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In "Star Wars: Squadrons," there are two modes: Dogfights and Fleet battles. 

Back in 1998, “Star Wars: Rogue Squadrons” captured the essence of being a pilot in The Galactic Civil War between the Rebel Alliance and the Empire. It was well received then and still boasts itself as a cult classic 20 years later. Being its spiritual successor, “Star Wars: Squadrons” has a lot to live up to. 

I’ll start by saying this: if one’s a fan of the “Rogue Squadron” franchise, then “Star Wars: Squadrons” might be a perfect fit. However, if one isn’t, then it might be hard to overlook the poorly designed story and lack of content the game offers.

At its best, “Squadrons” is truly fantastic, as its impressive flight mechanics make each space battle tense and full of excitement. At its worst, it’s buggy, frustrating and begs the question of why EA Motive didn’t wait another year to release this game. 

“Squadrons” is split into two separate sections: the single player story and the multiplayer mode. The story has the player create two characters, one for the New Republic and one for the Empire, and sends them straight into the action. 

I have several complaints about the story, but I’ll start off with the strange decision Motive made on how players explore the main hub of both factions. To start off, this area is where the player will customize their ship, view briefings before missions and talk to fellow squad members— point being that players will be spending a good amount of time in this location between missions.

This is where the design problems start to come in. Motive implemented a first-person perspective that seemed to focus on supporting virtual reality (VR) for this area. This means the player won’t be able to see their customizable character, and on top of that, they’re not allowed to walk or move around throughout the main hub. Instead, the player will move their camera to the left or right and hold down a button to teleport to their desired location.

This was all fine for when I wanted to play in VR, but when I wasn’t, it was a major let-down to not be able to see my character interact with anybody or anything around me. To make matters worse, the player’s character has no voice and won’t respond to anything being said by their squadmates or commander. This resulted in awkward interactions — whether it was well written or not — that had me repeatedly witness several characters talking and responding to themselves for minutes on end. 

Every now and then, I heard my pilot reacting to elements while I was in battle, but that didn’t make up for the lack of effort put into the narrative scenarios that were supposed to be meaningful interactions. 

Sadly, the bad news doesn’t stop there. While the story has an interesting premise and some charming writing, it only lasts around seven to eight hours. This wasn’t nearly enough time for me to grow even remotely close to the characters I was introduced to. 

After finishing the short campaign, it was obvious Motive didn’t prioritize this mode, and to support that clause even further, my game glitched on several occasions. On my second mission into the story, my game froze on the loading screen, forcing me to turn off my console and repeat the entire mission.

After beating the game, I didn’t receive the trophy for reaching this achievement. When I went back to check what had happened, I noticed the game had wiped my data for the first four missions I had completed. Not cool EA, not cool. 

Luckily, my experience with “Squadrons” improved immensely when I focused my attention to the multiplayer side of the game. The flight mechanics truly shine in online matches, and no matter how bad the rest of the game is, “Squadrons” features the best space combat out of any game I’ve ever encountered. 

There are two modes: Dogfights and Fleet battles. Dogfights are 6v6 battles and provide a good place to practice the complex controls of flying the several fighters offered to the player. Fleet Battles are where teamwork and strategy get mixed into the chaotic fun of blasting TIE fighters and Corvettes to pieces. 

In Fleet Battles, five players will go up against another group of five. Backing each squadron up is a massive fleet of AI-controlled pilots, with several Corvettes, Frigates and Cruisers. This mode is multi-staged, as the players will have to fight until their side gains enough morale before moving on to the next objective. The final goal is to destroy the other fleet’s capital ship, and upon doing so, that team will win the match. 

My main concern about multiplayer was that it only had two different modes. However, I’ve had an absolute blast playing both of these options — especially Fleet Battles — and have yet to grow tired of either. It also helps that each side, the New Republic and the Empire, has four separate ships to choose from and plenty of options to customize each one to the player’s playstyle.

Each ship has its own specialty. The X-Wing is a well-balanced ship that has average mobility and firepower, the Y-Wing is slower but specializes in bombing larger spacecrafts, and the U-Wing can support squadmates by supplying them with shields and using its unique laser blast to render enemy ships inert.

These options turn online battles into tactical skirmishes that favor the squadron that’s working together. It was more than satisfying to see a thought-out plan come to fruition as the Victory text would scroll across my screen.

“Star Wars: Squadrons” is uniquely really bad yet really good at the same time. The single player mode is a jumbled mess of ideas that don’t flow together, but the multiplayer is exceptionally fun and tactical with impressive flight mechanics. My only hope is that EA Motive will continue to support this game and fix the glaring issues that have otherwise spoiled what could’ve been a great experience. 

Contact Daniel Carter at carte3dt@dukes.jmu.edu. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter and Instagram @Breeze_Culture.