The first time I heard about Star Wars: Squadrons, my heart leapt straight into my throat. Everyone has that holy grail game; the one that they desperately want, but can hardly dare to believe will actually happen. For me, that was a fresh take on the X-Wing series, LucasArts' line of space combat simulators that enjoyed immense popularity in the '90s.
It's difficult to convey just how much the X-Wing series, particularly TIE Fighter, means to me. It was a series that spurred my love of Star Wars, marked my first experience with online gaming, and even taught me a thing or two about how to make games. It offered the perfect balance between arcade and simulation sensibilities, fulfilling the fantasy of being Wedge Antilles in the Death Star trench while telling a great story to boot.
The X-Wing series died along with the space combat simulation genre around 2000; a period that marked the end of what I would call PC gaming's Silver Age. Simulations gave way to shooters, isometric RPGs ceded the stage to MMORPGs, and the boundaries that defined PC and console gaming began to steadily erode. In such a world, space combat simulators had no place, or so it seemed.
I had given up hope a long time ago that X-Wing would ever make a comeback; certainly not with EA at the helm. I was content with Star Wars Battlefront 2's excellent starfighter mode and told myself that it was good enough. But now we have Star Wars: Squadrons, and as Michael Scott would say, I'm ready to get hurt again.
Revealed last week, Star Wars: Squadrons's first gameplay was shown at today's EA Play event, and it was exciting to say the least. Though it seems built around a faster-paced brand of action gameplay than its predecessors, Star Wars: Squadrons is clearly inspired by the X-Wing series, bringing back classic features like power management and a first-person cockpit UI. To that end it's adding customizable pilots, complex ship loadouts, and even the odd Ewok bobblehead for your cockpit.
At first blush, it seems good. Really good. The five-minute trailer reveals a game that indeed looks like a heightened version of the original X-Wing games, melding the more tactical gameplay of the simulations with Rogue Squadron-like setpiece battles. Careful examination reveals graphics that actually seem fairly simple, but are buoyed by generous amounts of particle effects, as well as genuinely beautiful 3D cockpits that are beyond anything from the PC games of old.
The teamwork-driven gameplay seems especially promising. As shown in the trailer, fighters in Star Wars: Squadrons all have specific roles, and they can be individually customized to fit certain strategies. I'm already imagining a squadron of Y-wings kitted out with heavy weaponry, and I'm shuddering. Anyone who played X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter will tell you that the Y-wing was probably the most powerful fighter in the game… unless you counted the B-wing, of course, which sadly appears to be missing in action in Star Wars: Squadrons.
While it's only 5v5, the battles shown in Star Wars: Squadrons seem hectic and exciting, giving weight to my theory that A.I. opponents will be mixed in with player-controlled squadrons. Of special note are the Fleet Battles—multi-stage fights culminating in a battle around a Star Destroyer or Mon Calamari Cruiser. It would be nice to have more specific mission objectives similar to those of Star Wars Battlefront 2, but the Fleet Battles nevertheless offer a welcome bit of structure beyond basic dogfights.
Beyond that, it was kind of hard to focus on specific details, if only because I was just so thrilled to see a new X-Wwing game running on modern hardware. When the game you've been pining for 25 years finally appears, it's hard to stay objective. The follow-up to X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter I've always wanted is finally here, and it looks good! It looks really, really good!
What's funny is how it's almost like the developers at EA Motive have read the private wishlist I've kept all these years. Customizable pilots? Check. Unlockable cosmetic doodads? Check. VR, flightstick support, and individual campaigns for both the Rebels and Imperials? Check, check, and check. This would have been the game of my dreams in 2000.
Indeed, I have to keep telling myself to keep my expectations in check. To put it mildly, EA doesn't have the best track record with Star Wars, and at $40, it has the whiff of being a budget experience to it. It could all wind up being rather thin; a couple single-player campaigns that are little more than glorified tutorials, a tiny handful of maps, and just a few starfighters. And, of course, we still have to see if it plays as well as it looks.
You'll forgive me for not wanting to be cynical, though. I really had given up hope of seeing another X-Wing game—at least of the sort that I wanted to play—and it feels like nothing short of a miracle to see Star Wars: Squadrons in action. I'm begging you, EA: please do not screw this one up. Being able to play an actual good X-Wing game in VR would almost make this wretched year worth it.
Star Wars: Squadrons will be out October 2. It's gonna be a long wait.