It can’t be easy, being Electronic Arts. From Star Wars: Battlefront 2 earning them the most downvoted Reddit comment of all time, to the publisher cancelling more Lucas-inspired capers than they actually managed to put out, it’s fair to say that EA hasn’t exactly endeared fans since it acquired the Star Wars license seven years ago.
What should have been as easy as shooting womp rats in a barrel instead saw entire game studios crumble. Fan excitement quickly turned to fear, which then gave way to anger – and we all know what that leads to.
Yet now, just as fanfare for Disney's sequel trilogy has hit an all-time low, EA appears to have finally hit its intergalactic stride. From 2019’s surprisingly enjoyable StarWarsvania, Jedi Fallen Order, to the slick, microtransaction-free dogfights of Star Wars: Squadrons, the Redwood-based publisher appears to be undergoing a Vader-like redemption arc of its own.
With Squadrons now on shelves – and just three years left of EA and Disney’s 10 year Star Wars licensing deal – it seems fitting to explore where this dramatic journey started, and what the future might hold for other games set in a galaxy far, far away.
A long time ago….
Back in 2015, global Star Wars mania was reaching a fever pitch. With almost a decade having passed since the nostalgia-destroying prequel trilogy, memories of Jar Jar and a sand-hating Hayden Christian almost began to feel like a fever dream. Han, Luke, and Leia were returning to the franchise! Chewie was back! And was that the Millennium Falcon?! The stars seemed to be aligning for a nostalgic return to form that fans had only dreamed about.
Yet it wasn’t just in cinemas that Star Wars was getting a dramatic rebirth. Hot on the heels of the new trilogy announcement in 2013, EA revealed that it had also struck a decade-long exclusive licensing deal with Disney. The best part? EA’s first release would be the collaboration of video game dreams: a new Battlefront made by Battlefield creators, DICE. It all sounded a bit too good to be true, really, with some having a bad feeling about the whole thing altogether...
As The Force Awakens’ derivative but enjoyable adventure restored audiences’ faith in the franchise, DICE’s pretty but simplistic Battlefront reboot landed with less of an Alderaan-destroying bang, and more of a quiet thud. Surely, fans thought, things could only improve from here?
Fast forward two years, and EA was gearing up to release its second Star Wars game – and this time it looked as though it was finally going to get it right. EA and DICE had focused on Battlefront once again, and were about to ship what looked to be the vastly superior 2017 sequel, Star Wars Battlefront 2.
It was packed full of content, offered deeper gameplay than its predecessor, and even featured a playable roster hailing from all eras of Star Wars. In other words, it was set up to be the midichlorian-packed multiplayer epic that fans had always dreamed of.
There was just one Death Star-sized problem with the game – Battlefront 2’s weapons, characters and classes were locked behind an aggressive, pay-to-win loot box system. As fans raged about the prospect of having to pay to unlock more characters in a $60/£40 game, EA quickly began to break records – but not the ones that it was hoping for.
Attempting to placate the masses during a Reddit AMA, EA’s response to the microtransaction debate earned them the aforementioned most downvoted comment in the platform’s history.
If that wasn’t disappointing enough, a few months later, fans learned that the much anticipated single player Star Wars adventure from Uncharted alumni Amy Hennig, codenamed ‘ Ragtag’, had been cancelled – and the beloved studio behind Dead Space, Visceral, was to be shuttered with it. To paraphrase Lando Calrissian, it looked as though this deal was getting worse all the time.
As the years went by, EA’s other Star Wars projects also began dropping like flies. From 2018’s axed ‘Orca’ to a Battlefront spin-off codenamed ‘Viking’, in seven years, EA had somehow cancelled just as many Star Wars games as it had released. Try as fans might to stay positive, things were looking pretty bleak indeed for the franchise's interactive future.
A New Hope?
Luckily, things soon started to take a dramatic turn for the better. In 2019, Apex Legends and Titanfall 2 developers Respawn released the surprisingly brilliant Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order. Marking the first single player outing that the franchise had seen in decades, this story-driven Metroidvania nailed the tone and feel of the franchise perfectly, lending a glimmer of hope to Star Wars fans who had sorely missed embarking on new interactive adventures.
If that wasn’t enough to change fan sentiment around EA’s handling of Star Wars, DICE had not only managed to fix Battlefront 2, but turn it into one of the best multiplayer shooters of its day. Two years after the virtual pitchforks and comment section outrage, the game had been massaged into a fun and varied ride, removing all of its insidious payment practices and offering a huge amount of additional content for free. Pick up a controller and dive in, and it is (whisper it) actually pretty good now.
This summer, Star Wars fans found themselves pleasantly surprised once again, with EA announcing Motive Studio's smaller scale dogfighting sim, Star Wars: Squadrons. It’s a game that features not only a fully fledged single player campaign, but also an extensive multiplayer component. Interestingly, EA seems to have changed its tune dramatically. Where once previous Star Wars games were cancelled due to not falling under the bracket of the ever-growing ‘games as service’ genre, the publisher was keen to stress that Squadrons would feature no microtransactions whatsoever, and be a complete game in its own right.
EA’s surprise redemption is a welcome but somewhat ironic reversal of fortunes. Following the divisive Last Jedi and the largely disliked Rise Of Skywalker, Star Wars’ recent cinematic outings have floundered, yet its interactive counterparts are now arguably shining brighter than they have in over a decade. Thanks to the success of Fallen Order and mobile game Galaxy Of Heroes, EA seems to have acquired a renewed vigor for the franchise, revealing earlier this year that it intends to ‘double down on Star Wars’ as we head into the next generation.
In fact, EA recently announced that thanks to Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order’s critical and commercial success, it is now to be the "first title in an entirely new franchise", with more of plucky protagonist Cal Kestis’ adventures set to grace our small screens for years to come.
Ever since Disney bought the rights to the world’s most beloved space opera, Star Wars’ gaming future has seemed alarmingly precarious. Before Disney even had time to settle into the place, much to the industry’s shock, the House of Mouse rapidly shuttered the world-leading LucasArts, culling both the much-anticipated Star Wars: 1313 and several other intriguing-looking projects in the process. In other words, it’s all been a bit of a crap time for us Star Wars nerds.
Interestingly, however, it turns out that there still might be hope for some of these fallen franchises yet. In 2015 Disney’s Star Wars custodian, Kathleen Kennedy revealed that she was acutely aware of 1313, describing both the planned TV show of the same name and the game as ‘gold’ before stating that Disney may "develop these things further". Despite Disney largely avoiding video games, 2019 saw it publishing its first Star Wars title since buying the franchise, the VR-exclusive Vader Immortal.
What's more, with the recent failure of Bioware’s supposed Destiny-beater, Anthem, could we see the studio return to its seminal Knights Of The Old Republic franchise? Given the new renewed popularity of the (now free-to-play) Star Wars: The Old Republic, it’s certainly possible. That’s what’s exciting about this new era of EA Star Wars games. It now feels like nothing is impossible.
A new generation of Star Wars films and TV shows is on the horizon, and two shiny new consoles are only only weeks away: in other words, we may have finally moved out of the dark age of Star Wars games, and into a bold new future. Cue the rousing John Williams score, Star Wars stans, it's time to get excited all over again.
For more, be sure to check out all the biggest upcoming games of 2020 on the way, or watch the latest episode of Dialogue Options below.