It’s the weekend and while normally I do these on Friday it was a particularly long week so sleep took precedence and I let this simmer for the night. I did take a little time to dip my toe into Star Wars: Squadrons and first impressions are good if a little barebones. The game itself is built on version 3 of the Frostbite engine which means overall it looks stunning, from environments to ships and even the characters look good if very slightly dated for the last gen. The game itself runs wonderfully even on an aging PC rig which is a hallmark of the Frostbite engine being able to provide a premium experience to a huge variety of gamers. Something that should always be appreciated especially at a time when people the world over are struggling economically for myriad reasons. Beyond just the aesthetics it should also be appreciated that the game was brought to market at, I think, a very honest $39.99USD. At this point I can’t say definitively for me if it’s accurate to what is available in the game in it’s totality but right off the bat it’s nice that they lowered the price regardless. It was long the opinion of the mainstream that with the inclusion of micro-transaction shops that games should be sold at a cheaper upfront price or that premium currency costs must come down. Largely neither of these things happened but every now and then a developer steps out of the norm and drops game prices and it’s a laudable act, especially in the case of EA and it’s associated properties.
So what about the games mechanics? It comes with everything you’d expect it to in a modern title with a bevvy of in-game options for everything from accessibility to graphical and control options. Chances are if you’re looking for it, it’s present somewhere. You can play the game with your choice of controller, flight stick, M+KB and even take advantage of a VR rig if you happen to own one for that extra bit of immersion. Right out of the gate the game presents you with two character avatars for the Empire and Rebellion and informs you that throughout the story you will eventually play as both. It was a nice surprise for me that the options are diverse, although lacking any alien option on the Rebellion side, in both voice and appearance. Unfortunately the options for customization are sparse but being a first person game you’re not going to spend a lot of time doing much other than hearing your character speak.
One thing that did strike me as odd is that the out of ship moments are actually played like an old style point and click game where your character is stationary and you simply mouse over people or objects to interact. I’m not sure why I expected anything else but the inability to simply walk to a briefing instead of clicking on a distant door and having the hangar fade to black was bizarre. This is the sort of corner I expect smaller indie studios to cut so that they could really focus more important gameplay elements. From a studio like Motive and a publisher like EA it’s not an avenue I expected that they would take. In spite of the inability move or really control my character in any meaningful way outside of a cockpit the scenes are well done, characters are voiced and animated very well so it’s hard to knock it too much. On the dialogue side something stuck out to me that I think I’ve laughed at before but never really latched onto as a criticism of a game. In one or two of the conversations you have with your squad mates there are times when they will ask you a question but naturally you are never given a chance to respond. A trandoshan that you fly with asks if you play a card game, Sabacc, because he wants to learn but no one else will play with him. A clear hustle if ever there was one but the conversation afterwards just sort of trails off as he awkwardly says you should get back to the mission at hand. In another conversation one of your fellow pilots off-handedly admits something about their past to you then follows it up with “Oh well, everyone finds out sooner or later” and goes on to explain the comment in more detail. As if you were the one that brought it up and they had not been in fact the one who outed their own secret to this rookie pilot who just met them for the first time. (Post publishing note: Also your flight tech on the Rebellion side makes some mildly racist comments towards droids which I thought was a little odd.)
I understand mechanically why these scenes are written this way because these characters are talking to a voiceless brick wall so they have to do all the work. What I don’t understand is why the choice was made to not simply complete the interaction by having your character simply have a conversation with them. My character has a model as can be seen at the start of the game. A voice actor was hired to voice their lines so why not just complete the scene? Pull the camera back and let me watch the interaction as a whole? Or if you don’t want to animate the player character then leave it in first person but don’t make me just stand there staring at them as they awkwardly talk at me instead of to me. Over the years it’s become a staple of these pseudo-rpg stories to give players throwaway Yes/No dialogue options just to give them something to do in these scenes, sometimes under the guise that it’ll somehow affect the outcome of the story. I hate to say it because I’m generally unhappy with that sort of thing but here it would have helped to actually round out these set pieces and make them feel complete.
As it stands those are mostly small quibbles that don’t really detract from the actual game we all paid to play but it’s little things like those that can really make someone feel they’re getting far more bang for their bargain buck.
Red-2 Standing By
Piloting the ships so far feels good although I’ve only got my hands on your standard Tie Fighter and X-Wing but if they are any indication I look forward to getting my hands on more of the available lineup. One thing I appreciated was that they added a bit of granularity to the game by giving you the ability to toggle your power systems to favor weapons or engines and in the case of the X-Wing you also have shields to consider. There are also options to allow you to customize how much thinking you want to do while flying and either have the power switches change each setting by a little or simply max them out when hit. So far I’ve been playing on the Ace difficulty with instrumentation only meaning that the game eliminates any HUD elements extraneous to the panels which are in your actual cockpit. Aside from directional damage indicators and other honestly superfluous information I can’t say that I don’t feel like I have access to everything I need on these settings. I might turn on the HUD elements later just to see what they add but for now I’m enjoy the more stripped down view.
One complaint I can level at the games difficulty is that there feels like something might be wonky when you are up against capital ships and their turbolaser spam. One of the missions you fly has you directly engaging a star destroyer, not with the intention of destroying it but rather disabling it so you can escape. Fair enough. Well one of the reasons I play games on their hardest difficulties, with a few exceptions, is to test just how well put together the actual game mechanics are. If I find myself having to cheese certain encounters just to survive and get past them then it leaves me feeling fairly unhappy with the experience. Regardless of whether the reason seems to be janky hit detection, odd reaction timing, unclear animations or just being cheaply one-shotted for not being frame perfect every step of the way. The Avenger’s game had some of these issues where on brutal difficulty it seemed most of the challenge was to never being hit because you would just die. In that case the difficulty should just be re-named to “No Damage Run” because that is effectively what they are asking you to do. God of War 4 had several good incarnations of this on their hardest mode where you would run into specific challenges where you would lose if hit a single time which is entirely acceptable. The rest of the time you could count on the game being so well built that you could tune your Kratos to your playstyle and learn to overcome individual bosses or challenging fights.
In Squadron’s and in this fight in particular it doesn’t feel like I have the necessary tools to be able to actually do what I need to do in the way I need to do it. At the start of this portion of the mission you make an initial run at the star destroyer where you are shown what you have to shoot, you get utterly bombarded on the way in, erasing your forward shields and allowing you to take a few shots at your target. Roughly 90% of my runs had me dying as I’m shot in the back on my way around to make another pass. Okay so I adjust my tactics and decide to try and take out a few turrets at extreme range before I get too close in to reduce how much damage I’m taking. After a few tries at that eliminating those turrets doesn’t seem to do any good which means this scenario probably doesn’t take into account how many turrets are physically on the ship. As the AI in the scene remind you they aren’t your priority, focus on your target.
Shields double forward, engines at full, boost in towards my target to try and bypass some of the damage. Shredded before I get in range.
Shields double front, do some aileron rolls to try and throw off some of their turbolasers and save myself some damage. I get in take some shots at my target and die on my way past where I was going to circle around.
Balanced engines and shields to give myself maneuverability then as I escape full double back shields and use my repair to stay alive on my way out. Awesome, it works I make a wide turn letting my shields recharge and head back in from a distance. Blown away before I’m even in range.
You get the idea. Finally I resorted to cheesing the level, racing in taking a few shots the fleeing to the edge of the map well out of range to heal myself to full, charge my shields and head back. Amusingly enough this doesn’t work as the star destroyer almost always blew me away as I flew back into range. Eventually the only solution I figured out was if you circle around and approach over the rebellion MC-80 flagship for some reason the turbolaser spam wasn’t as targeted at you which gave me enough time to destroy my target, get a checkpoint and finish the mission.
I watched some videos of gameplay of this mission supposedly on Ace difficulty and instrumentation only and I have to say, what I saw was not my experience at all which suggests that maybe my mission was bugged. I did forget to mention that my first attempt I actually did destroy the target and promptly died which meant that when I restarted the target looked destroyed but was not and so I couldn’t progress the mission meaning I had to do it all over. Suffice it to say that I wouldn’t recommend at this moment playing on the hardest difficulty if you’re looking for a challenge as it will probably just be more annoying than anything. Dial it down a little instead and enjoy yourself.
Criticisms aside I am actually looking forward to playing more and I’ll continue on this difficulty just to see if maybe I had a bad one off experience with that first set of missions. Other than that I can’t wait to get into some fleet battles and see how it feels playing against other humans. That’ll probably determine whether or not this gives me an excuse to buy another flight stick to use with the game or just enjoy it casually with my mouse and keyboard.
I did want to find some time to talk about the CD Projekt Red controversy over their mandatory crunch time for the release of Cyberpunk 2077 but I think that’ll have to come next week. Until then I hope you’ve all been well and have some time to relax and enjoy life a bit this weekend.