Star Wars Outlaws wants to let you live the life of a scoundrel in a galaxy far, far away. It's a fantasy that no Star Wars game has ever pulled off, but not for lack of trying. Massive Entertainment isn't the first to try its hand at a grittier framing – Star Wars 1313 didn't survive The Walt Disney Company's acquisition of LucasArts, and Project Ragtag was effectively shuttered alongside Visceral Games. So, what attracted the studio best known for The Division to creating a single-player Star Wars experience where the reputation you command is as integral to survival as the credits in your pocket?
"Having finished our last few games, we wanted to do something really different," creative director Julian Gerighty tells GamesRadar+, a Ubisoft veteran with director credits on The Crew, The Division, and The Division 2. "Something that wasn't live service, but a self-contained experience. And then we had the opportunity to work with this IP – a childhood dream for many of us here."
At the intersection of that drive and passion is where you'll find Star Wars Outlaws. An original story set within the Age of the Rebellion on the Star Wars timeline, following the adventures of Kay Vess – a young scoundrel who must pull off the greatest heist the Outer Rim has ever seen to lift the bounty hanging over her head. With all that in mind, Ubisoft is billing Outlaws as the 'first open-world Star Wars game', but I think a better description may turn out to be 'Red Dead Redemption set between the stars'.
There's a whole galaxy out there
I'm not the first to draw a point of comparison between Star Wars Outlaws and Red Dead Redemption 2, and I likely won't be the last. The gameplay reveal trailer may have been small in scope, but it teased out a much wider world – environments which are dense in detail and opportunity; equipped with the sort of instances of emergent storytelling that have come to define Rockstar's greatest achievements. For what it's worth, Gerighty blushes at the comparison. "Rockstar makes the best games in the world, right? I'm not here to talk about other games, but if there's a comparison there, that makes me feel great. Because, honestly, the respect that I have for those experiences is colossal."
Star Wars Outlaws' ambitious scope has ignited the imagination. Star Wars Jedi: Survivor may have played in wide-open spaces, but it was inherently gated by character progression and loading screens; Massive, meanwhile, is shooting for something larger, and more seamless. The studio is creating multiple open-world planets that you'll be able to explore on foot, from the seat of a customizable speeder bike, or from the cockpit of your spaceship – the Trailblazer, an EML-850 light freighter which you can pilot to distant star systems and into desperate dogfights against Imperial Fighters.
Massive won't be drawn on the number of playable areas in Star Wars Outlaws just yet, but I believe there will be at least three amongst all of the explorable debris fields. The gameplay video teased two original locations created in collaboration with LucasFilm, set within the Akiva and Toshara systems. There will also be familiar planets to explore, like the snow-dusted planet Kijimi – home to the Thieves' Quarter in the Bryx sector. Rather than focus on the number of starsystems, planets, settlements, and cities Massive is bringing to life, Gerighty would rather talk about the bigger picture at this early stage.
"The question we ask ourselves is, 'How do we make an open-world Star Wars game that is as rich and captivating as possible?' That's the mind frame that we have. It doesn't matter if you're in the cities, in the open world, or out in space, you're never far from something that's going to captivate your attention," says Gerighty, noting that the boundaries of Outlaws' galaxy will be defined. "It's a focused game. We're not doing procedural generation of the planets or anything like that – it's very much a bespoke and created space."
When words like "living" are thrown around to describe an open world, the devil is always in the details. Right now, we only see hints of this at Jaunta's Hope on Toshara; NPCs can be seen riding in and out of the settlement on speeder bikes, as alien species stand in conversation beneath rusting superstructures. Gerighty wants you to be "distracted by curiosity" while playing Star Wars Outlaws, teasing that adventure and opportunity await you around every corner – no matter how you choose to engage with the fantasy of being a scoundrel operating in the Outer Rim.
Wanted, Dead or Alive
Gerighty says that this big idea of building "a scoundrel experience" may "sound silly" on the surface, but it's been a guiding principle for Massive since the outset of development. "It tells you everything about what we are building," he says, informing everything from the resourceful nature of Kay Vess to her more scattershot approach to combat – and the reputation systems woven throughout the fabric of Star Wars Outlaws.
A key component to this fantasy is the setting, which narrative director Navid Khavari has described as "taking place right between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi," where the galactic civil war between the Rebellion and the Empire has "created this pocket of opportunity for the Syndicates and Criminal Organizations to rise up in that space." This framing means that Kay will deal with familiar factions like the Pyke Syndicate and the Hutt Cartel, and a new organization called the Ashiga Clan. Entanglements with the Empire are an ever-present threat too.
Khavari said that one of the mantras that Massive held onto throughout development was the idea that "you live and die by your reputation." It's core to the Star Wars Outlaws fantasy. From what I have seen of this system, action prompts a reaction. Get caught stealing valuable items from a Pyke scavenger station, your universal reputation with the faction will decrease. Decide against bribing an Imperial officer, and it won't be long before you're flagged as a problem worthy of the Empire's attention. "The reputation system really allows you as a player to craft your own matrix of relationships with the criminal syndicates," explains Gerighty.
Let it be known that GamesRadar+ gets answers to your most pressing questions. So, yes, the Star Wars Outlaws lead is kinda surprised everyone wants to bang ND-5.
"All of the missions that you complete and the decisions that you make will play into that. It allows you to build different relationships with factions like the Hutts or the Pyke." Push too far in one direction with any given faction? Your reputation will impact your opportunities, your visibility, and your perspective on the story. Oh, and your blaster isn't the solution to every problem you encounter either. "We spent a lot of time and effort on our narrative tools to give players a sense of agency in conversations. Because a scoundrel needs to use their voice to get out of situations too."
Managing uneasy relationships with criminal organizations isn't the only thing Kay needs to be conscious of in Star Wars Outlaws. If you become entangled with the Empire, you may become a wanted fugitive – as demanding of Imperial attention as the last Jedi. "The Empire are our space cops, so how do you usually get away from a 'Wanted' level in other types of games? You could lay low and wait until the heat goes down so that you're not 'Wanted' anymore, or you can get rid of the problem; if there are three Imperials, you get rid of the three Imperials!" However, it won't always be that easy.
"Let's say you are discovered sneaking through an Empire compound, that's going to be a difficult situation to get out of," Gerighty adds."There are lots of situations within the overall open world structure of Outlaws that will allow you to deal with these situations and systems in very different ways." You can blast into hyperspace and try to escape into another star system, ride out into the open world against those who give chase, or try your hand at fending off increasingly challenging levels of resistance. The threat of becoming 'Wanted' is ever-present, and will need to be factored in when dealing with the Galactic Empire and the corrupt officers in its ranks who stalk the criminal underworld.
An elegant weapon for a more uncivilized age
With Star Wars Outlaws being an action-adventure game from Ubisoft, you can only get so far without tumbling into combat. As impressive as the visual fidelity is in battle, whether Kay is shielding behind cover or firing from her speeder bike, Outlaws looked a little cumbersome to me – lacking the precision that I've come to expect from the studio behind The Division finely-tuned shootouts. Gerighty assures me that Kay's combat proficiencies will make sense within the context of the full experience.
"We wanted to nail the scoundrel fantasy, and in Star Wars that means that you're not a trained soldier. You're an outlaw with a gun, so you're going to approach each situation as a resourceful underdog – with your blaster, gadgets, equipment, and with Nix," says Gerighty, who notes that your creature companion Nix can do everything from assist you in combat to help open new traversal opportunities. "But you're not precisely taking cover and taking headshots."
The resourceful nature of Kay's character will manifest itself in a crafting system that Massive isn't ready to go into great depth on just yet, but we do know that you'll be able to upgrade your speeder and spaceship, and customize Kay's blaster and abilities. With your blaster, you'll be able to equip and upgrade different firing modules such as 'Focused' and 'Blaster' and switch the firing mode to 'Stun' at a minimum. As for abilities, we've only seen one in play so far, and it revolves around those awesome multi-shots Kay pulls off. "The 'Trick Shot' gives the player a moment where they can really hit something precisely that feels both incredibly lucky and spectacular. It's all about making you feel super proficient in those moments," continues Gerighty, "you charge it up, and then you can unleash it – so they can happen fairly often."
There's a long way to go towards Star Wars Outlaws' 2024 release window, and still plenty that Massive Entertainment needs to show – to prove out such an ambitious undertaking, and demonstrate that the scope and scale being outlined is achievable. But for now, lets revel in the promise of the scoundrel fantasy, best described by game director Mathias Karlson: "We knew from the start that we wanted to offer a full seamless experience. Sitting in a cantina in a city on a planet's surface, jumping onto your own speeder, to your own ship, and then seamlessly flying into space."
If Massive can pull this thing off, there's a good chance that Star Wars Outlaws will be the Han Solo simulator we've always dreamed of one day playing.
Star Wars Outlaws is among the most promising upcoming Star Wars games. It's set to launch in 2024 for PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X