue One X-Wing VR Mission, released in 2016, it was a taste of what was to come. It feels like this was a proof of concept that it can be done using the Frostbite 3 Engine. This engine built games like Star Wars Battlefront 1 and 2, Need for Speed games, Battlefield 5 and more.
The game can be played on regular computer setup and in VR (Virtual Reality). Unfortunately, I don't have a VR (Virtual Reality) headset nor do I have a HOTAS (Hands On Throttle-and-Stick). So, my review will be based on most gaming computers and a traditional game controller. I am also able to play it with my keyboard and mouse.
My initial impressions were bad actually. I got the game through Epic Game Store, but I was surprised to see that it needed to login to EA Origin. It was a bit of a bummer since I really didn't like the EA Origin Launcher. But I did hope that this can work without the need for 2 launchers, but apparently, it does need the two. If I run the game on Epic, it will start up EA Orgin. If I start the game on EA Origin, it will also start up Epic Game Launcher. I didn't like how the intial installation turned out because I have to run two game launchers just to run one game. This is so different from Ubisoft, where I also got Watchdogs on Epic, but it immediately activated the game under Ubisoft, so I don't need the Epic Game Launcher to run the game.
At the start you are immediately told to setup two characters. One from the Galactic Empire and one from the Rebel Alliance. This gives you an idea already that you will be playing both sides. Designing the characters are not too deep. You only choose faces and voices. There's not much options that you can play around with. You'll be able to get more options though once you unlock them while playing multiplayer, but for the main game, the choices are very limited. You can't change any small detail; you are only allowed to choose a certain face. I do wish that they added more customization for this though. Technically, in the main story, you rarely see your character, so it's a tad insignificant, but when in multiplayer, this matters a lot. So, personally, I wish they added more facial features to this section.
The story sets you up sometime right after the destruction of Alderaan (during the events of the original Star Wars movie in 1977). You are a rookie and part of the Galactic Empire, the first mission is a simple identity check and see if there is anyone trying to flee from the planet Alderaan by identifying ships. What's interesting with this specific mission is that it really is a subtle call back to the original X-Wing, where the first mission was also trying to identify ships if there were any Imperial supplies. The first mission sets you up piloting a TIE Fighter. Without revealing much of the story, right after you finish your first mission, you are immediately jumped into the the Rebel Alliance using the other character that you have made earlier. This time, you are an X-Wing pilot trying to save people from the Galactic Empire. This tells you that you'll be jumping around from the Galactic Empire to the Rebel Alliance and vice versa. After the initial 2 missions. There will be a 4 year time jump, sometime after the Battle of Endor, at this point the Rebel Alliance changed their name to the New Republic. The game will focus a lot on the Empire's Titan Squadron and New Republic's Vanguard Squadron. but the story will pay particular attention to Lindon Javes (New Republic) and Teria Kerrill (Galactic Empire). The game will also introduce familiar characters if you are familiar with the Star Wars lore, and this makes it even more exciting.
I like this idea of jumping around one side to another, but I think it missed a lot of opportunities. Never in the game did it show that the two opposing squadrons fight each other even though it was kind of mentioned that they are against each other. It would have been also interesting to see how the overall story would be affected if one of the character dies in the game. In other words, the story overall is told in a fixed narrative, you generally have no influence in the game whatsoever. If you compare this to all previous X-Wing games, this is not so different. All X-Wing games focus on a fixed narrative.
I can't deny the fact that there is so much that can be done with games these days especially in story telling. Even if you look at the games like Wing Commander, a failed mission can result in a new mission trying to recover from the last one. I suppose this is a result of 2 different things though. One is, it's too expensive to work on a nonlinear storyline. Second, since the game is considered part of the Star Wars canon, it's just difficult to actually fit in a nonlinear story in the overall narrative. Even though this game is set in the Star Wars universe, and the Rebels talk about the Force, there really is no moment in the game where anyone used the Force. It just felt like you are just one regular pilot in this universe. I really enjoyed that since it was more relatable, and it shows that you don't really need the Force to make a Star Wars story interesting, just like the movie Rogue One.
After the general introduction you start inside a hangar of a Star Destroyer. You are allowed to look at anything but you are not allowed to move on your spot. Throughout the game, every time you see this section, which happens in-between missions, you are allowed to go around the ship and look around. There are also moments here that you will talk to other characters in your squad. Talking to these characters will give you a lot of background of who they are. It gives them a bit of character, and if you are really into Star Wars, it can be interesting to listen to some details. The problem I saw with this execution is that, you're not really interacting with the characters, you just listen. You are not even given a choice of what to say or how to react to the conversation.
The highlight of the game is just being able to pilot a star fighter ship in the Star Wars universe. When you start a mission, you are always sitting inside a cockpit. There will be small moments where you can look around, but in general, you'll just be facing forward throughout the game. Although in VR mode, you'll have more freedom to look anywhere you want while playing. It's amazing to see all the details of the instruments, you'll be able to see everything you need in front of you. In general, regardless of what cockpit you are in, you will see your radar, thrusters, power management, target, main firepower, ship status, missiles, counter measures, and a few other details depending on what ship you are using.
Using New Republic ships, you notice they have more visibility and they also have shields. Galactic Empire ships have limited visibility, no shields, but has a quick repair function. Although, each ship will have very specific abilities like the A-Wing and the TIE Interceptor has incredible speed; the Y-Wing and TIE Bomber are both slow but has more armor and more missiles; the U-Wing and the TIE Reaper are designed to supply/support other ships.
The controls take a while to get used to. It is easy to get into, but the story mode is generally a long training mode on how to use the controls. It's not as complicated as the old X-Wing games (which practially used more than half of the entire keyboard, plus a joystick). It's simplified enough to make sure that a gamepad is enough to make the game work. Considering this, I don't recommend using a keyboard and mouse setup. It's just a little more difficult to use compared to a joystick or gamepad. If you have played First Person Shooters, it does have this similar layout, but slightly changed for a flight sim. What's amazing with the game is that you can actually configure things on how you want it. You don't have to follow the basic control scheme, it even has a suggested alternate controls if you don't want to configure too much. You can even use a HOTAS (Hands on Throttle-and-Stick), a game controller with joystick and throttle.
Although using HOTAS can take some time to set up, it is a worthwhile experience if you have the patience for it. I did have a few issues where, if I get disconnected from the EA servers, my controller won't function suddenly. I don't know if this is an issue with me using a Sony DualShock 4 controller or just a bug in the game itself. Sometimes when my gamepad connects, it recognises it as a HOTAS controller and almost not playable. This rarely happens though. It only happened to me twice throughout my entire gameplay, but when it happens I have to restart the computer to get the controller properly working again.
I love that they included the power management system in where you have to balance out engines, firepower, and shields. You can press a button to focus power on a specific function, which gives you some tactical advantage depending on your situation. Like putting power into engines will give you a boost in speed. This power management feature is a callback to the original X-Wing, although the original game didn't have special boost power, it did introduce a bit of strategy on managing how to use your ship.
The missions are amazingly done. It's constantly keeping you on your toes! I mean, there is rarely any downtime in the game. The first mission starts as a simple ship identification mission, then it changes to destroying ships, then attacking a base, then a tunnel chase. That's just the first mission. There are even levels where you have to attack a Star Destroyer and it looks absolutely amazing, and while doing that, you are kept instructed on what you need to do and TIE-Fighters are all around trying to hit you and your squadron. You have a difficulty setting before starting a story mode. The story mode even has an easy mode called "Story Mode" where the game is actually very easy to go through, but it's not fail safe. It's easy enough to ensure that you'll be able to finish the game, but you can still fail if you don't really do anything or mess up. I was even able to finish a mission in which my controller messed up (because of a weird controller issue I mentioned earlier), and I had to adjust to use a joystick and mouse combo just to get through it. I was able to finish that mission regardless of how bad I was doing. Even though the missions are really good, the total number of missions is really low. The 14 missions will end quickly, especially if you are really having fun in the game. Even though it's not really that short, because it can take around 8 to 10 hours to finish, the story ended with me craving for more.
Multiplayer is one of the highlights of the game. As I mentioned earlier, the story mode is generally a training for you to understand the controls. The multiplayer option gives you more options to customize your character and your ship. The more you play, you will earn glory and requisition. What glory will give you is used for the cosmetic purposes from the looks of your character and ship. Requisition will, in turn, give you ship upgrades. When you start playing the multiplayer option, it will be challenging and it will feel that you are not helping, but win or loose you will get experience points. In turn, leveling up will give you glory and requisition as well. So, the more you play, win or loose, you will be able to upgrade your ship and customize your ship and character. And the more upgrades you get, the better combinations that you can make.
The upgrades themselves are not a straightforward easy solution to make your game better. Each upgrade also has a downside. The basic weapon is generally the most balanced, so changing your loadout, may give you more speed, but weakens your armor. It all depends on your strategy and the mission you plan to get into. I almost forgot! There are only two multiplayer modes in this game. Dogfight and Fleet battles. Dogfight is basically just a team-based death match. While Fleet Battles is like a tug of war game wherein you have to destroy capital ships. This is the main highlight of the multiplayer mode. What also stands out in the multiplayer mode is that it uses some of the layout from the missions, aside from it all looking amazing. What is also interesting is that the mode features a lot of debris to hide and take cover during gameplay. There are even moments that replicate that Death Star trench feeling chasing each other on tight tunnels. The only weakest level was Yavin because this was just pure empty space with just a big cloudy background.
I did mention before that it causes an issue when connecting and disconnecting from the EA servers. When the game connects or reconnects, the game stutters for a moment. Usually this was manageable. So, when my internet was downright problematic wherein I had an issue of intermittent connection, and the game itself constantly tries to connect and disconnect and it results in an unplayable state of constant stuttering. If only you can start the game and just declare that you'll only play offline, so you won't have to go through that constant stutter, it would be a stress-saver. This issue only happened to me when playing a practice game offline (Dogfights and Fleet battles). But when the internet is pretty stable, the game works amazingly well. I rarely experienced any issue when playing on the story mode though, but there are a few hiccups here and there when reconnecting, but nothing too bothersome except for the disconnecting controller issue.
The graphics are absolutely amazing if you can get it to run. I've always wanted to see a modern recreation of the old X-Wing game, and this didn't disappoint. There is so much detail in the game. Most cut-scenes use ingame graphics, it shows that it's ingame since I regularly see some load in for low polygon objects and suddenly transform into high detail, but this is not bothersome. The only time that it bothered me was the intro, where my character's head didn't show up in a cut-scene and it loaded in for a second. It was a bit distracting, but that was the only time that it made an impact on me. Other than that, the detail really gives that used universe effect which Star Wars popularized in 1977. Everything metal has scratches, clothes has lots of wrinkles, characters have lots of personality. The hangar for the Star Destroyer gives that all cold monochrome dark blackish blue color. The hangar for the Rebel Alliance has this brown earth tone color and more homey. Without even getting into space combat and ships, everything looks amazing. When you do get into a space fighter, the cockpit has a lot of things for you to look at. You can get a better look at it when you are in the hangar, you are allowed to look at every angle and see what it feels like to be inside an X-Wing or TIE Fighter. The moment you fly a star fighter, if you are a fan of Star Wars, this is the best experience that you will get and you can enjoy at home. Being inside a highly detailed ship and flying through a fully populated space is just awesome to see. The game really captures what we expect in Star Wars and so much more!
The music and sound effects are all amazing too. It's not the original John Williams score. They actually did an original score made by Gordy Haab. The sounds will really call on Star Wars music and you might not even distinguish the difference especially when you are into the game, most of the time, you'll be listening to the original score, but it will use familiar Star Wars tunes while going through the missions. And in terms of the sound effects, it's all outstanding, and I do recommend using a headset to get fully immersed in the game since it will give you that feeling of actually being there.
The game developers really did show a lot of love and care for this. You do feel a lot of details that show that they are fans of the classic X-Wing games. Making sure that the camera is fixed in a first person perspective inside the cockpit is one thing, considering most games these days focus on a third person perspective. The game Battlefront 2 did some space combat, but it felt like an afterthought since it had to incorporate the control scheme of third person shooters instead of ship to ship combat. The graphics and the music are all on par to get that feeling of Star Wars. Game really made sure that they got a lot of things right.
I did mention that I did have issues with the game, but this is actually a budget game. I didn't like how the game was installed or how it initially started. but then again, most new games are priced at $60 while this one is priced at $40, and for an EA to say that this game will have no microtransactions is just a surprise. This is one game that is actually begging for more stuff. It's so good that you want more. I think the $40 price tag is an absolute steal for the experience it provided. The story gave us 8 to 10 hours of gameplay. And it is even better than the Call of Duty series or even Star Wars Battlefront 2 (priced at $60 for each game). Those games take you 5 to 7 hours to play. The multiplayer is a bit low on gameplay choices and there are a lack of ships when there are so many in the Star Wars universe. I want to fly the clunky B-Wing, the Z-95 Headhunter, the TIE Defender or even the TIE Advance. However, the overall package is more than I expected. The story is well done, although not too significant to the overall Star Wars narrative, but it's told well nonetheless. The ability to customize the controls and use VR is an absolute bonus, and based on what I hear, it's a game changer if you have the opportunity to play it that way. The quality of the work done in the game is top of the line. I do hope that this game gains a lot of sales and Motive Studios gets to add more ships, more story, and more multiplayer gameplay options. (Edited by Joy Lyn Francisco.)