Hello, my fellow Giant Bomb community members! There are two things about myself many of you already know: 1) I am the site's de facto expert on the Final Fantasy series, and 2) I like the Star Wars franchise. To the latter of these points, several of you may recall last year, when Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order came out, I wrote a blog sharing a handful of nitpicks I had with its treatment of Star Wars canon and any anachronisms I noticed in the game. Whelp, it is 2020, and with a new year comes a new Star Wars video game! This time around, we have Star Wars: Squadrons, a mostly multiplayer-focused space combat game with a single-player campaign to boot. As you might expect, with me being a nitpicky asshole, I noticed a few things while playing the game that got under my craw. Some of these issues are incredibly minor, whereas others highlight broader problems with the current Star Wars canon.
Before we continue, and I cannot make this point any more explicit, I want to say I genuinely like Star Wars: Squadrons. I think the $40 price tag is appropriate and what the game provides out of the box is a fun experience that is tailor-made for all sorts of Star Wars fans. Likewise, I enjoyed what I saw with the game's single-player mode and found myself appreciating its story at face value. Overall, the game is one of the better representations of the post-Endor Star Wars Expanded Universe, a part of Star Wars history I find incredibly compelling. Hopefully, EA supports Star Wars: Squadrons post-launch as they did with Battlefront II, as its "staying power" is its most significant issue. As it stands, I already feel like I have run through the same maps and modes more often than I would like. Similarly, I have settled on the same handful of ship upgrades with no desire to check out anything else. That said, it is a beautiful and compelling starting point for something bigger and better, and only time will tell what that might entail.
However, as the title of this blog might suggest, there are some issues with Star Wars: Squadrons, especially its story, worth addressing. Today, I plan to highlight FIVE problems I noticed during my nigh forty hours with the game. Again, none of these complaints should suggest the game is objectively bad or problematic. Also, I understand Star Wars is a "science fantasy" franchise. If your comment boils down to echoing that point, congratulations, you are the two-hundredth person to make that point to me. However, I'm not writing this blog to apply an Asimov-sense of realism to Star Wars. Nobody, including myself, wants that. Finally, I understand any Star Wars game has to go through a massive vetting process before it launches. In fact, many of the issues I will discuss today are not directly the developer's fault (i.e., Motive Studios). So, with all of that in mind, let's jump into it!
Author's Note: A few hours before I was set to save the draft of this blog, the dev team behind Squadrons announced a new content pack set for a December release that will add the B-Wing and TIE Defender. I'm still going to keep these sections of my blog for two important reasons. One, I still think it is crazy the game launched without this content and they still will be absent in the game's single-player mode. Second, there are still tons of ship variants and models that are still not present in Squadrons that should be in the game.
Nitpick #1: The New Republic Defense Fleet Should Be More Diverse And Scrappier
I want to make something clear right off the bat. I understand why Squadrons' developer boiled down the Imperial and New Republic navies into four starfighter variants. Limiting the number of starfighters makes balancing the multiplayer a more doable task. Likewise, designing starships in-house is no easy task, and recycling the same designs saves a ton of development time. However, we are here to talk about nitpicky asshole observations, and boy, do I have some. Something that does not come through in the Star Wars movies all that well is that both the Empire and the New Republic utilize variants of well-known starfighter models. Part of the reason for this issue is that you only ever follow one or two pilots in any given movie. For example, you could be forgiven for not knowing the X-Wing has four distinct variants, with only one, the T-65B, being the one you see in the original trilogy. The A-Wing and Y-Wing both have two models, each having a specialized role for specific environments the other would be ill-equipped to handle.
The reason I bring up this topic is that Squadrons primarily takes place after the Battle of Endor. In the aftermath of this victory, it is safe to assume the Rebel Alliance transitioned into the New Republic's army rather seamlessly. Well, at least I think so, considering no Star Wars media references resistance efforts contradicting the New Republic Navy until Leia decides to organize a para-military group in The Force Awakens. Even with that in mind, and this is an issue that will come up throughout this blog, I have a real difficult time accepting that in about a year, the Rebel Alliance became a formal military organization capable of extinguishing the Imperial Remnant. How did a bunch of freedom fighters suddenly learn how to structure their informal squadrons and battalions into formal regiments with rank and unified military decorations? Furthermore, how did the New Republic unify all of the Rebel Alliance's starfighters and volunteer pilots into just a handful of starfighter variants? At some point, the Rebel Alliance resorted to using scrappy starfighters like the Cloud Ship and earlier prototypes of the X-Wing. Did the Republic Navy recycle those junk starfighters? And if it did, how did it retain and retrain the volunteer members of the Rebel Alliance to be able to pilot its parred down fleet?
Speaking of which, the Rebel Alliance we see in the original trilogy and in media leading up to The Force Awakens is filled with a diverse fleet of starships. Likewise, given the timeframe the game is working with, there should be more clear signs of the technological shift from the original trilogy to the Disney films. For example, later X-Wing variants should be flying alongside the more well-known T-65B variant. To return to my edit about the B-Wing coming to the game, I noticed something interesting in the developer's blog post. When it comes to the B-Wing, the game appears to be using the classic Mark I variant of the starship rather than the more "modern" Mark II variant. This in and of itself isn't a deal killer. Still, it puts into question official media saying the Mark I B-Wing variant was "converted" into civilian service in favor of the Mark-II variant. It is also a bit disappointing that the Mark-II variant still has yet to be seen in any video game or movie property. It is as if Star Wars is unwilling to fully commit to a technological revolution within its universe, even if it is begging for one to happen.
Nitpick #2: The Ridiculous Amount Of Tie-Fighter Plot Armor
Speaking of iconic starfighters in the Star Wars universe, let's talk about the TIE Fighter, or, to be more specific, the TIE/ln space superiority starfighter. The TIE Fighter's screeching engines and green lasers are burned into many Star Wars fans' brains, and its utilitarian design fits the monolithic nature of the Empire perfectly. Even so, the TIE Fighter is a shit design and, from a practical standpoint, fails at almost everything it attempts to accomplish as a starfighter. It is lightly armored, entirely unshielded, and unlike the naval forces of the Rebel Alliance, it lacks a hyperdrive and astromech repair droid. The new Essential Guide to Warfare attempts to justify these flaws by stating its blueprint was designed to "minimize mass." And, indeed, the TIE-Fighter is incredibly fast and can maneuver around X-Wings and Y-Wings with relative ease. Nonetheless, the shortcomings I have mentioned, on top of its complete lack of proton torpedos, makes a potential one-on-one matchup between it and an X-Wing entirely untenable.
As it stands, the Star Wars games preceding Squadrons have taken one of two directions to address this quibble. The first is to allow would-be TIE Fighter pilots to gain access to new starships at a quicker cooldown. Some games have even used "ticket systems" wherein TIE Fighters very obviously queue up faster than A-Wings or X-Wings. The other course of action is to provide TIE Fighter pilots with more A.I. companions as the spacecraft's greatest strength is taking advantage of its wolfpack-like tendencies. For example, in the Rogue Squadron games, you could provide two other computer-controlled companions with simple orders like blocking incoming missiles or seeking enemy starfighters. Unfortunately, Squadrons picks neither of these choices. It instead applies a heaping dose of "plot armor" as it bills TIE Fighters as able to go toe-to-toe with X-Wings. In fact, this EXACT MATCH UP plays out in high-stakes missions in the story mode wherein pilots on both sides view this as a duel founded upon equal footing.
And before you ask, YES, I am aware the character "Titan Three" pilots a TIE Interceptor instead of the standard TIE Fighter model. Additionally, Squadrons shows that the more elite fighter pilots in the Empire have more customizability options at their disposal than regular pilots. However, some of these upgrades make no fucking sense and conflict with established canon, particularly the Tarkin Doctrine. Wild tangent, but fun fact nonetheless, there's a canonical explanation for why the Empire's vehicles and starships suck shit from a practical design perspective. As the name suggests, Wilhuff Tarkin wanted the Empire's army to have a uniformity to assert the Empire's dominance over the rest of the galaxy. However, he did not know anything about engineering, so he signed off on projects like the AT-AT instead of more logical vehicle designs because he thought they looked scarier. What is important here is that "upgrades" should be impossible in the Imperial Navy. You can't just hot-swap concussive missile onto a TIE Fighter, and that is doubly so for shields. Thus, when I play a multiplayer five-on-five match, and the TIE Fighter I'm piloting can screech away from a dozen laser shots or a single proton torpedo, I feel like shit.
Nitpick #3: All Of The Missing Canonical TIE-Fighter Variants
If you came away from my section dedicated to the B-Wing wondering if there was an Imperial equivalent, you don't know the half of it. To Squadron's defense, this next nitpick is something Star Wars has been fucking up since Return of the Jedi. To make a long story short, both the Legends and current canon state the Empire embarked on a massive research and development endeavor to reform its military in response to the Battle of Endor. Yes, the Emperor was dead, but as seen in multiple sources, including video games like Battlefront II, he had clear directions as to what the Empire should do in the event of his death. The less said about how that ties into The Rise of Skywalker, the better. Nonetheless, most of the Empire's scientists and soldiers were willing to stick around and defend the ideals and structure of the Empire even after Endor. As a result, new TIE Fighter and walker designs were pioneered to address design flaws that had become nakedly transparent following the Battle of Endor. The most straightforward real-world comparison are the Marian Reforms of the Roman Empire's military.
Being a game that primarily takes place following the Battle of Endor, Squadrons should depict an Imperial Navy in flux rather than still "towing the line" they do in the original trilogy. This point, in turn, means we should see more "exotic" TIE Fighter models such as the TIE Aggressor, TIE Phantom, and TIE Striker. Shit, even the Outland TIE fighter model from The Mandalorian could reasonably exist within Squadrons as both live in the same post-Return of the Jedi timeframe. Again, the point here is the same one I hopefully made when I talked about the B-Wing. Some of these ship models are hilariously "broken" and would present problems to a balanced dogfighting multiplayer experience. The TIE Phantom, to highlight, is a TIE Fighter that uses cloaking technology as if it were a Klingon Bird-of-Prey. And if your reaction to that point is to reply that cloaking technology makes no goddamn sense in the world of Star Wars, THEN YOU OBVIOUSLY NEVER FOLLOWED THE PRE-DISNEY EXPANDED UNIVERSE! Cutting these starfighters out as playable online options is okay in my books. On the other hand, they should still be background ship models you see as you race into battle.
Oddly enough, the TIE Advanced is the one "experimental" TIE variant that goes unscathed with this critique. There's a fun scene in the story wherein Lindon Javes temporarily pilots one, and there's another scene in which a person's high status within the Empire is reinforced by the fact they use a TIE Advanced. But a ship like the TIE Striker not existing at all in Squadrons is bonkers because it already appears in previous Star Wars games. Furthermore, Squadrons not surfacing these newer TIE Fighter variants puts it slightly at odds with The Force Awakens. This last-ditch effort by the Empire to improve its military helps explain the technological leap we see from Return of the Jedi to The Force Awakens. The "Imperial Remnant" evaporates following the Battle of Jakku. However, the First Order still inherits its improved TIE Fighter and walker designs as it turtled on a tundra planet for approximately thirty years. Which we are led to believe is enough time for it to replenish its ranks with a galaxy-wide threatening army and create a superweapon capable of harnessing the power of a star. That's a paltry amount of time, but it becomes more like twenty years if we believe Squadrons' notion that these new Imperial military projects did not start immediately after Endor.
Nitpick #4: Where Were The Starhawk-class Battleships During The Disney Trilogy?
Let's turn our attention to the crux of Squadron's story, the Starhawk-class Battleship. Right off the bat, I want to say I love the design of the Starhawk-class Battleship. The ship is an absolute BEAST in terms of its armaments, and the idea of it being constructed from derelict Star Destroyers is a neat idea. I also like how it's one of the few ships in the new canon that feels like a completely novel design. However, there are a few parts about it that continue to bug me. First, the damn things are stupidly overpowered. In the battle of Jakku, one Starhawk manages to drag an Executor-class Super Star Destroyer to the surface of a planet using its tractor beam. Admittedly, I understand why this blatant example of "plot armor" exists. In that case, the Starhawk is being used as an example of the shift in technology from the original trilogy to the Disney films. It is safe to say, despite the Super Star Destroyer's impressive size, that it was a dated dreadnaught design and not capable of dealing with smaller starships using state of the art technology. That said, HOT DAMN, does it not feel right to place the minuscule Starhawk on a tier at or approaching the Executor-class Super Star Destroyer!
My second issue with the Starhawk is that it doesn't really "fit" with what we know of the Rebel Alliance. Right off the bat, I have no idea why the Rebel Alliance, and eventually the New Republic, focused on tractor beams while making massive breakthroughs in battleship design when scavenging Star Destroyers. Star Wars: On the Front Lines, one of the many Disney-published Star Wars reference books, even bills the Starhawk's tractor beam as a stunning example of the New Republic's post-Endor military research. If that is the case, why didn't they spend more time on improved weapon systems or shielding? Also, every reference book and media depicting the Starhawk says the process of making them is incredibly difficult. Judging from what we know about their armaments and other sub-systems, it is estimated a single Starhawk would require at least two to three Imperial Star Destroyers. That might sound pretty reasonable on paper, but why put in so much time and effort into scuttling working Star Destroyers to make a few hyper-specialized battleships? Why not take those Star Destroyers and update them with the new tractor beams you discovered?
The third and most fundamental issue I have with the Starhawk-class battleship relates to its place within the current canon. The point here is if the New Republic had a line of elite battleships that are capable of ripping through most Star Destroyers, where the fuck were they during the events of the Disney trilogy? Yes, canonically, there are only three Mark I Starhawks, two of which were destroyed during the Battle of Jakku. But that doesn't address the fact that the New Republic had the blueprints to a massive starship constructed from abandoned Star Destroyers, which there are plenty of in post-Endor Star Wars. When the New Order started blowing up planets in The Force Awakens or the revived Emperor revealed his massive fleet of Xyston-class Star Destroyers, where the FUCK were these battleships? If you were wondering, in the novelization of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Leia loudly wonders to herself if the Starhawk model would have made the evacuation of D'Qar, the opening battle of the film, easier. This passing aside signals that the Starhawk was a known quantity during the events of the Disney movies. So, in the gap between The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker, wherein the entire galaxy is preparing for a massive battle against the Emperor's armada, why wasn't someone making more of these battleships? If anything, the Starhawk is another example of the post-Endor Star Wars canon feeling like an afterthought populated with whatever "cool shit" Disney couldn't fit in the movies.
Nitpick #5: How/Why Did The New Republic De-Militarize Itself From Squadrons to The Force Awakens?
The issues I have with the Starhawk leads me to another quibble I have with the post-Endor period in the current Star Wars canon. Before we get to that point, we have to review some significant events on the Star Wars timeline. First, we have the Battle of Endor, which takes place in 4 ABY (i.e., After the Battle of Yavin). The Battle of Jakku, the off-screen conflict which signals the "end" of the Empire, and do not get me started about that, occurs in 5 ABY. The difference between these two dates is firmly stated to be "a year and four days." As you might predict, I HATE this number as it does not seem like an appropriate amount of time for the still scrappy Rebel Alliance to conquer the Empire's remnants. In the old Legacy canon, the Imperial Remnant took DECADES to defeat, with a new general, admiral, or Moff coming out of the ether to "revive" the Empire every other day. Admittedly, Star Wars Battlefront II addresses some of these issues with its introduction of Operation: Cinder and establishing that most of the Empire fucked off to the Unknown Regions as it twiddled its thumbs until the events of The Rise of Skywalker. However, none of that addresses the state of the New Republic's affairs after the Battle of Jakku.
The Force Awakens takes place in 34 ABY, which is thirty years after the events of Endor. Thirty years is apparently enough time for the Rebel Alliance to transition into the New Republic, which established a galaxy-spanning government with elected leaders and a defense force to carry out its laws. Likewise, everyone seemingly accepts the New Republic as the logical successor to the Empire as there are no significant resistance efforts to report. This point inevitably leads us to the New Republic's negligence in demilitarizing itself despite mounting evidence of the First Order's existence. Other Star Wars fans might point out that the New Republic's leadership has always been incompetent, and that includes the Legacy timeline. It is a fair point to make, but I want to comment on how thirty years is STILL not enough time to abolish the massive fleets we have seen in Star Wars media from Return of the Jedi to now Squadrons. For example, what did the New Republic's provisional government say to the millions of people still actively serving in the military? And, when shit got bad in The Last Jedi, what happened to all of the New Republic's technological research on tractor beams? Did they magically lose the source code to that shit?
Squadrons makes this dubious transition even more difficult in a handful of regards. For example, in the game, we see a New Republic navy and army with formal military titles and a systematized uniform policy. When I saw this, I couldn't help but shout: "When the fuck did this happen?" Furthermore, the Republic navy we see in the game is MASSIVE and by all accounts comparable to that of the Imperial Remnant. That means in the year and a half following the Battle of Endor, the New Republic recruited and trained millions of pilots, soldiers, and officers with no reported issues whatsoever. Then, after it beat the Imperial Remnant at the Battle of Jakku, it just dismissed all of those officers and recycled all of the starships and battlecruisers; it spent BILLIONS IF NOT TRILLIONS of credits making, mind you; in about twenty or so years. That way, the First Order can shoot a laser beam and destroy the New Republic's capital with the press of a button. Then, when the Emperor comes back, Rey and Kylo have to rely on Lando calling on a bunch of randos to help them. What happened to the military leaders of the Republic Navy? Not all of them were killed when Starkiller Base blew up Hosnian Prime. Seriously, where did they go? And why is Lando's "citizens' navy" nothing but old Mon Calamari Star Cruisers and Nebulon escort frigates? Where's all the new shit? When I say the canon of Star Wars is built upon "plot by convenience," I mean it.