Star Wars Squadron’s Review. Game demo turned best EA Star Wars Experience?

Platform: PC
How was the game received?: Personal Purchase
Genre: Arcady-Flight-Sim?
Release Date: October 2nd 2020
Cost: $40.00
Where to buy it: Get it Here!

Reviewers PC Specs (Full Overview)
Processor: Intel i9-9900k
RAM: 32GB DDR4 3200MHz
Graphics: NVIDIA RTX 2080TI
Monitor: Asus 1440p – 27″ 144Hz, 1ms Response
Headset: Audio-Technica RODE M50X RED
Mixer: Yamaha MG10XU
VR Headset: Oculus Quest v1 (untested in current review)
Controller: Xbox Wired USB Controller

Description

I have for the better part of the past decade been pretty critical of EA. I feel they have lost their way. As a gamer, I have no confidence in their current CEO, who seems more focused on profit then the gamers who award him this profit. EA was the designer of the loot box with their FIFA Title, which, as the first rendition of this system, was pretty damn exploitive and had a large amount of missteps since, more recently with Fallout 76 and Battlefront. Investors don’t see my side, as profit is king in the business world, but as a gamer, EA is not currently on my Christmas card mailing list. However, we continue with the review.

Star Wars Squadrons is the latest Star Wars franchise release from EA. Fans of Star Wars have been asking EA for a Space Combat flight simulator for years as some of the best parts of past EA Star Wars games have been the space battles between Rebels and the Empire. And for the most part, I cautiously admit, EA delivered a compelling experience worth paying attention too.

The game is a relatively below the radar release and priced as a Double A title game (or a triple A title with a yet-to-be-announced massive lootbox revenue stream). I personally believe this was originally developed as a game demo but was hashed out just enough in game elements to see how it would fair with fans. All the final touches and details are reserved for the in-game elements, but everything that is not directly part of the game experience is rough, not fully hashed out and feels a bit cheap. Yet, surprisingly, that’s ok. Here’s why.

Story

Star Wars Squadrons features a pretty good single player experience, brilliantly designed as an interactive training ground to slowly get new players introduced to the simple but deep systems of your shiny new star fighter.

The single player missions are varied. You play both as the Rebels and Empire in different missions from escort to dog fighting combat, and they do a good job at keeping the missions varied. Most people will breeze through the story in a few days but will get a grasp for how the fighters operate as both the Alliance and Rebel fighters have different core systems and strategies.

Graphics

The graphics are pretty great: beautiful maps, detailed ships and they do an excellent job at delivering what I would expect flying around space in a Star Wars alternate reality.

The maps are pretty simple, with elements and objects like debris and asteroids but augmented with a beautiful sky box surrounding you in 360 degrees.

Content

The single player campaign consists of 14 varied missions: a combination of both the Rebel Alliance and Empire. The maps are detailed and varied which help make missions unique and fun.

The multiplayer maps consist of 3-4 different locations and, currently, two modes. Both 5v5, one mode consists of straight up dog fighting/team deathmatch style gameplay. The other mode is the fleet battles, which consist of 5v5 objective-based PvP with AI PVE units to help fill out the battle and make it feel more alive.

Each side, Rebel Alliance and Empire, has (4) Ships consisting of a Fighter, Bomber, Interceptor and Support Ship. Each ship has access to system unlocks and upgrades to vary the play style. Players unlock multiple loadouts for each ship so you can have, at your disposal, different ships for different situations. The weapons are fun, the systems varied, and you can truly customize the ship for your playstyle. There are some challenges with meta and balance issues, but, it should be fairly easy to balance with future updates.

In addition to the unlocks for systems, guns, misses(??) and shields, in true EA fashion, there are a multitude of cosmetic unlocks for your ship –  both inside and out the cockpit, as well as character customization in the form of clothing, helmets etc. I expect, in the near future, EA will release some sort of loot box mechanic. We can only hope, they remain completely cosmetic as opposed to the drama EA faced with the battlefront loot boxes as I hope they have learned their lesson. Hell hath no fury like a gamer scorned.

Gameplay

Fleet Battles are definitely the crowning jewel of Star Wars Squadrons. The game mechanics feature a push and pull battle for control. As each team eliminates enemy fighters, they get an opportunity to launch an offensive against AI enemy assets. The offensive is kicked off by a capitol ship joining your team to attack the enemy’s capitol ships, and eventually, their flagship. Each team has two forward leading support frigates that must be destroyed before gaining access to the capitol ship. The team that successfully launches an attack and defeats the flagship wins. They offer a Ranked PVP mode and an AI PVE Mode. The Ranked mode offers rewards, ranks and progression.

The Dog Fighting mode is a fun, straight forward 5v5 team deathmatch and I see it as a great way to hone your dogfighting skills.

HOTAS is supported. Unfortunately, I do not have the hardware to test. We have heard some issues regarding HOTAS support so do your research, but, for all you hardcore HOTAS users, the game supports its use and the hope is that compatibility issues will be addressed in a future update.

On the topic of controls, the game also supports mouse and keyboard, but I currently prefer the Xbox controller. Flight and Racing games are always best played on hardware that mimics real world input like a racing wheel and a flight stick but, a controller, in my opinion, is a great second option.

Squadron’s also supports VR out of the box. I have yet to test this but I have been told from others I play with that it is a great experience for both the single player and multiplayer game modes with little tradeoff compared to monitor. I plan to test this soon and will update my review with my personal experience.

The gameplay is surprisingly deep. Each ship and each side have different systems. Rebels have shields, engines and weapon power systems that can we adjusted on the fly to give you additional boost options for speed or more powerful shields. You can even, as the Rebel Alliance, focus your shields to the front, rear or take a balanced approach. The Empire only has shields for its support ship, but their fighters and bombers get additional speed boost options and other benefits unique to them.

Flying is a blast as they really nailed the space flight combat. You actually feel like you are in a Star Wars fighter. It’s not as deep as a true space flight sim like Elite Dangerous, but I would give it more credit than just calling it an arcade flight experience. There is just enough here to elevate it somewhere in-between and it does take practice and skill. The skill ceiling is high enough to keep you engaged but simple enough to have some fun with friends. The matchmaking system will help by matching pilots against like skilled opponents and allow them to progress as their skill improves.

Bugs and Balance

There are a few bugs, like AI fighters, mainly in single player mode, getting stuck on debris – overall pretty minor.

No major bugs to report in multiplayer, however that is not to say they don’t have their own issues.

The meta has quick evolved into bomber meta, with many fleet battles consisting of 4 bombers and a support ship. These squadrons are focused solely on suicide runs with shield and other buffs to withstand the punishment from the enemy team and giving them just enough to complete their run and score damage points on the objectives before flaming out. This to me is a big negative but one that is easily fixed with a little balancing. One can hope EA is paying attention and is ready to release a patch that shakes the meta and encourages a more balanced team composition with varying tactics.

Summary

Overall I am impressed and, if this takes off as I expect it will, EA will no doubt add more content. Maps seem easy to create in comparison to FPS games, due to less overall elements, so I would expect EA to start pumping them out.

Star Wars, over the many movies, both live action and animated tv series, has given enough ships, stations and lore to allow EA to expand this game to almost infinity if they choose too. I really hope, over time, they add more maps, ships and game modes. Escort quests or a fight to destroy the Death Star – the sky is the literal limit here and I hope they see the potential. If that means they need to implement a loot box system to make it happen, so be it. I would even consider paying for a season pass to give EA the resources needed to continue to expand this game, as long as they are optional and have no impact on the competitiveness of the game. Only time will tell. We are watching you EA.

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