Star Wars Squadrons first impressions from a flight simmer

Last night I had a few hours with the new Star Wars Squadrons game from EA and I thought I would write a bit about my experiences with the title from the perspective of a flight simmer. I’ve found quite a bit of crossover between the more serious side of flight simming and people who enjoy a good Star Wars game – especially one that puts us in the cockpit of an X-Wing or TIE Fighter. These are some first impressions.

My perspective

I’m writing about Star Wars squadrons both as a fan of the old Lucas Arts X-Wing and TIE Fighter series of games (including X-Wing vs TIE Fighter) that I played in the 90’s as well as a fan of other space combat games stretching back from Wing Commander and all the way up to Descent: FreeSpace. In more recent times, as any regular readers here will know, I’m all in on more realistic aviation simulations from the new Microsoft Flight Simulator to the intense combat of DCS World and IL-2: Great Battles.

When I load up a game like Star Wars Squadrons, particularly after the developers have talked about full HOTAS support, I’m looking to make use of my flight sim gear as much as possible. More on that in a moment but let’s talk about the game itself.

Feels like Star Wars

The folks at Motive Studios have done a great job of making the game feel like Star Wars. From the look and feel of the ships to the audio design to the subtle and not so subtle film grain that they are placing on top of the scene, it all just fits together in a very “Star Wars” fashion.

I’ll likely write a full review later so I can save some of my thoughts for then but I did want to say that I appreciate the effort that went into creating several scenes in the game that show hangars and briefing rooms. In multiplayer, the waiting room places you and your four fellow pilots standing around a holographic table (an interactive one that you can watch a briefing on how things work in the game mode you’re playing). While getting ready for the mission you can go down to the hangar deck and interact with your ship – making cosmetic and systems modifications.

While you’re doing this, there are large numbers of characters walking around, working on things, talking and having conversations that are barely perceptible but all there. And it just adds atmosphere in an incredible way.

It’s almost indescribable what makes something feel like you’re watching or in Star Wars but I can report back as a fan of the movies from a young age that this is Star Wars. Really well done!

Into the space combat

There are several things that I already like quite a bit about Star Wars Squadrons. It is the closest thing to X-Wing and TIE Fighter as I can remember. It’s been many years since I played those games but this feels very similar but with a big graphical boost.

The best thing about those games was their hardcore attention to gameplay. Space combat was fast and sometimes brutal with targeting systems and power management to consider. Double front or double back shields from the movies? That was there and it’s here too.

Both sides have an equal number of ships with some asymmetry in terms of characteristics but overall everything feels well balanced between the Rebel Allian… ahem… New Republic and Imperials (this is set after the events of Return of the Jedi after all). The classics are all here with notable exception of the B-Wing which I really want to fly sometime.

The way the ships move is also very familiar to those old games. Not entirely and I feel like the physics could be a bit better but overall it’s satisfying enough. Make a quick turn and there’s definitely enough momentum on display to make it feel like you’re flying something that actually might exist. There’s also some cool slide mechanics that come into play especially when you use an available speed boost.

There are plenty of weapon and accessory modifications that change blasters or add different types of missiles or torpedoes. Each has an advantage or disadvantage which means there shouldn’t automatically be a better option although I’m sure some “meta” combinations may emerge and then get balanced out as with most games.

None of this is anything like the systems and flight modeling that we see in a flight simulation title, especially something like DCS World, X-Plane, IL-2 or some other more serious simulator but it is done well enough to give a little depth to the experience.

Multiplayer battles

Last night I flew multiplayer with several people including Requiem from the Air Combat Tutorial Library, YouTube and Twitch steamer Wolfpack345 and Erik from Geeks with Kids podcast and Twitch stream. Based on responses at the end of several matches, we all had a great time doing it.

We did dogfights first before unlocking Fleet Battles. I think Fleet Battles is really the mode you want to spent the most time with as its a lot of fun and unlocks the full potential of all of the ships – especially the TIE Bomber and Y-Wing. It pitted us against both human and AI ships which helped to make us feel like we were part of a big Star Wars space battle. The scenarios feature a lot of “terrain” including asteroids, space stations, and the like. Space feels very crowded at times but that’s part of the fun.

Controller woes

Motive and the PR folks at EA made a big deal about VR support and HOTAS support, however, I can speak to the HOTAS part and say that the system is, at present, only half baked.

First, it only seems to recognize three controllers at once and so many people have had to resort to things like VJoy and Joystick Gremlin to try and create custom profiles to get the game to recognize their hardware. Star Wars Squadrons won’t recognize my VIRPIL MongoosT-50 throttle at all no matter what I’ve tried so far. Instead I awkwardly bound several controls to my WarBRD which at the least was working.

There’s some deadzone baked into the controller schemes too which is annoying and reduces the sensitivity causing overshoots. While useful for gamepads, its not for joysticks. I honestly think they are treating joysticks in the same way as a gamepad and that’s just not how it should be done.

The customization options also don’t seem to be terribly well thought through. It’s hard to determine which controls can use an axis, which are push button, and why do I need a customization screen for how to interact with the menu? The focus should be on the ship key bindings. It feels rather tacked on and it has me looking for sales on gamepad controllers that might work better with the title. Others in the group and elsewhere did have success with their hardware but it seems to all come from the mainstream hardware producers – Logitech and Thrustmaster.

Also, while the game supports VR headsets (of which I don’t own and can’t comment on), it strangely doesn’t support TrackIR/OpenTrack solutions. With VR being far harder to get right there are few reasons why head tracking options are not here .

My message to Motive and other developers is that these are not the only companies you should support and your software should let us use any game controller recognized hardware. Indie space sim title House of the Dying Sun did this all (the VR, the headtracking and the controller management) without trouble so I feel like Motive, an EA backed studio, needs to step up here.

High hopes

Controller woes aside, Star Wars Squadrons does what it advertises which is put you into the cockpit of some of Star Wars’ most recognizable space ships and let you act out the fantasy of flying around in an X-Wing, TIE Fighter and other ships from this fictional universe in stunning fashion. The gameplay is fast, well thought out for the most part, and has some fun customizations. Multiplayer is where it’s at for the game but I look forward to getting into the campaign more too which seems to be more than I was expecting.

At $40 the price point on Star Wars Squadrons is not at full AAA title level but Motive made a smartly focused title for that price point and it seems to have paid off. This is fun and well done title that impresses for the most part. It’s a nice diversion from more serious flight simulation into the fantastical world of Star Wars space combat. They just need to rethink and rework their controller support.

29 Comments Add yours

  1. harryvoyager says:

    Still just working through the sorry missions here, before I go into multiplayer, but I can say, the story didn’t make me want to claw my eyes out, and the space combat is fun, so it’s really met all of my real needs.

    I’m just hoping they can fix the bugs I’ve run into. So far I’ve been able to find work-arounds for me game breakers I’ve run into, but I am afraid I’m going to run into something that I can’t get past that’s going to break the game for me.

    I finally got to the first Y-Wing mission and am really hyped to see what the old dog can do 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Blue 5 says:

    OK, I am going to be hostile on this. Disney, Abrams et. al killed my love for Star Wars and I will not let the amazing experience that was Tie Fighter go the same way. Either this stacks up, or it is another nail in the coffin as I will not sign-up to a console half-arsed effort that takes Fortnite and translates it to X-Wings. Thus:
    – Is there any single-player worthy of the term?
    – Does the game seem at all intended for the PC market?
    – Is there any point in the missions beyond pew-pew?
    – Is there any love in this game akin to the clear effort that went into the ‘90s SW games or something like Free Space (arguable the apogee of plot-driven, player involvement)?

    I sense that the answer is ‘no’. I would be delighted to be wrong. This is a most desperate hour. Help me, Shamrock, you’re my only hope…

    Like

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      Tough questions but let me try to answer with some nuance.

      Single player? Yes. I haven’t played it all the way through but from what I’ve seen this is a decent enough, story driven, experience with immersion in the classic Star Wars universe. I will write more when I’m finished. IMHO I expected a tutorial campaign with a few missions and my expectations were exceeded.

      PC market? I feel less good about this one. It’s definitely built for console. That said it doesn’t play like it’s a bad port… except for the control issues that I’ve talked about. Everything else feels solid to me.

      There seems to be. The prologue missions were plot driven rather than mindless shooting fests. We even scanned some cargo! A TIE Fighter classic.

      There is some love here for sure. Keep in mind that the scope here is small – a $40 title doesn’t get the same funding as a $80 one so they devs had to keep the scale small and they did it well. It feels like Star Wars.

      I need more time with it. These are first impressions only and I’ll need to play a lot more before I can give a real answer. There’s also nostalgia to consider. TIE Fighter was incredible in the 90’s. We might find it clunky in the modern day.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. For what it’s worth, since I’m in a similar fandom boat, I’ll throw my 2 cents in, too:

      – The single player game is reasonably well orchestrated and I’m enjoying it so far. I was originally put off by the idea that I would have to switch between the Imperial and New Republic over the course of the campaign; My natural inclination is to want two separate campaigns so I can fully immerse myself in my chosen role/side. However, it doesn’t bother me nearly as much as I thought I would. It unfolds more like a cohesive story about these two squadrons, and it turns out that’s just fine.

      – Intended for PC market? Mixed bag, here. Some yes, some no. The no, as alluded to by Shamrock already, is related mostly to the controller mapping. Which isn’t awful, but you can definitely feel how they were trying to straddle a line to make the experience as similar as possible on consoles AND PC. The VR experience is incredible. I cannot understate how cool and immersive it is. But I will need a HOTAS setup that works because trying to map everything I need to my single joystick just isn’t feasible.

      – The missions don’t feel like empty pew-pew. There is a narrative element to them that feels cool. However, I can see how with enough repetition, they could become stale for some folks. But that’s the same with any multiplayer game, really. I’d love to see some mission editing tools released someday so the community can tell their own stories and keep the content “living.”

      – The love is real. I know EA’s “hyper polish” can be off putting, since they have a history of putting out technically beautiful looking but often soulless products. But this isn’t EA so much as Motive Squadrons, I can say, feels loving crafted by people who “get” Star Wars, what makes it cool and fun and all the design elements that make it so. As material goes, on the scale of New Trilogy to Rogue One / Mandalorian, it definitely falls closer to the latter, in my book. (If you don’t love Rogue One or the Mandalorian, I’ve no use for you, gtfo out of my office! :P)

      All said and done, Squadrons isn’t *perfect*, but it’s really, really good, and I definitely want more.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. ShamrockOneFive says:

        Thanks for the comments John! You’ve got me excited for more of the single player experience. Just need some time with it!

        Like

      2. Blue 5 says:

        Hi John,

        between you and Shamrock’s considered responses that is an excellent review of the product and I may now buy it. I thought Rogue One was great and far superior to the new trilogy which IMHO went downhill faster that a 150 octane Tempest.

        The interleaving of missions for both sides leaves me rather cold: I can see why they made this choice, but I would have preferred 2 x 7 mission campaigns for either side (maybe it can be modded for this?) than mixing. One of my delights of the Tie Fighter extended campaigns was the idea that the Empire was fighting a huge internal civil war that engaged many of their best commanders, technology and elements of their fleet away from the fight against the Rebels. Thrawn, Tie Advanced, Defenders and Missile Boats were not at Endor because there was a huge other war occurring simultaneously.

        To labour the point, what pissed me off about Disney was that they took 30 years of really good EU books, plots and ideas then tossed them in the bin in favour of re-running a sub-par version of the originals.

        Tie Fighter made an engaging plot that bridged ESB with ROTJ while adding a whole extra concept that widened the canon. The aftermath of Endor should be another opportunity to undertake a similar exercise based on Zahn, Stackpole and others.

        Once the engine has been built and missions developed, why not have the ability to fly these as an X-Wing, Y-Wing etc or Tie In unit? What is this obsession with ‘elite’ formations thar switch aircraft mission to mission? I reiterate that FreeSpace 2 should be a guiding light on how this can be done: it was gripping, it tested the pilot, it varied the challenge but it used subtle aspects (you are transferred to a different unit) which engendered a feeling that the player was part of a larger military operation. It also gave away – for free – the full ME.

        I suspect I will buy this, but once again the Star War franchise underwhelms me despite having so many classic guides on how it might evolve. I replayed Tie Fighter ad infinitum and still enjoyed it. Why a 2020 game developer cannot simply copy / paste that template on a new engine continues to baffle me.

        Like

      3. ShamrockOneFive says:

        Keep in mind that I think this whole product is a test. We haven’t seen a major publisher anywhere put out a space combat game like this since…. FreeSpace 2. EA is testing the waters after it was made clear that there is a market out there. So what they did is get a smaller developer, with a smaller budget, and a $40 price tag and made a game of it.

        Star Wars Squadrons is tightly focused because of that. That, in part, is a good thing but it also means making several concessions – mission editors, quick battles, etc. While I never want to suggest someone buy on the hopes that something else might happen later… I do think this is a test. If popular, maybe a bigger title will come after. But I wouldn’t count on it either.

        Like

  3. bigalrico says:

    Thanks for your article and your thoughts!

    I think Squadrons are great so far. Even if there are a few concessions, you have the feeling of sitting in a tie hunter or an X-Wing. What generally pleases me is the difficulty after you have to respect both the displays (when you, like me, mostly turn off the HuD) and the power, weapons and shields. Plus the management of energy (for the empire) and shields (for the republic), which makes you think about how to adjust these settings before you get closer to your target. Also the campaign was better than expected even when you can’t really choose wich side you wanna fly on.

    Nevertheless I think it’s a shame that TrackIR is not supported. Fortunately I didn’t run into these setup problems with my Thrustmaster setup. Nevertheless I wish for everyone who has such problems that the problems will be solved quickly.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. JP says:

    Thanks for the write up – great and informative as always

    I have purchase and played it for about an hour. That hour has been trying to get my joystick to show up in the game. The controller detection and set up is a mess

    That said I’ll wait for a patch to see if EA address the issue or hunt around for a workaround. I’m sure I’ll keep it but would really like to actually fly it within my 2 hour steam refund window

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Blue 5 says:

      “…Also the campaign was better than expected even when you can’t really choose which side you wanna fly on.”

      Whaaaa….?

      Like

      1. r315r4z0r says:

        The campaign follows the story of two elite squadrons. One from the new republic and one from the Empire. It changes perspective after every mission.

        Like

      2. r315r4z0r says:

        The campaign follows two opposing squadrons. One from the New Republic and one from the Empire. The story swaps perspectives back and forth every mission.

        Like

  5. Aaron says:

    I grew up with tie fighter and xwing all the way to xwing alliance.

    I had such high hopes for this game. Day one purchase for me.

    I played it and then promptly asked for my refund. Why?

    I cannot stomach aim assist on the PC. I cannot stomach leading indicators to help deflection shooting too.

    And there is no way to turn that off.

    I find nobody talks about aim assist. Just have the enemy in the “centre” and squeeze the trigger and the lasers will slew magically to the enemy. What is that??

    Like

    1. harryvoyager says:

      Given every modern fighter has a lead indicator, If find it more weird if they didn’t have one. Especially since they were in the original X-Wing games from the 90’s.

      On the aim assist, I haven’t really noticed much beyond very short range engagements. There are guided guns for most platforms though. Are you sure you aren’t using those by mistake?

      That said, I’m playing the singleplayer campaign on Veteran mode, so that may adjust the level of aim assist.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. ShamrockOneFive says:

      It seemed so minor to me and even part of in universe canon that I hardly ever noticed. The fighting was so intense that I quickly faded into the background and let me focus more on power management.

      Different experiences for all!

      Like

      1. Aaron Lai says:

        Thanks for your comment. I felt that there was aim assist but this was confirmed when I got to that first mission where I was in the X Wing heading to help that Captian Jarvos.

        After flying under Star Destroyer, there were 3 TIE in the distance. I placed them within the square, but not at the cross hairs, and fired. I watched my canons “move” aka Darth Vader to shoot down the TIE. No precision required!

        Sigh, I hope they give us the option to turn this on or off.

        Like

  6. harryvoyager says:

    The in game flight mechanics are clunky in TIE Fighter and X-Wing, but the inter-mission stuff still holds up.

    It’s the same sort of system used on point and click adventures, and there really hasn’t been much, mechanically, that needed to change. In some ways it’s still a cleaner interface than the one Squadrons uses.

    I do hope we get a mission builder for it. I had the skeleton of a Y-Wing campaign that I think would be quite fun in this engine.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Simfan says:

    “I find nobody talks about aim assist. Just have the enemy in the “centre” and squeeze the trigger and the lasers will slew magically to the enemy. What is that??”
    That means it is an arcade title.
    But a good one at it for sure !
    I, personally, don’t care … I am supposed to be the hero, use the force and all that … so why not bend light while I am at it ? 🙂
    But I do not need a story at all (Star Wars saga or other) … only a QMB and FME … which is not in there.

    I used my old TM Hotas X for this arcade title and that 60 USD stck did what it always did … work as designed … no problems there.

    This will not leave my SSD any time soon.

    Thank you ShamRockOnFive for yet another great article.

    IMHO … my conclusion : this is a Great motiv / EA Arcade title

    Liked by 2 people

  8. dapperdave42 says:

    The menu control rebind options are necessary if you’re in VR (using the default keyboard is a PITA if you have VR + HOTAS)

    Like

  9. Daniel says:

    Just wanted to add that my virpil throttle does work in this game so don’t give up just yet!! What the game did not recognize at first was my rudder pedals. It picked up my virpil throttle, stick and a razor keypad that I had connected to a usb hub. It ended up picking up the rudder only after turning off the usb hub port that it was connected to and restarting the game. Hopefully this also applies to your situation and you get it working!

    Like

  10. Doctor Drago says:

    It was very clear to me that this game is designed primarily for consoles, with PC support hastily, and I think shoddily, tacked on. The promise of HOTAS support is nonexistent, and there’s no excuse for it. If your marketing includes a claim of support for “Full HOTAS Setups”, then my stick, throttle, and rudder had better be able to work. But they didn’t. Combined with the mandatory deadzones and lack of TrackIR support, this is not the game they led me to believe it was going to be. Maybe it will become that one day, but I refunded while I could, and I’ll play XWA with the upgrade mods until then. At the moment, I couldn’t be more disappointed with Squadrons.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      I agree. Some of this was a disappointment especially with the way it was being marketed to us.

      I still haven’t found a solution for my throttle not working. I’m still hopeful that there’s a patch that will solve some of these problems.

      Like

      1. Guillermo says:

        Hey, I just posted you a solution to try. It worked for my Virpil’s where I couldn’t see my right joystick. Your problem sounds to be the exact same issue.

        Like

      2. Blue 5 says:

        Sometimes it is a priority of controllers issue – the system gets confused about which one is primary or some such thing. Unplug them and re-plug them?

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Guillermo says:

    Here’s a potential solution for your throttle problem. It worked for me with my Virpil gear.

    SWS only “sees” the first 4 game controllers connected to your pc and you can only use 3. Also, some devices create issues and SWS does not see any controllers that are placed below them on the list. A button box was an issue for me.
    To see the order that your devices are listed, run joy.cpl on windows.

    Once you see the list, disconnect anything that is listed above your throttle until it’s placed within the first 4 devices.

    Once this is done, run SWS and see if they show up. If the answer is yes, you know what the issue is.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      Thanks Guillermo! I only have two devices that I know of listed there but maybe there’s something else getting in the way. I’ll have a look!

      Like

      1. Blue 5 says:

        D’oh! Yep – what Guillermo said

        Liked by 1 person

      2. ShamrockOneFive says:

        Thanks! 🙂 I’ve been super busy but as soon as I’m able I’m going to check this out.

        Like

  12. Sachiko says:

    I have the Index and its great and really is made for VR and in multiplayer those who use VR have a very distinct advantage just as DCS or Xplane11 and TrackIR sorry but VR was the thing everyone wanted to replace it with I have a TrackIR but I never used it since the Vive came out works great with DCS and Xplane with a few tweaks.

    But with Squadrons its like being there as everyone says its hard to explain with VR you HAVE to try it to get it. I am a solo player or sometimes with my husband or IRL friends and in the story mode I really wish you could choose sides like the original games. I like flying as the bad guys not as the rebels or this back forth as it really ruins immersion but with VR I never had this much fun in a Tie fighter its unreal (o _ o)

    Like

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