The story and characters are a bit of a snore — and morally complicated — but the space combat is a lot of fun. Star Wars: Squadrons gives equal time to pilots on both sides of the war between the Galactic Empire and the New Republic, for better and worse. This setup makes sense for multiplayer, since players will sometimes be forced to take on the roles of Imperial pilots when playing online, but it makes for tricky storytelling. For starters, as an Imperial, you’ll be assigned missions that involve the destruction and death of presumably thousands of innocent civilians, which makes it hard to really get on board with any of the Imperial characters we meet. The writers combat this problem by making the Imperial story more about personal revenge after a betrayal and defection, but shooting down innocents is still a hard pill to swallow. And the fact that half of the already short story is given over to the Imperials means we don’t have as much time to get to know the real heroes in the New Republic. It all nets out to a bit of a disappointing Star Wars tale.
On the other hand, the campaign does a fine job of introducing the many subtleties of space combat and gets you ready for online play, where most players will spend the bulk of their time. The benefits and drawbacks of each available ship — from the speedy and agile A-wing to the slow but powerful TIE Bomber — are explored in carefully scripted missions, which also introduce various weapon, shield, and hull loadouts as well as targeting and resupplying. The story also offers an opportunity to get a feel for how and when to shift power in each of these ships, boosting shields when necessary (useful when flying into battle against a capital ship from long range), shifting energy to engines to beat a hasty retreat, or funneling all power into weapons to deliver a fast and massive strike. All of this information and experience is invaluable in online play, where human opponents tend to be smarter and faster than AI pilots, different ships are required for specific scenarios, and the odds of success depend directly on the skill of the pilots involved. Star Wars: Squadrons isn’t a must-play Star Wars game, but fans who love the franchise’s classic starfighters are bound to have quite a bit of fun sitting behind the joysticks of their favorite ships.