The announcement of Star Wars: Outlaws was a huge move for Ubisoft and the Star Wars brand. Despite the array of successful and beloved video games set in the galaxy far, far away, no other game has been so heavily pitched as an open-world experience before. It seems ridiculous that the franchise has existed since 1977 and yet no studio has been brave enough to allow the audience to explore this detailed world freely. There's massive potential for an open-world Star Wars game to really stand out among the competition.
Star Wars: Outlaws will be set between the events of Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, catapulting the player right into the middle of the Galactic Civil War. With the player taking on the role of cunning thief Kay Vess, Ubisoft is utilizing the open-world setup to investigate Star Wars' shady criminal underworld. The freedom demonstrated in the Outlaws trailer seems perfectly logical for such a deep universe as Star Wars, making it all the stranger that no other game has really done it before.
Star Wars Has Come Close Before
Just because an open-world Star Wars game hasn't been produced before doesn't mean that other titles haven't come close. There are a few existing Star Wars games that clearly could have been developed into an open-world format given a little more time or money. A recent notable example is LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga. Traditionally, the LEGO games had been set up around a linear level structure, with the LEGO Star Wars series not departing from this formula. Over time that has evolved, with games like LEGO Marvel Superheroes 2 expanding the map further. But The Skywalker Saga pushed the limits of what LEGO, Warner Bros. Games, and TT Games had done before. The backdrops were huge and players got access to numerous iconic planets from the expanded universe. While it wasn't a completely open world, the freedom given to fans was immense. With recognizable locations hidden throughout the maps and fun side-missions to carry out alongside popular characters, this ultimately displayed the possibility of what an open-world Star Wars game might look like.
In the wake of the Outlaws news, fans are also still awaiting updates on the Knights of the Old Republic remake. Although the original KOTOR and its sequel are still worth playing, there's another game set in the Old Republic era that took baby steps into the open-world genre. The Old Republic MMORPG from BioWare and EA is a shared instance game designed to convey its narrative in the most concise and controlled way possible. But the title also shares some of its DNA with open-world titles. Just like The Skywalker Saga, the maps that players have access to are genuinely epic in their scope. Like many MMOs, The Old Republic has vast open areas filled with enemies to grind. Although it's not perfect, The Old Republic is another Star Wars game that approached a truly open world. Unfortunately, it was halted both by limitations of the era and of the MMO format.
Many Star Wars Games Would Have Been Better With An Open World
Both The Skywalker Saga and The Old Republic would have massively benefited from their developers pulling the trigger and launching into an open-world. Indeed, with LEGO's never-ending character roster and The Old Republic's incredible class system, players would have had a lot of fun finding they had no limits on their play. But there are other titles that also would have been improved by an open-world structure.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed and its sequel are two immediate examples that will stand out for fans. Very few Star Wars video game lead characters have been as tragic, compelling, and complex as Starkiller. The technology just wasn't there at the time for LucasArts to capitalize on the potential. Galen Marek's training took him to an array of planets, many of which featured the Force-sensitive prey that he was hunting. It begs speculation as to what the game would have looked like if Starkiller's unbelievable powers were freely let loose on these locations. Both titles offered up a unique range of original and returning characters, and it's a shame players couldn't live in that dark and gritty take on the Star Wars universe for a little longer. But the limitations of the time period and the incredibly focused narrative stopped the developers from making that leap. The final product is great, so it wasn't a mistake, but there were opportunities left on the table.
Then there's the Jedi series, which so far consists of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and Jedi Survivor. There are plenty of comparisons to be made between the series and Force Unleashed, but they share the same open-world potential. The Jedi series is one of the greatest video game lines from Star Wars to date, and Respawn Entertainment's work should not be undervalued. But if any game was going to be open-world, it seems like it would have been a Jedi game. Jedi Survivor began to play with open-world elements but failed to completely pull the trigger. Cal Kestis is an adventurer and explorer; it makes so much sense to allow him to do just that without limitations. The richness of the Star Wars world was on full display in these titles and that depth would have only been enhanced by a larger landscape to play with. At times, especially in Jedi: Fallen Order, the barriers to exploration feel forced and restrictive. The beauty of Kashyyyk and its natural forests shouldn't be hidden behind an invisible wall. But just like The Force Unleashed, the Jedi games put the story first. That streamlined narrative took precedence over an open world.
Why The Galaxy Is Ready For Outlaws
There's plenty of debate about where Star Wars should go next in terms of its video game development. Fans are clamoring for a new entry into the Battlefront saga, perhaps one that investigates the Old Republic. The High Republic's Star Wars Eclipse is still reportedly on the way and Star Wars Hunters is still in active development. But Star Wars: Outlaws might be the first in a bold new direction for the franchise. It's finally taking the risk of moving to an open-world format, and the results may redefine future games in the franchise. It will come up against the same challenges that past prospective open-world Star Wars games have faced. But Outlaws has the technology to pull this off and the narrative potential to still be engaging.
The Star Wars galaxy is deep, rich, and detailed. That's one of the reasons why fans have campaigned for an open-world title for so long. But that also provides a challenge. Open-world games often limit the player to an individual city, country, or perhaps planet. To push the boundaries beyond this is certainly ambitious. But Star Wars has a whole universe to open up. Star Wars: Outlaws' developers will have to choose the planets, the travel systems, and ultimately limitations that they will impose to try and control this juggernaut. That's truly why there haven't been any open-world games in Star Wars so far; it almost seems like an insurmountable task. Whether that balance can be found is a debate that only Outlaws can settle now.