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Star Wars: Squadrons channels X-Wing vs TIE Fighter with dual campaigns, multi-stage fleet battles

I'm not going to say X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter is back—it's too soon to say if Star Wars: Squadrons will be the grand return of Star Wars flight sims—but there are some promising details in the five-minute gameplay reveal video above. Star Wars: Squadrons is a five-on-five multiplayer dogfighting game, with singleplayer campaigns for both the Empire and New Republic (the game also uses the name "Rebels," so the exact timing is unclear). It's hard to tell, from the trailer, just how deep or "simmy" the flight model will be, but from the glimpses we catch of the cockpit, it looks more TIE Fighter, less Rogue Squadron.

The cockpit includes throttle, laser charge, power management for shields/weapons/engines, a radar field for tracking enemy ships, ammo counter for heavy weapons, hull integrity and front/rear shields. I compared the display to the old manual for Star Wars X-Wing, and it's nearly identical. (Shields are absent in the Squadrons diagram, because the TIE Fighter doesn't have any).

(Image credit: EA)

The trailer breaks down what we'll be flying, and there are four ship classes with mostly familiar fighters in each:

  • Fighters: TIE Fighter (Empire), X-Wing (New Republic)
  • Interceptors: TIE Interceptor (Empire), A-Wing (New Republic) 
  • Support: TIE Reaper (Empire), U-Wing (New Republic)
  • Bomber: TIE Bomber (Empire), Y-Wing (New Republic)

Fighters are the most well-rounded and the best suited to a straight-up dogfight. Interceptors give up some firepower and durability in exchange for pure speed. Support ships can resupply their squadron's weaponry and use ion cannons to disable other ships, but don't have much firepower. And bombers, of course, deliver a huge punch but need cover, because they're sloooow.

The U-Wing and TIE Reaper, for Star Wars nerds keeping track, were invented just a few years ago, for Rogue One.

The modern hook in Squadrons appears to be ship customization, which seems destined to be tied to a leveling system that lets you unlock more advanced weaponry. "Unlock everything you need to customize your pilot and starfighters, simply by playing the game," the trailer says. "From cosmetics to an arsenal to over 50 components to how your ships fly, fight, and survive, you can dramatically change your loadout depending on your squadron's strategy."

(Image credit: EA)

There's a lot to unpack there. There are clearly two elements to the unlockables: 

  • Cosmetics, in the form of ship colors/skins, pilot customization, and in-cockpit decorations (the Ewok bobblehead reminds me of the dashboard gadgets we've seen in games like MechWarrior Online)
  • Gameplay-altering components, including different lasers, shields, missiles, and more

There's no explanation of microtransactions for skins or components in the trailer, and I'm curious to know more about the unlock process—like if any component can be used in any ship, or if Squadrons tracks your individual progress with every fighter. I'm guessing that Battlefield's class progression system will be an inspiration here.

Speaking of Battlefield, Squadrons' big showcase multiplayer mode is a three-stage assault on a capital ship called Fleet Battles, which the trailer says you can play solo or with a team of friends, against AI or against other humans. This sounds a lot like Operations, which we called the best multiplayer mode of 2016 in Battlefield 1. Fleet Battles open with a dogfight before transitioning to an assault on two smaller capital ships, culminating in an attack on a flagship (a Star Destroyer or Mon Calimari cruiser). The flagships have hardpoints to destroy before they'll go down.

(Image credit: EA)

"At each phase, your squadron either pushes the line forward, or falls back to defend," says the trailer. "It's your squadron's choice of how to play." The "choice" part here is a bit confusing, because the trailer also says the winner of the dogfight "pushes the front line." I can't quite tell if this is a tug of war, where each team has capital ships on the line and the match can go back and forth, or if it's a pure attack/defense mode.

How do you successfully defend—is there a time limit to each phase? Does each team have only a certain number of respawns to use up? There's a lot more to learn about how these matches will actually play out.

Star Wars: Squadrons looks beautiful, though. I love how each battlefield seems to be anchored around a planet or an asteroid field or space wreckage, something to anchor your sense of perspective and give a backdrop other than an endless starfield. The diversity of playable human characters and aliens already looks greater than any other Star Wars game outside the MMOs. The sense of speed looks awesome for playing on a 144 Hz monitor, and vomit-inducing for playing in VR, which Squadrons supports. But hey, Puke Squadron has a certain ring to it.

Star Wars Squadrons is out on October 2nd.

When he's not 50 hours into a JRPG or an opaque ASCII roguelike, Wes is probably playing the hottest games of three years ago. He oversees features, seeking out personal stories from PC gaming's niche communities. 50% pizza by volume.