If you told me that in the year 2020 I would be getting a remake of Final Fantasy VII, a sequel to Vampire: the Masquerade Bloodlines, Baldur’s Gate III, and Star Wars: Squadrons, a spiritual successor to the X-Wing/TIE Fighter series of Star Wars space “sims,” I would’ve told you that you were absolutely full of it.
And yet here we are. Of all the games I just listed, Star Wars: Squadrons is probably the least likely project I would expect to see made these days. Space sims are a niche genre in general and Star Wars is a license that, at least in modern times, tends to play things safe with games that appeal to audiences as broad as the fanbase itself. The LucasArts era of the 90s and early 2000s brought us all manner of Star Wars titles, some great, and some not so great, but it was a time where game developers could explore the IP on a deeper level and that sometimes resulted in some real gems and genuine classics.
One of those gems was the X-Wing/TIE Fighter “sim” game series developed by Totally Games. I put sim in quotes because I don’t think I’d ever consider those titles full on space sims, but they definitely got a lot more complex and nuanced as you went along. As a huge Star Wars fan, these games are my most cherished of all, and unfortunately we haven't seen any Star Wars games along these lines in roughly 20 years.
Against all odds, news of Star Wars: Squadrons leaked out and it got people speculating a ton online. Would this be something along the lines of the more casual Rogue Squadron or Starfighter Assault in Star Wars: Battlefront II? Or is EA crazy enough to actually give older fans hungry for a follow up to their beloved Star Wars space “sims” a new experience to enjoy for the first time in 20 years?
As much as I wanted to believe, I was definitely in the former camp. I figured there’s just no way they would do it. Earlier this week, EA put out a cinematic reveal trailer that didn’t play things coy at all, offering numerous nods at key features of those old “sim” titles, such as power management, forced first person perspective, and even UI elements lifted straight out of earlier titles.
Details about the game being focused on a 5v5 multiplayer experience and full support not only for HOTAS but even VR cemented for me that this was actually happening. This was not going to be some casual Star Wars space game. Not that there’s anything wrong with those, but they just don’t scratch the itch for me.
Yesterday, EA took the wraps off of Star Wars: Squadrons at EA Play with a roughly six minute presentation that confirmed that yes, we are actually getting that game. These are strange times, for sure.
So, what’s Star Wars: Squadrons actually like? Well, from what we know so far, the game will feature a single player campaign where you will play as both an Imperial and Rebel Alliance pilot that you create, alternating throughout the missions. The campaign is set after the events of Return of the Jedi, but not too far into the future. The Empire is also still around at this point.
Early on you’ll be able to abandon the campaign and jump right into multiplayer if that’s what you want to do, but if you’re only interested in single player, it’s unclear how meaty that experience will be at this point. Personally, I’m expecting it to be a short campaign along the lines of Star Wars: Battlefront II and that’s just fine.
On the multiplayer side of things, the game will feature two modes: Dogfighting and Fleet Battles. Dogfights are your standard 5v5 team deathmatch sort of affair, while Fleet Battles are the game’s signature game mode. Fleet Battles are still 5v5, but each match takes place over multiple phases with various objectives, and AI pilots are part of the mix as well. Fleet Battles can also be played alone in single player vs. AI or with friends vs. AI if you’re not into competitive play. If you are, however, Fleet Battles will be ranked and feature skill based matchmaking.
What we know at this point is that there will be at least eight ships (four on each side), each corresponding to a different role in battle. TIE Fighters and X-Wings are your jack-of-all-trades fighter ships, A-Wings and TIE Interceptors are interceptors with greater speed in exchange for reduced toughness, TIE Bombers and Y-Wings are your slower bomber ships with heavy payloads, and finally there’s the U-Wing and TIE Reaper, which are support ships that can do a ton of cool things such as slow enemy ships with a tractor beam, resupply allies, jam enemy electronics and so on.
Each ship can be customized on a cosmetic and component level and it’s important (and delightful) to note that component customizations are orthogonal, meaning you’re making trade-offs instead of upgrading power. Instead of a level 1 vs. level 2 cannon vertical upgrade path, you’ll be choosing between things like ion cannons, or lasers that pack a punch at short range, but are near useless at longer ranges. Maybe you want to load a Goliath missile that packs a wallop but tracks poorly.
You will also have the opportunity to plan out your loadouts as part of a team strategy in a briefing room before entering a match. Perhaps your team wants to go all in on ion cannons or maybe you want to bring in the aforementioned Goliath missile for its crazy damage, so you work with your support player to equip a tractor beam to overcome the Goliath missile’s poor tracking weakness.
Power can be managed across familiar systems such as shields, lasers and engines, though Imperial TIEs won’t have shields to manage. Instead, they’ll be given a bit more speed and power and the ability to quickly shift power between systems to make up for their fragility. For ships with shields, you’ll be able to balance shields across the front or back of your ship or reinforce a particular direction, just like the older games. Putting power into engines will increase speed and maneuverability, and diverting power to lasers and shields will get them to recharge more quickly.
Where things get really interesting is when you fully max out power to a system. Putting full power into engines will slowly build up a boost which can be used for a burst of speed in exchange for poor maneuverability. This helps address the “death loop” of chasing players in a circle by allowing players to boost out of a stalemate and initiate any number of maneuvers, including the ability to quickly cut engines and spin around towards your opponent in a sort of drift maneuver pulled off by Poe Dameron in Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Darth Vader in Star Wars: Rebels. You’ll even be able to shoot down missiles on your tail.
Overcharging your shields this way will let you reinforce your shields with an additional layer of protection across the entire ship or double reinforce shields facing a particular direction.
And finally, overcharging your lasers will increase their power significantly, allowing you to put out some burst damage in a pinch.
Star Wars: Squadrons is priced lower than your typical AAA game at $40 and isn’t being developed as a living game. EA Motive intend to put out a complete product on day one and there are no microtransactions whatsoever, with all cosmetics and progression unlocked purely through play. It doesn’t sound like the door is closed on DLC the same way it appeared to be on Respawn’s Star Wars: Jedi: Fallen Order, but it’s not something on the team’s mind right now.
As far as I’m concerned, EA Motive are saying and doing all the right things at this point. If the team can stick the landing, Star Wars: Squadrons may end up being the deep, smartly designed Star Wars space “sim” that I’ve always wanted, but never expected to get. I keep waiting to learn something about the game that’s a huge turn off, but it honestly sounds like the team is on the ball here in so many ways, from the price point, to monetization (or lack thereof), to all the various gameplay decisions relating to the flight model and progression systems. Hopefully this trend continues all the way through the game’s launch on October 2.