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Star Wars: Squadrons Review – The Galaxy's Finest

Star Wars: Squadrons is finally here and it absolutely delivers. From the incredible set piece moments, excellent new characters, and fantastic VR space combat, this is an adrenaline-fueled blast in the galaxy far, far away that you won’t want to miss. Here’s our Star Wars: Squadrons VR review in progress with all the details!

Note: We did not get access to Star Wars: Squadrons until midday Tuesday, September 29th, so we have not had enough time with it to render a full review. We also have not tried online multiplayer at all yet — we couldn’t find any matches during the play session timeframe on September 30th. Read on for our review-in-progress to see what we think of the single player story mode so far, the core gameplay mechanics, VR implementation, and how the marquee multiplayer mode, Fleet Battles, stacks up to the competition. A full verdict with a finalized score and complete impressions is coming soon.

I don’t typically play space combat games, space sims, flight sims, or any of that sort of stuff. Furthermore, I’ve never played a game with a flight stick for more than just an hour or two to test things out. All of that changed with Star Wars: Squadrons.

From the very first moment I booted it up I played the entire game with a VR headset and flight stick, specifically the Thrustmaster T.16000M joystick, and it was so good — so authentic even — I don’t really want to play it any other way. I’ve tried keyboard and mouse and gamepad too, both get the job done and it really feels great with a gamepad for my tastes, but I surprisingly prefer the flight stick. For a game that’s designed for VR and non-VR across PC and consoles with cross-play on everything, this is perhaps the best compliment I can give: it feels made for VR. And from what we’ve heard, it basically was from the very start.

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Star Wars: Squadrons Story Mode

In Star Wars: Squadrons the story shows both perspectives and bounces back and forth between the Galactic Empire and New Republic. The Prologue is split into two parts, introducing both sides, immediately after Alderaan is destroyed during the events of A New Hope. Then it fast-forwards five years and the rest of the game takes place after Return of the Jedi in the aftermath of the Battle of Endor.

Right at the start of the game you get to customize each of your pilots down to their face, voice, and name. I wasn’t expecting this considering you don’t really see them much, but these are the same avatars you’ll use in multiplayer so getting ownership of your identity across the game for both the Republic and Empire is a great touch.

The entirety of Squadrons takes place from a first-person perspective whether you’re talking to crewmates in the hangar or flying your starfighter during a mission; it’s a big reason why the VR support feels so natural. The only times the camera is not inside of your face are during the cutscenes that take place before and after missions.

For these moments, when the camera is sweeping across your squadron or zooming in on characters while they fly, you see a rectangular letterbox floating in front of you, sort of like the Cinematic Mode on PSVR. It’s absolutely immersion breaking, no doubts about that, and a bit of a bummer, but cutscenes like this are expected in non-VR games so this is a price to pay in order to get VR support out of a AAA project like this. Sacrifices needed to be made and I’d rather have a VR hanger and briefing room than 30 second cutscenes in VR.

The other sticking point about Squadrons’ VR support is that there is zero motion controller functionality here. You have no hand presence in the cockpit at all — it’s just a head tracking only game. Some die hard VR purists will likely be upset about this, but honestly, give me a great flight stick over inaccurate motion controllers that lack realistic resistance and tension any day. You’re sitting still when you play a game like this so all you need is head tracking. It works great, looks great, and most importantly, feels great.

Even if Squadrons was just its Story Mode and practice/training map and that’s it, this would feel like a complete game. Based on how much I’ve played so far (the Prologue and five campaign missions) it looks like this will easily clock in at or above the 12 hour mark for a single playthrough, but there are several difficulty modes and medals to earn for each mission that offer lots of replayability.

Surprisingly, the cast of new characters is memorable and full of personality for both the Republic and Empire. Between missions there are opportunities to chat with all of them to learn more about their backstories and motivations that helps add a lot of context to how they act. One of the Republic pilots used to race previously and your squad mates poke fun at her for being a show off. Eventually, she teaches you how to drift in an X-Wing and it’s an exhilarating moment reminiscent of scenes with Poe from the new trilogy.

Most of the missions can be boiled down to taking out squadrons of enemy fighters, defending larger ships, eliminating big ships, and escaping or escorting. I’d be lying if I didn’t say this gets repetitive, but the way EA Motive mixes things up, shuffles these pieces around, and introduces one-off set pieces here and there keeps you on your toes. Chase sequences were some of the best moments and it made me wish for more time trials or flight trials to put my skills to the test.

I have not finished the Story Mode yet, so I will update this review-in-progress with more thoughts, if needed, after doing so.

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Star Wars: Squadrons Gameplay And Ships

In a lot of ways this feels like a dream game for Star Wars fans. We’ve gotten dozens of games focused on the Jedi vs Sith with lightsabers and force powers and there have even been a heavy share of ground combat games that require you to know your way around a blaster. But not since the 90s and early 2000s have we gotten a game that was really focused on space combat in the Star Wars universe. Until now.

The industry has made huge strides with technology in recent years and visually it’s hard to find any faults at all with Star Wars: Squadrons. The overall presentation quality is on par with DICE’s Star Wars Battlefront II. Each map has a similar layout — they’re all in space after all — but the planet backdrops are gorgeous to behold and various bits of debris add enough variety here and there.

The hangar is the unexpected highlight of the package due to how immersive it is to chat with crew members and just watch people working in the background. You really get a sense for what the inside of a hangar might truly feel like, almost like waiting in line at a big Disneyland Star Wars ride. And Squadrons features an excellent score that swells in combat appropriately and punctuates every moment with just the right emphasis. And yes, it’s all functional in VR — including the hangar and briefing room, complete with NPC conversations.

Squadrons is a special kind of wish fulfillment in that regard. Every cockpit is painstakingly recreated here with insane attention to detail so that instruments and indicators are all in different places depending on which ship you’re flying. From the wide, open canopy of the X-Wing and A-Wing to the closed tunnel vision of the TIE Fighter, each ship feels and plays dramatically different.

As far as I can tell equipment loadout options are the same or on par across factions, for balance, but the choices you make will change based on the ship. Since the X-Wing has shields maybe you sacrifice a bit of its hull capacity for better acceleration or speed? Perhaps you want to beef up the TIE’s maneuverability even more to go all-in on a zippy ship that’s hard to hit? You can get really creative there.

Star Wars: Squadrons VR Review – Comfort

Since Star Wars: Squadrons is an always first-person VR space combat game, it’s impossible to eliminate all artificial motion. By nature you’re flying a ship in space, banking, turning, and rotating during combat. For some people it’s going to be uncomfortable no matter what, but some ships may be better than others. For example, the TIE Fighter has a very enclosed cockpit so the field of view outside of the cockpit is more limited than the more open X-Wing and A-Wing. Playing with a flight stick also helps to ground you and aid immersion which can combat sickness.

When you’re out of the cockpit you can turn on snap turning instead of smooth turning if you’d like for hangar exploration, or you can just turn your head around instead. Compared to other space combat games I’ve played, it seems quite smooth and comfortable but I don’t typically get sick so it’s hard to say. We’ll update this once more people on staff have had a chance to try it.

The first three missions of the story after the prologue have you flying X-Wings and A-Wings, so switching back to a TIE Fighter in the next mission after that is a huge shock to the system. Not only do these fast and nimble fighters not have any shields, but they’re far more agile as well. Drifting in a TIE Fighter feels like you’re doing a donut in a street racer and watching the stars swim by as you flip around is extremely exciting.

 

Even though Squadrons isn’t a space combat simulator game, it’s more of an arcade-style experience, there is still a lot of depth here. For starters, you’ve got to manage your system’s power flow. For Republic, that means engine, lasers, and shields. By flicking the switch on the top of my joystick I can reroute power on the fly to whatever I’m doing at that moment. On top of that, you can designate shields for the front, back, or balanced during combat, boost, drift, and more.

At first it’s a lot to take in; there is a steep learning curve when using a flight stick essentially for the first time and being in VR, you can’t exactly see the buttons easily, but you eventually get the hang of things. I tried playing with a gamepad a little bit and the learning curve is far less steep. It feels really, really good with a controller in your hands and you don’t lose out on any functionality playing that way. I also tried out keyboard and mouse, but for me, that felt like a huge step backwards in terms of immersion.

After I got a feel for where each button was it all started to feel like second nature. Keyboard and mouse, as well as gamepad, have the same sort of muscle memory that kicks in after a while to a lesser extent, but after trying all three formats the flight stick is absolutely my favorite way to play, followed by gamepad.

It’s also worth mentioning that in terms of performance I did have some minor issues. For some reason VR mode only works if the game is windowed, not full screen or borderless, but that’s not a big deal since you’re not looking at the window anyway. Also, I’ve had two crashes so far back to desktop. Luckily, there are generous checkpoints during missions so I barely lost any progress at all each time.

Star Wars: Squadrons Multiplayer

I have unfortunately not had the chance to try out multiplayer yet. During the scheduled play session I was not available for the first part of the time slot and then when I tried to queue for a match I never found one. I’ll be sure to spend a lot of time in multiplayer after launch before finalizing this review.

However, you can play entire Fleet Battle matches against the AI and I did get to do that without issues. This is the big multiplayer game mode on display here, akin to Galactic Assault from Battlefront or Conquest in Battlefield.

In Fleet Battle there are two armies with massive flagships anchoring their spot in space. First, the fighters battle it out in a game of tug of war to try and earn enough “morale” to wage an assault on the enemy’s two medium-sized capital ships. From there, whoever wins the tug of war, takes the fight to the capital ships. Once those are down you can attack the opponent’s massive flagship to win the match — but it’s not that simple.

At any time during a Fleet Battle the enemy can win back the morale tug of war and flip to the offensive, forcing you to go on the defensive. Once you’re attacking a flagship, like a Star Destroyer, you can take out its subsystems such as the shields, its power supplies, its turrets, and so on to slowly chip away until it’s destroyed in an epic ball of fire.

There is an in-game tutorial that takes you through all of this against AI, as well as the aforementioned AI enemies only mode you can play solo or with friends.

I have not had a chance to see it all in action yet, but Squadrons will also contain a fully-featured seasonal ranking structure, similar to most AAA online games, complete with ranks, rewards, daily missions, and so on. There are plenty of carrots to keep you moving along and coming back to earn juicy cosmetics since EA has stated there will be no microtransactions at all this time.

Star Wars: Squadrons Review In Progress Final Impressions

From what I’ve played so far, Star Wars: Squadrons has exceeded my already lofty expectations. It out-performs every other VR space combat game I’ve tried across the board for my tastes and offers a ton of nuance in its gameplay and immense entertainment with its full, robust campaign mode. If you got a chance to try the brief, but magical, X-Wing VR Mission in the first DICE Battlefront game on PS4 with PSVR and wished it could have been made into a full game, then this is exactly that and so much more. Some tiny performance issues and a lack of VR support for your hands and in cutscenes is unfortunate, but more than forgivable.

Minor gripes aside, for fans of Star Wars, fans of arcade-style space combat, and fans of just flat-out immersive VR, it doesn’t get a whole lot better than Star Wars: Squadrons.

 

Final Score: TBD

This review will eventually be scored according to our 5-star scale. For more on how we arrive at our scores, check out our review guidelines. 

Star Wars: Squadrons releases on October 2nd for PC, PS4, and Xbox One for $39.99. VR support is included with PSVR on PS4 and any PC VR headset on PC. This review was conducted primarily using an Oculus Quest via Link cable on PC, as well as a Quest 2 with Link cable and Rift S.

For more on Star Wars: Squadrons, such as the best HOTAS controllers and flight sticks to try, check out our coverage hub for everything VR in Star Wars: Squadrons. 

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