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Here's what we want from Ubisoft Massive's open world Star Wars game

By The Washington Post Time of article published Jan 14, 2021

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By Mike Hume, Gene Park, Elise Favis

The news Wednesday of a new Star Wars open world game was a surprise, to be sure, but a welcome one. The news that it would be made by Ubisoft Massive was a little less welcome.

Massive most recently gave us the meticulously crafted open world wasteland of Washington with "Tom Clancy's The Division 2," a map that was fun to behold for its likeness of the District of Columbia. It was also a game that was pretty meh overall, with a story that was far from memorable.

That got us thinking: Given how tantalizing the idea of an open world Star Wars game is, what would we want in one? Let's start with a strong story.

Star Wars fans have been spoiled lately. "The Mandalorian" rivals (or surpasses) much of the canon in terms of rich storytelling, awe-striking environments and thrilling action. Oh, that Jon Favreau would supervise the script, or that Dave Filoni (the creator of "Star Wars Rebels" who worked on the animated "Clone Wars" series, as well as "The Mandalorian") would write it. Respawn also nailed the script for its Star Wars game "Jedi Fallen Order." The bar is high for a game that could command upward of 50 hours of playing time.

It seems unlikely that any of the writers above will be involved in this (though with Lucasfilm retaining final say over everything, who knows?) so we'll simply ask for a story that is on par with those of Sony's memorable first-party tales like "God of War" and "The Last of Us." OK, so that's still shooting for the moon, but a tale of that kind is what a Star Wars open-world game deserves. It can't just be a collection of side missions (which is pretty much what "The Rise of Skywalker" was).

If Ubisoft Massive only gets one thing right about this game, the story should be it. Here's what else we're hoping for whenever this game lands.

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In contrast to the 007 game announcement from IO Interactive, which was a match made in heaven, the response to the announcement of this game has been a bit more muted. The developers of the Division series have not had a great track record for releasing games that live up to expectations. The first game took about a year to right its ship and develop a healthy online community. The second game removed much of what the first game (eventually) got right, and although it was received well at the start, the game quickly floundered as a live service.

Great Star Wars stories are not about finding loot; they have never been about chasing that next awesome weapon, which is what makes up the core of loot-grind games. "The Rise of Skywalker" was widely panned because the entire plot revolved around finding a ship to find a thing to go to another planet to find another thing to find the last boss. Have we learned our lesson?

The loot premise works with games like the Borderlands series, which revolves around getting new guns. It would absolutely feel silly in a Star Wars adventure, no matter how many different types of kyber crystals exist. Whatever this open-world adventure may be, loot grinds (complete with color-coded "statistics") should be off the table. "Assassin's Creed: Valhalla" shows that Ubisoft is capable of moving away from this premise, and here's hoping that it sticks to that lesson.

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Fast travel can't get much faster than hyperspace. And it would be very easy to make a game in which worlds are connected by a single nav map and players just jump from one to another through light-speed (a la "Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order"). That would do any open world Star Wars game a major disservice.

The Star Wars universe consists of two foundational environments: exotic worlds populated by diverse, fantastic beings and space. Every major Star Wars movie begins in space. It deserves to be a key component of this game.

Acquiring, maintaining and upgrading a space ship is a core fantasy for any Star Wars fan, and it would seem to sync well with an open world game. EA's Motive got this part spot on when it released "Star Wars Squadrons," which allowed players to personalize their fighters with various weaponry, defensive measures and cosmetics. Merging that with ground combat would create the ultimate power in the gaming universe.

The technical readouts requirements to allow a game to take place both in space and on land is significant. What's promising is the power of solid state drives, which could better facilitate a game in which players can play in both environments and seamlessly move between them, taking off and landing on planets and space stations or capital ships without so much as a load screen, or at least a minimal one. Just imagine descending from orbit into the jungles of Yavin IV.

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Just as important as space travel/combat is Star Wars' iconic laser sword. No true open-world game would be complete without them, even if the game does not include Jedi/Sith/The Force (though given the link between open world games and skill trees, that too seems like a natural). So much of gaming is a power fantasy, and there's no weapon more powerful than a lightsaber, which can cut through (virtually) anything and deflect lasers.

But obviously games need to be balanced, so alongside lightsabers there should be suitable countermeasures. In "The Mandalorian" we've seen Beskar armor and weaponry fill such a role. The early expanded universe used a material called cortosis that basically disabled a lightsaber on contact. In the movies we've seen various energy weapons deployed by Supreme Leader Snoke's honor guard capably defend from lightsabers. Give us lightsabers. Give us all of it.

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The worst part of open-world games? Walking. Yeah, it's nice to stop and appreciate the scenery every once in a while, but blazing through Beggar's Canyon on a speeder would be equally fun. And when traveling from point to point on a map is a central part of a game, efficiency and enjoyment of travel should be a focal point. Case in point: It's way more fun to swing through New York City as Spider-Man than it is to ride through the American Southwest as Arthur Morgan, and both experiences are beautiful.

Adding some fun options (such as speeder bikes, troop transports, AT-STs or even mounting the oh-so-odd blurrg) would be a welcome component.

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Let's leave Luke and Leia's lightsabers buried in the Tatooine sand and move on. Regardless of exactly how long, long ago this particular game's timeline falls - Old Republic, Empire, New Republic, Post-Republic, etc. - let's agree to let go of the family around which the galaxy far, far away has revolved since its inception.

Cameos would be OK, but there are so many great threads from Star Wars spinoffs that could be woven into this game's story. An Ezra Bridger-centered story following his fight with Grand Admiral Thrawn would be one fun approach. But give us something other than Anakin, Luke, Leia and Rey's stolen identity.

What about the characters who have constituted the saga's main story line in interactions with nonplayer characters? It would actually be pretty great to have a kind of "Game of Thrones"-style, word of mouth storytelling device where the game's protagonist hears tales of these legendary figures but not everything is 100% accurate. That kind of device made Westeros so much more interesting, hearing one story about a character and then later learning that the tale or their reputation didn't quite match.

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One of the small but extremely enjoyable elements of "Assassin's Creed: Valhalla" is the ability to play a dice-based minigame called Orlog. Star Wars has two famous games in its universe, Dejarik (the holographic chess-like game played by Chewbacca and C-3PO in the original film) and Sabacc, the card game played by Han Solo and Lando Calrissian, among many others.

While Orlog was created specifically for "Valhalla" (though it's coming to the real world soon), there are already decks of Sabacc cards floating around the Internet. Such an in-game diversion would be a great addition and way to acquire some credits through wagers.

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In 2017, Ubisoft Massive announced that it was working on "Project A," a massive open-world game based on James Cameron's "Avatar," the blockbuster film that broke records but has little space in the zeitgeist a decade after its release.

From the studio's page, it seems as though it's still hiring for that project, though there's been very little news. We're hoping that Massive can focus on one massive brand at a time. Regardless of how large the studio is, a focused studio probably will offer a better product.

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The game will run on Ubisoft's Snowdrop engine, which powers the publisher's other massive series such as The Division, Assassin's Creed and the Tom Clancy titles. All of the characters in these games look alike. The Snowdrop engine also powers games as diverse as "Immortals Fenyx Rising" and "Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle" for the Nintendo Switch. It's a powerful, versatile tool.

Star Wars is known for having unique character designs, fashion and distinctive looks. While EA has been a decent steward of the Star Wars franchise, its storytelling in cutscenes left a bit to be desired, mostly because of how flat the "realism" of the world looked. While not necessary, the aesthetics from the excellent animated efforts in Star Wars would be welcome, namely "The Clone Wars" and "Rebels." This is a chance to give us something we have not seen before, plus it frees up the studio to be more creative in its world design.

Ubisoft has established itself as one of the best studios when it comes to crafting open worlds, whether through historically significant settings in Assassin's Creed, including ancient Greece, or modern ones such as San Francisco in "Watch Dogs 2." If Ubisoft Massive makes a compelling product, it could be the Star Wars game that draws newcomers to the franchise.

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