If you want to sell someone on Star Wars: Squadrons, a few rounds in Dogfight will do it. Despite its relatively simple setup—five ships per side, first team to 30 kills wins—it's everything you want in a multiplayer mode. It's fast-paced and intense, with matches typically wrapping up in about 10 minutes.
But based on Squadrons's current setup, Dogfight doesn't seem to be intended as anything more than an afterthought; a palette cleanser, maybe, after a run through the more robust Fleet Battles experience. It's basic in the extreme, with no ladder, leaderboard, or overall rankings. It seems to exist mainly out of a sense of obligation.
And yet I keep going back to it, simply because it's so much fun. I'll dive through asteroids, cackling as I ambush enemy interceptors with Ion Missiles. I'll lurk inside the space station, picking off stragglers that dare to enter the trench area ringing its superstructure. Close battles are white-knuckle affairs that have me dodging and weaving, desperate to stay alive so that I don't add to the enemy kill count. When I win, I feel satisfied; when I lose, I want to go back for more.
It seems I'm not alone. A glance at the Star Wars: Squadrons subreddit shows that many players favor Dogfight mode, and would like EA to invest more heavily in its development.
"My group of five love [Dogfight], it's so strategic and epic when you can synergize and control the map. We play [Fleet Battles] and just are so lost and don't get it," one user writes.
Dogfight fans are united in requesting that EA add a ranked version. I agree with them. Ranked play would enhance matchmaking; add a meaningful sense of progression, and generally keep the mode from getting old. Adding ranked play to Dogfight would open up other opportunities as well. Ranked Teams would potentially encourage more squadrons to form, paving the way for tournaments and, yes, professional competitions. Solo Ranked would help public groups avoid teams looking to feast on the ladder, with ace pilots being able to earn medals based on their achievements at the end of the season.
Dogfight could certainly do with other enhancements, including a reduced spawn counter to keep teams from ganking enemies as soon as they appear, as well as additional maps. Ranked play is the big one, though. It's the difference between the mode having a long-term future, and rapidly withering.
In my Star Wars: Squadrons review, I referred to EA's new space combat sim as a "proof of concept," and nowhere is that more obvious than in Dogfight mode. Like the rest of the game, it's a mode with huge potential, but it can only reach that potential if EA is willing to invest in its development. To this point, EA has been reticent to commit to any content updates, saying that it wants Star Wars: Squadrons to be a complete game out of the box. I hope it reverses that stance sooner rather than later.
In the short-term, Star Wars: Squadrons is a clear win for EA—an updated approach to the classic X-Wing formula that has fans reveling in being back in the cockpit. Even with issues like the refresh rate bug, the majority of players seem happy. But if it wants to build a lasting playerbase, it needs to move quickly before fans start to get bored and drift away. Dogfight is a great place to start.