Since EA took over the coveted Star Wars IP, you could say they’ve given us a mixed bag. Mobile game Galaxy of Heroes aside, EA have published two revamped Battlefront titles and a singleplayer Souls-like in Jedi: Fallen Order. Of the former, Star Wars: Battlefront I was critically panned and deemed just another EA money grab, whilst its successor only achieved a steady playerbase after a series of free content updates which abruptly ended earlier this year. Fallen Order, on the other hand, was a commercial success, delivering the lightsaber wielding, force power using Jedi combat many had been craving since The Force Unleashed or the archaic Jedi Knight Academy from 2003.
Now, EA has revealed a brand new title. Star Wars: Squadrons is focused on delivering thrilling, first person starfighter combat alongside a single player story that spans both sides of the Galactic Civil War, and a multiplayer scene centred around small scale dogfights. It’s certainly a new direction for the IP, and while on the back of a flashy trailer things may seem positive, it’s not hard to understand why this starfighter experience may have a rough landing.
Most pressingly, the announcement of Squadrons came less than a week after fans were told that Battlefront II – now thriving after nearly 3 years of free content updates – would no longer be receiving support. Not only was this unexpected, given the potential for so much more to be added to a game that had only received starfighter combat itself a year ago, but it also served to raise hopes that the new title being announced would be Battlefront III. Fans being presented with a much smaller game only focusing on fighter combat, with no sequel to the rejuvenated Battlefront series in sight, were understandably disappointed. Many pointed to their game’s own starfighter combat, suggesting that EA was merely repackaging the feature as its own title, whilst others noted that locking Squadrons within the Galactic Civil War period already restricted content that is available at present in Battlefront II.
The end of live service to Battlefront II and the abrupt announcement of anything but its sequel was sure to leave players annoyed, and they made their distaste at the handling of events and the low expectations of Squadrons known on reddit and in multiple articles online. Perhaps, had the two events not followed so closely together, the Battlefront II community would have met the first post-LucasArts starfighter game with more positivity. As it is, they have been left ruing what feels like an unfinished Battlefront title while no successor has been brought forward.
In stark contrast to the rocky release and slow success of Battlefront II, Jedi: Fallen Order found itself to be a big hit immediately on release last November. As EA’s first published singleplayer Star Wars game it met high expectations: Souls-like combat systems were adapted to a Star Wars setting, and this gameplay combined with a compelling story to reignite the long-missed RPG genre of the franchise. For fans – myself included – Fallen Order felt like the moment where EA had finally taken the right path, providing a AAA game that brought Star Wars back to basics and put every player in the coveted position of the lightsaber-wielding, force-powers using Jedi, fighting against the all-powerful evil. It was an epic journey, supported by developers Respawn adding New Game+ and an arena mode for further replayability into 2020.
Of course, linear games like Fallen Order have a limit – they can’t be maintained and updated with new content in the way DICE managed with Battlefront 2 for over two years. Players finish the story and demand more. Given the lack of other singleplayer Star Wars titles (unless you count the perfectly valid Lego ones, not linked to EA), many would turn to multiplayer experiences like Battlefront II to extend their Star Wars experience. Here lies the issue of maintaining interest: with live support of Battlefront ceased, and limited replayability for Fallen Order, EA must turn to Star Wars: Squadrons to keep the player base hooked on the franchise. When you look at the difference between this new game and those that came before, it’s easy to see the problems with such a gamble.
Star Wars: Squadrons will have a story mode which players can experience – as the name suggests – in starfighter formations for both the Rebellion and Galactic Empire. It’s unlikely that most players see a story mode confined to a cockpit as an equal or greater continuation from the immersive quest of Fallen Order. But that’s not the point, right? Squadrons is primarily a multiplayer game, priding itself on what it claims to be ‘intense 5v5 dogfights’ and ‘monumental fleet battles’. Yet, this still isn’t a worthy replacement for a continually serviced Battlefront title. Many liken Star Wars: Battlefront to DICE’s brainchild, Battlefield, because of the game’s focus on immense ground battles between over 100 players, spread across breathtaking maps. Squadrons can’t offer the same experience. Starfighter combat is a niche – and it’s not for everyone. For those simply buying Squadrons to get their Star Wars fix, the game won’t keep them occupied; even then, developer Motive have already asserted that Squadrons will not be a live-service game, meaning dedicated players can’t expect any content updates, free or otherwise, in the vein of Battlefront II. So, with Squadrons restricted to what’s in the box on release, how long will this small, niche venture manage to keep the fanbase occupied until EA can announce a blockbuster sequel to one of their mainline titles?
But wait! It’s not all grim reading, and while Squadrons may not be what many Star Wars fans envisioned as the next step in EA’s revival of the franchise, it’s still ticking some boxes. For one, Squadrons is priced at £34.99, testament to its smaller scale. The price wards off comparisons to the content on offer in Battlefront II or Fallen Order, giving the game room to be judged by its value and not in the same vein as one of the main IPs. EA has also said that – true to their claim that Squadrons will be shipping as a ‘complete’ game – there will be no microtransactions. In an EA game? That’s something to be praised, and shows an attempt to learn from the failed efforts to litter the Battlefront franchise with paid boosters.
Aside from the money business, this is still a positive release when it comes to broadening Star Wars’ venues in the modern gaming landscape. There have been calls for starfighter games for a while, and considering the last title dedicated to this genre was the aptly named ‘Jedi Starfighter’ in 2002, you could say that EA are catering to the fanbase. The gameplay will tell how dedicated Motive are to capturing an immersive starfighter experience, but given its solid showing as a single Battlefront game mode, an entire title focused on it will certainly be a first step for those budding pilots in the playerbase.
As it stands, Star Wars: Squadrons is shaping up to be a divisive title – and it hasn’t even had a gameplay reveal yet. It was perhaps a poorly timed announcement for a small, filler game in the franchise, just as players mourned the loss of live service in Battlefront 2. But as a standalone title, Squadrons doesn’t look that bad. In fact, it looks incredibly promising. And while we can never really trust EA’s claims that there won’t be any microtransactions, the lower price and commitment to releasing a complete game suggests a change in the heavily monetised mindset of the publisher. Squadrons is not meant to be the successor to Battlefront or Fallen Order, but its announcement suggests that a sequel to either of Star Wars’ gaming blockbusters is coming. What EA must hope is that their starfighter flagship can keep the notoriously picky Star Wars fanbase locked on for a while longer.