Flying a starfighter is every kid’s fantasy. Hell, it’s just about every adult’s fantasy too, if we’re being honest. And quite simply, that’s what Star Wars Squadrons aims to let players do: fly a starfighter and take part in the epic space battles seen in George Lucas’ (now Disney’s) enormous saga of a franchise. EA and Motive’s goals here were to return to classic boxed gaming of yore, giving players a one-and-done packaged experience with no microtransactions, seasonal content updates, or anything else to worry about. Yet it’s that very limited nature that may make Star Wars Squadrons’ life expectancy that of the average TIE fighter pilot.
Squadrons begins with its single-player story, taking place after the fall of the empire in Return of the Jedi. It’s a “both sides” trope, which puts you in the alternating shoes of two custom created New Republic and Galactic Empire characters more or less observing the ongoing story. The New Republic is crafting a super ship with the help of an Empire defector, and the Empire is trying to destroy it, with a commander that makes it personal for the defector. It’s moderately interesting, but doesn’t do anything terribly surprising or special. By forcing players to play both sides, it lets down either side having much of a meaningful narrative, and the ending is largely flat and neutral thanks to this framing.
Instead, the story in Squadrons acts as a glorified multi-hour tutorial, meant to get players ready for combat against other human players. Gameplay is almost exclusively inside the cockpit of a starfighter—sometimes of your choosing and sometimes chosen for you. With Star Wars Squadrons VR compatibility, the exposition dumps between missions see you standing in a static location, teleporting to characters or the briefing room to fill in the blanks on the story. There’s some potentially intriguing character development here, delivered in the most dull way possible. It’s somewhat better in VR, given that’s what these segments feel inherently designed around, but either way I quickly got bored of returning to the hangars in between missions.
Star Wars Squadrons Review – Thrill of the Flight
Fortunately, for where it falls flat on story exposition, it makes up for in just how much fun it is to fly a starfighter. The cockpit of every ship is different, depending on which you choose. Star Wars Squadrons is a very technical game, and you’ll need to learn the instrument panels of each fighter. There’s some consistent design language denoting what displays mean what, so it’s not too jarring to go from one ship to another, and not having a typical on-screen HUD makes the experience that much more immersive—whether in VR or on a standard TV. It’s awe inspiring to fly close to enormous asteroids and Star Destroyers, and get into frantic dogfights with enemy ships.
The experience of flying a starfighter is made even more authentic by this not being arcadey. The intent behind Squadrons is to make you feel like you are controlling a person flying a ship, not controlling a reticle on the screen. It’s a small, subtle, and yet distinct difference that lends some weight to flying around. Even outside of VR, there’s a genuine feeling of being inside an X-Wing, TIE Fighter, or one of many other ships on each side.
You’ll need to learn to manage the power balance of your ship on the fly, shifting it to your engines, weapons, or shields depending on the situation (or neutrally balancing all three). You can direct shield energy at the front or back of your ship depending on whether you are assaulting or running away. You have a suite of lock-on options, whether it’s objectives, player ships, or targets you should be defending. Honestly, managing all of these systems is a lot to take in. The campaign missions become a course to get your pilot’s license, teaching you the ins and outs of managing your ship, and techniques to make the most of all of your ship’s various features. It will also offer you the opportunity to try different loadouts, ships, weapons, etc. to see what builds you like best, and which you want to expand on in the multiplayer game.
Star Wars Squadrons Review – Fly With Friends
On the multiplayer side of things, Star Wars Squadrons offers two modes. Dogfight is a 5v5 matchup that’s strictly about getting kills. You’re goal here is simple: reach the kill limit before the opposing team does. This mode is a lot of fun, but does weight ship selection and loadouts to a very particular setup focused on kills. Bombers are less useful here, for example. Fleet Battles are the real flagship mode (pun totally intended). This tug-of-war push-and-pull is again 5v5, but the goal is to destroy the opposing team’s flagship, either through sustaining enough direct damage or carefully taking out individual subsystems to limit its capabilities. You can target the shield generators to make damage easier, destroy weapon systems to limit its attacks, and even create weak points in the hull by destroying power systems.
Ultimately, Fleet Battles seem to be where EA and Motive want most players to be focusing their attention. It’s the most complex and replayable mode in the relatively bare bones package. Fleet Battles just beg for tactical ship loadouts and setups, with certain people focusing on large ship damage while others do either support or take care of other players in fighter skirmishes to push the advantage in your favor, earning Morale for each ship shot down that allows you to assault the flagship. How different each of these Fleet Battles can go is why I log in to play now and then, earning new ship parts and pilot customizations while I’m at it.
But that’s it. EA and Motive have no plans for ongoing support outside of bug fixes, mild balancing where necessary, and keeping the servers online as long as people are playing. What you pay for is what you get. There might be no microtransactions, but there are no macrotransactions or content updates either, and I worry about the long term outlook for Star Wars Squadrons‘ player numbers in the future. Though I commend EA for really leaning into the no frills complete packaged experience—seemingly a direct response to the poor reputation EA and Star Wars got thanks to the controversial launch of Star Wars Battlefront II—I think it’s the wrong move for a game so heavily reliant on multiplayer. New games and new consoles will release. Sooner or later, players will get bored and move on. With no new content or updates to draw them back, I see Squadrons‘ player base dwindling. PS5 backwards compatibility could hypothetically help it retain a bit of life, but with no proper next-gen version in the cards either, the incredibly immersive starfighter gameplay is being left to rot at the tail end of a console generation.
Star Wars Squadrons is nothing if not an authentic experience. It’s goal is to put you in the cockpit of a starfighter in the Star Wars universe, and to that end it succeeds admirably. An uninspired story serves as training for Fleet Battles, an epic multiplayer experience that recreates the best of Star Wars space combat in ways that no other games have. EA and Motive’s firm stance on Squadrons as a standalone one-time-purchase experience is both commendable and the very thing that limits the viability of what it could grow into.
Star Wars Squadrons review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4 and PSVR. For more information, please see our Review Policy.
Our Star Wars Squadrons review is late due to to a very rare bug that prevented us from loading into multiplayer Fleet Battles following the game’s launch. It was fixed via a patch last week. We talked to a number of other players, journalists, and reviewers and couldn’t find anybody who had run into the same issue. Due to its rarity and not seeming to impact the wider experience for the player base, we did not factor this issue into our review or score, though it did prevent us from getting our review out sooner.