Playing Star Wars Squadrons in virtual reality with a hands-on throttle and stick (HOTAS) peripheral is the closest I’ve ever been to the true Star Wars space flight experience. It is precisely what I had in mind when I was six-years-old watching Anakin destroy the Trade Federation in his Naboo starfighter. Skywalking all over these Imperial traitors has never felt so immersive, and after a few missions, I was already convinced that the game had delivered upon its lofty ambitions, to hone in and become the new standard for galactic dogfighting.
The skyboxes in Squadrons – usually framed by gigantic warships – are filled with delectable globs of pastel clouds that are simply breathtaking. If I wasn’t being chased down by TIE Fighters and dodging missiles, I’d be over there trying to chomp my way through the set dressing like it’s a Star Wars caesar salad.
The story mode ultimately didn’t really click with me. The writing is clearly passionate but quite trite, most likely hamstrung by the elusive licence. I didn’t end up caring much about any of the characters, but there were some really solid set pieces in there. It felt clear that this was a multiplayer game first, which is why I think it’s quite strange that you can’t play the campaign in co-op with your friends. I think this compromise would have really given the campaign an identity because it’s such a shame that it’s being totally overshadowed by the awesome multiplayer. While I love the fact that this game even has a campaign, and I want to support that endeavour, it just wasn’t much to shout about.
But, oh boy, will you start hollering when you dig into Star Wars Squadrons’ multiplayer component. Exhilarating would be an understatement. Curving the torso of an A-Wing through the carcass of a desolate cruiser to lock and tap a TIE Fighter with a salvo of cluster missiles is easily some of the most fun I’ve had playing video games in 2020. It’s even more exciting when you’re using a HOTAS.
I cheaped out and got a budget T. Flight for Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 a few months ago, and even though it feels fantastic, I’m now regretting that decision and looking for upgrades with vibration and more clinical control. I feel like EA should have bundled the game with a HOTAS, because on keyboard and mouse or controller it feels strangely lifeless, like you’re playing a pastiche of space flight rather than actually experiencing it in all of its technical nuance.
Luckily the control scheme isn’t as complex as Flight Simulator, and is easy to pick up across all of the input devices. If you have no intention of getting a HOTAS I can certainly still recommend Squadrons for the gameplay alone, but if you have the means you’ll struggle to use anything else, I feel. I’ve heard that controller players have an advantage over peripheral peeps due to the simplified aiming system, but I really don’t care. I might not be topping every leaderboard, but I’m still doing relatively well with a HOTAS and learning how to fly has been so rewarding.
I really didn’t expect this going in, but I can definitely see myself playing this game on a regular basis if EA commits to it and fleshes it out over the next few years. I’m sure it’ll be even better if I can rustle together some friends to form a fireteam with, especially if I can convince someone to play the support class, which I’ve struggled to get into.
I definitely think there needs to be more incentive to play as a support ship in Squadrons, as most multiplayer games are just full of bombers and interceptors – for good reason too, they’re the most fun ships to use! But if you’re queuing solo, a genuinely invested support player is a really rare sight. I’d love a multiplayer role queue for Squadrons where players can pick their class ahead of time to ensure they’re teaming up with the right people. It’s not often that I swap my ship in battle between deaths, unless the objective changes drastically.
At the moment there are only two multiplayer modes: Dogfight and Fleet Battles. Dogfights are straight-up deathmatches, but Fleet Battles are like Conquest matches from Battlefield. You gain morale by taking out enemies which is used to make warships vulnerable, with two teams taking turns attacking and defending as the pendulum swings. This makes for some memorable moments, especially when it gets tight right at the end and your last line of defence is looking weak. This is where clinical shooting and clever item use come into play. There’s an awesome meta game in Star Wars Squadrons where you can craft builds for each ship and swap between loadouts in-game to adapt on the fly.
Some of the laser mods and auxiliary weapons really warp how you play too. I have a republic bomber that is just for taking out capital ships. I’ve equipped it with a devastating, immobilising laser that hampers my manoeuvrability but makes me very deadly if I’m not stopped before I get to the ship by the more nimble enemy star fighters. It creates this tactical cat and mouse performance where you’re trying to use your squadron to Trojan horse your way to a Star Destroyer so you can wipe its health bar and wrap up the match. It’s pure Star Wars fantasy, and it’s honestly bliss!
At the moment it’s really fun to rise through the ranks and unlock new ship parts and cosmetics, but once I’ve got all the ships I need, I’m worried about what’s there for me at the end of the tunnel. Sure, there’s a really solid ranking system to climb, where you have to complete 10 placement matches before the game sorts you into a division, but I do hope that EA has plans for some meaningful expansions in the works for maps and ships to keep things fresh. That’s the only thing I’m uneasy about.
Star Wars Squadrons is well worth the money for the gameplay alone, especially if you want to get as close as you can to the childhood fantasy of Star Wars space combat. Even though the story isn’t worth your time, the multiplayer demands to be played, and is made even better with extra peripherals if you’re of an enthusiast mindset.
The only thing that worries me about Squadrons is post-launch support. If this is it, there’s only a few maps and two game modes to dig into at launch, I can see potentially dropping it after a few weeks due to the lack of variety, once I’ve unlocked everything I can, so tread carefully. However, if all you care about is stepping into the cockpit of a TIE Fighter or an X-Wing, this game is a no brainer.
- Utterly incredible space combat
- Stunning visuals that immerse you in flight
- Mind-blowing in VR with a HOTAS peripheral
- Only two game modes at launch
- The story isn’t worth the effort