Are Star Wars games redeemable, or have they fallen to the dark side?
The past few years have been rough for Star Wars games. With EA’s disappointing and content-deprived Battlefront, and their new and controversial Battlefront II, it isn’t looking good for the franchise.
The 2000s were the golden age of Star Wars games. Spurred on by the Prequel Trilogy, there was renewed interest in the franchise, and LucasArts knew how to capitalise on it. Over the course of 10 years, the best Star Wars games we’ve ever seen were released.
From starfighter games such as Rogue Squadron, RPGs like Knights of the Old Republic I and II, the formidable Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast and Jedi Academy, childhood-forming games were being pumped out. It would be a sin not to mention the original Star Wars: Battlefront II (2005), the game many people wish the newer titles were.
Towards the end of the 2000s, we saw The Force Unleashed games, which, while not perfect, were still pretty fun games. And then, following Bioware’s The Old Republic MMORPG, LucasArts died, with the exception of a few poorly-received mobile games.
In 2012-2013, the final blow came. Disney acquired LucasArts, sacked all its staff bar a mere skeleton crew, and handed production over to EA.
Since then, Star Wars games have been mediocre at best. As mentioned, the EA Battlefront games have been mostly disappointing. Even Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens failed to reach the level of creativity and fun as seen in the earlier, excellent Lego Star Wars titles. So, will we ever get to play another Star Wars game that isn’t full of microtransactions, lacking content or just plain bad?
Visceral Studios were working on a Star Wars third-person action shooter, a-la Uncharted, and this looked promising. It even had Uncharted‘s excellent main writer on board, Amy Hennig. And then EA shut down Visceral. RIP. Prior to that, we were given a teaser for Star Wars: 1313 by LucasArts, where we took control of an adolescent Boba Fett on his journey to become a bounty hunter. This project was shelved by Disney when they bought LucasArts.
However, all is not lost. There’s a reason the Old Republic era games are so popular, and that is Drew Karpyshyn, the mastermind author behind much of the Old Republic lore. He was the lead writer on the first Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Star Wars: The Old Republic, games exploring the fascinating period up to 25,000 years before Episode IV takes place. These games are amongst the best Star Wars titles around.
The good news is, Karpyshyn is working on an unannounced project. Could this be the Star Wars game we’ve been waiting for: one made with passion and care, instead of with loot boxes and profit the primary concern? Who knows, but it’s better than nothing. Given that Disney have ‘de-canonised’ and in some places rewritten the Expanded Universe, it is unclear what direction a possible new game could take.
Truth be told, it’s depressing to see what Disney and EA have done to one of the greatest game franchises of all time, and, indeed, one of my favourites. As a child, I sunk countless hours into some of these classic Star Wars games, and, despite their age, I still enjoy them much more than recent iterations.
The future of Star Wars is blurred. Disney and EA’s iron grip on the franchise may limit what can be done, and if their recent games are anything to go by, future games will be dreary. But maybe, just maybe, Drew Karpyshyn’s project could be a new hope for Star Wars games, and bring the franchise back to the light side.