If you ask everyone in the room to describe their perfect vision for a Star Wars game, you're gonna get a lot of answers. Many would, I wager, basically describe Star Wars Jedi: Survivor with its lightsaber power fantasy, memorable characters, cool force powers, and satisfying stormtrooper amputation.
My pitch would sound a lot closer to the game that Ubisoft announced yesterday at the Xbox Games Showcase, Star Wars Outlaws—a sandbox action game starring a Solo-like scoundrel-for-hire on the lawless planets of the Outer Rim. No, it's not the Mandalorian game that I was quietly crossing my fingers for, but a completely new character instead: Kay Vess, a young outlaw getting her start in the criminal underworld.
Outlaws takes place in the gap between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. For those who haven't kept up perfectly with the barrage of Star Wars stories lately, that places Outlaws something like a decade after Jedi: Survivor and a few years before The Mandalorian. It's developed by Massive, the Ubisoft Sweden branch that's also making Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, previously made The Division 1 and 2, and in more ancient times, the 2007 RTS World in Conflict.
I got an early look at the demo that (I suspect) was just shown during the Ubisoft Forward stream and jotted down some key observations:
- Outlaws' planets are much bigger than the planets Cal Kestis jumps around in Jedi: Survivor—big enough that Kay Vess crosses them on her trusty speeder
- It's a third-person shooter with an emphasis on stealth. You can go loud, but Ubi suggested avoidance is often a better option
- There's cover, stealth takedowns, and even a bit of climbing. Starcharted?
- You take jobs for and against various factions in the galaxy, and when you take actions against them, you'll lose reputation for that faction
- Kay's blaster is her primary weapon and it has different modes: I spotted a "focus" mode that was more accurate but appeared to shoot slower
- Bigger blasters, like the one Kay's critter companion fetches for her, are powerful but can only be used for a limited time
- Unlike the Jedi series, you actually fly your ship around the galaxy in Outlaws. It sounds a bit like No Man's Sky and Starfield—dogfights, resource gathering, and jumps through hyperspace to other planets
- In the demo Kay picks a dialogue choice that angers a corrupt Empire officer and instantly makes her wanted, but it's not clear how often these conversational choices will come up in Outlaws
The ship flying sure was a surprise for me. It looked like the process of taking off and entering space was automatic, so you probably can't fly close to the ground like in No Man's Sky, but Ubi says space exploration is a big part of Outlaws (something of a theme at not-E3 this year)—there are secrets to find in the void, and space combat varies from "intimate dogfights" to larger scale battles.
The brief dogfight between Kay and a swarm of TIE Fighters wasn't as impressive as the ground game. The fight played out like a Star Wars: Squadrons mission set to easy mode with cannons that seemed hard to miss with and returning volleys from the TIE Fighters that barely made a scratch.
So maybe space won't be where the best action is, but one moment in the demo has me wondering if Outlaws' combat goes deeper than a typical third-person shooter: Kay is caught sneaking around a restricted area by a guard but, instead of a fight kicking off immediately, Kay puts her hands up as the guard approaches, giving her the chance to quickdraw her blaster and shoot first. Was this a special scenario for the demo, or will every one of my scrapes begin with headshotting a poor bandit who thought I was truly surrendering? Either way it looks fun, though maybe not the 20th time it happens.
Ubi didn't have much to say about the story, but they did allude to it involving a big heist. I am enjoying Kay so far, though. She's optimistic and capable, but hardens up around folk she doesn't trust (which in this game is most people). Kay's partner, ND-15 (or was it 12? Whatever) didn't appear in the demo much, but it's clear he isn't your typical servant droid: he schemes and swashbuckles to the beat of his own drum.
My only worry about Outlaws is that if the whole game is essentially what we saw—sneaking, shooting, driving, flying—then it will have only scratched the surface of what I want from an open-world Star Wars game. I hope Kay can also do some of the quieter actions that made Arthur Morgan such a convincing protagonist in Red Dead 2. Let me greet locals, polish my blaster, people-watch from a bench, charge my speeder's battery(?), eat a meal. Probably too much to ask from the "first open-world Star Wars game" ever, but it's a nice thought.
Star Wars Outlaws is coming sometime in 2024.