With Fallen Order bringing hope that great games set in a galaxy far far away can make a comeback, here's how EA can keep the momentum rolling
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is easily the best Star Wars game of the past decade (not that there have been many since Disney bought the franchise) and ranks highly amongst the best games to ever be set in the Star Wars universe.
EA decided to trust in their developers for once and thanks to Respawn, which is one of the best game developers in the world right now despite their short history, the Star Wars gaming universe is back on track. A single-player, story-driven action adventure game, Fallen Order fits in the universe far better than Disney's Star Wars films have thus far and captures the adventurous tone and sense of wonder the franchise is known for so perfectly it's no wonder the game is proving to be such a smash hit.
With its success, a sequel is inevitable - one can only hope EA will stay in the shadows and allow Respawn to continue telling their stories without much executive meddling.
But what if EA really is learning? What if, after the massive backlash and financial downturn they've endured due to their ill-advised business practices, both inside the Star Wars universe (see Battlefront II's disastrous launch) and out (Anthem's launch failure, Need for Speed Payback's microtransaction fiasco to name a few), EA is finally open to listening to their fans? What if Fallen Order's success and public praise shows them the error of their ways and results in the publishing giant turning a corner to deliver what gamers want, not only for Star Wars titles but across the board?
It should be obvious that it would be a major win for all involved - the gaming community, EA shareholders, and everyone else in the company - should they turn their image around. And of course Disney, which can't seem to stop winning lately, would love to rake in some extra cash off their license. While it probably isn't going to happen, it's fun to think about.
Fallen Order is sure to deliver a second entry and I'm excited to see where Respawn can take the series - whether it follows Cal on a more expansive adventure, a new force-sensitive individual (possibly with branching choices and light/dark side abilities a la The Force Unleashed?), or is something entirely different, anything short of EA turning it into a games-as-a-service model will surely be good.
The Star Wars license shouldn't be limited to one successful series however. EA is sitting on a potential gold mine that to this point they've failed to capitalize on. If the success of Respawn's title helps shift EA's approach to the series even a little bit, then fans of Star Wars could be in for greener pastures ahead.
Here are five potential projects which could keep the momentum rolling and turn the Star Wars brand into a gaming empire once again.
Utilize the Extensive Backlog of Classic Star Wars Games
The power of nostalgia is strong. One very wise man once said that nostalgia is one of the greatest human weaknesses, second only to the neck.
Just like the classic movies that created the sprawling Star Wars universe, many of the titles in the extensive LucasArts catalog have a special place in the hearts of gamers. Who can forget flying their very own X-Wing for the first time in Rogue Squadron? Or smashing through waves of droids after unlocking Obi Wan in Battlefront II?
We have seen tons of remasters and remakes on this generation of consoles, sometimes even when completely unnecessary (like porting over Xbox 360 games with almost no upgrades other than a higher resolution). While of course some are forgettable and don't do much to update the games to look or feel like a modern experience, others have brought classic titles to a new audience in style and have allowed nostalgic gamers to go back and play older titles without the disappointment that often accompanies playing dated videogames.
Proper updates can allow one to play an old title as if it were new again, and thanks to the way gaming works it's a lot different than remaking or remastering a movie. For a remaster, the movie might be in better resolution and be touched up a bit, but it's still going to be dated. A remake of course is a whole different experience, with new actors and typically a lot of changes, but even if it remains a scene-for-scene adaptation it's still not the same exact movie.
A videogame on the other hand doesn't have the same limitations.
To understand what I mean, gaming remakes can play exactly as those classic titles do in your mind. If done well, it's like playing that old title without ever having to remove your rose-coloured glasses - it plays exactly as you remember it. Of course if you were to go back and play the untouched original, you're bound to notice the jagged edges, muddy textures, and other issues from old games that were conspicuously absent from your mind's eye.
For examples of remakes or remasters done exceptionally well, take Gears of War: Ultimate Edition. Released in 2015, the remaster of the classic Xbox 360 killer app brought the 9 year old game into the modern space with an amazing visual update and modern multiplayer matchmaking. Admittedly, the original was so well done and ahead of its time it didn't require a major overhaul to get it up to par with modern titles, but nonetheless it allowed gamers to revisit one of the best games ever made with a shiny new coat of paint and gave new fans a chance to experience the game in its ultimate version. All without having to put up with any dated looks, overly dark visuals, or old-fashioned multiplayer lobbies that were the norm at the time. It didn't hurt that it also included several new levels that were previously released only on the PC version that many console gamers never got to experience before.
There are other examples too, such as the Master Chief Collection (major server issues at launch aside), PS4's Shadow of the Colossus, and more recently remastered versions of the Crash Bandicoot and Spyro series have also been highly successful.
There's many reasons why remasters/remakes are enticing to publishers as well - they cost much less than creating an original title, they typically have much shorter development cycles, and they have a built-in fanbase.
It's frankly quite shocking that EA hasn't looked to remaster any of the beloved classics in the extensive catalog they have access to.
While they essentially rebooted the Battlefront series and used its name, EA has yet to put out a single true remake or even simple remaster/collection since they received the Star Wars license. While EA may want to carve out its own Star Wars legacy with original works, Disney should be well aware at how much money could easily be made with their catalogue of titles that are sitting on the shelf collecting dust.
If EA would rather have its studios working on original content, they could even subcontract remasters out to other developers with more experience on those types of projects (with Disney's blessing of course). Disney has all of LucasArts' old assets on hand and if anyone is paying attention to their gaming portfolio they should know how much potential revenue is sitting there being ignored.
That being said, a fair amount of Star Wars games (at least ones that released on the Xbox consoles) are backward compatible already on the Xbox One, and even play better than the originals to boot thanks to higher framerates and upscaled resolutions, but even so it's far from being the kind of quality a proper remaster would bring.
One of my personal favourites, Republic Commando, could make for an amazing remake if handled properly - bringing the graphics up to date, adding some extra polish and smoothing it out to fit more modern shooters, and fixing up the online component (it was an original Xbox game after all) would easily warrant a purchase from me. If it sold well, it could also set up the sequel we never saw despite tons of interest and rumours - there is already plenty of material to work with for a follow-up given the series of books based on the game, and a developer like say, Respawn, could turn this kind of material into a massive hit.
Remakes of unique titles like Rogue Squadron and Knights of the Old Republic have been clamoured for by fans for years, yet we've yet to hear even the faintest of rumours about any of the classic Star Wars games being remastered. Collections could also easily be released - Knights of the Old Republic I and II could both be remastered and released as a single bundle, with the Jedi Knight, Rogue Squadron, and Force Unleashed series all begging for the same treatment.
These kinds of projects are inexpensive, low-risk (especially given the prestige the originals hold in the gaming community, and with so many examples of remasters in recent years making money even on less popular series) and could provide a steady stream of revenue for the license for a solid chunk of time as different titles are completed and released. It's simply asinine that a company as big as EA hasn't realized this or done anything to capitalize on it (and Disney shares the same incompetence in this regard).
EA's Battlefront III
After the Battlefront II microtransaction debacle that plunged their stock and severely hurt the title's sales, a third entry in EA's reboot of the classic Battlefront series may seem risky.
Frankly, both games ended up being quite good - they captured the look and feel of the Star Wars universe to a tee and recreated some awesome battle scenes with impressive scale for multiplayer matches. The second one of course was hampered by EA's ridiculous and malicious microtransaction scheme, essentially strong-arming players into dropping extra cash on the full-priced title and even giving players who spent extra money advantages over other players.
But DICE is a capable developer and if you played Battlefront II a few months after release, you'd know it was a fun and solid shooter worthy of your time and even offered plenty of extra downloadable content free of charge. Unfortunately for the developers, it was too late to bring back the players EA had chased off with their crippling greed.
For a third entry to be successful, and it definitely can be, EA needs to earn some goodwill back from the fans. Step one would be to announce, very clearly, that there will be no microtransactions or loot boxes anywhere in the game, ever. That should be stated not only by EA, but written in big, bold letters in the reveal trailer for the game. Acknowledge your mistakes and take major steps to improve and fans will welcome you back, time and time again.
Of course it would still be acceptable to allow cosmetic only microtransactions (ie., different character or weapon skins that have no impact on gameplay), but if they really want to win over fans and make up for past indiscretions, they're going to have to eschew them altogether.
The other thing a sequel absolutely must have? A redone version of the original series' campaign. Give us the holographic battle map. Give us classic conquest battles in sprawling environments with solid AI combatants, and proper space assaults where we can hop in and out of TIE fighters and X-Wings to have dogfights outside of a Star Destroyer, only to land inside and take down the ship from within on foot. We had this back in the early 2000s; why this wasn't replicated in the rebooted titles I have no idea.
Given how late we are in the console cycle, Battlefront III would obviously release on next-gen consoles - this would be perfect given the promise of incredibly fast load times and massive memory expansion. If DICE wants to make an instant classic, having a massive battle in space only to then take your damaged starfighter planet side and continue the battle on foot, with no loading screens in between, would be a surefire way to do it. And that is the kind of potential that's being promised with the next advance in console technology.
Even with the new hardware at their disposal, DICE will definitely need to improve their Frostbite engine - while it can certainly create beautiful games, loading times for all of their titles (even the latest Battlefield) are long and every game released on the Frostbite engine (including by other developers using it) always seem to be riddled with bugs and glitches. Part of this is of course on EA for their strict adherance to certain release schedules rather than giving developers ample time to give games the amount of polish they deserve (as shown by updates fixing many of these things in the months after titles launch), but DICE seems to be a particularly bad offender.
For Battlefront III, the priority needs to be releasing a fully-featured, expansive, and polished game. EA as a whole needs to learn to stop setting firm release dates so far in advance and rigidly sticking to them, particularly when a game is nearing launch and is still dealing with a lot of bugs - if a game is buggy, delay the release a few months. We've seen this plenty from other publishers over the years and should that final product be good, it suffers no lost sales because of it, and in fact can even be more successful thanks to that extra layer of polish.
Enough with the half-baked and rushed games EA - release the game when it's good and ready.
Star Wars: Pod Racing
Star Wars is a franchise practically made for videogames. From the lightsaber duels, force powers and unique environments that easily translate to action/adventure games, to the deep mythology and assortment of characters and races that make for a perfect RPG setting, to the blasters and sci-fi tech that create awesome shooters. You name a genre, and you can create a compelling Star Wars title in it.
Of course flight simulation is a natural fit for Star Wars - EA's Battlefront II somewhat limited but nonetheless great use of aerial dogfights have already shown that EA is capable of delivering some solid TIE on X-Wing action. A fully-fledged Rogue Squadron remake would be amazing, but that's covered already by the first project I recommended.
Instead, let me turn your attention to the racing genre. Star Wars has a history there too - pod racing.
Although Episode I wasn't exactly adored by fans, it did offer some fun additions to the universe, the best of which of course was pod racing. It's no surprise the movie's racers made it into videogame form, and gamers who had a Nintendo 64 or Dreamcast back in the day will fondly recall the aptly named Star Wars Episode I: Racer game.
Featuring a bunch of tracks and all of the racers shown in the movie, Racer was a big hit at the time and was even remade (unofficially) on the PC by fans just recently, with the use of Unreal Engine 4. But instead of a remake, I propose a different approach: kart racing.
Kart racing has been a popular sub-genre of videogames since Super Mario Kart came out some 27 years ago. Featuring simplified driving mechanics, powerups, boosts, and even vehicular combat, kart racers are simple fun that can be picked up and enjoyed by anyone. Pod racing would make a natural fit for a more graphically impressive, high-tech sci-fi kart racer.
Picture this: players can create their own unique pod racer, choosing from a series of different types, components, cosmetic add-ons, and paint jobs (or let players design their own paint job) which can be unlocked as you earn experience by winning races. You could have components offering different perks and upgrades as well as you progress through the game. All of the pod racers from the movie/N64 game would of course be recreated here, in addition to newly designed ones using the game's customization systems.
The core gameplay would combine responsive racing and lively tracks set in a variety of Star Wars locales with pickups typical in a kart racer, such as speed boosts, weapons to fire at opposing racers, mines, and more.
Rather than using an overly cartoonish style common with kart racers, the game would take a more impressive visual style more in common with the old game - essentially it would be the best of both worlds. A modern racer with incredibly unique and cool-looking vehicles and special effects, with the ubiquitous appeal and simple fun offered by kart racers.
It's a ridiculously simple way to rake in piles of cash. How nobody at EA has thought of it yet I have no idea.
A Star Wars Action/RPG
Personally, I'm not a fan of turn-based RPGs or any RPG without a fun, responsive combat system (sorry Witcher fans, but The Witcher 3 is the most overrated game ever made and you'll never convince me otherwise). The Knights of the Old Republic games were beloved for a reason however, and I can appreciate the effect they had on games and how popular they were even if I don't like playing them personally.
A deep, story-driven RPG set in the Star Wars universe is an easy sell and frankly I'm a little perplexed as to how, after having the Star Wars license for over 6 years, EA has yet (that we know of) to task BioWare with either a remake of Knights of the Old Republic or an entirely new Star Wars RPG story.
If you don't know, BioWare was a once beloved game developer and the creator of the first Knights of the Old Republic game way back in 2003. Later on they were acquired by EA and continued to churn out quality titles - they are the studio behind acclaimed titles like Baldur's Gate, Dragon Age, and one of my own favourite series, Mass Effect.
In the last few years however they seem to have lost their touch - aiming to start a new trilogy, Mass Effect Andromeda bombed thanks to its plethora of bugs and glitches (the odd talking animations were definitely not good for a series that involves a lot of dialogue) despite having great combat and more recently, the very highly anticipated Anthem completely shit the bed thanks to a horrendously buggy launch, a weak story, and more loading screens that you could imagine. I'm not saying the downward trajectory is only because of EA, but since they started making BioWare use their Frostbite engine (as most of EA's studios do) which is by no means tailored to the kinds of game BioWare is making, they have launched horrendously buggy messes (not to mention all the games-as-a-service crap shoved into Anthem at the behest of EA's executives).
A return to the developer's roots could be just what the doctor ordered (and a more friendly engine - perhaps Unreal Engine 4, like Respawn used to create Fallen Order in a third of the time it took Bioware to create the glitchy mess Anthem?).
BioWare's history with RPGs is extensive and as the originator of the KOTOR games they're more than qualified to handle a reboot or an entirely new action RPG with an original story. As their most popular series demonstrates, they're also more than capable of delivering great gameplay to coincide with a deep RPG system: Mass Effect has a brilliant combination of real-time combat and deep RPG mechanics and choices.
An ambitious RPG combining the established Star Wars universe with the mechanics and systems of Mass Effect would be incredible.
The possibilities are endless - letting players choose a wide variety of play styles and character types could create a world with tons of replay value: a bounty hunter class could use a range of technology, blasters and explosives in combat; a force-sensitive class could equip players with a lightsaber (and upgrades for a dual blad or twin sabers, like Fallen Order) and force powers, as well as a choice of aligning themselves with the Sith or Jedi to unlock different ability trees (or even cross over like so many characters in Star Wars have?); a smuggler class meanwhile could focus on stealth, speed and guile.
The potential for a massive hit and a chance for BioWare to prove they still have what it takes should be more than enough to greenlight the project. Just please don't turn it into another Anthem.
A 1313 Revival
Oh Star Wars:1313, what could have been.
A game set in the seedy underbelly of the serie's iconic Coruscant, players would have played as fan-favourite Boba Fett in a gritty third-person shooter/action game featuring tons of unique weaponry, upgrade systems, and platforming in an impressively cinematic title. Full body motion capture was being utilized and LucasFilms was heavily involved in the creation of the title, alongside the renowned Lucas-owned CG studio ILM.
Named after an underground area of Coruscant teeming with criminals,1313 ignited the gaming world when it was revealed at E3 back in 2012. It was arguably the most ambitious Star Wars games ever and as gameplay videos slowly trickled out, it became the most anticipated upcoming game in the world.
While we ultimately didn't get to see too much of it in action, the footage we saw was impressive to say the least, and the promise of playing Boba Fett in a dark, M-rated game was a Star Wars fan's dream.
Development continued on the ambitious title after E3 as rumours swirled around the potential sale of George Lucas' empire. Soon enough though, the writing was on the wall: in September of 2012, the president of LucasArts (and 1313's director) quit and the company was placed on a hiring freeze. While the studio continued work on the game, it was all for nothing as in April of 2013, LucasArts was shuttered and all projects terminated.
The best Star Wars game ever pitched was relegated permanently to the minds of its forever-waiting fans.
But that doesn't have to be the end: Disney has the source code. Disney has all of the development material, the story, the script, the concept art. Why not put it to good use?
The game was deep into development and as it was using the Unreal Engine (the third iteration as UE4 wasn't released yet) it would be much easier to bring the work that was completed into a modern engine than most any other source code. A good development team could pick up the ball where LucasArts left off, delivering their ambitious vision. They could even throw some money at the game's former director, who now works for Epic Games, to step back in and lead a team to complete the most mourned cancelled game of all time.
While EA has a lot of development studios under its umbrella, and many are very talented, the only studio I have utmost confidence in to deliver a superb game every outing is Respawn, and this has their name all over it. They clearly have a knack for cinematic games as shown by both Titanfall 2 and Fallen Order; they just released an amazing action/adventure title with plenty of platforming, and their roots are in brilliant shooters, which combine to form the type of game 1313 was aiming to deliver; they also deliver some of the best narrative experiences in gaming, which is of course one of the core tenants of 1313.
EA could completely turn around their horrible image in one fell swoop with a Respawn-led 1313 release. Revive the most anticipated title to ever get cancelled in gaming history? Check. Deliver another epic Star Wars journey, this time with a dark, mature tone that fans have been clamouring for for years? Check. Restore faith in your brand and your licensed titles by listening to fans and giving them what they always wanted? Check.
If EA and Disney want to make real money in the lucrative gaming market, they've got all the tools to do so. It's just up to them to wake up and give the fans what they want.
I have spoken.