07/10/2020

A Comparison between Star Wars: Squadrons and The Old Republic's Galactic Starfighter

When evaluating how much I like all the Star Wars films, one of the things I often look at is what their sequences involving starfighters are like. Each of the films has at least one, and some are among the most iconic sequences in their respective films.

This is not to say that I feel a decent or even great starfighter sequence automatically makes such a product “good” as a whole. For example, one of my least favourite Star Wars films, Attack of the Clones, has a sequence which I would probably just place outside of my top five. Sure, the film scores more than a handful of points for it (most of which go to the glorious sound design of the seismic charges!) but nowhere near enough to make up for the majority of its flaws in the grand scheme of things.

When it comes to Star Wars games, I tend to view things just a little differently. Unlike with a film, where a starfighter sequence tends be expected as part of the main plot, starfighter experiences in games depend heavily on the game in-question. Either the entire game is built around them (Rogue Squadron, TIE Fighter, X-Wing), they’re a compulsory part of some campaigns (Battlefront II, LEGO Star Wars), or they don’t feature at all apart from maybe some turret sections (Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, Knights of the Old Republic, The Force Unleashed). In the rarest of instances, they are present but are so much of a side thing that you can play the entire game however you want without once having to encounter them (The Old Republic).

Thus, while I still look out for them, I do not always include “has a decent starfighter experience” as part of my criteria for evaluating a game. For example, SWTOR’s original starfighter experience is anything but “fun” to me, since it is purely an on-rails shooter. Furthermore, it eventually ramps up the difficulty to an obscene level and thus becomes impractical as an activity. 2014’s mini-expansion Galactic Starfighter, on the other hand, brought in an entirely different starfighter experience which I still am a huge fan of to this day.

I was therefore quite excited to learn that EA would be publishing a new Star Wars game which focused purely on the starfighter experience. Squadrons is basically a massive love-letter to the starfighter experience from the developers, and it can easily be regarded as “the modern X-Wing game”. It also shares several similarities with SWTOR’s Galactic Starfighter mode. As such, I have chosen to dedicate today's post to a comparison between both games.

To some people playing Squadrons, this choice of comparator will be more than a little bit odd. There have been several starfighter-based games across the years, and many of these will be closer in spirit to Squadrons than Starfighter. However, I have not played all these games and it has been well over a decade since I have played those which I owned. Due to changing focus away from the PC to the PS2 and PS3 between 2004 and 2011, I believe that I can say with confidence that it would have been over sixteen years since I played any game which can be deemed “more relevant” for comparison purposes. Thus, even if I were to pick those games up again, I would still refrain from focusing on them as it would be wrong for me to present myself as a voice of experience after a gap of nearly two decades.

This should go without saying, but this is not meant to be a comprehensive review of Squadrons as a game. Any bugs, game issues, or specific story details will not be discussed. This is purely meant to be a comparison between one game and another for the features that they include.

On with the show!

~~~

Gameplay

Similarities

Both games feature distinct classes: Galactic Starfighter (hereafter GSF) has the scout, strike fighter, gunship, and bomber. Squadrons has the interceptor, fighter, bomber, and support class. They follow a similar sort of structure in how they play: the scouts and interceptors are the dogfighters, the strikes and fighters are the all-rounders, the gunships and bombers (Squadrons) are the heavy-hitters, and the bombers (GSF) and support class are support vessels.

In case you’ve never played GSF and wonder why its version of bombers are the support vessels, this is because they brought in components with their potential loadouts such as healing and resupply probes, remote turrets, and even a hyperspace beacon which reinforcements can use as a spawning-in point. They can also drop mines of various sorts, so they do technically adhere to their official classification somewhere along the line.

Both games appear to use a similar flight model, although the ships in Squadrons feel like they have more weight than the ones in GSF. When making multiple turns, it takes about a second for the vessels to align exactly where you want them to go each time as they will carry on with the initial momentum. GSF's ships are much nimbler, but arguably less "realistic" in how they fly.

Online gameplay modes in both Squadrons and GSF follow a similar structure, including the number of modes (currently) available. The first is a deathmatch-type game (Deathmatch and Dogfighting) where the objective is to eliminate as many players on the enemy team as possible. The second is a tug-of-war objective mode (Domination and Fleet Battles) where players must defend their own resources while trying to eliminate or capture those of the enemy.

Both games feature six maps, although Squadrons has all six accessible regardless of which mode you play while GSF splits its six maps in half across both modes. Additionally, two of its maps – Lost Shipyards and Kuat Mesas – have variants unique to both modes. Neither of the games share any of the same locations, although one of the map locations in Squadrons does amusingly share the same name as the first Republic flashpoint in SWTOR (Esseles).

Maps in GSF are flanked by capital ships which effortlessly melt any enemy who gets too close. Squadrons only has larger ships flanking the map in its Fleet Battles mode, as they are integral to it, but they are still treated as a no-man's-land if attacked too early. While attacks from flagships can be survived, unlike those from GSF, you certainly do not want to be left in this area for too long. Additionally, this no-man's-land will progressively update throughout the match as all capital and flagships get closer and closer throughout the game. If the match goes on for long enough, they will proceed to engage in combat with one another.

GSF above, Squadrons below.

Both games have a similar system in place for their deathmatch mode: fifteen minutes for one team to hit the cap, although GSF has the higher kill-limit of 50 compared to Squadrons’ 30 to account for the differences in time-to-kill. They even have pickups which can be used by either team. 

They pretty much all look like this, but coloured red, purple, yellow, and blue.
GSF's Deathmatch has four powerups which augment damage, engines, primary weapons, and shields, and they appear at random in certain locations. While the last three are pretty much insignificant to the grand scheme of things, the damage pickup is an absolute game-changer. In fact, the person who picks it up is announced to their own team and to the enemy team, letting everyone know who to try to protect or destroy.

Doesn't make a lot of sense in-universe, but eh, it's useful as a game mechanic.
Squadrons’ Dogfight has only one type of pickup: a resupply probe. At least two of these will be present in set locations throughout the match, with each respawning about thirty seconds after somebody picks them up. With one exception that I am aware of in Esseles, these tend to be in very easy-to-spot locations so it can be quite risky to pick one up. Someone on the enemy team may be watching them like a hawk and see you before you pick one up, or they may realise that there may be a weak target on the field as soon as one disappears.

Both games encourage a range of classes to perform well. In GSF if you run with mainly strikes and scouts you would do okay in the short-range play around satellites or weaving around asteroids but you’d suffer in the long-range play if you have nothing to counter a pesky gunship or keep players pinned down without risking them getting too close. If you have most of your team being bombers, you would be left with a lot of slow ships that cannot really pump out much damage. 

In Squadrons, players are actively warned in Fleet Battles if their team-composition is not ideal, although as you only have five players maximum compared to twelve the effects of a non-viable team will be felt much more immediately. In GSF a weaker middle squadron can be made up for by at least four – six other players, but if you have a couple of weaker players in Squadrons, that puts proportionally more pressure on their remaining teammates.

Both games have a similar base system of selecting specific targets. You can cycle through nearby ships, those directly in front of you, and anyone who happens to be attacking you. Squadrons has the option to auto-target any ship a player shoots at, but this can be disabled if desired. When selected, your targeting computer will show you your target’s name, their ship, and the angle their ship is at relative to yours. GSF’s computer will also show you what your target is currently targeting, which is useful if you are in voice-comms with that gunship who has not noticed them approaching. 

Both games feature similar tracking systems for engaging and defeating foes. GSF requires you to lead shots on a target by aiming at a little circle in front of them, and this is the only thing you can aim at if you wish to deal damage. GSF vessels do not count as actual physical objects, so merely shooting at the ship itself will not deal damage if the aim-spot is elsewhere. 

GSF also tends to be far more extreme in how far ahead of a target you need to shoot to hit them, but this is likely a side-effect of the increased range of blasters.

Squadrons also has you lead shots on targets, but the area you need to shoot at is mostly invisible. You will know if you are lining your shots up properly on a target if your crosshair turns red, at which point you should open fire. Since ships in Squadrons do count as physical objects it is possible to kill a player simply by ramming into them, although this will almost certainly kill you as well. Yes, this can also kill allies as well as foes.

I have not altered this in Photoshop in any way: this is legitimately what happened when an interdiction mine blew up right next to me during a recording session. Useful for demonstration purposes!
Targets in both games which leave your line-of-sight will be highlighted by an arrow, although GSF will highlight multiple enemies with triangle-shaped arrows as well as the diamond-shaped one used to mark your current target. Squadrons only tracks one target with an arrow if you lose sight of them, and this is one of many UI elements which you can disable.

I have immense respect for anyone who can use the Squadrons radars effectively.
In both games there is a radar / mini map which can be used to help locate enemies. The radar in Squadrons, being attached to your ship rather than your screen, will not always be easy to follow depending on how turbulent your ship is. Additionally, GSF's radar shows the entire map layout from a top-down perspective while the one in Squadrons only tracks enemies in a frontal cone. While the latter is more "realistic", it is certainly more restricted in its usefulness in tracking foes.

But then maybe I am just feeling that way due to being so used to GSF. I imagine that I will eventually get used to the Squadrons radar, but it will take some time.

GSF: statistics are everything.
Both games will happily give you a breakdown of several statistics for each ship and component. How much DPS that weapon does, what benefits that shield will give you, and so on. A lot of the more detailed statistics in GSF, such as the exact values for accuracy, are hidden beneath the “detailed starfighter weapon tooltips” option in SWTOR’s preferences. While both games do have defined maximum ranges for weapons (GSF's ranges are also far greater than those of Squadrons), I am not aware of what the drop-off values in Squadrons are or if it even has them.

Comparison between the standard laser cannon and the rapid fire laser cannon for the A-wing.
Both games have quite detailed shield mechanics. They have distinct shielding “areas” which will deplete depending on where damage is coming from and both have directional shield capabilities. You can switch power between front and rear deflector shields of your craft as well as having them balanced. The most noticeable difference here is that GSF’s directional shield is a specific component rather than something which all craft possess, while Squadrons gives all eligible ships the ability to focus shields to one side or the other.

Both games handle ship health in a similar manner. Hulls do not repair themselves unless a ship has access to a specific repair ability or can get healing from a friendly resupply probe or capital ship. Shields however, will regenerate naturally - unless you choose the overloaded shield in Squadrons which will never regenerate if disabled.

Both games are rather forgiving when it comes to collisions. Collisions can be fatal, but provided that you weren’t already at low health, boosting, using a fancy engine ability, or taking it at a particularly steep angle, you’re going to survive if you briefly collide with terrain. Some ships, notably bombers, abuse this in GSF for getting more of a defensive position, although it is possible to get stuck, continually smash against the surface, and die this way.

Both games allow for a free look option, although this is best used sparingly when in-flight as, unless you are playing Squadrons in VR, activating this will temporarily disable a ship’s pitch and yaw in both games.

Comparison of visual effects for maximising shields in both games.

Both games feature the capacity to divert power between the engines, weapons, and – depending on ship – shields. Somewhat amusingly, the colours for each system are different between the games: engines are purple or blue, shields blue or green, and weapons yellow or red. In-practice, Squadrons does offer slightly more options in this field than GSF which takes an all-or-nothing approach. Ships in Squadrons have the option to divert procedural amounts of power to various systems as well as going straight to maximum power. It is also possible to have no power in any area in Squadrons, while GSF will always leave some power in all three areas.

Additionally, maximising power to all three areas in both games yield similar results: blasters take longer to deplete their ammunition, engines can reach higher speeds for longer, and shields will have an extra layer of protection. In Squadrons, this state is referred to as "overcharge", and there are even some components which have functionality specific to an overcharged system. One such component is the resonant shield, which gives rapid laser regeneration if the shield is overcharged. 

Unlike in GSF, an overcharged component does not immediately lose any extra power when another component is overcharged. They do slowly deteriorate, but the emphasis is on the word slowly. It then becomes a viable strategy either at the start of a match or when about to do a bombing run to overcharge as many components as possible just to get a little extra advantage. It may not mean that you survive significantly more often, but every little helps!

Both games give each player ship an option to boost into or away from battle. However, GSF allows players to boost regardless of how much power is in the engines, while Squadrons will largely only allow you to generate boost power if you have maximised power to the engines. The SLAM engine component generates boost if even a little bit of power is in engines, making it quite an invaluable tool for fast flights.

GSF also awards these little medals to each player for things like "slaying an enemy player in a one-on-one dog fight!"

Both games showcase statistics from the match for all players to see at the end of the game, and both are more extreme than the other in doing so. GSF will showcase every player's statistics, similar to SWTOR's ground PvP modes, while Squadrons will only highlight the five best players from the game in specific categories. The same player cannot be highlighted for more than one accomplishment, so the player who scored most damage and most kills will only see one of these be put to their name at the end of the match.

Outside of completing a match, this is all that Squadrons allows you to see of your illustrious career.

Both games have career records, although Squadrons' is far less detailed than the one in GSFSquadrons shows you your win-rates, kill-death-ratio, and your most-flown ship types for each of the three main online game modes, and that is about it. GSF shows you a whole number of different stats which can be broken down into each individual ship. It is exhausting just looking at the sheer number of things that gets tracked! 

You can also link each and every single one of these stats to the chat window. I do not believe that I have ever seen anyone do this in the six-and-three-quarter years that GSF has been active.
It is also worth noting that the above chart is only true for one character at a time rather than your account, so this is potentially just the tip of the iceberg for stat-tracking. This chart represents my character who has spent the second-most time in GSF.

Squadrons' career system appears to be a bit inconsistent. I have been told multiple times that I keep on getting "career bests", even for scores which are lower than in previous matches. Maybe this is "career best" for the ship / faction, rather than best overall?

~

Differences

Victory in GSF’s Domination mode is attained through a points-based system. You earn points for capturing one of three defensive satellites and killing enemies, although to stand the best chance of victory a team ideally needs to hold at least two of the satellites throughout much of the game. In Squadrons, victory in the objective-based Fleet Battles is only attained when one team completes their objective of destroying the enemy’s flagship. I have not yet experienced a time-out in this game so I have no idea if it will allocate a winner based on points / destruction progress like GSF does.

GSF matches are purely between teams of players, with the only AI being turrets which are either deployed by bombers, surrounding a defensive satellite, or attached to the capital ships flanking the maps. While Squadrons features AI in its online Fleet Battles mode (as well as of course the single-player and co-op versions), it does not feature AI in Dogfight. Thus, this mode is essentially just a smaller-scale version of GSF’s Deathmatches.

I am not about to spend Cartel Coins just for the sake of a blog post. Actual GSF currency, sure, but not CC.
GSF has at least three variants of each ship class available to each player, each with differing stats and loadout options. I believe the actual total is something like six variants since BioWare introduced some ships which could be bought with Cartel Coins – SWTORs microtransaction currency – or were only found in Cartel Packs. Each of these just has copy-and-pasted stats from the three standard variants so have no significant impact on gameplay apart from earning 10% more currency without needing to be fully upgraded.

Squadrons so far only has one type of ship per class but that is not to say that this will remain the case for perpetuity. While the developers are essentially treating Squadrons as a complete package at launch – what a rarity! – they are not averse to considering later additions if it sells well. This may include additional ships and classes, or it may not.

Because each individual ship-class has completely identical stats and loadout options to one another in GSF, you have a decent chance of knowing exactly what you’re up against before you even engage in combat with an opponent once you know how the full ins-and-outs of ships within your own ships and how to identify specific components by sight. Ships in Squadrons have different stats across factions, but it is also largely impossible to work out which components an enemy has slotted until you see them in-use. Thus, even if you really understand your beloved T-65B X-wing, you will not necessarily be able to predict what that TIE/LN fighter which is chasing you will be capable of doing in advance (unless the player is low level).

In order: Repair Probes, Charged Plating, Koiogran Turn, and Hydro Spanners.

GSF gives its ships numerous abilities alongside the standard primary and secondary weapons. There are four active abilities – Systems, Shields, Engines, and Co-Pilot – which each correspond to both the type of ship chosen and the components selected for that ship. Some ships may not have the option to select a specific systems ability, for example, as their components may not allow for this. More details within the “Components” section!

In GSF, most missiles and torpedoes are lock-on only and are unable to be fired unguided (“dumb-fired”), although the rocket pods component has no lock-on functionality and thus can only be dumb-fired. Many projectiles in Squadrons can be fired both via lock-on and via dumb-firing, although there are a few which either require or lack lock-on capabilities much like the projectiles in GSF. Dumb-firing is really useful for objective play, where a lock-on may not necessarily be needed or possible, like if you are moments from death when attempting an attack-run but just want to fire that one last missile towards the enemy flagship.

In Squadrons, missiles and torpedoes are very specifically designed to fulfil certain purposes rather than being for general use. Proton torpedoes, for example, can theoretically destroy any ship in one hit as they deal 4,000 damage and only the TIE/SA Bomber can reach that value in HP. However, due to the low ammunition count, moderate lock-on time, poor tracking, and the fact that use against players may waste a lot of its damage, it is best to use them only for taking on objectives. Anti-starfighter, cluster, concussion, and quick-lock missiles are among those which are designed primarily for use against other players. 

Even more wasteful than a misused proton torpedo is a misused ion torpedo: this thing deals massive ion damage (24,000), but use against a player will result in both expending your entire stock in one shot and practically all of its potential damage just going to waste even if it hits.

Unlike in GSF, the missiles and torpedoes in Squadrons can be targeted and destroyed by players. In the above instance where a target fires one last missile before death at a flagship, their pursuer could then in-theory prevent that missile from reaching its target if they were quick enough. Additionally, where GSF only has a maximum range, Squadrons gives some of its projectiles a minimum range: ion and proton torpedoes cannot be locked if the intended target is within 500m of the player. 

Please note that the descriptions in the tooltip state different damage values for both Proton and Thermite weapons. I assume that the top value in both instances is correct and that the lower value does not account for upgrades.
GSF is the only one of these games to feature periodic damage. Weapons such as the cluster missile (as an optional upgrade), plasma railgun, proton and thermite torpedoes, and sabotage probe will leave a nasty little bit of damage-over-time on victims alongside the initial hit. Proton torpedoes are particularly vicious as both the main damage of the torpedo and the periodic damage inflicted afterwards completely ignore shields and armour, meaning that victims will have little to protect themselves against the damage except for their hull’s HP. If this is not high enough (at least 1,250 HP), and the victim is unable to get any form of healing, then a successful proton torpedo is practically guaranteed to be a one-shot one way or the other.

GSF is the only game to feature any direct form of sensor manipulation for all classes. Squadrons experiments with this a little bit by allowing the support class to use a “squadron mask” to obscure nearby friendly allies from enemy sensors, but GSF takes things a lot further. Sensors are split into four separate categories: communication, dampening, focused detection, and range. As best as I can understand it, communication helps ships to cross-reference enemy positions, dampening causes ships to take longer to appear on enemy sensors, focused detection allows ships to better detect foes in their line-of-sight, and range increases a ship’s general detection radius. While certain specific components can increase any of these, some crew members also have passives which bolster them as well.

Truth be told, this has always been the thing which has confused me the most about GSF over the years, so I have absolutely no idea if I have got these definitions correct. Mine do appear to sync up with the commonly accepted definitions among the GSF community, although this is all still just conjecture as far as I know. The game does not provide anything like an official glossary for these things, unfortunately.

GSF is the only game where it is possible to switch your camera’s viewpoint temporarily to numerous set angles (nine) around your ship. Of course, if used in-flight to keep an eye on pursuers, these views can result in accidental collisions with terrain and potentially allowing opponents a couple of free pot-shots while you regain your bearings. Squadrons, being cockpit-view only, does not allow for altering the fixed camera position at all.

GSF is the only game which features cross-faction teams. It was not always this way, but SWTOR’s PvP in general shifted to cross-faction about two years ago to match the state of the story and this affected GSF as well. I am not entirely sure how this works out, whether we are all Alliance pilots fighting each other in live war scenarios or if we are fighting with and against defectors… I put it down to personal choice here, really! Squadrons, which styles itself in the aftermath of the battle of Endor, is strictly between the New Republic and Galactic Empire.

GSF is also the only game to show you both teams' setups before the match begins. Squadrons will only allow this once the game has started.
GSF allows players to select a specific spawning-in point during a match. Deathmatch maps all start with three, while two of the Domination maps start with one but open others if certain objectives are owned. Denon is the only Domination map to start with more than one spawn point, but it does not provide any additional spawning points beyond this. Additionally, one of the bombers can create a “hyperspace beacon” which acts as an independent spawn point. Squadrons has a set spawning-in point for Fleet Battles (your ship's hangar) but for Dogfight it appears to be completely random.

Since there are no faction-specific spawn points in Dogfight, this means that there will never be a situation where one team pins the other down just outside where they spawn. This happens a lot in deathmatches in GSF, mainly thanks to gunships, and I always feel sorry for any teams which I am against where this ends up happening to them as it can be especially frustrating.

Due to momentum affecting turning as mentioned earlier, maintaining a consistent aim on your target in Squadrons can be relatively difficult while in-motion. The game does allow a player to purchase and equip auto-aim weapons to help with aiming, but these will deal reduced damage compared to their standard counterparts. Weapon locks also function differently, in that Squadrons locks missiles onto targets automatically before you then simply press the fire button, whereas GSF has you hold down the missile key until it is locked and ready to fire. 

The size of the firing-arcs will also change depending on which weapons you use.

GSF has the most distinct manner of identifying a firing arc of the two games. The HUD has persistent targeting rings around the crosshair which define where the firing-arcs stop. If you have lock-on projectiles their firing arc is normally represented by the smaller of the two rings, while a laser’s firing arc is often the larger of the two. If a target goes outside either of the rings you will not be able to score a hit or lock-on with whichever weapon corresponds to that ring. Squadrons does have quite strict firing-arcs as well, but it is never actively shown where the limits are for lock-on weapons until you lose track of a target.

GSF is very forgiving for a player slowing or outright stopping their throttle when attacking objective points. Destroyable AI turrets are damaging, sure, but are unlikely to kill a player in one sitting unless their health is already low. Slowing or cutting the throttle in Squadrons for attacking a flagship is near-on suicidal with all the tricks enemy vessels use to defend themselves. Depending on the map and how close the game is to shifting back to defence, hit-and-run tactics will not necessarily guarantee survival in this instance either.

Beyond bringing a ship to an absolute halt, GSF does not allow you to set a “fixed” throttle in any shape or form. You can deliberately increase or decrease the throttle but releasing the respective keys will return the ship to its default speed. Increasing or decreasing power to the engines will make the ship slightly faster or slower respectively, but once again the ship will return to a “default” speed setting if the throttle is not directly being used in some form. Squadrons’ capability to keep a fixed throttle depends entirely on your hardware. Some setups will allow it, while others will not.

GSF is not particularly great at allowing ships to turn. While certain engine abilities will allow a player to turn sharply in various directions, ships which lack or are not advised to take any of these engines as options are just left having to turn as quickly as their ship can allow. Worth noting that some of these engines will also propel the player along the destination axis for a second or two, so crashing is quite possible when using their abilities in a panic. Squadrons features a drift mechanic, meaning that turning sharply yet controllably in space is possible for all four ship classes. This can be rather tricky to pull off, however, as it can only be accomplished while boosting.

GSF allows for very quick kills when dogfighting and can be particularly vicious at times. As shown by the proton torpedo example above, it gives several ships many tools to rapidly eat away at opponents’ defences if not bypass them entirely. In designing and recommending several of its “big guns” for objective play, Squadrons has a relatively high time-to-kill in comparison. The plus side of this is that it gives players a somewhat greater opportunity to retreat from a no-man’s-land if they get stranded, but I can see it be particularly frustrating for certain players that “running and hiding” is such an effective strategy.

On the flip side, becoming an accomplished dogfighter even with this compromise does then become something of a badge of honour for the respective pilots.

While both games enable you to completely cut your throttle, GSF is the only game which allows any movement for a stationary ship. By default, holding Shift and any of the directional keys used for throttle control and roll allows the fighter to climb, descend, and strafe. This will function with the throttle active as well, but it has the most noticeable impact while in an otherwise stationary position. Squadrons has no climbing, descent, or strafing capabilities since it tries not to incentivize staying still even for brief periods of time, meaning that a ship with no active throttle provides no options for manoeuvrability  – a word which I already know I’m going to hate by the end of this post – other than to resume moving forwards.

I cannot say that I really feel the absence of strafing in Squadrons, as it is only really used in GSF to get into secure defensive positions and to allow a gunship to get a better view on a potential target. It has little strategic benefit otherwise as it is awfully slow so has no defensive use unless you and an opponent are just that tightly weaved around a structure and dip into and out of cover to fire.

A very minor one, but upon death GSF only leads the player to a generic respawn screen where they can choose a ship. Squadrons firstly shows players a kill-cam of their death before allowing them the option to directly spectate their teammates before they can respawn. GSF does, technically, allow this indirectly as the respawn screen’s camera is fixed at the point where they died, so any nearby battles can at least be observed. That is about it, though.

I mentioned it in passing, but Squadrons has a story mode! This is especially useful here as it serves as one of the several entry-points for newer players or people unfamiliar with more “proper” simulators which this game provides. Since it covers both factions it enables players to get to grips with all the available ships and components and work out what makes them special. There are also special bonus objectives to complete with all the story missions, which means that there are incentives to come back to them if you failed to complete these the first time through.

I love it.
Other entry-points include the practice mode, which enables players to fly timed obstacle courses. More importantly, it also allows a player to spawn types of enemies in at times of their choosing, including big flagships. Once comfortable with flight, the big Fleet Battles mode has offline and co-op versions which enable players and teams to figure out the best loadouts and setups in their own time without once needing to enter a PvP match. I am absolutely thrilled to finally have an up-to-date Star Wars game which features a substantial offline-compatible objective starfighter mode!

Conversely, GSF has an extremely basic single-player tutorial where you fly a prebuilt Flashfire or S-13 Sting around a bit and the only enemies are a few unresponsive AI training drones around a satellite structure. This is useful for just getting to grips with the basic controls, but if you want to play this game mode even a tiny bit properly or get to use other ships, you have no choice but to do the PvP mode. The only single-player starfighter experience you can otherwise access is nothing like GSF. Your ship is on-rails, all other ships follow strictly premeditated paths, and it is just not anywhere near as interesting as a space mode.

While I am disappointed that GSF is a standalone thing for PvP and has no PvE integration, I can completely understand why it is like this. Even though giving players a prebuilt ship and a brief tutorial on GSF flight mechanics is something they have done and could possibly translate across to a story mission, building fully functional ship-AI would be an entirely different ballgame. It could work, sure, but if it is only going to be something that would only appear a handful of times and probably not be that popular among SWTOR’s wider player-base? I do not believe that would really be worth the effort when all is said and done.

Squadrons boasts something significant which GSF simply cannot: Virtual Reality compatibility. The VR support also means that the perspective for Squadrons is locked to cockpit-view only, whereas GSF only has a third… vessel… viewpoint. 

It is possible to then take this forced view even further by disabling some or even all the additional targeting UI elements and rely solely on the instruments in front of you for direction. This is the sort of thing which will require a fair bit of experience for a player to pull off satisfactorily, but I can imagine that this is the sort of thing that the hardcore space-sim crowd absolutely love. I have a couple of UI elements disabled myself (although for the sake of this post, I re-enabled them all while recording footage) and will probably disable more as time goes on.

The above also means that the HUD for things like ship-health, shield, missile-counts, etc. will be in slightly different places depending on the ship and faction you fly rather than all in the same place as with GSF's on-screen HUD. 

"I have you now."

Just as an aside, the in-vessel targeting computers are not entirely screen-accurate in how they function (i.e. 3D imagery instead of simple 2D graphics), but it cannot be denied that making these completely accurate would be horribly impractical from a gameplay perspective. Motive have done a decent job in keeping the general aesthetic of the computers for the TIES while updating both factions' technologies to be more useful to a player.

The aesthetic here is nowhere near accurate, but I feel it would be hard to keep the film targeting software design and make it functionally useful.

While the targeting systems are quite similar between both games on base principle, Squadrons provides much more intricate functionalities with its system. Firstly, you can target allies as well as enemies. This comes up a few times in the story as a means of scanning certain objects, but it also enables a U-wing or TIE/RP Reaper to fire a resupply drone or tactical shield directly at an ally. 

So many choices.

Secondly, there is an entire wheel of options just for targeting things, which allows you to only see ships and objects in whichever category you select when cycling through targets. I honestly keep on forgetting about this, not because I do not find it useful but just because I am so used to the more simplistic targeting options within GSF

Squadrons is the only one of these games to have colour-blind modes, which is a really nice accessibility feature. GSF, and SWTOR as a whole, has absolutely no options to make visibility easier for colour-blind players. While it would be a great addition for anyone with colour-blindness, I am not too sure of how well such a system could be implemented retroactively into the game. Hopefully it is possible, but there has been no word of any potential inclusion of this one way or the other.

Squadrons supports controllers, joysticks, and keyboards whereas GSF only supports keyboards. While I am very used to the keyboard setup due to my experiences with GSF, I decided to splash out and get some quite nice joysticks for Squadrons. I had hoped to acquire a throttle device instead of a second stick, but due to the then-recent release of the newest version of Microsoft Flight Simulator any bits of equipment were extremely hard to come by. Less than a week after I had purchased my joysticks, they were out of stock again on Amazon.

Speaking of hardware, Squadrons is featured on three platforms - PC, PlayStation, and Xbox - while GSF and SWTOR are only available on PC. Unlike I believe every Star Wars game before it, Squadrons features cross-play capabilities, meaning that players across all three systems can play with and against each other and even form cross-platform groups. Really nice feature, that, as it should hopefully prevent the game from reaching much of a stale state where some platforms are coping okay but others are struggling to find games.

Comparison between the standard laser cannon and the rapid fire laser cannon for the TIE interceptor. 
Squadrons makes most of its ships different from one another across factions, as three of the Imperial ships lack the shields of their New Republic counterparts. The game does at least give these ships their equivalents’ shield health as extra hull health, as well as extra DPS for base weapons, speed, and manoeuvrability as compensation. The supports are the only ships across both factions to have completely identical stats in Squadrons since both factions’ ships in this class have shields. 

As an additional benefit, ships which lack shields can use an emergency power converter to immediately overcharge either their weapons or their engines at the expense of the other resource.

GSF’s ships are completely identical statistically across factions, although passive allocation of active and passive perks for crew members are slightly different. This will not make much, if any, impact on a ship's capabilities in-practice.

Squadrons also offers in-built voice-communication capability while GSF relies on players using Discord, Mumble, TeamSpeak, Ventrilo, or whatever programs the gamer communities like to use nowadays. Squadrons, which emphasises the need for the small squadron to work together, allows for voice-comms even in randomly-allocated groups. This is encouraged, but not strictly necessary, for a team to be successful.

Squadrons also has official support for the third-party program VoiceAttack. This will enable players to link up voice commands to actions within the game, so you can literally tell the game what you want it to do if you have it installed.

My three current Y-wing loadouts. Top is an anti-player loadout while the bottom two are more themed around objective play. Since the TIE bomber lacks the automatic ion cannon, its first loadout uses a proton torpedo instead.
Squadrons enables players to change loadouts during a match whereas GSF only allows players to change to another ship from their chosen selection of five. Not only this, but Squadrons allows loadout changes to happen while the player is still alive. Returning to a friendly hangar will not only restock munitions but enable players to change ships and choose between (but not edit) loadouts. These can also be done after a death, but as mentioned earlier Squadrons incentivizes returning to safety rather than being stranded in a no-man’s-land. Thus, the significance of returning to the hangar is not to be understated.

SWTOR in general has never really experimented with loadouts even with its standard game systems, although it does try it a little bit with GSF’s hangar system. Each ship is meant to remember the exact layout of components and upgrade choices, but it is notoriously unreliable. It will often forget exactly which tier you have selected of some components if not remove them entirely. It is easy enough to correct as it is thankfully just a UI glitch, but it can still be a bit tedious to have to check your ships before queuing.

Exhibit A: A mostly inobtrusive kill-tracking system.
Squadrons has a relatively subtle kill-tracker. It appears by default in the top-right corner of the screen and can more-or-less be completely ignored if you are focusing primarily on gameplay. GSF, while also having its own subtle kill-tracker in the top-left corner by default, is also quite in-your-face at times. Any kill your team scores or self-destruction by an enemy player will cause a bright green text message to appear in the middle of your screen proclaiming such things as “Player A destroyed Player B”. Any deaths from your team will result in bright red text proclaiming the result. These messages also flash up when objective turrets and player mines and drones score a kill or are destroyed, so they can pop-up quite frequently.

Exhibit B: A slightly more obtrusive kill-tracking system.
Squadrons in general has a much cleaner HUD than GSF's which can get very cluttered with a lot of things going on. As you can see in the above image, the game is tracking multiple enemies at once as well as highlighting allies with quite obnoxious bright green circles. For objective play this theoretically has its benefits, as you can always see when a defender falls, but by the point that happens the point which they were defending is almost certainly lost anyway if they were by themselves.

Nice in-theory, clunky in-practice.

Squadrons gives players the option to use an in-game communications wheel, theoretically allowing a team to communicate with one another quickly without use of voice-comms. While this would be a useful addition to Domination in GSF to call for aid without using the chat window, this can be quite a clunky thing to use no matter which game it is in. If you are under pressure from one or more enemies, the chances of your team coming to your rescue in time are still rather limited no matter what you use to call for help.

The more streamlined nature of Squadrons compared to GSF also means that the support ship has more offensive capabilities than GSF’s bomber. Not only is the support ship the third-fastest ship type, but it also takes a much more active role in debilitating the enemy team. GSF’s bombers have a reputation for relying on mines and drones to deal the bulk of their damage, whereas the support class in Squadrons has access to multiple tools to lock down enemies and make them substantially easier to kill as well as being able to hold their own in dogfights as they have access to the same default weapon as the fighter class.

It is, however, also possible to spec a support ship with two of the following: a repair and resupply probe, seeker mines, and a turret drone. Sound familiar, Warcarrier and B-4D Legion flyers?

Squadrons is the only one of these games to feature skill-based matchmaking, although even if GSF did have it implemented the player-base is too small nowadays for it to take effect. When a player reaches level five, they gain access to a special version of Fleet Battles which is a ranked game against another team of players.

My position in the rankings will not be changing any time soon.
After the first ten games, players will be placed in a specific division, or “Operation Rank”, depending on their success rates. There are six of these Ranks, each with their own sub-divisions: Maverick, Hotshot, Hero, Valiant, Legend, and Galactic Ace. Reaching the final three Ranks for the first time will grant players shiny helmets for their pilots, and these will always be accessible regardless of which Operation schedule is active. While losing matches may see players be demoted within the sub-divisions, they will never be demoted from one Operation Rank to another.

Although I do not intend to take part in it, I am interested to see what becomes of this ranked mode if it gets going properly. Since there does not appear to be a way for the game to differentiate between solo-queuers and group-queuers I can imagine that more than a few players will give it up if they constantly get put against pre-made groups.

Despite my lack of interest, I feel it would be quite fun to have a Star Wars game as part of the e-sport line-up as that could attract quite a decent audience.

The curious thing about the ranked mode is that it is the only online mode which does not allow players to choose a faction. Dogfight and Fleet Battles vs. AI both ask you to set which faction you would wish to play as alongside a "random" option, but there is nothing of the sort for ranked play. This is something which I can imagine throwing a fair number of players who choose to spend time levelling up their favourite faction, as they could enter their first ranked match and be put on the side they haven't spent any time upgrading ships on.

Not much of an issue for some people, perhaps, but almost certainly something which will catch more than a few players out.

Since unlocking a ship paintjob only unlocks it for one ship at a time(!), it is safe to assume that most of these rewards will be pilot options like helmets.
Squadrons’ Operation schedules also encompass the daily challenges, which ask players to do such things as winning or just playing matches with a certain faction for a small amount of Glory points (the game’s cosmetics currency). Completing a certain number of these within the time limit will reward players with a cosmetic which will be unique to each Operation. Although it does not state this anywhere in-game, it looks like you can only complete these challenges while playing in an online match.

By contrast, GSF is very rigid with its daily mission structure as all its missions ask you to do is play a certain number of matches (two for the daily, ten for the weekly; wins count twice), and the rewards are the same each time. I personally prefer the consistency of GSF, but I like the fact that Squadrons is incentivising players to try new and unfamiliar things.

~~~

Components

Similarities

Aside from a high amount of personal experience, this aspect of GSF is a primary reason why I would always have chosen it as a comparator to Squadrons.

GSF and Squadrons both feature a similar components system on a base-level. Shields of differing hardness, hulls of different weights, guns with unique firing systems, and so on. It is nice to have the ability to make your ships feel drastically different even from their base selves. For example, your Flashfire could become a really fast and nippy fighter with the hull that gives you the highest evasion chance and your BTL-A4 Y-wing could become pretty tanky with extra hull HP and a specific shield type which exchanges ammo for a brief and nigh-invincible barrier when depleted.

For a comparison of how the two games lay out their ships’ components, see below. Italicised categories are those which do not appear for all ship types.

GSF:

Major Components (always five present):

  • Primary Weapons
  • Primary Weapons (2)
  • Secondary Weapons
  • Secondary Weapons (2)
  • Systems
  • Shields
  • Engines

Minor Components (always four present):

  • Armour
  • Capacitor
  • Magazine
  • Reactor
  • Sensors
  • Thrusters

Squadrons:

  • Primary Weapon
  • Left Auxiliary
  • Right Auxiliary
  • Countermeasures
  • Hull
  • Shields
  • Engines

I mentioned earlier that not every ship in GSF gets access to a system ability. This is because there are several ships per faction which replace the system component with either a second primary weapon or a second secondary weapon. In these instances, the system ability allows these ships to switch between their alternate weapons.

Auxiliaries in Squadrons are basically a combination of the secondary weapons and systems categories from GSF. This is where you can find missiles, torpedoes, repair droids, targeting beacons, and all that. While no category is truly exempt from them, this is where class-restrictions apply the most in Squadrons since these are mainly what give the classes their own distinct roles in a team setup. 

You can choose two auxiliaries which, depending on choices made, can either be reminiscent of a GSF player flying a ship with either two secondary weapons or a secondary weapon and a systems ability. Unlike in GSF, it is possible to both choose two systems-type abilities on certain ships and, if two missiles are chosen, lock-on with both at the same time.

Components shared by both games include such things as burst-fire cannons, rapid-fire SMG-style cannons, remote turrets, resupply drops, seeker mines, proton torpedoes, and self-repair abilities. Unlike GSF, applying components does not also visually change some parts of your ship to reflect what you have done. There is one exception to this: an automatic ion cannon for the New Republic adds the little turret on top of the cockpit of the Y-wing where otherwise there is just a little unused podium. 

Both games allow ships access to components which restrict or totally lock down an enemy’s movements. In GSF, ion weapons do this by default by draining engine power, some bombers can fire a drone that slows all enemies nearby, and some scouts can launch a probe which attaches to an enemy’s hull and completely prevents their boosting and turning for the duration. Squadrons again has ion weapons, but it also gives support ships a tractor beam as a possible loadout option. While useful in theory for trapping faster enemies, its usefulness is completely nullified by the dampener hull which can be equipped by all ships except the support itself. 

The dampener hull offers no protection from ion lasers or missiles if they successfully make contact, however, so its effectiveness will only go so far. Additionally, tractor beams from enemy flagships will still be able to immobilise any ship regardless of loadout.

Mash! Those! Buttons!
Squadrons gives players the option to break free of any disabling effect. By default, button-mashing frees you from the ion-disable, while maximum throttle and boosting will break you out of tractor beams. If your ship gets disabled in GSF by any means, you must wait it out until it dissipates. Depending on how and where your ship gets incapacitated, recovery can either be next to impossible or quite feasible in either game.

If on the green-pink button you click, only pain will you find.

Both games have a currency called Requisition which can be used to unlock various components. However, GSF’s currency is a fair bit more layered than that of Squadrons. Firstly, components have a stacking cost as more upgrade tiers are purchased, ranging anywhere from 500 to 7,500 depending on the component and upgrade tier. Secondly, there are two types of Requisition: Ship Requisition, which is each ship’s own stash of Requisition, and Fleet Requisition, which can be used to unlock anything. This includes other ships, crew members, and even components of individual ships if there is nothing more prevalent to spend it on.

Additionally, there are multiple ways of earning Requisition for GSF compared to Squadrons just requiring you to level up. Ship Requisition is awarded at the end of each game to ships which you use in that match, and the amount they earn is dependent on how long you played them and how many points you earned. Additionally, each ship has a bonus pool of 500 Requisition available to them each day.

Grants for both Ship and Fleet Requisition can be earned by playing matches and completing the daily and weekly. Using the Ship Requisition grants gives the currency to all ships which you have unlocked, meaning that they are particularly useful as a ship-levelling tool. Furthermore, these grants can be purchased for a third type of currency, Fleet Commendations, which can be acquired via the original space missions, GSF missions, and as loot if at least one Starship Booty amplifier is equipped on a character’s actual gear set.

In this instance, converting all this currency would cost me almost £70.

Finally, Ship Requisition can be converted into Fleet Requisition for real money. 1 Cartel Coin will allow you to convert 25 of one ship’s Requisition into the Fleet variant, meaning that it is possible for someone to play one type of ship exclusively and then simply pay to use that ship’s currency to completely max out another. While you still need to have truly earned that currency in the first place, it is still a bit ridiculous that ships can be power-levelled in this way.

Components in both games are locked between factions. In GSF this is because hangars are unique to each character, even within the same faction, so sharing components is not possible. This is something which I feel would surprise and disappoint more than a few Squadrons players as component-sharing is possible within the factions themselves. Having to unlock the same component twice for your RZ-1 A-wing and TIE/IN Interceptor may be more than a little bit tedious to some.

Happily, you earn multiple Requisition points each time you level up your profile. You initially earn two Requisition per level, apart from level five, which gives seven to coincide with unlocking ranked Fleet Battles, and fifteen, twenty-five, and thirty-five which give four as well as an additional loadout slot. As such, it is possible to equally distribute upgrades between factions if you would like. It only costs one Requisition for a ship upgrade, so each level will unlock multiple ship components at a time.

Once a player reaches level forty, they will have earned enough Requisition to have unlocked every component in the game. I had all the components I believed I required by level fifteen, but every player’s definitions of “required” will be different.

~

Differences

This path is long and grindy, but satisfying once complete.

GSF’s components come with multi-tiered upgrade options. The final upgrade tiers of the major components allow you to specify whether or not your repair drone replenishes shields or ammo, whether your lasers deal more damage to hulls or to shields, whether your engines have higher speed or greater turning rate, and so on. Components in Squadrons are a one-time purchase and do not allow for deviation within that component’s capabilities, resulting in a more powerful all-in-one package.

The six minor components (armour, capacitors, magazines, reactors, sensors, and thrusters) in GSF are purely passive boosts to a ship. These augment such things as weight of hull, rate of fire for lasers, generation of power for the weapon energy pool, detection range for sensors, regeneration rates of shields, and turning rate of engines. 

Squadrons mainly lumps in these passives with separate components, but sensor detection and dampening aspects are technically part of some classes’ available auxiliaries as an active ability. Interceptors can choose a targeting jammer which temporarily hides them from enemy radars. Support ships can choose targeting beacons, which mark all enemies and makes them easier to take down, and the team-cloaking squadron mask I mentioned earlier. Considering that the sensor aspects of GSF are undoubtedly its most confusing thing when it comes to working out just how much difference augmenting them makes, it is nice to see Squadrons handling them in a somewhat more direct manner.

GSF: much to comprehend, there is.

Because of the vast range of components and associated active and passive abilities, there are substantially more statistics to be aware of in GSF compared to Squadrons, and these can have hugely different impacts on certain kinds of ships. For example, a gunship may want to choose more dampening to better hide from pursuers, while a scout might want to choose more sensor detection to locate potential targets more easily. There are a few reasons why one of the terms I use to summarise Squadrons is “a less complex version of GSF”, and this is one of the main ones.

I wouldn't be surprised if Gault was actually bluffing about his usefulness as a co-pilot just for some extra Credits. Seems like the sort of thing he'd do.

While Squadrons only has pilots as a cosmetic option (more details below), GSF makes crew members have an actual mechanical impact on the various ships in a similar manner to standard components. Each crew member has two passive perks which augment things like firing arcs, weapon accuracy, shield strength, engine power draw, and so on. 

You can fill four unique positions with select characters: offensive, defensive, tactical, and engineering. A co-pilot is then plucked from these four individuals and grants you access to an additional active ability. These abilities include Hydro Spanners (a powerful self-heal), Concentrated Fire (a respective 36% / 16% buff to primary and secondary weapon critical chances), and Wingman (a 20% buff to user’s and two nearby allies’ accuracy).

Each character can start with a maximum of twelve crew members depending on how much story that character has done. There are four generic crew members who were created specifically for GSF, and each class has their five unique companions available to them for free as well as their ship droid and the companions HK-51 and Treek if they have them unlocked. Starting or skipping past Fallen Empire will lock away all class companions besides HK, and Treek, meaning that they will need to be purchased (potentially for a second time) using Fleet Requisition.

Co-pilots will also provide commentary when your ship is in dogfights, executing an engine manoeuvre, or near-death. While it is just a little bit of flavour rather than anything specific you can interact with, it’s quite fun to listen to as all co-pilots have their own unique lines of dialogue as well as, of course, voice-actor. All 20 companions per faction can be selected, as well as four GSF-only characters per faction and the universal HK-51 and Treek. Altogether this means that, apart from the single astromech droid per side, both factions have access to 25 different voice actors who can provide co-pilot commentaries.

These are two scout ships with different loadout capabilities: Spearpoint on the left, Flashfire on the right.

In GSF, different ships within each class have their own distinct loadout options, even including varying categories. That strike fighter has a healing probe while others do not, that bomber can perform engine manoeuvres while others cannot, and so on. This means that certain ships have become the “community favourite” among its class depending on what the game-mode is. The Flashfire and S-13 Sting scouts are often the primary dogfighting ships while the Warcarrier and B-4D Legion bombers are usually what you will find planted beneath a satellite (the “bomber nest”). While some ships do occasionally break these moulds, it is relatively rare to see them played at the same expert level as the common favourites. Squadrons, which so far only has one ship type per class, avoids this issue.

Countermeasures in GSF all have the same end-function: they break any locks currently fixed on them and prevent any enemies from locking onto the ship for a few seconds afterward. While they mainly come part-and-parcel with any engines which enable manoeuvres, they can also be found on certain system abilities as well as the power-converter engine component. The latter can be particularly useful for certain bombers which have no other way of breaking locks. It is possible for a ship to be completely devoid of any lock-breaking capabilities if they are specced a certain way.

Worth noting that in GSF breaking locks is a crucial survival tool, as missiles cannot be outrun or be forced to collide with terrain like they can in Squadrons. Once fired, they will always hit their target if the intended victim has no way of avoiding them for whatever reason.

The countermeasures in Squadrons are their own separate component, so therefore every ship has them. However, unlike in GSF, these tools have an ammunition count of their own. It is therefore especially important for players to manage exactly when they use them, especially as they can be fired even when no projectiles are trailing them.

All four ship classes have access to three unique types of countermeasure. First are a series of seeker warheads that can be fired behind a player’s ship which intercept any hostile projectiles. Second is a cloud of chaff particles which breaks locks and blocks all incoming projectiles if the player continues to fly straight immediately after deployment. Third is a sensor jammer, which functions similarly to lock-breakers in GSF, that breaks locks and prevents any for a few seconds afterwards.

The interceptor gets a unique countermeasure which I can see being particularly nasty when used in the right hands. Their sensor inverter will redirect a hostile projectile back towards the attacker, although it will only work if the missile is within 300m of them when the inverter is activated. It is possible for two interceptors to play "missile ping-pong" with one another, although this can only happen once per missile due to the long cooldown of the inverter.

In GSF, shields and engines are not purchased because of the passive benefits they allow (e.g. top speed, turning rate, shield strength, shield regeneration, etc.) but because they each have a specific active ability. That engine will allow you to convert some of your engine power-pool to weapon or shield power, that one will allow you to do a barrel-roll, that shield can give you a very strong barrier at the cost of bleeding damage through to the hull, and so on. Squadrons just gives these components passive benefits with no active abilities tied to either.

One of the “shields” available to two ships per faction in GSF is the repair drone afforded to the Spearpoint / SCC-4 Bloodmark scout and Warcarrier / B-4D Legion bomber. These ships still have actual functioning shields, but the probe just takes the place of any shield-related active ability like charged plating or directional-shield.

Speaking of the repair drone, there are significant differences between those in GSF and the resupply probe in Squadrons: the repair drone in GSF can target multiple allies with a heal-over-time and can be consciously targeted by enemy players. The resupply probe in Squadrons can only be picked up by or delivered to one ally, cannot be used by the player who launched it, and it delivers all its healing and supplies at once (50% hull HP and 100% munitions). 

While I am not entirely sure if it can be targeted by enemy players, I have seen one of my resupply probes be destroyed by an enemy - this could be because the player I had tried to deliver it to died just before it reached them, however. Not enough evidence on this one for me to be entirely certain about it.

Fortunately, it is not possible for a ship to have both of these equipped at the same time.

There is also one additional option for providing group repair and resupply options in GSF. The FT-7B Clarion and FT-3C Imperium strike fighters get the unique repair probes systems ability. This is essentially a repair drone which acts as an invulnerable healer, cleanses several debuffs when activated, and, if specced into, provides supplies to the ship and any nearby allies. It does not last for that long as a compromise, but it is an invaluable self-survival tool when combined with the co-pilot ability hydro spanners.

The increased accuracy for primary weapons from the Koiogran Turn is rarely useful, but it's a nice idea.

Courtesy of making engine manoeuvres unique abilities tied to specific engines, GSF has more dynamic options open to ships for evading or countering pursuers than Squadrons. I have already mentioned the barrel roll, but there is also a 90-degree vertical turn and two different 180-degree turns. While not an evasive manoeuvre, one engine allows a ship to immediately turn to directly face an attacker. 

This is responsible for about 27% of my deaths as a Flashfire.
Probably the trickiest engine ability in GSF to use effectively is the retro thruster engine. This propels a ship several meters backward, in theory allowing the user to end up behind any pursuers. It is very tricky to pull off as it requires a pursuer to be close enough, so you could just make yourself a closer and easier target for your attacker. Alternatively, since you often lack the time to gauge what is behind you before you use it, you could easily fire it and crash spectacularly into a bit of terrain.

Did somebody say "boom"?
While specific engines in both games can affect manoeuvrability and max speed, Squadrons also adds in further passive benefits with some of its engines. For example, one engine type causes the ship to explode upon defeat. While they may not be “active” abilities in the same way as GSF’s engines, these extra benefits will still have a noticeable impact in certain matches.

GSF’s component and upgrade systems factor into why I still cite it as being a very painful activity for newer players. There are just so many things to consider even with your first ship and the entry-level Scout and Strike models are rather… naff… in comparison to others. At least with Squadrons, even though different components may make certain things easier for you, the entry level components will still be more than decent enough to be getting on with. Even if you do feel the need to change your loadout, it will not cost you an arm or a leg’s worth of Requisition to do so.

Plus, at least in Squadrons you can try out new stuff without being thrown into an unforgiving online PvP-only experience. GSF is not quite so forgiving in that regard.

~~~

Cosmetics

General

Magnificent, isn't she?

Squadrons allows me to fly a blue T-65B X-wing! *Happy dance, happy dance*

I am easy to please.

~

Similarities

Both GSF and Squadrons have separate currencies for applying cosmetics compared to acquiring upgrades. Squadrons has Glory points, which are earned by levelling up, completing daily challenges, and at the end of each Operation (between 6,000 and 16,500 Glory depending on your final placing). GSF has… of course… the purchasable Cartel Coins. There used to be a skin which you could only unlock for the bomber in GSF by earning a unique currency within the flashpoint Kuat Drive Yards but at some point BioWare made it possible to purchase this with CC as well. You can still earn it by grinding the flashpoint, however.

Both games allow you to customise your ship’s basic paintjob, although Squadrons has its paintjobs with their own pre-defined colours. Want to fly as part of the famous Red Squadron? You can, but you cannot take the Red Squadron paintjob and turn it purple (you can, however, choose to fly it in green, gold, orange, and even pink). Even the little decals which you can choose to add separately from the paintjobs come in pre-defined colours. I do not particularly mind pre-defined colours for paintjobs and decals, as it does at least make it easier for the developers to work on unique cosmetics without fearing that a player would turn them swamp green and yellow or something disgusting like that.

I am writing this while looking at the… ahem… eye-catching brown and orange colour module available for Imperial ships in GSF.

~

Differences

If you are a player who dreads the idea of “Technicolour Dreamcoat squadron”, Squadrons has an option to disable player cosmetics. This gives every ship including your own the default ship cosmetic, since the game treats all matches as being between Titan and Vanguard squadron. To some this may not seem like much, as you only see your squad-mates “properly” when the match starts, you choose to spectate a match, and at the end if your team is victorious. To others, it could be annoying that that one ship is pink squadron while the rest of you is blue squadron.

Again, not spending CC just for one blog post.

I briefly mentioned colour modules in the above section, so I will just clarify how these function in GSF. These are little swatches of two preassigned colours (blue and orange, purple and black, you get the idea) which can then be applied to any of the ships’ available paintjobs. The colours can then be inverted, so the blue / orange module can then become an orange / blue module instead. This does, as I am sure you can imagine, result in some spectacularly garish ships.

Today on Pimp My T-65B X-Wing...

That is not to say that garish or silly colours are not available in Squadrons, especially for the New Republic. The Convoy’s Courage skin turns a ship purple and yellow – it is truly a sight to behold – while the Chromium Flash turns a ship bright silver. Of note is the Luminous Being skin which gives ships a neon blue TRONesque look. Imperial ship skins are not nearly as potentially flashy, although the Radiance (red cockpit glass and lights on the radiation panels) and Emperor’s Guard (bright red hull) skins are relatively notable.

Unlike in GSF, engine and laser colours in Squadrons are not separate cosmetics. Engines remain the same colour no matter what component you select, and lasers only change colour if you choose to make them ion cannons (blue lasers). It is easy to understand why this is the case as this era of Star Wars has very defined boundaries for faction-based colours (i.e. red lasers for the New Republic and green for the Empire). To allow people to choose a green laser as an X-wing could allow for a lot of potential confusion among Imperial pilots as well as just not being lore-accurate.

Tuggtar: Kettch's spiritual successor.

Since the cockpit-view is enforced, Motive have allowed players to make themselves feel more at home within them by adding in various purchasable cosmetic items that are then added to the cockpit. This is something which I do not believe any Star Wars game has done before, but somebody please correct me in the comments if I am incorrect in this belief. Among the numerous objects you can decorate a cabin with are a crystal from Crait, a porg wood-carving, an Ewok plush toy, and images of Darth Vader, a Mantellian Savrip dejarik piece, and a Kowakian Monkey-Lizard. Basically, fun little things just to make your cockpit more personal to you, just as a real pilot might do.

Depending on the given “rarity” of the items in question, the cost of these cosmetics ranges from about 200 Glory points to 1,200. The rarity identifier is just part of a currency sink and means nothing else practically (i.e. not a lootbox mechanic). Thankfully.

I personally will not be decorating any of my cockpits, or at least not right away. Not because I “hate fun” or crud like that, but just because I do not want something to get in my way and distract me while in-flight. I have seen some footage of pilots having these dangly things flapping about in the top right-hand-corners of their cockpits and that bothered me immensely even seeing it second-hand!

In GSF, your ship is the only thing that matters as your character and class in SWTOR have no bearing on your ship’s performance. Literally the only time actual characters or account names can matter in either of these games is if you recognise a friend on the opposing team and have some idea what strategy they could be using or what their general skill level is, although meta-gaming is of course a beast which can affect every game.

In Squadrons, they have taken the concept of the pilot and just let it take its own path. Not only can you customise your own pilot, including a choice of face (albeit only presets), some species for New Republic pilots, body type, helmet, flight suits, emotes, and voice packages, but you can also see and hear what other players have done with theirs.

Anybody for a quick round of pazaak before we fly?

Both modes feature a little briefing room where you can meet your team and watch an optional strategy holo-vid for Fleet Battles. This is to give you time to theoretically formulate a strategy, even if you have that one teammate who only communicates via emotes. During games, your pilot will receive communications with others whenever they save them from an enemy or are on a killstreak, but you will never hear your pilot automatically make any of these statements. At the end of the match, there is also a little victory screen where pilots from the winning team will be shown off doing a little pose.

Disappointingly, the victory poses used by my character (centre) and the person on her left do not yet incorporate unlocked helmets like the flashy red-and-gold one on the right, even if the character in question has a specific one selected (in this instance that other player was wearing an A-wing helmet).

Incidentally, one of the voices behind an Imperial voice-package is none other than Darin DePaul, the man behind Valkorion, General Daeruun, and Junker Jott in SWTOR. Imperial Ace B even sounds a lot like Daeruun, which is quite surreal to someone who is used to hearing that voice come from a Republic character.

This is the sort of thing which I absolutely love about how Motive have done Squadrons. They have taken an old but beloved concept and just added several extra layers to it, and I love what has been done.

That said, while it is great to be able to get our characters to look the way we want, players can only see their own avatar in select situations beyond the victory screens. They take turns to be seen on the main menu alongside the ship you last played as for their faction, you get a glimpse of them from behind whenever they do an emote in the briefing room, and there is only one instance of their face appearing in a story cutscene. Most of the time, you are within your character's head. 

All this still “doesn’t matter” from an actual online gameplay perspective, of course, but it just adds a whole new layer to the personal experience. While a player character does not matter as much in this game as much as they would in SWTOR, it is still nice to be able to tailor a character's look to our liking. The customisation is disappointingly limited, but as the characters used actual face-models I would not expect to be able to do much to them. More alien skin colours and human hairstyles would be nice, though.

However, this is a somewhat crucial part of the story. Rather than give us the next Iden Versio or Cal Kestis, Squadrons gives players the first modern-day Jaden Korr, Meetra Surik, and Revan. The character customisation I mentioned above also applies to the story mode, and customising the main characters is one of the first things you must do upon initial launch! Additionally, any changes you make to your pilot for multiplayer (i.e. changing flight suits, voices, etc.) will also carry across to the story-mode. Although initial customisation is limited, this retroactive character-update should make it possible for a player to eventually get, say, a Twi'lek as their New Republic story pilot. 

However, even if you do have other species unlocked, restarting the story will still force you to choose a human. While you can still have them be an alien retroactively, this means you will never have a cutscene showing an alien head.

It has been so long since we have had a mainstream story-based Star Wars game allow us to change the look and name of the main character(s). We last saw this back in 2011 when SWTOR was released. If you discount SWTOR as a “single-player experience”, then 2004’s Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords is the last game which had this option. Whether this gap be nine years or sixteen years, it has been far too long since we have had the option to customise the main character within a Star Wars game’s storyline.

More, please!

Those pesky Abednedo get abso-bloody-lutely everywhere! They'll be in SWTOR next!

Alongside Twi'leks, the other alien species available to New Republic pilots are Abednedo, Duros, and Sullustan. Each species can only wear one of the four helmet types which are more typically associated with various craft: Abednedo get the A-wing helmet, Duros the X-wing, Sullustan the U-wing (hence the game’s very peculiar design for the species) and Twi’lek the Y-wing. Each of these species corresponds with some notable New Republic, Rebellion, and Resistance pilots across films, games, and TV shows: C’ai Threnalli and Ello Asty for Abednedo, Shriv Suurgav for Duros, Nien Nunb for Sullustan, and Hera Syndulla for Twi’lek. I am not aware if this is confirmed to be deliberate or just a happy coincidence.

Other species seen elsewhere in the game are Mimbanese, Mirialan, Mon Calamari, Quarren, Rodian, and Trandoshan. It would be quite fun if we got other species down the line, and I have seen more than a few requests for Chiss as an Imperial species.

The character customisation separates gender from pretty much every option, except for some facial hair for human heads and the cone-ears for the Twi'lek head. Your character can have a “feminine” voice and head attached to a “masculine” body, or vice-versa, and since the body-types are indistinctly-gendered while in uniform (the most noticeable differences being gain or loss of muscle-mass) several different combinations can work quite well. 

As I say, I would love to get more Star Wars games in the future which include this sort of thing. Defining who or what our characters are is a pretty great thing to be able to do in any game, and I wish that some of the other recent Star Wars games had included it. Oh well. At least we now have one more to add to the smallish pile. 

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Discussion

At this point, the questions are inevitable: if you play and really enjoy either of these games, should you check out the other? Similarly, for players looking for a decent starfighter experience, which of these two games is the better option?

If you are someone who has been playing GSF for a while because you absolutely love the mode, I would recommend giving Squadrons a shot. If you have been playing Squadrons and have not yet played GSF, I cannot easily recommend this mode unless you are already playing SWTOR. I will happily recommend SWTOR as a game, but it is not worth playing exclusively for GSF as there are so many other things to try your hand at. Plus, if you are a console-only player then SWTOR will not be available on any platform other than PC. 

For players who have not played either mode, I would more easily recommend Squadrons over GSFI would still recommend SWTOR if you are just looking for an all-round good Star Wars experience rather than something as specific as Squadrons or GSF.

“Skill floor” and “skill ceiling” are two terms which I have seen been thrown about a fair bit on the official subreddit when it comes to Squadrons. These dictate how accessible a game is and the highest level of skill a player is potentially able to reach. You can have a game with both a low skill floor and a low skill ceiling, a game with an intentionally high skill ceiling but a really low floor to compensate, and a game which has both a moderately high skill floor and a high skill ceiling.

Squadrons is the game with the intentionally high skill ceiling, although the skill floor will depend on each player’s experiences with other games. If you are used to “proper” space simulators such as Elite Dangerous or are a long-term veteran of the X-Wing series (et al.) there will be a lot of things which you will feel relatively comfortable with right from the get-go. If you have primarily played modes like Battlefront II’s Starfighter Assault, then the skill floor will feel relatively high as there are just so many extra layers in Squadrons. If you are going to be brand-new to any game like Squadrons, the skill-floor here will feel relatively high at first but there are multiple points of entry to help ease you into it. 

The skill ceiling of Squadrons, despite being the highest of these two games compared to its floor, may also end up being the easier to reach depending on your point-of-view. This is courtesy of the offline, co-op, and practice modes which enable players and teams to figure out what loadouts, setups, and playstyles suit them best in "safe" environments. Even if their forays into the PvP modes indicate that they still have more to learn, they can try and use their experience in the various PvE modes to adapt and adjust their strategies. 

However, it is worth noting that the AI in Squadrons' co-operative and solo Fleet Battles mode is ridiculously good even on "easy" mode. Adapting and adjusting can only go so far if you find yourself constantly being shot down by Jem Blessage or Mora Veil. Even the AI corvettes are an absolute menace: numerous times I've flown out of the MC-75 hangar in a fresh ship only to be immediately greeted by a fatal barrage of laser fire from a nearby Raider while trying to help defend my fleet. All the skill in the world will not easily help you recover from firepower of that magnitude. 

Quite honestly, at times it feels like many of the players I have come across are easier to kill than the bots. That is not an indictment of several of these players' skills - the AI can sometimes just be that good. A welcome change from the Starfighter Assault bots, at any rate.

Additionally, while the game is pretty good at holding your hand with some of the mechanics and specifically takes time to introduce others in the campaign, the main Squadrons website has an entire page dedicated to gameplay tips and default control setups. Lots of good stuff there!

Galactic Starfighter is the game which I feel has the higher skill floor for brand-new players. They have access to only one ship type per class by default unless they were a subscriber at the time of its launch, in which case they get a second free gunship. After working out what each of the base components will allow them to do and the sort of role which they are likely to fulfil, they give it a go. After a couple of games, they find that their chosen ship is not as good as they think it can be. They then have a difficult choice: do they keep upgrading that ship as they at least have a vague understanding of what it is like, or do they try another ship or set of components? They then need to learn what that new ship or component does, what it allows them to do, and so on and so forth.

The point is, GSF will happily throw new players into the deep end very, very, quickly. They will experience an extensive and costly component upgrade system, many crew members to choose from, a lack of glossary for more confusing elements, and absolutely no skill-based matchmaking alongside trying to play the actual game. They may get lucky and be placed with a decent team and, despite dying a few times, are able to score the occasional kill after a more experienced player softens up some targets. Or they may find themselves being absolutely melted like butter no matter what they try as the game has decided to put them against some of the best dogfighters in the server.

All the ships also have quite different playstyles to one another, even within the classes themselves. Some bombers, as implied earlier, can have a very passive playstyle as they are not built for dogfighting or trying to actively take objective points, whereas scouts and strikes are far more active and versatile. Gunships are a particularly rogue element and they are just so unique compared to anything that Squadrons has to offer with its own ships.

They are sniper ships.

Oh, how I hate this view.

Using the gunships’ railguns puts a pilot into the typical scope-view commonly associated with shooting games, giving them a very narrow field-of-view when monitoring the playing-field. If you are already used to tracking and sniping moving targets then you would probably do alright with this, but you would still have to know to adjust for the different axes in space when finding a defensible position. It’s not uncommon to see a gunship position itself at the highest point of a given map and face downwards as this often gives them a good vantage point where they can see many potential approach vectors an enemy can take to reach them. If you are not okay at sniping moving targets or rely “too much” on hitting weak spots (as ships in GSF have none) to deal fatal damage the gunship really will not be the class for you.

GSF does not really have a single skill ceiling. I view it as having at least twelve incremental ones due to the number of differing playstyles for the various ships. The best Flashfire flyer might be absolutely rubbish at handling the SGS-45 Quarrel or vice-versa, as mastering one results in only the barest of transferable skills to the other. This is one of the most extreme examples, as there are many skills which can be transferred between several of the other ship types and classes.

I do not want to say whether I believe GSF has a higher average skill-ceiling compared to Squadrons, although I would certainly say they are relatively comparable. This is mainly because I have not seen all there is to see in Squadrons yet, but I have got a lot of matches to catch up on before that comparison becomes anywhere near feasible. Having played well over 1,000 matches of GSF I have seen a lot of things in this game which I would consider to be “expert” level play. Thus, I have a rough idea of where I would put each ship class’s archetype in relation to one another. I am sure that I shall be seeing a lot of expert trends emerge from the woodwork in Squadrons over the next few months, but right now I just don’t have the same level of exposure to them as I do in GSF.

Added to which, there is only one way to play GSF as an actual game: using a keyboard and mouse. Squadrons brings in the controllers and joysticks, meaning that there is not just a skill ceiling for the game itself but also a skill ceiling for using additional equipment. You may already be very used to controllers or HOTAS / HOSAS setups and can just make your fighter fly in ways you couldn’t with a mouse or you may only ever be used to the keyboard and mouse setup so trying to upgrade to a joystick would be an incredible step-up in difficulty. VR will also present its own challenges irrespective of the type of controller used alongside it.

It also needs to be stressed that Squadrons has a markedly different design philosophy behind it compared to GSF. This is a respectable attempt at a space-simulator whereas GSF is a more arcade-like shooter with a few space-sim elements thrown in. I imagine I’m likely to get a couple of comments proclaiming that I can’t compare these games because of this, but I’ve still gone ahead with it because, design philosophies aside, comparisons like these can be a usual benchmark for people. If I hadn’t had my eyes set on Squadrons for months – I had started writing this post at the end of July when specific gameplay details were first coming out and been amending it gradually ever since – this is the sort of thing which I’d personally be looking to find out.

That said, I do honestly feel that the argument could easily be made that an experienced GSF player will have little trouble adjusting to Squadrons. They have their distinct differences, of course, but there is also a fair amount of similarity between the two games in more than a few places. If you enjoy spending hours at a time playing GSF, then I would advise at least checking this out and seeing it for yourself.

~~~

Conclusion

Squadrons is a game which I imagine was not really anticipated when it was initially leaked. While Battlefront II players had been asking for updates to the neglected Starfighter Assault for over two years by this point, I daresay these were the loudest voices asking for anything “new” relating to starfighter game content.

Despite this, Squadrons promptly became the focus of a lot of people. It attracted the space-sim crowd, the VR crowd, players nostalgic for X-Wing games and the like, and people like me who just appreciate pretty much anything starfighter-related in Star Wars. Admittedly, part of the draw for me is that the game has more than the most basic of offline-compatible play. I can imagine in a few years’ time when the servers are down (and assuming nothing more recent has taken its place) that I would still look to boot this game up and launch into battle.

The icing on the cake, especially when some microtransaction-laden games today are fetching over £60, is that Squadrons is “only” £40. Still more expensive than its equivalents would have been ten or twenty years ago, of course, but in comparison to some of the obscene prices today? As far as I am concerned, this is something of a bargain.

That said, £40 may just be the beginning of a more costly expenditure for some players. Add in the VR and joystick compatibilities and I can imagine that somebody can happily spend over £500 just getting the best possible equipment to play it with full immersion if they do not already possess what they need. Ouch.

The developers have also been treading very carefully in making Squadrons an online game. It could have been so easy for them to have made it a service game, something that they would have content ready for but not finalised in time for launch and then released later. Worse, it could have been something which had microtransactions or which would probably have had an extra-expensive deluxe edition. It avoids all of these. Squadrons is meant to have been complete at launch, with any additional content depending purely on how well it sells. Everything in-game can be earned with not even the option to purchase cosmetics with microtransactions. That is just beautiful to see.

While I am slightly disappointed that it is restricted to only one era, I can completely understand why this is the case. With what we know about them, trying to apply the game’s systems to the other eras just does not work comfortably for the time being. I have no doubts that it would be possible for some enthusiasts to come up with a “fool-proof” way that the other eras could be included, and I look forward to seeing anything they can come up with.

Despite its various similarities to several previous games from years past – I’m sure there’ll be countless people comparing how this feels to the games I didn’t feel I could cover effectively – Squadrons is a game which I think will be remembered as its own beast. It will tick all the right boxes where it matters for certain players, but even for veterans of X-Wing and Rogue Squadron there will be something new to get to grips with here.

The one thing I cannot hope to personally comment on in how “effective” it feels is the VR support. I hope that it gives people who do own a headset the experiences they were hoping for but, as I do not own one, I cannot say how the game feels in this regard. I would very much like to, though, as VR is something which fascinates me in general – I am just not in a good enough financial state to splash out on any equipment yet. Someday…

I am curious to see what sort of things the developers decide to experiment with if Squadrons sells well enough to warrant further updates. I know a lot of people hope for the B-wing and the TIE/D Defender, and I am willing to bet that even the Uglies will have hopeful fans out there. We must wait and see if they decide it has sold well enough before we get too hopeful about future updates, of course.

I personally do not understand much of the hype behind the B-wing, as just even imagining how that thing will handle gives me concerns. It is the widest of these ships by far and its extreme asymmetry and rotating cockpit could make it quite easy to forget where you are in relation to the rest of the ship. I have also seen a lot of people worried about how much of an impact it could have if it were introduced, as it is commonly seen as a more powerful alternative to the Y-wing. I will be happy for its fans if it were to make it in-game, but if it does it is one ship which I personally will not be investing much if any time in.

I would be quite happy with the game receiving no future updates, but I can understand why people feel that it should. I think there is a slight danger that this game could fall into the same trap as EA’s Battlefront II and have “too many” game modes, and thus just eventually die a long and drawn-out death as more and more things fall out of popularity. At least this game has some significant offline play from the start which will keep this game living on even beyond its eventual demise.

This is mainly why I loathe EA’s Battlefront II’s handling of offline starfighter play. There are now decent offline objective modes available for ground combat, yet starfighters are purely relegated to the tedious deathmatch and onslaught scenario arcade modes. Not worth the effort, really, so scratching the “starfighter itch” in that game will never really be as satisfactory as it had the potential to be.

This game, however? It feels like it is going to be scratching that itch for a long while yet.

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