Star Wars is a huge franchise, a franchise I am particularly fond of. I’ve loved it since being a kid. We wore out the taped TV versions, full of Christmas adverts, that were our only copy of the original trilogy. We almost destroyed the, now collector’s piece, Kenner Millennium Falcon, and several figures we had by flying it around and crashing it about. I played Rogue Squadron to death, if the N64 had trophies I’d have Platinumed it. As I say, I’m fond of Star Wars.
What makes me fond and keeps me wanting more Star Wars are the stories told. The journey of Luke and co and the redemption of Vader. Cade Skywalker’s adventures in the Legacy comics. The Mandalorian, just all of that show really, and games like Knights of the Old Republic which marry great Star Wars stories and fun gameplay. I’m a sucker for it really having spent so many years of my life engaged with it. This is why I’m not upset, but bored by the recent video games. Galaxy of Heroes, New Battlefront 1 and 2, Squadrons, and Jedi: Fallen Order haven’t been up to par, each with different issues that put me off the games.
There’s one big issue that crosses over all of these games. I just don’t care about them. By this I mean they haven’t done enough to draw me in and entertain me. I got bored with them, and bored very quickly. This isn’t to say they weren’t technically competent games well made in certain aspects. I’ll point these out when discussing each of the games and the issues I have. EA have picked up a reputation with these games. Not a good one. Often criticised for the lack of content and implementation of microtransactions EA hasn’t steered the Star Wars ship well. And perhaps this has informed the decision for Disney and the Lucas Films arm to bring back Lucasfilm Games. Whilst details are scarce Lucasfilm Games is now the “official identity” for all game titles from Lucasfilm. What does this mean for Star Wars exactly? I’m not sure but the company will partner with developers on new titles. They’ve already announced that Machine Games and Bethesda are working with them on a new Indian Jones Game, and fresh off the press Ubisoft’s Massive Entertainment will be making an open-world Star Wars game. Hopefully, this means a tighter rein on what’s being made at a developer level rather than with one publisher (currently EA). Details will trickle out on this new element but for now, I’ll look at the games recently produced under EAs stewardship. I won’t be discussing The Old Republic, a game I played a lot back in 2011.
We started off EAs reign of Star Wars games with a new entry in the Battlefront franchise and a mobile game, Galaxy of Heroes.
Galaxy of Heroes was a fairly standard gatcha game, a collectible hero RPG. It was standard in its upgrade mechanics, collecting heroes and leveling them up. They were collected through daily missions which consist of battles, more battles, and then another battle. The game allows you to assemble a team and take part in increasingly difficult turn based battles. My issue, as with many gatcha games, was upgrading the characters you wanted to proved difficult. A Jawa was my most powerful character for a while whilst playing. Even being full of Star Wars characters, the upgrading and battling was not engaging. I preferred Pokémon Go and later Fire Emblem Heroes which had a much more interesting battle system. Galaxy of Heroes was dropped by me after a week and I never went back.
Also released in 2015 Battlefront was a game strongly criticised for its lack of content, a criticism I agreed with on its release. A lot of characters, balancing, maps, and more were added through updates but at its release, the game didn’t have enough to keep me playing more than a month. I enjoyed what I played, especially the few co-op maps, which I played locally with a friend and the fighter squadron mode. Space battles are a huge part of SW and this mode drew me in the most, more chat on this in Squadrons below. EA developed a good game in Battlefront about a year after release but I was gone by this time and didn’t have an urge to return to it having moved onto other shooters. If I’m going to invest in a shooter I want engagement and so many games fall foul of this in recent years. Battlefront whilst pretty was a game quickly shelved.
Two years after Battlefront the sequel was released. Whilst it felt more feature-complete than the 2015 game the inclusion of an upgrade system based around microtransactions was a huge put-off. It made some good moves from the first game like the class system in multiplayer more akin to the Battlefield series than Battlefront (2015). Fun modes like the 40 player battle and more space battles in Starfighter Assault initially drew me into the game after I had enjoyed the feel of it during the beta. The inclusion of a transactional-based, loot box progression system however put me right off. It was a system met with, not just criticism but scorn. Players were angry and it was a system quickly removed. As the progression was based around this it took a while to tweak and like Battlefront (2015) it is a much stronger, fully-featured, nontransactional progression game now. A new element to Battlefront 2 was the single-player campaign. The story of Iden Verso started off well, told from a character on the side of the Empire after the end of Return of the Jedi. It was short, which is fine, but quickly trotted out a foreseeable twist that switched the pov back to the Rebels’ side of things. It was written well enough and worked through various elements of gameplay but it wasn’t a strong story. It acted more as a great tutorial for the multiplayer component, which the game was really all about. It’s another game which I spent a few weeks with then felt like I’d done everything available. There was nothing more to hold me, and in multiplayer no story to fall back on.
Another two years passed before we got the next game. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, developed by Respawn Entertainment is the first single-player Star Wars game since The Old Republic (which technically, could be a single-player experience but it was built as an MMO). It’s another game set after the purge of the Jedi, set between the prequel trilogy and the original. It’s a time full of intrigue and plenty of stories to be told yet Fallen Order falls short for me. The story of Cal, who was a Padawan before the purge, is discovered to have force powers and must flee the Empire. He embarks on a journey to discover that power, uncover ancient ideas, and help the Jedi Order. It’s a story that has its good moments yet is utterly tedious for most of it. The ‘dark souls’ style of gameplay (not entirely Metroidvania but a change to this genre) doesn’t suit its semi-linear story. There are so many side elements that could be explored and more stories to tell which don’t sit well with the important task at hand. It’s plodding in places and doesn’t focus well on exactly what needs to happen. Cal is also an issue being entirely without charisma, humor, or intrigue. He feels like a vessel just to tell a pretty boring story. A story that ultimately leads us to the most recognisable of Star Wars characters and one whose presence was not needed. The big bad through the story, Trilla and the Inquisitors are much more interesting than the known quantity. So much more could have been explored there to draw me in and provide a satisfying ending to the game. As well as the Inquisitors being underused other characters are given a spotlight for it to be dragged away again. Night Sister Merrin was one of the better characters in the story and I hope if it continues in a sequel she is used a lot more. For Fallen Order though she appears during the extended exploration of Dathomir and the fight with Malicos, then just hangs out with you on the ship ready to appear again at the end of the game. She’s a character who displays a range of emotions and does so well, only to be sidelined quickly.
Fallen Orders’ other issue is it’s pacing. Many times when I wanted to explore somewhere it was too linear, without side paths or other areas. These felt familiar in their design and had me wading across the map back and forth through the same sections. Others opened up a little into larger hubs with connecting pathways occasionally hiding areas only accessible after receiving an upgrade. The crashed Venator was a fun excursion, though one which could have been ignored altogether because of the style of game. The interesting parts were too hidden away. I had to work for them more than I should have. A show like The Mandalorian, whilst a different medium, manages to be a little serialised and maintain its through story. Fallen Order with its almost chapter like planet hopping structure was like a serialised show but didn’t connect the dots well enough. As a package, it fell flat for me. It left me wanting more Star Wars but not Cal’s story.
Our latest and last game is Star Wars: Squadrons. I’ll start by saying that this is my favourite of the games released so far. A multiplayer, VR capable, first-person fighter pilot game. Squadrons has two elements, a reasonable single-player campaign and the multiplayer. The single-player acts mostly as a tutorial to the different ships and their flight and fighting capabilities. It has an alright story driving the showcase of different environments and battles. Similar to Battlefront 2, it tries to shift the perspective a little, this time telling the same story from both sides. Of course, there’s also a big defection from the Empire to the New Republic (how could there not be). There are cool new ships, big battles, and some nice callbacks to known characters but unfortunately, it’s a little bland. The main staying point for the game is multiplayer. I have no doubt that if I had a VR set I’d have continued playing multiplayer Squadrons far longer than I have. It is a fun experience but the modes and maps are so limited that you’ll have played everything on offer after an hour. My favourite mode is the Fleet battles, objective-based tugs of war that mix PvP and PvE fighters, cruisers, and capital ships. On paper and from my early experience with it, it’s exactly what I’ve always wanted from a Star Wars space battle game yet it just hasn’t held me. The game released at a lower price point than most bigger budget experiences and one would imagine this is because of the lack of content in the multiplayer. EA stated that the game was done on release and that no more content would be developed for the title. This is something that I understood for the price point. I wasn’t happy with that though, I wanted more. Predictably EA and Motive have now put out more content. A new map, new fighters, and weapons to load out with have appeared. It hasn’t been anything big to entice me back. Had this game had a clear path forward letting me know the additional content coming like the Battlefront games went on to do then I would have kept up more with it. I’d have checked to see the newest additions. I’d have been in the game to then play a few matches. It’s something Fall Guys has done exceptionally well. Their social media strategy, the new seasons, and having me check in to see the daily rotating cosmetic items has worked well. I’ll jump in, play a few shows, check out the store, and see what I need to progress through the levels and their rewards. Squadrons could have implemented something like this. I can’t imagine that EA, with all of their additional content and microtransactions of recent years thought, make it, ship it, leave it. That seemed to be the initial plan though. With it now appearing in sales at about a third off it seems like it is destined to die a quiet death. Yes, launching an engaging multiplayer game is hard (looking at you Disintegration). Launching an engaging multiplayer game in the Star Wars universe should not be.
I have no idea what Star Wars games we will get in the future. With the now long canceled 1313 and the Amy Hennig lead ensemble-based single-player game gone I hope we get more story-driven single-player experiences. I’d love these to be based on both unknown and rarely explored characters, who are given great backstories, tie in novels or comics and get a little love in the build-up to their epic, video game adventures. Star Wars has a huge cast of characters to pull from with enough mythos for new, exciting stories to tell. Jedi stories in the High Republic era or bounty hunters and the villains during the Skywalker saga would be my choices to explore first. Rather than these, I feel we’ll get more Battlefronts and Squadrons though the tide may be turning. I hope the umbrella of Lucasfilm Games provides some central control, more reasonable than George Lucas was during the development of 1313 or the various EA executives and broadens what we are given.
What do you think about the recent Star Wars games? Are you still loving one of the multiplayer titles or did you enjoy what they did with Fallen Order? I’m always up for chatting more about Star Wars, let me know @nova_47