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‘Star Wars: Squadrons’ review: Far more satisfying than ‘Rise of Skywalker’

After a dark period of divisive and undercooked titles, Star Wars: Squadrons signifies that we are entering the golden age of EA Star Wars games.

On the heels of Jedi: Fallen Order, Squadrons demonstrates that EA isn’t using the license to create generic multiplayer shooters anymore. Instead, the developer is branching out to encompass robust games in other genres to create experiences that tap into our fantasies about the Star Wars universe, like becoming a Jedi or piloting an X-Wing. With a solid story, tough but rewarding and immersive gameplay and dynamic multiplayer modes, Star Wars: Squadrons stands out from every Star Wars game released over the last decade.

A story that needs to be told

Squadrons follows the journey of the New Republic’s Vanguard Squadron and the Empire’s Titan Squadron. In the wake of the Battle of Endor, the New Republic is in its genesis and the Empire is doing all it can to stop itself from falling apart. The story focuses on this struggle, as the Empire must deal with infighting and the selfishness of their ideals.

Meanwhile, the New Republic has to decide how much it’s going to be like the Empire as they attempt to retain control with the help of a secret weapon. It adds interesting layers to both sides of the conflict, showing the dire political struggle that one can see going on in the background of The Mandalorian on Disney+.

The story remains focused on each Squad, and players can talk with most crewmates before each mission. Some characters, like the scoundrel-turned-rebel Frisk and Sol, an Imperial pilot with senatorial aspirations, get much more interesting development than others. Still, each squad member has an interesting design and backstory.

Star Wars: Squadrons skillfully crafts an endearing ensemble cast, which is key to any great Star Wars story. For the hardcore fans, the story even includes some recognizable characters like Hera from Star Wars Rebels and Wedge Antilles from A New Hope, as well as a ton of Easter eggs towards other Star Wars games, books, and comics.

This story provides a new perspective on a familiar conflict. Instead of evil or tragic, we see the Empire attempting to be optimistic and hopeful as they slowly lose control. Meanwhile, the New Republic does its best to retain its core values as it becomes just as powerful as the Empire, and it slowly settles in that the war with the Empire won’t even truly end.

Even though it doesn’t have the stakes of The Rise of Skywalker, Squadrons is much more focused. It justifies itself within the larger Star Wars narrative and feels like a story that needed to be told. The post-Return of the Jedi era is one of Star Wars’ most intriguing periods, so it’s awesome that EA fleshes it out more with Star Wars: Squadrons.

X-Wing Commander

That focused nature also applies to the gameplay, which is unadulterated flight combat. It successfully does what not only made the Star Wars: Rogue Squadron and X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter games great, but what made titles like Ace Combat and Wing Commander entertaining as well. Players are thrown right into the cockpit of eight recognizable Starfighters, and can even customize their weapons and engine however they see fit.

Once players are in a dogfight, the entire game in and out of the cockpit plays out from the first-person perspective. It’s certainly overwhelming at first, especially for those who aren’t used to flight sims. You have health, shields, lasers, sub-weapons, and engines that all have to be managed. The droid on your ship doesn’t take any compelling gameplay away; it’s simply used to heal if you have the proper loadout equipped.

‘Star Wars: Squadrons’ is an intense game that will have players managing all aspects of their Starfighter. EA

Players must also ensure they are targeting the correct objectives and take out the enemies that are attacking them. The core gameplay of Squadrons is surprisingly deep, as players familiar with the controls can choose to cut and focus power to certain systems to get a power boost to others. Tricks like drifting also become easier to pull off as players grow accustomed to the controls throughout the campaign.

This unforgiving gameplay might be unappealing for some, but Squadrons aims to keep things as clear as possible with frequent tutorials and a lock-on system that will point players towards the right objectives. For the purists, these indicators can be turned off, but it’s a necessity for a game like this.

Because Star Wars: Squadrons is a surprisingly hardcore flight sim, it’s not as accessible as Star Wars: Battlefront or even Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Still, EA seems aware of this, which is likely why it’s only $40 and has unambitious post-launch support. For those who are fans of the genre or can work hard to get over that learning curve, this game is full of exhilarating moments that completely fulfill the Starfighter fantasy and is more than worth its price.

I had a gigantic grin on my face during some of the game’s most exciting set pieces that had me escaping from inside an exploding space station or destroying New Republic Corvette fleets in a graveyard of destroyed Star Destroyers. This same exhilaration carries over into the game’s multiplayer, which is full of dynamic moments.

The new standard for dogfighting games

At launch, Star Wars: Squadrons contains two multiplayer modes: Dogfights and Fleet Battles. Dogfights are simple 5v5 matches where two teams fight to be the first to 30 kills. While this mode is simple and unranked, it’s also where the most talented players can show off their skills clearly.

Fleet Battles are the game’s main draw. These are multi-stage battles where each team is trying to bring down the other’s fleet. The battles constantly switch between simple dogfights and objective-based assaults on larger starships. This is the mode for those who prefer completing objects in multiplayer games to solely killing.

It also has the greatest potential for watercooler moments, as players can strategize and play well to turn the tide of a battle that’s going south. Ultimately, teamwork is pivotal to both modes.

In Dogfight, teams can plan who they want to go after and craft strategies on the fly, which means you aren’t necessarily down and out if you’re more than five kills behind. In Fleet Battles, it’s pivotal to communicate which objectives should get pursued if teams want to efficiently destroy the opposing fleet. For those without voice chat, Star Wars: Squadrons does feature a ping system to communicate.

All of ‘Star Wars: Squadrons’ gameplay is from a first-person view. EA

These modes are both a ton of fun, though most players should get the hang of them after just a few hours of play. As such, the longevity of the game’s multiplayer is questionable, though the modes present are solid.

EA Motive currently has no plans to add any major new content post-launch, so the main drive forward is leveling up and completing daily challenges to unlock new gear. (There aren’t any microtransactions.) More multiplayer modes like capture the flag or racing could freshen up the experience if this game proves to be surprisingly successful and EA wants to support it more.

Star Wars: Squadrons is exactly what you think it is: a no-frills space combat game set in the world of Star Wars. Those not used to the genre will face a steep learning curve, but those willing to put in the time and get good will discover one of the most satisfying flight combat games ever and one of the most unique multiplayer experiences of the year.

Star Wars: Squadrons will be released for PC, PS4, and Xbox One on October 2, 2020.

INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: When it comes to video games, Inverse values a few qualities that other sites may not. For instance, we care about hours over money. Many new AAA games have similar costs, which is why we value the experience of playing more than price comparisons. We don’t value grinding and fetch quests as much as games that make the most out of every level. We also care about the in-game narrative more than most. If the world of a video game is rich enough to foster sociological theories about its government and character backstories, it’s a game we won’t be able to stop thinking about, no matter its price or popularity. We won’t punch down. We won’t evaluate an indie game in the same way we will evaluate a AAA game that’s produced by a team of thousands. We review games based on what’s available in our consoles at the time. For instance, we won’t hold it against a video game if its online mode isn’t perfect at launch. And finally, we have very little tolerance for junk science. (Magic is always OK.)

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