The cruelly abandoned Star Wars game that’s secretly brilliant

Star Wars Sunday, we call it. For the past few months, four of us have made an appointment on Sunday nights to battle in a galaxy far, far away. We fart around for a couple of hours, have a good chat, lose a lot of matches, win the odd one here and there, then part ways until the next week. It’s been a refreshing ray of sunshine at the end of the week, a much-needed chance to socialise in these pandemic-ridden housebound times – and the crossplay between consoles and PC is a godsend. In short, bouts of Star Wars Squadrons are a wonderful way to get together in these trying times, and it’s a fantastic game to boot.

But sometimes it feels like Squadrons has all but been forgotten in the seven months since its release. Often we end up being matched against the same players again and again, or find ourselves participating in wildly skewed teams mixing level 200+ players with complete novices. It’s symptomatic of a game with far too few players. And indeed, the average player count on Steam is just shy of 300, which seems criminally low for a game based on one of the world’s most popular franchises. Player counts picked up a little while back when the game was added to Game Pass and EA Play, but even now it often takes several minutes for the game to find a match, and that’s at peak times.

Squadrons also seems to have all but disappeared from the media. One editor told me that articles on the game don’t tend to get many views. Even the game’s publisher, EA, doesn’t want to talk about it. I approached their PR person with the idea of interviewing the developers at EA Motive for a feature, only to be flatly told “we aren’t doing anymore interviews at this time”. As far as EA is concerned, the Star Wars Squadrons ship sailed a long time ago – which is a very odd attitude considering it’s a live multiplayer game.

Right from the start, EA was adamant that it wasn’t going to add any content to Star Wars Squadrons. No seasons or DLC, just what you get on the disc. We did get a couple of new ships around Christmas time, and there have been a few cosmetic items thrown into the game since then, but otherwise nothing. It’s a marked contrast to the ever-evolving world of Fortnite and the constant updates for other multiplayer games du jour. It very much seems like Star Wars Squadrons was thrown out of the door almost as an afterthought, and almost immediately abandoned.

But why, though? That’s what I don’t understand. Because the thing is, Squadrons is an absolutely fantastic little game. The space combat is solid and often thrilling, with some beautiful levels and excellent touches. The meta is intriguing too, with teams using the ships different abilities in creative ways. The current trend for high-level players is to max out the shields of the cumbersome U-Wing and fly in tight circles while dropping gun turrets. With three U-Wings together it’s almost impossible to penetrate the defensive turrets and get close. Infuriating, but undeniably clever, and it will be interesting to see how teams counter it.

So why has EA abandoned this lovely little game? I can’t help but think it’s either down to the expiration of the Star Wars license or the game’s lack of microtransactions – or both. EA’s ten-year exclusivity deal for Star Wars games is set to end by 2023, and we know that Star Wars games from other publishers are on the way. Perhaps EA didn’t want to plough money into supporting Squadrons because they knew that the licensing deal would be up soon. It’s also interesting that the game doesn’t feature microtransactions of any kind, so there’s no way for EA to make money from players after they’ve purchased it. The lack of MTX is interesting considering that many of EA’s other games firmly rely on them – perhaps the debacle of Battlefront II prompted the publisher to pull back from including them in a Star Wars game this time around. Certainly, Squadrons seems like exactly the type of game that would normally be plastered with MTX from head to toe.

Or maybe it’s simply that Squadrons was a little side project that somehow became a full release without any real plan for how to support it. The budget price at launch certainly seems to indicate that.

I’d love to know the full story, whatever it is.

Regardless of how it happened, it’s a crying shame that one of the best Star Wars games in years – and one of the best VR games full stop (although it’s still great without VR) – has so few players and so little in the way of support from its publisher. There are so many more Star Wars ships that could be added, and after seven months, Squadrons is crying out for more game modes to mix up the meta, yet it seems we’ll never get them. What a waste of a great game.

I implore you – enjoy Star Wars Squadrons while you still can. It’s on Game Pass, so it’s practically free, and it’s some of the best fun I’ve had in the Star Wars universe. Yet those player counts are only going to go down, so get in while there are still other people to play against.

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