Star Wars Squadrons - title

I don't think it will be controversial to say that the best part of EA's 2017 Star Wars Battlefront II was the multiplayer space dogfighting. It made me yearn for a good Star Wars flight sim in the vein of the old X-Wing and TIE Fighter PC classics. But in this age of big-budget, micro-transaction-fueled, multiplayer-focused, spectacle shooters, I wasn't going to hold my breath for EA (the exclusive rights-holder to Star Wars games) to deliver any time soon, especially after a planned remake from LucasArts was canceled back in 2009.

So it came as a surprise to see Star Wars: Squadrons. Yes, it's an online game with a competitive multiplayer focus, so no divergence from modern norms there. But it's also a $40, "middle-shelf" game built on a lower budget than the usual AAA blockbuster that EA produces. That lower budget and pricetag seems to have liberated developer Motive from much of the corporate burden of expectations associated with a larger-scale, more expensive product. Squadrons takes a few risks by raising the expectations and barrier of entry for players, and it doesn't stoop to offsetting its lower pricetag by incorporating a micro-transaction economy (at least not yet).

A flight-sim light

Much like the Ace Combat series, Star Wars: Squadrons hits a good, comfortable middle-ground between an arcade dogfighter and a flight-sim. Squadrons even errs a bit closer to sim in some regards via its power-allocation and sub-system-management mechanics. It is also much more restrictive about the use of special weapons. While Ace Combat allows players to coast along by shooting down almost every enemy plane with your stockpile of 60 or 70 missiles (despite flying a plane that only has between 2 and 6 missles strapped to its undercarriage), Squadrons focuses much more heavily on the use of the fighters' primary laser cannons.

Squadrons locks the player into a cockpit view.

Players are even locked into a cockpit view with limited HUD elements, forcing players to rely on the cockpit instruments. This game makes me wish I had a good PS4-compatible flight stick. The only flight stick I own is an old PC one, which I had to jury-rig to work with Ace Combat 7 on Steam.

No, it isn't as as involved as the classic X-Wing and TIE Fighter PC flight sims, but it's a significant step up from the N64 Rogue Squadron game and its sequel.

Motive has redeemed itself from the awful
single-player campaign of Battlefront II.

A more serious effort

Squadrons shows a lot of signs of learning from the failures of Battlefront II. In fact, I was surprised to find out that Motive was not the studio that developed Battlefront II's space dogfighting. That duty was handled by Criterion Studios. Motive was, in fact, the studio behind Battlefront II awful single-player campaign.

This time, Motive seems to have put some actual thought and effort behind Squadrons' campaign, its story, and its characters. Almost as if this is a project that the studio actually wanted to do, rather than being a project that was imposed upon them by a greedy publisher who just wants a token single-player mode in a game that is actually designed to scam money out of people with pay-to-win online multiplayer.

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I was planning on writing reviews for X-Wing's second edition epic ships and "Epic Battles" expansion packs (which released in the winter). But real-life happened. The COVID-19 pandemic put me and my gaming friends into lockdown. Having elderly relatives and other relatives with underlying health conditions, we took the lockdown advisory pretty seriously and didn't have in-person interactions with anybody other than limited in-person interactions with our immediate neighbors -- none of whom are board gamers (bummer). So I didn't get to play much X-Wing other than a couple rounds with my partner, and we didn't play any of the epic content because she's still learning 2nd edition and I didn't want to overwhelm her with new rules. So my thoughts on those expansions will have to wait until at least this fall, depending on how much game-playing I can do when the lockdowns are lifted during the summer, and assuming that there isn't a second lockdown this coming fall or winter.

In the meantime, Fantasy Flight was kind enough to not leave me completely high and dry. In early June, my loving partner sent me a link to the solo rules, and I decided to try them out. These rules were released at the end of May, in the waning days of the official lockdowns. I'm not sure if Fantasy Flight has this planned all along, or if they wrote it up quickly as a reaction to the pandemic. In either case, it's a considerate (albeit opportunistic) gesture from Fantasy Flight. It's just too bad these rules weren't published a month earlier. It would've given me more to do during the most boring stretches of the lockdown. Ah well. We have these rules for the next pandemic, I guess.

It's important to note that what I'm reviewing here is technically considered a "alpha test" of the rules. These rules are not finalized, and they may be subject to extensive changes as a result of player feedback before they officially release. If the rules change substantially for the official release, I may add an addendum to this review, or write a separate review. As of the time of this writing, the solo rules are freely available for download at Fantasy Flight's website. I do not know if Fantasy Flight is planning on eventually selling this as an actual expansion, or if the finalized version will remain free. So, you know, download it now. Just in case.

Fantasy Flight released official rules for playing X-Wing solo.

Best of all, these rules would probably work just fine in first edition as well. Players who haven't bought into second edition can still join in on the fun. You'll just have to improvise with regard to the hyperspace tokens, since those are the only components that are required for solo play, but which aren't in the first edition sets.

Dice for brains

The rules refer to the non-player ships as "solo ships", which I think is kind of confusing, since it sounds like the label refers to the solo player's ship(s). So call the non-player ships "NPC" ships (or "NPS" for "non-player ship", or "A.I." ships, or whatever you want to call them). In any case, the core conceit of the solo mode is that the player rolls a defense and attack die for each NPC ship when it activates, and then looks up the result in a behavior table to determine how each given NPC ship will behave. It's a simple enough concept that I'm surprised hasn't been in the rules earlier.

Roll dice, then look up the result in a table of possible moves.

The defense die is the principle determinant of the NPC ship's "attitude" (how it will behave). On an "evade" result, the ship will behave defensively or evasively. On a "focus" result, it will have a more balanced or passive posture. And on a "blank" result, it will behave more aggressively or boldly. This will largely determine the NPC ship's movement and action for the turn. The result of the red die will further modify the NPC ship's movement.

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Jedi Fallen Order - title

Jedi Fallen Order advertised itself as "Star Wars Dark Souls". In reality though, Fallen Order pulls its inspirations from a hodgepodge of popular gaming trends. Sure, it's borrows a lot from From Software's playbook, but there's also a lot of Uncharted / Prince of Persia, Tomb Raider, "Metroid-vania", Mass Effect, and even a little bit of Breath of the Wild in here too. In fact, I'd even say that it would be more apt to compare Jedi Fallen Order to Sekiro rather than to Dark Souls.

Fallen Order competently executes on all the concepts that it borrows from other games, but it doesn't really do much to separate itself (let alone elevate itself) from those other games, aside from applying the coat of Star Wars paint. The lightsaber play is good, but not nearly as clean as I'd like it to be. The platforming is mostly just an over-complicated way of getting from point A to point B. The RPG-elements are shallow. The puzzles aren't particularly taxing, and mostly just come down to whether or not you notice all the things in the chamber that you're supposed to interact with. And the narrative and characters are passable, but nothing to write home about.

Concepts are borrowed liberally from Dark Souls, Uncharted, Mass Effect, Breath of the Wild, and more.

Pick your poison

It's a good thing, then, that Fallen Order isn't nearly as demanding as Dark Souls or Sekiro. If it had been, then the lack of polish and creativity would have undoubtedly turned me off of the game entirely. And if those didn't kill the game for me, the long load times would. Remember how awful Bloodborne was at launch? Dying every few minutes, and then sitting through a minute or more of load times. Fallen Order is about that bad. But at least Bloodborne got a patch a few weeks after release that shortened the load times to a tolerable 30 seconds or less. I'm playing Fallen Order four months after release, and no such patch has been released for this game yet.

You know exactly what effects each
difficulty setting will have on the game.

Thankfully, the difficulty curve here is much more comfortable, and I'm not finding myself repeatedly dying nearly as often as I did in Bloodborne. And if I were, this game allows me to adjust the difficulty level mid-game if I get stuck -- which I did do on two occasions. The game is even kind enough to tell me what specific effects each difficulty setting has on the game. I kind of wish they had just allowed us to custom tweak each of the three difficulty sliders on our own to further customize our experience, but oh well. Something for the PC modders to do, I guess.

The hero, Cal, can take a handful of hits before dying, and checkpoints are liberally sprinkled throughout the maps. Very few enemies are huge damage sponges, and even the ones that are good at blocking attacks can usually have their health quickly depleted by side-stepping their attacks and hitting them once or twice in the back.

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The Mandalorian - title

One of my biggest complaints with Disney's Star Wars movies has been their complete lack of original ideas, and their complete unwillingness to move the Star Wars narrative forward. That's actually why I didn't think The Last Jedi was as bad as most people said it was. I mean, it wasn't "good" by any stretch of the imagination. The script was messy, the tone was uneven, and a lot of the movie's logic was fundamentally flawed. But I appreciated much of the bold thematic elements. The Last Jedi wanted desperately to move the franchise in new directions, and it actively mocked the previous film(s) (and the fanbase) for being too trapped in the past.

The rest of Disney's Star Wars movies haven't been so bold. The Force Awakens was a rehash of the original movie. Rogue One and Solo were both prequels that nobody asked for that both attempted to explain minutia that never needed explaining to begin with. I haven't seen Rise of Skywalker yet, but I'm hearing that it's an exceedingly dumb rehash of Return of the Jedi, and possibly the worst Star Wars movie since The Pantom Menace. And that's the "gentle" criticism that I'm hearing from people who were generally favorable towards Disney's treatment of Star Wars!

Suffice it to say, outside of the X-Wing and Armada tabletop games (which I love and still regularly play), I have become so jaded and sick of Star Wars that I didn't bat an eye at Disney's announcement of The Mandalorian. I just assumed that it was a prequel series about young Boba Fett that would continue the Star Wars trend of fixating on its past. I had no interest in watching the series, and I sure as hell was not going to pay a monthly subscription to Disney to watch it.

But I guess a free subscription to Disney Plus came with our Verizon phone plan, and my girlfriend was hearing some good word-of-mouth in the week after the first episode premiered, so we've been having stay-in date nights to watch it. I want to say, by the way, that I like this approach of releasing episodes of a streaming series on a fixed schedule, rather than dumping a whole season all at once. It facilitates water-cooler talk because everybody else is at the same point in the narrative that you are. You have time to digest the events of each episode and talk about them, and you are able to speculate with friends over what's going to happen next, because your friends don't know either! You'd think that streaming services like Netflix and Hulu would have figured this out with the success of HBO's Game of Thrones weekly release schedule, but they didn't. Disney learned. (and so did CBS).

The Mandalorian feels like it's actually pushing the Star Wars narrative forward.

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Star Wars X-Wing 2nd edition miniatures game

I finally got around to playing some games of Fantasy Flight's second edition of the X-Wing Miniatures Game. I had bought the 2.0 core set and the 1.0 conversion kits back in October of last year. I was on the fence about purchasing 2nd edition. The only change that I was really excited about was the new turret rules, which I figured I could easily house-rule into 1st edition. However, I used my girlfriend's teacher discount at Barnes & Noble along with a coupon to get a hefty discount on the 2.0 core set and conversion kits, in the hopes that the game's other changes would also make it worthwhile.

Older ships have new abilities,
and tokens flip to a "spent" backside.

Fantasy Flight took the opportunity to streamline many components and add some ease-of-use features. For example, the maneuver dials are redesigned such that you can see every maneuver that the ship has available without having to rotate the dial. Upgrade cards have large, empty spaces that allow you to slot them underneath their respective pilot's card without covering up important information. Ship bases and maneuver templates have handy guidelines that can be helpful when executing partial maneuvers (due to collisions). And so forth.

Tokens have been broken up into different colors, each of which has a different effect. All green tokens (such as "focus" and "evade") are now buff tokens which are removed at the end of the round (unless a card says otherwise). Orange tokens are de-buffs (such as "disarm") that go away at the end of the round. And red penalty tokens (such as "ion" and "stress") remain in play until a certain condition removes them. Shield tokens now have a back side, which is colored red. This way, you can flip a shield token over when it's spent, but keep it on your ship card in case it ever gets recharged. The new energy and force tokens work the same way.

Better still, many features, concepts, and abilities from later expansions to 1st edition have been back-ported to all ships in 2nd edition. This has certainly increased the value of simple X-Wings, Y-Wings, and many other early 1st edition ships. The titular X-Wings, for example, now have a barrel roll ability on its card and a Talon Roll on its maneuver dial. The Lambda shuttle is one of the most improved ships in second edition, as it now has both a fore and aft-facing firing arc, as well as new "coordinate" and "jam" actions.

I appreciate that expansion ships are sold in smaller, more efficient packaging.

Heck, even the packaging is more streamlined. The massive boxes for 1st edition's large ships (which were full of empty space) have been replaced with smaller plastic bubble-packaging.

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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