Star Wars Outlaws has the same problem as every modern Star Wars thing: Playing it way too safe

I went into my Summer Game Fest demo of Star Wars Outlaws hoping to answer one big question: What’s it like to wander around in the first open world Star Wars game? That debut gameplay trailer from last year instantly sold me on the fun of sneaking through gangster hideouts, breaking into a shootout, then riding off into the sunset on a speeder. Ubisoft has made a lot of noise about Outlaws’ wide open frontiers on unfamiliar worlds, but curiously, that’s not what it was interested in showing off this weekend.

Instead, what I played were three disconnected missions that showed off three things you’ll be doing a lot of in Outlaws: climbing and shooting, sneaking and shooting, and flying and shooting. I had fun in all three, though not as much as I imagined.

You’ve likely played the Ubisoft games that make up Star Wars Outlaws before. Kay’s dog-shaped alien that can remotely activate traps and distract guards is 1:1 Watch Dogs. Her ability to blindfire and trigger a mark-and-execute is straight out of the Splinter Cell vault, and throttling the speed of Kay’s spaceship is a lot like raising the Jackdaw’s sails in Assassin’s Creed 4. Ubisoft has always been good at recycling the parts of its games that work, but in what I’ve seen of Outlaws, these adopted mechanics have been dulled.

Like so many pieces of media with “Star Wars” on the cover these days, Outlaws feels a bit basic. Kay Vess’ singular weapon is a blaster with two modes: red for kill, and blue for depleting shields. Stealth is forgiving, with sparse guards in the spaces I skulked through and lots of leeway to break line-of-sight when things go south. When it was time for a shootout, Stormtroopers were so bad at their job that they shot anywhere but at me (OK, maybe that’s just Ubisoft sticking to the lore). As I spelunked through the cavernous remains of a galactic cruiser, dutifully spamming A to shimmy between yellow-painted ledges, I felt like I was playing Ubi’s best approximation of Uncharted, and kinda missed the cool wallrunning and double jumping of Star Wars Jedi: Survivor.

So maybe no one pillar of Outlaws will knock my socks off, but it would be very Ubisoft to make a handful of so-so systems that don’t really sing until you experience them all together.

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

Again, we weren’t allowed to roam the open world and create our own mischief—we were largely locked to one style of play in each mission, but there were a few glimpses of the Outlaws I’m still excited to play. The third mission I played started with the stealthy infiltration of an Empire ship before devolving into a huge shootout on the tarmac. Then, the same fight moved to space as heavy aim assist guided my lasers to a squadron of pursuing TIE fighters. I expected the demo to end after the tutorial for clearing gang notoriety, but as a pleasant surprise, I was directed to land on the nearest planet. Landing on planets basically amounts to a loading screen, but a fairly seamless one: Kay’s ship never stops moving, and the surface of the planet is obscured by cloud cover until it’s loaded. I briefly explored one of Outlaws’ cities. I spotted shops, side quest givers, and played a few rounds of galactic blackjack (it has a proper name I can’t remember).

It was the only moment of my hour-long demo where I stopped thinking about all the other games that Outlaws reminded me of and clicked with the experience Ubi is selling: coming and going as I please, taking on odd jobs, playing all sides with local gangs. For a few fleeting minutes, I disappeared into the fantasy of being a gun-for-hire in frontier space. All that was missing was the freedom to speed off toward the next job. 

I do wonder about that open world. We’re under three months from release and we’ve only seen Outlaws in the context of linear missions. Basic cover shooting and climbing is fun and all, but Outlaws’ success will be measured, at least in part, by how it makes its sandboxes matter. In past eras of Ubisoft, crafting a meaty sandbox meant cramming climbable towers, chests, and collectibles into every corner. More recently, it’s meant overloading the map with optional fetch quests. And what of exploration itself? I hope Outlaws adopts the “exploration mode” in Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora that made tracking down people and places so engaging.

Star Wars Outlaws is due out August 30, and once again, Ubi is skipping Steam at first. You’ll find it on Ubisoft Connect and the Epic Games Store.

(Image credit: Ubisoft)


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