A Comparison of Recent Star Wars Flight Experiences to Star Wars: Squadrons
Updated: Sep 23
The goal of this article is to provide a spoiler free comparison of recent, official Star Wars games that feature flight to the newly released Star Wars: Squadrons. This article was written using a copy of the game provided to Skyward Flight Media on September 30th, 2020.
During the lead up to Star Wars: Squadrons, I shelved all memories and hopes tied to beloved flight games and simulators of the 1990s and 2000s. Not out of negativity, but to realistically base my expectations on more recent flight experiences provided by official Star Wars games produced after LucasFilm was acquired by Disney in 2012.
As someone that has played Star Wars: Battlefront (2015), the Battlefront Rogue One: X-Wing VR Mission (2016) and Battlefront 2 (2017) from their launch days to their final content updates, I fully expected the experience of Star Wars: Squadrons not to measure up to the more flight simulator like presentation it had shown in its trailers. This is not because I thought the advertisements were lies, but because there had not been a title like this produced for quite some time in the Star Wars intellectual property. The facts are that the flight simulator genre is just not as consistently popular as first person shooters, action adventure games and other genres. Put bluntly: the more arcadey the game is, the more accessible it would be to players of all skill levels and in turn the easier it is to sale and maintain a player base.
With that being said, I had approached Star Wars: Squadrons fully prepared to be somewhat let down and began examining the game with a few different categories in mind: Spacecraft Selection, Baseline Specifications, Flight Performance, Power Management System, Component Modifications and Virtual Reality.
Galactic Empire spacecraft roster.
Star Wars: Squadrons sticks to a lean and mostly iconic selection of starfighters. The four spacecraft of the Galactic Empire and the four spacecraft of the New Republic make up the full roster of the game. The eight spacecraft are frequently used by the frontline forces of each side, as seen in Star Wars movies, TV series, games, comics and other media. Since the story of the game revolves around frontline squadrons, it makes sense that the equipment they have access to reflects that.
While a particularly rare TIE Advanced V1 is seen in the game, it is not something players can fly or unlock later. There are also no special campaign missions where players take a one-time flight in a high profile ship like the Millennium Falcon or have to fly the dreaded unarmed transport mission. As cool as it would be to have something like a never mass produced TIE Defender in the roster, trying to justify that without breaking the built up lore of the Star Wars universe would be hard. The addition of new starfighters in the future seems possible without breaking game balance, but there are no announcements about that at this time.
New Republic spacecraft roster.
The eight spacecraft are split between Bomber, Fighter, Interceptor and Support roles. Though they are given these designations they are more than able to be pressed into other roles beyond their purpose built role. There is no arbitrary damage increase or reduction system built into the game that forces players to only use the spacecraft for what the game states they must be used for. The forward mounted blasters of a Bomber will shred an Interceptor just as well a Fighter's would. What these roles do is introduce specific customization modules unique to that class of spacecraft. More on that in a later.
The only spacecraft availability restrictions that appear in Star Wars: Squadrons occur in the single-player campaign, and only for certain missions. This is done to introduce players to each spacecraft class. Effectively acting as a tutorial during certain parts of the campaign. The online multiplayer experience has no limits to the type of craft that can be flown. If the player and their allies want to run a flight of Support craft during a Dogfight match, power to them.
In Battlefront 2015 players could select from either a Fighter or Interceptor in two game modes. That gave a total of four possible spacecraft with weapons, abilities and specs that were not too different from one another. They were limited to having one primary weapon system and two abilities. Each of these craft were only accessible with Vehicle Tokens. Meaning players had to locate and activate these tokens mid-game to then fly the vehicles. Bombers were non-player controlled units that would attack specific targets depending on game mode, but mostly acted as units to protect as they neared an objective. Other craft like U-Wings, and noteworthy ships like Boba Fett's Slave I were available.
Battlefront 2 expanded its roster to 17 standard starfighters with an extra 12 ships classified as Hero or Villain (H/V) ships that had heavily increased stats. The 17 standard starfighters were separated between the three major Star Wars movie trilogies and sorted into Bomber, Fighter, Interceptor. Meaning that at any given time, anywhere between 6 to 10 of these craft would be available - with that number being reduced even further depending on how many H/V ships are in play at one time. All of that translates to an frequent access to 2 or 3 ships per match with the possibility of flying an H/V ship. Depending on the craft, all ships had a primary weapon system with three to four abilities unique to them that sometimes included missiles, turrets or jammers.
While Star Wars: Squadrons has a smaller roster of craft available, they are developed to take advantage of their built in systems without leveling up abilities. The weaponry, hulls and engines they can equip is diverse, powerful, and adds to the more tactical approach of the game.
Star Wars: Squadrons puts actual numbers to ship performance with noticeable differences in turn-rate, acceleration, shield recharge and overall has a good balance between all eight spacecraft. Remaining in line with Star Wars lore, the unmodified stats of each spacecraft are further adjusted by faction with Galactic Imperial TIEs having better overall maneuverability and the New Republic craft being stable platforms that utilize energy shields.
Further modifications can impact the baseline performance of each craft positively in some ways but negatively in other ways, allowing for unique loadouts that can push these spacecraft into roles they were not purpose built for.
This is a huge improvement over Battlefront 2015 in which each Fighter and Interceptor shared the same flight characteristics with no modifications available. In Battlefront 2, the Bombers, Fighters and Interceptors also maintained the same turn rate, acceleration rate, maximum speeds and hull armor as dictated by their class.
The question of how simulator-like Star Wars: Squadrons is must factor in the style of flight all Star Wars media has presented since the first movie came out in 1977. Star Wars has frequently forgone the complicated parts of astrodynamics to present a more visually stunning World War II style of close range combat.
That being said, Star Wars: Squadrons is a pretty advanced flight sim for Star Wars in general. In comparison to the last 5 years of flight experiences it has the most advanced flight performance. But by going into game options, further controls can be activated and adjusted. Things like digital throttle friction, advanced power management and dead zones for roll, pitch, yaw and throttle. The flight control inputs are very precise, allowing for specific parts of capital ships to be reliably targeted at long distances or easily twisting through gaps in an asteroid field. The ability to come to a complete stop in an effort to throw off enemies or take cover behind obstacles to prepare for an attack is a welcome addition, alongside the boost-drift for quickly changing directions. It is not the same as being able to rotate on an axis while the craft's momentum in space continues to carry it forward, but it still works.
More options specifically for flight sticks and HOTAS (Hands on Throttle and Stick) controllers become available when they are plugged in. No matter the device used to play Star Wars: Squadrons, all buttons can be remapped to create the ideal button layout.
Things can be further enhanced by adjusting the Pilot Experience option to Instrument Only or Custom. This removes on screen elements of the heads up display and forces players to only rely on the instruments within the cockpits of each spacecraft and their own visual scanning as they look for enemies, obstacles and objectives. This would be more inline with what actual pilots from the Star Wars universe would see.
Flying in Battlefront 2015 and the 2016 Rouge One: X-Wing VR Mission was limited to what would be considered ”novice controls” for arcade flight games: unable to roll, had to rely on button inputs to perform advanced flight maneuvers, ship automatically banked and yawed with a single directional input. Reducing speed to a point where spacecraft would float in place, reverse thrust, or stall (in atmosphere) was also not possible. Battlefront 2 did have an option to turn on Advanced Flight Controls which enabled players to have full roll control, but generally the flight experience was very similar to that of Battlefront 2015. Turning off HUD elements in these games leaves the player unable to use their instruments to track targets because the models of the spacecraft in those games were not built with functioning instruments.
Power Management System
This is a central part of Star Wars: Squadrons gameplay. This first layer of management is the common thread between both factions in the game. While in combat players are able to transfer the power within their craft between the engines, shields and weapons. Putting full energy into a single system grants an overcharge bonus to that system. With the corresponding system overcharged, engines can perform an afterburner style speed boost, weapons can receive a damage boost and shields can increase strength up to 200%. The second layer of the power management differs between whether or not the spacecraft does or does not have shields.
Those with shields can direct the position of their shields from the default full coverage to reinforced forward coverage or reinforced rear coverage. While shields are redirected to one quadrant the rest of the ship is unshielded. Redirection of shields is useful in certain situations, like attacking capital ships or defending against pursuing starfighters.
For spacecraft without shields the second layer is an emergency power converter. All energy can be put into either engines or weapons system to provide a massive power boost to either system but in turn the other system will be offline. Full energy into weapons will disable the engines, whereas full power to engines will allow for amazingly high speeds but weapons offline.
This system is very similar to the X-Wing series of games on PC from the 1990s. There is no recent equivalent of this system.
There are 60 components in Star Wars: Squadrons (information for the Galactic Empire, New Republic components as explained by Reviews.org). That is quite a large number, but keep in mind that not all components are compatible with each class of starfighter. Some components are only compatible with specific classes or on specific spacecraft. For example, Interceptors cannot equip capital ship breaking bombs, nor can the Ion cannon attached to the top of a Y-Wing be attached to a TIE Bomber.
The components are sorted between the categories: Primary Weapon, Left Auxiliary, Right Auxiliary, Countermeasures, Hull, Shields and Engine. The components are not only capable of changing speed, maneuverability, health, and shields, but also adding weapons like turret mines, tractor beams, bombs, torpedoes and missiles. While selection of the primary blaster firing modes is not possible during a mission or online match, changing the component of the primary weapon can change the rate of fire and firing mode; this varies depending on the component. Other abilities like repair droids, electronic jammers, resupply droids, assault shields, passive stealth abilities and engine upgrades add more diversity to each craft and allow for more complicated strategies to be deployed by individuals and teams alike.
Only in Battlefront 2 was there the Star Card upgrade system which allowed for adjustments to be done to the performance of each starfighter. Though they did not add new weapons or abilities, the Star Cards increased performance by a certain percentage. This was a welcome addition to the specification locked starfighters from Battlefront 2015, but not on the same level as the components Star Wars: Squadrons has.
This was one of the big selling points for Star Wars: Squadrons. Without needing to purchase downloadable content, have a separate game mode or being locked to a single platform, it is currently the best official Star Wars flight focused virtual reality experience. All 16 missions of the single player game, the mission briefings, personal interactions with characters before missions and multiplayer game modes are all available in VR. The only non-VR portions of the game are the cutscene videos which appear as a large, flat screen in front of players.
With this game not having a 3rd person view, the cockpits are immaculately designed to fit in every detail possible. Whether it’s a single seat fighter or a transport, every button, screen, cockpit frame bar, co-pilot seat or passenger seats - they are all modeled.
Star Wars: Squadrons is by far one of the best Star Wars VR experiences in general. Not only for flight, but in comparison to all other Star Wars virtual reality games in general. It is certainly better than the 2016 Rogue One: X-Wing VR Mission as a whole. Though that 2016 mission does have some features players wanting more immersion in the VR flight would prefer.
Star Wars: Squadrons is by far the most advanced Star Wars flight experience since this intellectual property changed ownership in 2012. Rightfully so, many people wonder if this more simulator like title will be the beginning of a new flight series to rival the Rogue Squadron series or X-Wing series, but only time, sales and reception will tell.
About the Writer
Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza
Co-founder of Skyward Flight Media. After founding Electrosphere.info, the first English Ace Combat database, he has been involved in creating flight game-related websites, communities, and events since 2005. He explores past and present flight games and simulators with his extensive collection of game consoles and computers. Read Staff Profile.