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Squadrons Prep/Training Guide
This guide is intended, hopefully, as a jumping off point for those pilots looking to start Squadrons running, and are looking for things they can do prior to Oct. 2 to maximize their performance in the actual game. Unless you were in the tech test (I was not) and are willing to violate your NDA, there’s still a lot around the actual game that’s conjecture, so this guide will try to stay away from making random assumptions (except for things that have been confirmed/stated directly by Motive), and focus more on general prep.
So what do I need to do to prep for Squadrons?
Are you ready for good news? Absolutely nothing. Nada. Zip. (Well, other than having a console or a PC that will run it and the game itself). Squadrons is very clearly going to be its own game, heavily influenced by the X-Wing series, especially in flight model, but with plenty of other sim influences, and its own unique features. There is absolutely nothing wrong with just relaxing, using whatever your existing control scheme is, and not worrying about the game until Oct. 2. Your time spent in Squadrons will be drastically more “efficient” in learning Squadrons than anything you can do previous to release. But if you want to try and get a head start, or like me, you just enjoy flying and shooting lasers? This guide aims to help.
So where do I even start?
To keep this simple, I’ve broken down prep into three main categories:
- Physical Skills: The actual flying, shooting, holding a target. The actions you take in the game itself that generally require hand-eye coordination.
- Mental Skills: Teamwork, comms strategies, tactics, ELS management, prioritization. All the think work.
- Out-of-Game: Key bindings, equipment choices, etc.
Ever wondered why you can barely seem to hit a stationary target, then you matchmake, and someone comes along and it feels like their shots are literally homing in on you? There are multiple reasons for this, but one of the largest? Muscle memory. Space combat sims are, in many ways, about maintaining lighter awareness of multiple things (mental), while rapidly executing a series of tasks with maximum possible focus (physical), and never letting one suffer for the other. Think of it a little like RTS games, where concentration or focus is regarded as your “hidden resource”. Muscle memory is invaluable in drastically reducing the amount of mental energy you require to act or react in the game. I’ll break down a few individual components, and suggest how to work on them.
Just the simple act of guiding your craft through space. Whether you’re in wide open space and trying to pick the most optimal route to intercept a target, or you’re being chased in close quarters and trying to wrap your way around the terrain to lose a pursuer, much of your rise and fall in this sort of game is your ability to fly. Muscle memory is the difference between someone locking onto you and getting a free second or two on that lock while you decide what to do, or within the first half second of that tone, you going evasive and already planning for how you’re going to either fully lose your attacker or reverse on them. The bad news? This can take awhile to develop, and depending on the game, there will always be new “aspects” to master. The good news? You’re developing this really by playing any flight sim.
My Recommended Path: Honestly? I like the more “realistic” physics model games for this: Elite, Star Citizen, House of the Dying Sun, Into the Black (when it’s out). Maybe it’s because I started with the X-Wing series, but I find any game with inertia, or where lateral movement is more dependent on roll than yaw, to be much harder to execute “fine control” type of movements on. As I’ve improved in the more complex flight models of these types of games, the “your ship goes maximally in the direction you point your stick” flight model of X-Wing series games has felt easier.
There’s also a lot of benefit to learning how to fly with terrain, which the X-Wing series is probably the least helpful at. I find BF2: Starfighter Assault, to be pretty good for working on this, even if the flight model is probably the most dumbed down of any contemporary title. But there’s no special trick to this. Make sure whatever your favored control scheme (stick, HOTAS, controller, m/kb) is supported and fully setup, and then just log time.
Other Paths: Anything that breaks in your control scheme. The above games I found most helpful, but it’s really whatever works for you. You feel most at home playing modded X-Wing Alliance with an XBox controller? You do you. Whatever gets you the most experience executing flight with your preferred control scheme is the right pick for you.
The act of actually hitting things with your pew-pews, or acquiring lock with any missile that isn’t dumbfire or insta-lock. This is pretty much the opposite of flying, in that aiming/hit detection is often wildly different from game to game. There are broad flavors: The X-Wing series with no leading reticle and just a flashing indicator when you’re predicted to hit, to OG Wing Commander’s “always aim at the reticle”, to hybrid models with gimbaled weapons like Elite. And within broad types, there’s plenty of variation. That goes even more so for locking on, where the rules can vary broadly across games.
My Recommended Path: X-Wing series. This is pretty straight forward. X-Wing has always used “no leading reticle”, but there’s a hidden predictor that flashes your crosshairs when a hit is predicted (and that prediction is not flawless, either). It is confirmed that Squadrons is using that targeting model, so I’d practice primarily there. It’s not perfect. Rate of fire for most weapons in Squadrons looks faster than analogues in the X-Wing series, even the later titles like XWA and XvT where rate of fire was sped up. Locking behavior looks similar to the X-Wing series, but again I assume there will be some fundamental differences and more systems complexity than we ever saw in the old games.
Other Paths: I’d really spend time with X-Wing series if you have a PC. If you absolutely can’t or won’t play that, I’d recommend House of the Dying Sun (I just like how their hit detection feels, and it’s an awesome indie title I’ll plug at every opportunity), Star Citizen, EVE: Valkyrie or BF2. It’s not great because it’s an “aim at the reticle” model, but I still think you can build some useful skills. If you’re on console, I’d go BF2 or EVE: Valkyrie, but Elite’s better than nothing.
Other ship functions (Targeting, ELS management, countermeasures, utility)
This is all the other stuff that your ship does, that doesn’t directly factor into flying or gunnery. The big one that’s specific to Squadrons is ELS (Engine/LaseShield) Management. While other games have similar functions, the X-Wing series is the only place to find this specific system. However, the Squadrons iteration is going to be much “faster moving” and have some additional systems complexity with boosts or gun overcharging (X-Wing series had shield overcharging, but I think this mechanic will be different and significantly faster in Squadrons). Outside of ELS, many of these concepts, especially targeting and countermeasures, are fairly generic across space combat sims, though their particulars, like gunnery, vary widely between titles.
My Recommended Path: X-Wing series to learn some level of familiarity and comfort with ELS. We’ll all be learning new aspects of this system in Squadrons, but if you’re familiar with the base system and the concept of “shunting” power between areas going in, you’ll definitely have a leg up in terms of developing muscle memory. For everything else, or if you’re on console only? Elite. Elite’s level of overall complexity is just higher, and that holds especially so for all these different subsystems. It’s not directly analogizable to Squadrons, but think of this as the “if you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball” way of training, like I recommend for flying. If you can maintain focus while executing all these different subsystems in Elite, Squadrons should be solidly within your capability.
Other Paths: Given Elite isn’t too expensive and is available cross-platform, I really would use that, or the X-Wing series for ELS. All the other titles have heavier (Star Citizen) or lighter (BF2) implementations of subsystems, so they’re not zero, but I don’t think they’re as useful.
You can have the best flying, you can never miss, and you can still suck. Squadrons is very clearly setup to be a 5v5, squad-based game. Ships are designed to fill specific roles, with components offering further customization, and teamwork will be a massive factor in overall success. The devs have stated this over and over, but it’s also just pretty obvious from how the game is designed. If you don’t know how to work with four other pilots, it doesn’t matter how good your personal flight/gunnery skills are. There’s now a very hard, merciless cap on your success.
Understanding the anatomy of a dogfight
This is, without respect to anything else going on, the simple act of understanding how engaging a target works, the differences between approaching from advantage (on their six), versus being approached at a disadvantage (they’re on your six), turn fighting, disengaging, or head-to-head “jousting”. Basically, it’s just understanding all the individual phases and components of your interactions with a single target, so that you can make better overall decisions faster (e.g. you find yourself in a head-to-head with a target, but you know another enemy is free roaming. You will probably be more jukey and conservative on your pass, and probably more wary of dropping speed to enter into a turn war as opposed to trying to turn on the speed and disengage or evade with terrain.)
My Recommended Path: XvT/XWA or Eve Valkyrie. But wait, you say, these games both have tiny populations, how am I getting real practical experience? For the limited purposes of understanding viscerally how a dogfight works, less is actually more. If you’ve got 15 other people in the match with you, it’s harder to devote much attention to really studying how engagements work and their various phases, as opposed to just making sure you’re not getting jumped from behind (which is a whole other valuable skill that I’ll get to). These games are also among those that are likely going to be closer to Squadrons’ flight model, so that doesn’t hurt either. But being in a match with 1-3 other opponents really allows you to drill down. The flipside, if you’re drastically over-indexed in that type of flying (like me with XvT or XWA) it definitely forces you to fight your instincts more when you’re in a larger population matchup. Also, this works best with real people, at least for me. AI is too easy to pattern recognize and/or trick.
Other Paths: You can really use any game here to build this skill, it’s more just paying attention to how you engage or how you’re engaged, the different phases of that engagement, and learning over time what the best ways to react are. I like the above because they’re closer to the flight model and let you focus more on the individual components of a single engagement without getting blasted, but if something is working for you, use it.
This is maintaining knowledge of what’s happening outside your immediate field of view. It’s learning to glance at your scope at regular intervals as second nature. It’s developing a sixth sense about where your enemies not in visual are, and generally making it as difficult as possible for someone to approach easily on your six. For this, we go in the complete opposite direction of dogfight anatomy: more is more. You need to spend time with larger scale populations of human pilots to really get a good feel for how to do this almost cost-free, allowing you to spend more of your focus on flying/shooting.
My Recommended Path: BF2 or Elite: Arena. Nothing in this genre has “huge populations”, but these two are both reasonable sources of consistent match-making, at a decently large team level. Neither is my favorite flight model, Elite is too different and complex versus Squadrons, imo, and BF2 way more basic, but in terms of developing this raw skill? They’re both your best, most reliable options. And they’re both on console too.
Other Paths: Anything where you’re flying on a team of around 5ish or more against another team. I’ve picked the two games above because they offer that with enough of a population to make it convenient. But if you’re getting those kinds of numbers in another game, great.
This one is tricky, because it requires preparation. Squadrons is a team game. Sure, you can solo queue and learn to work as well as possible with the four randos you match with. But you will run into premades, and most of the time it will probably hurt. There’s likely not going to be much substitute for having four other pilots you’re familiar with and all linked together on voice comms. I get it, some people like to be lone wolves, and that’s totally fine. But if you want to achieve maximum success in this game? You’re going to want to find teammates, and you’re going to want to have some experience flying together.
My Recommended Path: Join a club/squadron. I think they’re sometimes on this sub. If you go to the official Discord, there’s a whole channel for them. Heck, I’ll even plug the one I’m in, the Emperor’s Hammer. It’s the oldest club in continuous existence for Star Wars Flight Sims (1994), and if you like the rest of the X-Wing series, they’ve got thousands of custom missions archived across the various games. Given my homebase will always be the X-Wing series, they made sense for me. DJO/TFA/TRA are great too, as I’m sure a lot of these newer groups that I’m less familiar with. Point is, go find some people, get on Discord, and fly something together.
Other Paths: Nope. If you want to be as successful as possible, you’re going to learn how to fly and coordinate with other folks, and hopefully develop some rapport. You don’t have to do this, and you can probably play the game and be both happy and decently successful all on your own. But you’ll never equal the success (or fun, imo) you’ll have if you learn to work with others. Straight up.
Note: As you can probably tell, my experience with space combat sims is overwhelmingly on PC. Thus, I've missed some things that have generally been console-only (such as Ace Combat, with the exception of 7 which is on Steam). As I understand it, AC7 is a pretty awesome game and even though it's atmospheric, you can definitely use it to build some of these skills. I just haven't played it so didn't include it for that reason.
I first learned to fly with a stick. I can’t imagine playing a space combat sim without one. People do, and often quite successfully, but I don’t see how I could. What works for you is most important. Now I do think there are some realities, namely, without gimbaled weapons, I do think m/kb is going to be a struggle to match the performance you can get with a stick or a controller. I may be wrong about that, but based on m/kb control schemes in other flight sims, that’s my strong intuition. But if it’s what you’re comfortable with? Lean into it. But if you don’t feel like you have a “home” control scheme and can pick? I’d strongly recommend looking into a stick or using a console controller. I really think stick is going to give you the best outcome, but again, I’ll also admit I have a heavy experiential bias here.
If you do decide to go the stick/HOTAS route? I don’t have to go too deep here, because there’s already a really fantastic guide authored right here on this sub. I’ll only add a couple opinions.
First, I think the author’s absolutely correct about a Logitech Xtreme 3D Pro. I’ve used one, and for the price point it really does give you everything you need, and the stick feels surprisingly good. So if you’re skeptical about using a stick or just on a budget, it’s a great way to dip your toe in without taking out a second mortgage. I’d also quibble that I would move the VKB Gladiator into “premium”. Yes, I get it still uses plastic parts, but the real argument here seems to be over buttons. And honestly? Squadrons is going to use a LOT less than Elite (having to map for console controllers). So a Gladiator is an amazing stick with more than enough buttons for Squadrons. I’m not sure I can articulate what you’ll really gain if you double or even close to triple that price point on some of the more expensive sticks for this specific game.
I’m also not really on the throttle train here. I’m assuming we’ll be closer to the X-Wing series flight model, in which case we’ll really only care about two (or three) speeds: max, max turn rate (50% for squadrons), and maybe 0%. I feel more comfortable mapping those settings to buttons. If it turns out I’m wrong and there’s more nuance to speed usage (or I can’t do those binds), I’ll probably admit defeat and bust out the throttle. But otherwise? I want to simplify things wherever I can (without losing performance) so that I can maximize my focus on critical tasks, like blowing people up. So that works for me. But if you want a throttle? By all means, have a throttle. ;)
And one last note on equipment. There’s a lot of rig-showing off that happens on this sub, and I think it’s easy to think “oh my god, I just have this XBox controller and an old office chair, and this other guy has a fully replicated TIE cockpit with mounted top-of-the-line HOTAS, full VR setup, rudder pedals, and the chair moves pneumatically! He even has a mini-fridge! I’m doomed!”. Nope. Just no. No amount of money and fancy gizmos can cover up bad flying. If you’ve mastered the skills needed to be good at this game, and your control scheme is second nature to you, and the guy in the fancy rig hasn’t? Great, he’s now just an over-priced target dummy for your K/D padding pleasure. The pilot matters more than the equipment, and to some extent, what’s most comfortable for you is best. Don’t trick yourself into thinking that automatically means more $$$ means better for you.
My guess is, given standardized equipment, m/kb and console controller users will have a more streamlined time here. But for stick/HOTAS users with way more variability? It can be easy to have some choice paralysis. Again, this is a very subjective, “comfort”-based area. But if you’re not sure how to tackle this, let me give you what I use as a starting point. I’m planning on using my VKB Gladiator for Squadrons. I have a VKB Gunfighter Mk. III and a throttle, but for me personally, I like to simplify wherever I can to preserve my focus elsewhere. I am guessing the Gladiator will have sufficient buttons for me, and I already mentioned my throttle scheme, so I’m set. But that still leaves me with three different switches, a hat, and ten different buttons on the stick (if you count pressing in switches), and 10+ more buttons on the base of the stick. That’s a loooot of options. So how do I tackle all of that?
I utilize a usage prioritization system, simply: the more I use a function, the easier a bind it should be to reach. The obvious example is my trigger. I’m probably going to fire more than anything except maybe yaw/pitch/roll, so mapping that to my trigger, the easiest to reach button for me, makes sense. Given I’m assuming a level of fidelity to the X-Wing flight model, I believe pitch on the y-axis and yaw on x-axis, with roll on twist, will map to usage for me. But if the game winds up feeling more like Elite, I would probably map roll to x-axis, and yaw to twist. After fire to trigger, I assume my next most-used functions will probably be my 100%, 50%, and 0% speed settings. I’ll likely bind these to my upper right switch, which for me is the second most accessible set of buttons. And so on down the line, literally matching frequency of use to convenience of placement the whole way down the binding list. That’s intuitive and comfortable for me. If you like something else more, use it. The general goal with keybinds should be to make them as easy to remember and as effortless to use as possible.
Oh, and a quick word on voice comms. I use PTT, I’ve used it for so long I’m just more comfortable communicating that way on voice. For flight sims, even if you prefer PTT? I strongly suggest you go open mic for the duration of combat. I don’t think I’ll ever entirely get used to it, but again, removing one more thing to worry about? Worth doing.
People may disagree, but I don’t think VR will be much, if any, of an advantage here. I think it’ll be cool, sure, but I’m not sure the field of view enhancements are worth the additional concentration required from a performance standpoint, at least for me. Now I may be wrong and because of components, the sensor scope in Squadrons is next-to-useless and so any extra visual scanning is great. But my hunch is that the focus I gain from no sweating/drag from the headset, at least for some of the longer sessions I know I’ll have, is going to be worth it for me. Again, very subjective and subject to change, but that’s my intuition on what will work best. If you’re certain VR is going to give you the highest accuracy and precision? Then use VR. But again, don’t get tricked into more $$$ being better. If you feel comfortable with what happens to be the cheapest option? Great. Use that.
More subjectivity! You’re ostensibly going to play Squadrons a lot if you’re reading this, so having a setup that is naturally comfortable for you is important. A few general tips. Something that encourages you to lean forward, hunch, or generally have bad posture is bad. There’s a lot of ways to fix this - if you can put together a rig and mount your HOTAS to your chair? Great. But if you just have a stick on a desk? Try to make sure your seat is set at an appropriate height relative to your desk. Roughly speaking, that’s desk-level-to-bellybutton, but here’s a calculator if you want more precision.
Try to set your stick in a way that doesn’t require you to lean or twist to reach it, and gives your dominant arm support so it doesn’t fatigue. For me, even though I’m left-handed, I fly right. I’ve found my most comfort placing the stick about 4-6 inches in from the edge of my desk, the outside of the stick roughly in line with the outside of my shoulder. For me this accomplishes two things: 1) It allows me to hold my arm back and close-in to my chest, making it feel supported and so won’t fatigue over hours of consecutive flying; 2) that lateral placement to my body allows me to use the twist axis on my stick most easily and fully. I have stiff wrists (thanks hockey!) so the less strain I have to put there, the better. But experiment with what feels comfortable for you, and then use it for at least a few consecutive hours to determine if it really is. And just like the rest of life, if something doesn’t feel good, you probably shouldn’t do it.
If you’re going to have some long sessions, and I definitely hope you will, don’t forget basic considerations. If staring at a screen dries your eyes out, keep some Visine on you or get a pair of Gunnars. Get up and walk around once in a while so you’re not fully sedentary. I plan on doing ten push ups or squats for every loss. Hydrate. Yeah, you’ll have to pee more, but it’s worth it. I’d use the toilet, but if you want to use piss jars on your desk, more power to you. If something (other than your ego) hurts? Stop and rest it, or try changing how you sit or use your control scheme. Just remember to take care of yourself. Squadrons will hopefully be there for years to come.
If you’ve read through this, I know it’s dense, thanks for taking the time and I hope you found it at all helpful. I for one have been waiting for this game for two decades, and so the bigger and more robust the Squadrons community is, the more I get to live basically my dream scenario re: gaming. So if this has at all helped you acclimate or more want to join that community, awesome! And if you have any questions I didn’t cover, feedback or complaints, feel free to message me directly or drop them in the comments. I look forward to covering all of your wings come October 2. ;)
I don’t feel old, until I look back at my history with space sims, and then I feel reaaaal old. I started playing X-Wing and Tie Fighter in ‘95 (my family was late to a PC), with a club called the Rebel Squadrons, which did a lot of narrative driven custom missions. I’ve played X-Wing versus Tie Fighter (XvT) and X-Wing Alliance (XWA) competitively across a variety of clubs: UPA (Crusader), TRA (Gaelin), RS (Petr Margul), BOSS (Scion) and a couple others, most recently now with the Emperor’s Hammer (Lo Mar). I think most of those stats should still be archived on BattleStats. I’m not going to say I was the best, I flew with a lot of great pilots back then, but I’m confident I was in the top tier of competition.
I hung up my spurs in 2006, but came back from time to time over the intervening years, although honestly the netcode, especially for XvT, got cringier over time. Since then, I’ve logged serious time in most well-known sims, including Wing CommandeLancer series, Jump to Lightspeed (ugh, what could have been), Star Citizen, Elite Dangerous, and a few more niche things.
I’m giving my bio for two reasons: 1) For better or worse, I’ve been at this a long time; and 2) In most any guide, there’s a healthy margin of opinion. By giving you my experience, hopefully it shows where I’m coming from, and thus what I’m more biased towards. No hiding the ball, just some honest opinions from a grizzled old pilot. ;)