With a little more than a week before the release of Star Wars: Squadrons EA has unveiled how pilots will progress through the multiplayer components of the game, including how they will earn ship components and cosmetic upgrades. While this announcement definitely alleviates concerns around possible microtransactions, it raised more red flags for gamers weary of games as a service model.
The good news first–player rewards, cosmetic or otherwise, are earned solely through gameplay. This might seem like common sense, but we all remember the microtransaction nightmare that plagued Battlefront 2‘s launch, don’t we?
For cosmetic rewards, players will have to earn “Glory.” A resource earned when players complete daily challenges, participate in larger-scale operations (more on that later), and simply by leveling up. Ship components, on the other hand, are purchased with “Requisition.” Like Glory, Requisition is earned by leveling up and racking up experience points. EA is adamant that both Requisition and Glory are earned only through playing the game and nothing else, though they do not outright say “there are not microtransactions” so don’t get too excited.
Now here’s the bad, or pretty worrisome, news — there will be seasonally exclusive and timed rewards only available to pilots who participate in eight-week “Operations.” Each Operation is accompanied by exclusive daily challenges and exclusive cosmetic rewards that won’t be available again once a given Operation ends.
Operations are essentially Squadrons take on ranked multiplayer, pushing players to take part in Fleet Battles and progress their Fleet Battle rank.
Here’s how EA described it:
Operations are our take on competitive play through a ranked ladder system that resets every 8 weeks—a way for our players to test their skills and teamwork capabilities in our more strategic mode: Fleet Battles. The system is built to encourage players to improve their skills without being overly punishing if you run into some bad luck. Players are protected from demotion into lower divisions for the length of an active Operation (This means you cannot drop from Legend to Valiant but you can drop from Legend III to Legend II). At the end of the Operation, players receive Glory based on the maximum Rank achieved rather than their current Rank. This is to push pilots to go as far as they can!Thomas Mir, Producer at EA
While pilots’ Fleet Battle rank resets every eight weeks, EA does point out that there is a traditional leveling system that doesn’t reset and is your standard gain XP to earn upgrades model. Currently the game will be capped at level 40, which when reached, pilots will have unlocked all ship components.
So, why do I think the Operations model is a red flag? Well, it reeks of games as a service. And while I don’t think the GaaS method is inherently flawed, I do believe that it is a model that results in disappointment more often than not. For every successful game as a service (Destiny 2, Rainbow 6: Siege) there seems to be a slew of abject failures where developers focused too heavily on providing rewards and too little on creating engaging gameplay. Just to name a few: Marvel’s Avengers, Anthem, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint.
Unfortunately, with what I’ve seen of Squadrons so far plus the Operations focus and EA’s track record makes me feel a great disturbance in the Force. I really want this game to be good and I yearn for a game that harkens back to the glory days of Star Wars: Tie Fighter or Rogue Squadron. Nonetheless, the gameplay that’s been shown looks like a slightly updated, first-person only rendition of Battlefront 2‘s Starfighter Assault mode—which is kind of fun as a game mode, but can it stand alone as a full game? No, and I think EA knows that.
However, I also suspect that EA believes they can slap a new coat of paint on Starfighter Assault and trick gamers into buying a “new” game. EA probably thinks they can retain a large player base because Star Wars is a massive license and Battlefront 2 managed to keep players around despite a nauseating launch. I think EA truly believes they can release a half-cooked, cash-grab of a game that suckers a decent enough player base into a game as a service model that eventually introduces microtransactions.
But here’s what EA forgets, if the gameplay isn’t engaging, then players won’t care about rewards, cosmetic or not.
Destiny 2 works because it has arguably the best gunplay mechanics in the industry. Battlefront 2 managed to stay alive despite a horrific progression system because the game was a damn blast to play. And what do both Anthem and Marvel’s Avengers have in common? Repetitive, lifeless gameplay that grows stale before players even hit the 15-hour mark. I’m worried this is exactly what we are in store for with Squadrons.
If I’m right (and I hope I am not) and Squadrons really is a quick rehash of Starfighter Assault, we will once again have another disappointing Star Wars game that attempts to take advantage of player’s enthusiasm for the franchise. Except this time, there won’t even be compelling gameplay to fall back on like there was with Battlefront 2.
Releasing a shallow, multiplayer driven game with a massive license and built-in fanbase attached to it with a game model designed to hook players in and eventually introduce microtransactions. Does that sound like something the two-time “Worst Company in America” would do?
Anyway, Star Wars: Squadrons releases for Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC on Oct. 2. And despite my concerns, I’ll buy it day one because I am the exact Star Wars fan boy EA knows they can sell this game to.