Geek Preview: ‘Star Wars Outlaws’ Has Full Open-World Game Spirit Of A Scoundrel

In a galaxy far, far away, tales about the Jedi and Sith are aplenty. Fans take delight in their triumphs, struggles, and the way their journey pans out, furnished with lightsaber action, Force powers, and dogfighting thrills. As the universe continues to grow, video games set in the beloved universe have added their own storytelling spin on familiar elements, from the days of Knights of the Old Republic, to the more recent Star Wars Jedi duology. 

Geek Preview: Star Wars Outlaws

Star Wars Outlaws marks a bold departure from the well-trodden hubbub. The highly-anticipated open-world jaunt from Massive Entertainment embraces an underrepresented aspect of franchise lore – the seedy underbelly. Instead of focusing on the Empire or Rebels, it follows a humble thief and scoundrel in a more grounded portrayal (as grounded as Star Wars can get, at least), where flashy lightsaber and Force-imbued attacks are eschewed for some good ol’ blaster shooting.

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It’s a refreshing breath of air, more so with a woman of colour leading the narrative. Enter Kay Vess (voiced by Humberly González), the first female protagonist of the Star Wars games who could just as easily step into the shoes of her roguish male counterpart Han Solo. The rapscallion is joined by Nix (Dee Bradley Baker), as she attempts one of the biggest heists the Outer Rim has ever seen between the events of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. 

The risk may just pay off, if an-hour-or-so preview is any indication. Held for select media a few days ahead of Ubisoft Forward 2024 in Los Angeles, it offered a tantalising glimpse into a fertile world that thrums with life, serving up an enjoyable time – particularly for lore enthusiasts. The first segment, for instance, makes a mention of the Crimson Dawn, the crime syndicate led by Dryen Vos and formerly, Darth Maul, while another separate section brings players to Kijimi, a location in the Rise of Skywalker

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These little nods are very neat tie-ins, but for those who aren’t in the know, Star Wars Outlaws has other forms of thrills. Dogfighting is the highlight of the first gameplay sequence, though it doesn’t start out as such. Before speeding off to the galaxy, players will have to take down some enemies, interact with a control panel to cause a distraction, and steal a spacecraft right under their noses after fending off a horde of troopers, and making a run for it once the ramp is extended.

Shootouts, especially against multiple hostiles, can be an exhilarating affair that gets the blood pumping. The basics of combat are relatively straightforward: knock enemies out with melee, gun them down with Kay’s own trusty pistol (or swap out for a stray firearm laying around), shoot at environmental hazards like explosive barrels, or command Nix to steal, attack, or distract them. 

Picking up the mechanics shouldn’t be too difficult, even if melee appears comparatively sluggish. There’s a stilted clumsiness to Kay’s punches and kicks that don’t feel satisfying to pull off; during the preview, close combat was solely reserved for stealth takedowns. For the most part, the run-and-gun strategy proved effective – dole out a couple of head and body shots, run and slide to reposition, and rinse and repeat. Just make sure to change the blaster mode to plasma fire for an easier time with disabling shields and defeating armoured enemies or droids.

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While it’s possible to switch weapons mid-fight, the fickle, inconsistent pop-up of the action prompt makes it difficult to do so during fast-paced fights. Besides, players will have to adapt to the new firearm mechanics on the fly, resulting in the added challenge of a learning curve. There’s a saving grace for such moments of distress, fortunately – activating adrenaline rush allows them to freeze time and tag as many enemies as they can, who will be shot when it ends. Note that this can only trigger within one’s line of sight, so hostile forces behind a pillar, for example, won’t be affected. Naturally, it requires recharging before subsequent uses.

In space, the battle rush continues. Dogfighting has been a staple of the franchise, especially in the video game space, and Star Wars Outlaws is no different. As it needs to cater to a more mainstream audience, the starfighter combat experience is blessedly more accessible with beginner-friendly controls and generous enemy lock-ons. The primary mode of fire are lasers, and if there’s a good chance of landing a shot, firing a missile does the trick too.

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Likewise, navigation is highly manageable. Each of the joysticks serves a different purpose, with the left controlling the axis of rotation and the right responsible for height and directional input. Chasing and shooting down hostile targets made for an enthralling time, even for someone who usually goes out of her way to avoid dogfighting. After heading back to a drifting control station of sorts, Kay will be able to clear her bounty.

The game preview didn’t touch on the Reputation System, but the team has explained how it works. Star Wars Outlaws gives players the freedom to shape Kay’s adventure by building her reputation with underworld factions, which impacts her interactions with other crime bosses and syndicates. These relationships will, in turn, affect gameplay and lead to consequences for both betrayal and alliances; clearing a bounty is part of this experience.

Although the time spent in space was short, the sense of vastness is well-conveyed. There’s something therapeutic about cruising through a boundless expanse – when there are no enemies on your trail, of course. Fans can probably expect and look forward to even more of an adrenaline high when the starfighter combat hits a grander stage, as excitement was a constant even during the small-scale battle included in the hands-on. 

Another first that the upcoming adventure touts is an open world. While there was little to no opportunity for exploration, the planet of Kijimi offered a promising brief look at its environment design. Buffeted by icy winds and covered in thick layers of snow it may be, the residing town cuts a glorious image even amid the frigidity, boasting streets that are teeming with life and human activity. It’s also home to an artifact called Baan Pu’dira that players have to steal as part of a mission, and since the gate is guarded, players will have to find another way in. 

It takes a bit of looking around, but the alternative path is nestled, rather deliberately, in an easy-to-miss spot, blending in with the frost. Once inside the Wellsprings, Kay needs to locate a keycard to remove the barrier guarding the artifact, and it’s here that Star Wars Outlaws presents several possible routes: stealth, brute force, or commanding Nix to steal it (a personal favourite). 

Things are hardly ever straightforward, though. Obtaining the key card is just the first step before a puzzle stands in the way, requiring players to input symbols in the right position. A yellow indicator means that a correct logo is in the wrong spot, blue means both are correct, and grey represents the opposite. It’s more time-consuming than it’s difficult, relying a little on luck and guesswork. 

The other puzzle type makes itself known in the final section of gameplay, which features an objective-based mission set in a reactor. There’s some combat involved, but platforming takes the spotlight here, with a couple of puzzles littered along the way. As compared to the above, the mechanics are vastly different and take after the rhythm game genre, where success comes from tapping the key prompt in beat with the clicks. 

Just like certain parts of combat, platforming isn’t perfect in Star Wars Outlaws. In fact, it suffers from the same ailment as the interaction system, such that the action prompt only pops up at a certain camera angle with little margin for error. See, Kay can’t swing to the next handhold, jump, or execute any maneuvers by herself – players have to point their camera and wait for the ‘A’ button to appear before she’s able to do so. 

It can be quite finicky, so don’t be surprised if you miss a prompt while mid-air because of some slight joystick movement. When done right, though, traversal proves to be a smooth affair, and is generally easy to master. 

For all its quirks, Star Wars Outlaws seems to have a strong grasp on fleshing out the ultimate scoundrel dream. The game’s charm shone brightly during the preview session, and it’s easy to bask in the vast potential of it all. With many years of high hopes riding on its shoulders, let’s hope that Massive Entertainment has an ace up their sleeves.

Star Wars Outlaws releases 30 August for the PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.