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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

With Star Wars escaping EA, there’s a new hope

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A new Star Wars game is in development, an announcement that no doubt got some lightsabers erupting, because for the first time in years it’s not being published by EA. Instead Ubisoft is publishing the game, and The Division 2’s Massive Entertainment is the developer.

EA hasn’t made great use out of the Star Wars license, following the ten-year deal it signed in 2013. Since then it’s released two Battlefront games, one of which was mired in a loot box controversy, Jedi: Fallen Order and, most recently, Squadrons. It’s also cancelled nearly as many, at least that we know about. None of them are bad, some of them are very good, but compared to all the movies, shows and comics Star Wars has spawned in recent years, gaming is a desert.

Back in 2019 I suggested Disney should take a page out of Games Workshop’s book, and just go wild with the adaptations and spin-offs. There are plenty of crap Warhammer games out there, but Games Workshop’s philosophy of letting basically anyone take a crack at it has also produced some brilliant, novel games, including some PC Gamer favourites like Vermintide and Total War: Warhammer.

Ubisoft partnering with Lucasfilm Games isn’t what I’m excited about, then. As Rich noted in his coverage of the announcement, Massive’s history with The Division suggests that we could be looking at another multiplayer game, which is pretty much the opposite of what fans have been clamouring for, as evidenced by the success of Jedi: Fallen Order. I’m excited about what comes after. What publisher or studio is Lucasfilm Games going to work with next? Is it opening the doors to a greater variety of developers? The dream, for me, is smaller studios getting a shot. We’ve had nothing but big budget Star Wars games, full of spectacle and bombast, so we’re due a change of pace.

At the moment, it’s not clear what happening with the license. EA’s exclusive deal was for ten years, which means there should still be a couple more years on the clock. Something has obviously changed. EA has confirmed, however, that it will be continuing its partnership with Lucasfilm Games, and it’s still got more Star Wars projects in the wings. Regardless, this is the first time in ages that there’s a speck of light for Star Wars games. Just the chance that it will land with a publisher and developer with a genuinely interesting vision for this well-trodden galaxy is thrilling.

Knights of the Old Republic 2 is my all-time favourite Star Wars game because it’s so flipping weird. It’s Star Wars’ punk phase. Or maybe stoned philosophy student phase. Whichever one it is, it resulted in a Star Wars story that tries to dissect Star Wars and the Force, and in doing so took us to some very weird places, at least narratively. It’s unrestrained and ambitious and, famously, broken and incomplete. It’s still a masterpiece.

Under EA. Obsidian’s vision of Star Wars would probably have died. Under LucasArts, it ended up being rushed and buggy, but at least it launched. I just don’t see EA taking the risk. And that’s absolutely what Star Wars needs. There’s this huge, inventive universe out there with all this space to make something new and weird, but we’re stuck with Skywalkers and Jedi fighting Sith all the bloody time.

It helped that the Old Republic era is so far removed from the movies. All this stuff happened thousands of years before Luke and his pals came onto the scene, giving the likes of BioWare and Obsidian a lot more freedom to tell their own stories. Since EA took over the games have proven incapable of escaping the films, which they are almost entirely beholden to—it’s just a bit boring.

My mind is now racing with possibilities that I realise will almost certainly lead to disappointment. I’m seeing visions of Inkle making a game about being a Jedi librarian or historian, or a tactical heist game set in Coruscant and made by Klei. I bet some bigger publishers would fancy a piece of it, too. Maybe Sega should get in on this, and get Relic to make a Star Wars strategy game. I know, I’m getting carried away.

And I’m still interested in what Ubisoft and Massive are going to do with it. We know nothing apart from the vague promise that it will be an “original Star Wars adventure that is different from anything that has been done before.” That’s not much to go on. It might not be multiplayer at all. If it is, Massive is definitely a team I’d be interested in seeing tackle it. The Division 2 didn’t make a big splash, but it’s still a smart multiplayer shooter built by a skilled studio. My desire for more singleplayer Star Wars games doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be fired up about a good multiplayer diversion. God knows I’ve been wanting a replacement for Star Wars Galaxies for long enough.

I’m predicting that Massive’s working on something bounty hunter-themed. I mean, there’s no way Disney isn’t looking to continue capitalising on the overwhelming popularity of The Mandalorian, and it’s probably looking to do it as quickly as possible. Massive’s experience with shooters and designing games where you often need to hunt bounties or hunt down important items, just like our Mando pal, seems like a good candidate. Something that isn’t obsessed with Jedi would certainly be welcome.

For the time being, however, all we’ve got is speculation. What do you lot want from a Star Wars game? And who do you want to make it?

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