Review | 2020.10.03

Star Wars Squadrons Star Destroyer

I'm a few hours/levels into Squadrons and I'm pretty happy with it so far.

Star Wars Squadrons DXGIGetDebugInterface1 dxgi dll

The first ninety minutes were kind of slow. I had the game queued up for launch time, but I guess Win 10 is a hard requirement and we're not yet in the age of a game platform checking beforehand. Or presenting anything more descriptive than a linking exception.

I guess, among other things, dxgigetdebuginterface1 is required for crossplay. Eventually I got going, and it looks like this:

So here's a little more info about the game with some review/commentary material. It's not too far off my hype post.

Star Wars Squadrons TIE Interceptor aiming PJ Monkeybutt

The classic X-Wing mechanics have survived the twenty year hiatus. Everything plays more or less like it did in the 90s. Lasers, missiles, shielded rebels and evasive imperials.

Star Wars Squadrons Wedge strafing Star Destroyer

Let's talk buttons. X-Wing used half the keyboard and had a quick-reference guide. That felt impressive back in '94. I've since upgraded to the rare (thanks, MSFT Flight Sim) Thurstmaster T16000 stick/throttle. Learning to work both in concert reminds me of trying to learn to shift a motorcycle - I knew it was just muscle memory and I'd have to power through the learning process. Indeed, sometimes I perfectly cut throttle to 50% and twist the stick to bank so that I can execute a tight turn. Sometimes I get turned into a fireball and realize my throttle was at 10%.

And don't get me started on the iterations of button mappings I've done. But this is good. There are skills to master and - barring any gamebreaking dominant strategies - it's fun to get better and develop a style. I don't know, fly casual.

When you compound game mechanics, four very different fighter classes, loadouts, and team comp, you end up with a very deep combat system.

Star Wars Squadrons Imperial Light Cruiser

Writing an AI for a space combat game probably isn't a legendary challenge, but it's pretty good in this game. It's not hard to tell a real player from a (veteran, at least) AI, but the bots are well-behaved and you get the feeling of being a small part of a space battle. That is, until a wing of enemies decides to target you, then good luck. It's really easy to get blasted into oblivion despite dodging, running, or boosting shields. And that's actually a good thing; an OP protagonist or being always/rarely targeted by enemies is for other types of Star Wars games.

Star Wars Squadrons kill cam A Wing Star Destroyer

What have two decades of hardware and graphics APIs done for the genre? Quite a lot! Maybe not as much as you'd expect, but the game is pretty, doesn't drop frames, and supports VR that I really want to try.

Star Wars Squadrons ships

Squadrons lifts beautiful, over-the-top visuals from Rogue Squadron but more importantly borrows the N64 game's use of crowded chunks of space. Rather than flying around in a 3d sandbox with a few fighters and larger vessels, dogfights and fleet battles take place in asteroid fields and starship graveyards. Twisting around space rocks and hollow spaceports provides a feeling of speed and pilot skill, but more importantly allows players to break line-of-sight with attackers.

Capital ships still have a wealth of targetables, including specific turrets.

Star Wars Squadrons killcam

The killcam might be one of the most useful early-game features. E.g. "oh I guess I should have been maneuvering" or "everyone seems to be running the auto-aim cannon".

Star Wars Squadrons briefing room

Squadrons follows the X-Wing model of stitching the core gameplay segments together with environment and animations that give you the Star Wars feel. No lightsabers required.

Star Wars Squadrons challenges

The game designers were pretty vocal about minimizing microtransactions/p2w/etc. In that vein, game currency (top right) is:
Cool, incremental unlockables that don't require full-time farming. No frustrating p2w mechanics. The game offers daily challenges and a long-term challenge of challenges. Nothing innovative here, but incentivizing different play styles is great.

Star Wars Squadrons fighter upgrades

TIE Fighter introduced loadouts, Squadrons keeps that mechanic alive. Each ship has a half-dozen different systems to customize (via unlockables), and each of those has a handful of options. Upgrades aren't level 1-7, they're each unique and provide benefits and drawbacks. A couple examples:
The upgrades are only compatible with one or two craft, but unlocking them grants it for any acceptable loadout. So it's not unncessarily grindy, but means that you'll start by maining one or two ships from each faction.

Star Wars Squadrons fighter cosmetics

Look, I don't care what you say, I want a red T/I. Decals, hood ornaments, and player models are decent late-game unlockables. Once you have a sick paint job.

Star Wars Squadrons cinematics

The campaign is full of cutscenes and story. I'm just a few missions in, but the overall story feels X-Wingy. E.g. we just stole a Star Destroyer (spoiler alert). The dialogue, however, is both tropey and full of rah-rah/"you're an ace (rookie) pilot!" pandering. You can press space bar to skip, but I miss the old days of climbing the ranks or being a mercenary family that stumbles into the battle of Endor.

Star Wars Squadrons leaderboard

There is matchmaking. There is a ranking system that I haven't really found out much about. In a handful of dogfights, Mark, Jon, and I have had some good matching and some blowouts. In any event, good competition is the key to pvp longevity.
Fleet battles

Star Wars Squadrons tactical overlay map

So fleet battles are basically an adaptation of the Battlefield model for Star Wars. It pits opposing capital ships against each other in a cylindrical chunk of space; you can no longer fly off into the ether and instead sometimes hit the boundary and get turned back around into an asteroid.

Star Wars Squadrons fleet battle defend frigates A Wing

The battle takes place over 45ish minutes and while that feels somewhat epic, it also feels like you're following a script. The mechanics are set up to have alternating periods of attack and defense where each force trades frigate and fighter assaults.

It's hard to criticize a new game mode, but it really opens the door to a lot of untapped potential - less scripting, asymmetrical (but balanced) forces, different script/objective branches to progress the the battle in different ways, three-sided engagements. Actually, writing this makes me feel disappointed that such a great genre with such a faithful revival may never realize any of those.

@LucasArts Listen up.

Did I do that right?

Star Wars Squadrons TIE Bomber corvette attack

Fleet battles mode does provide a refreshing alternative to fighter/player-only dogfights and a campaign with tbd replay value (can I run it again with another craft?). Being able to focus on AI enemies to turn the tides of the battle or hop in a star destroyer destroyer Y-Wing simply offers more gameplay than raw dogfight battles.

Star Wars Squadrons fleet battle respawn point asteroids

It probably goes without saying, when you get blasted or hit an asteroid in fleet battles, you respawn after a short cooldown. You can also return to your capital ship to repair and rearm (instantly).

Star Wars Squadrons downscaled retro

Retro filter. Great game, well worth the money, I really wish it had:

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