At Gamescom today, we took to the skies of the planet Sullust in X-Wings and TIE Fighters, the air thick with blaster fire as 40 starfighters, depending on their allegiance, fought to the death to either defend or destroy transport ships. At one point, the Millennium Falcon appeared seemingly out of nowhere, bursting through a cloud to help dispatch an Imperial troop transport.
It was all, somehow, a little underwhelming. Or at least, less exciting than a finely rendered dogfight set in the Star Wars universe, complete with all the requisite nostalgia triggers, should be.
Electronic Arts and developer DICE unveiled the new Fighter Squadron mode for Star Wars Battlefront at Gamescom this week to great fanfare. The new mode pits 10 human players on the Rebel side against another 10 on the Galactic Empire side. Each side gets some help from another 10 AI-controlled fighters, bringing the total number of combatants to 40.
(Scoring in Fighter Squadron takes the AI-controlled combatants into account; killing a human player gives you three times the number of points you'd receive by killing an AI ship.)
The version of Star Wars Battlefront's Fighter Squadron mode that we played was pared down from what DICE intends to ship this November. Only X-Wings and TIE Fighters were available to play — no A-Wings, no Y-Wings, no TIE Interceptors. The addition of those ships might eventually add some much needed variety, because Fighter Squadron doesn't feel like much more than a momentary diversion at this stage.
Our time in the Sullust skies were essentially games of team deathmatch: a fleet of X-Wings versus a fleet of TIE Fighters. At two points during the match, high value target transport ships — one Rebel, one Imperial — enter the battlefield and attempt to escape. The Rebels must protect their transport ship and attempt to destroy the Imperial one, and vice versa.
Fighter Squadron's X-Wings and TIE Fighters control very similarly, if not identically. Each ship can fire blasters (that seem to quickly overheat) or launch a homing missile after locking on to a foe. Both starfighters can also perform a quick aerobatic maneuver to quickly change their flight path and avoid incoming fire. The only noticeable difference between the two was in a special ability: X-Wings can protect themselves with a limited shield, while TIE Fighters can take advantage of a speed boost.
Neither starfighter felt particularly resilient, and death can come quickly in Fighter Squadron. But if your ship goes down, you'll be thrust right back onto the battlefield in mere moments. A DICE rep said that although your experience in Fighter Squadron mode adds to your overall progression in the game, players won't upgrade or customize their ships, just their foot soldiers.
Players can mix up the action by taking control of a couple hero ships. The Millennium Falcon or Boba Fett's Slave I will join the fight if a player finds a special power-up that spawns near the planet's surface.
Star Wars Battlefront's Fighter Squadron mode is still in an alpha state, according to DICE, so there's time for things to change and improve before the game hits PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One on Nov. 17. Right now, Fighter Squadron has all the sights and sounds of an epic Star Wars starfighter battle — and, admittedly, the allure of piloting Slave I is strong — but it's not yet the dogfight of our dreams.Star Wars battlefront reveal trailer