When this was first announced just before the EA Play Live of 2020 (with more info coming during it), I was ready to get into it. Fleet Battles looked a lot of fun, like Supremacy from Battlefront up in space. The story also felt like it might be interesting, with the flipping between New Republic and Empire during the events of post-Endor. While I’m not the best at flight combat, I still enjoy it and wanted to get into it with this game.
The prologue of the story felt good in mission execution, with it taking place just after the events of A New Hope. Starting as the Empire, it runs you through basic flight manoeuvres and combat options, then at a certain point swaps to the Rebels as they jump to the same location to act as backup, and both forces come together in a clash of lasers as the Rebellion completes its mission.
At that point the game asks if you want to continue or jump back to the menu. Fleet Battles was the main reason I’d got the game, so into some multiplayer against AI I go. Before getting into that, though, I have to say that the flight mechanics are top tier even if they can feel a bit floaty with a controller. Everything feels as it should, with the ability to divert power to a specific system giving a bit of strategy in how you fly.
Obviously the Empire ships lack shields, so with those it’s a case of only engine or weapons, but by diverting power to one system you are reducing the power available to the others. Do you want to sacrifice speed to bring the full power of your weapons to action, or would you rather speed in and only get a few hits on the enemy before diving off again? Or even, for the New Republic, do you want a greater defence by diverting power to shields while sacrificing both speed and attack?
You can divert power at any time, so you aren’t locked to one particular setting, meaning you should always be swapping to suit what you need to make use of. Along with power diversion, there’s customisation of the ships to build something for a particular task. Ion cannons with a burst missile can disable the enemy and then blast them to atoms while they recover, along with being great at knocking down shield energy on cruisers. They won’t be so good at dealing hull damage, though, so once those shields are down it’s wise to retreat.
There’s plenty of ways to make a ship that suits your needs, then. But you also need to select the right ship that suits you. Fighters are great all-rounders, giving a great starting choice for those who need it. Bombers can hit hard, but certainly not fast. Interceptors have the speed, but won’t be all that good at surviving assaults on cruisers. Then there’s the support ships, that are slow and not combat effective (and are the only Imperial ship to have shields). The support ships are needed for giving the team a boost, though, able to dole out repairs and resupplies.
All four have their advantages, then. Just like the customisations you can apply to them. That customisation also extends to how the ships and your pilot (for both sides) look. Since this is a first-person experience, the most you’ll see of these is on kill cams and the results screens, but it’s still nice to give yourself some visual flair. Most of the customisation options are unlocked by using glory, which you gain through levelling up in the multiplayer modes, along with completing challenges.
The rest are locked until getting to certain ranks within the ranked mode of Fleet Battles. Before you get to that, though, you’ll need ten clean matches played (more on that in a bit). Before you even get the ability to play ranked, though, you need to dive into the unranked mode – which is where you play against the AI – until you get to level five. One thing I do love is that you can make level progression while playing in what could be considered the offline mode. Something I wish Battlefront 2 had allowed when introducing Instant Action to the game.
As for how Fleet Battles play, it’s easy enough to understand even if in the thick of battle you tend to forget a few vital things. There’s a morale system that is the core of the mode, which determines which side can press their advantage. Morale is earned by defeating the enemy ships. Since this is a 5 vs 5 mode, there’s a few other AI squadrons on both sides. Attacking these will award fewer morale than defeating a player, but since they rarely break formation, and are weaker than players, it balances out right.
Once one team gain an advantage, they can head for the opposite team’s cruisers. First by defeating the two forward cruisers, then the larger capital ship. But if at any point the other team manage to tip the scales with morale, your own team will be pushed to defend against their attack upon your own cruisers. There’s a time limit so the battles won’t go on forever, but it rarely seems to be needed since despite being balanced as it is, one side will have done enough to succeed.
Unfortunately, when it comes to online, that’s where things start to fall. As I said, sometimes people seem to forget the objectives, and when they do, things can fall apart for the team. Along with that, since it is classed as ranked mode, certain things affect the balance further. If someone drops out, there’s no-one who can replace them, since the game just won’t allow it. It’s got to be two full teams of five to begin. If someone drops out, the match will no longer be counted to your rank (though you’ll still get the experience).
Since that is the case, sometimes matches won’t even begin. You can sit and wait for ten minutes or more, with the lobby dropping in numbers but never gaining them back. It’s easy enough to just quit out and retry, but there’s no telling if someone will unexpectedly drop out of the next match. When you do get ten matches counted to your name, then you can start climbing the ranks, and with all the drops-outs, it’s just as well the match is made null if such happens.
Dogfight is more straight forward of a mode, and at least allows people to fill in for others. This one is just a simple 5 vs 5, with a set amount of points needed for a team to win. For both modes, the maps are varied enough for space maps, but it could always use some within the atmosphere of planets to give a greater sense of variety. And as much as I do love the modes, it could have used one or two more for extra variety.
It feels like Star Wars, sounds like Star Wars, and looks like Star Wars. EA have been great at doing that with all their games using the licence, and this one is obviously no different. For a Star Wars fan after some modern starfighter combat, you can’t go wrong with this one. However, I do feel that in terms of online, only the core will remain after a month. If you don’t mind playing against the AI, this’ll last you – especially with the story, which should be around six to eight hours.
It might not be full of modes and variety, but there’s enough here for a lot of entertainment, even if you might not be a Star Wars fan. However, it will be the fans who get the most out of this one, and with no support currently coming post-release, the amount you get out of this depends wholly on your enjoyment of Fleet Battles.