Star Wars Outlaws Feels Safe, but Still Refreshing

Star Wars Outlaws plays it safe, but at least you're not a Jedi.

Star Wars Outlaws accounts for a couple of firsts for the Star Wars series when it comes to games. It's the first time that we've gotten a single-player, open-world Star Wars game, and it's the first time in a long time that we've seen someone besides Electronic Arts tackle a game of this scope. And while focusing on something other than the revered Jedi isn't totally unheard of in Star Wars video games either, the fact that Star Wars Outlaws takes this approach works wonders for the game's protagonist, Kay Vess, as well as the overall experience. Kay's refreshing perspective on the expansive Star Wars universe is a welcome one even if Star Wars Outlaws sometimes seems like it's playing things too safe.

ComicBook got to play a slice of Star Wars Outlaws at a press event ahead of the UbiForward presentation this week. The demo consisted of three different missions that amounted to roughly an hour of gameplay. One of those missions was a fast-paced space battle, one had Kay sneaking through an imperial base before finding herself in a shootout or two, and one offered a more on-the-ground look at the game to show how quickly a bustling area could transition into a stronghold waiting to be looted.

With the exception of the space mission where Kay seemed to very much be in her element piloting her ship and blasting TIE Fighters, the other two missions made one thing very clear: Kay is not on Han Solo's level by any means, so put away those comparisons. That's not knocking her either as living up to the name of the first scoundrel that comes to mind when thinking of the grungy underworld of Star Wars would be an impossible feat, so it's best that she sets herself apart early. 


Kay Vess in a shootout in Star Wars Outlaws.


"It's a grounded character who is experiencing the underworld for the first time," said Navid Khavari, the narrative director on Star Wars Outlaws. "This is someone who's a street thief, who literally grew up on the streets of Canto with absolutely nothing."

Khavari continued to stay that, unlike other Star Wars characters in different stories wherever and however they're told, Kay isn't interested in being a part of any rebellion. She barely knows anything about the Jedi, and why should she? With her background and her thieving ways, Kay is looking out for her own best interests (and her those of her companion, Nix).

This sort of character is perhaps what made Star Wars Outlaws seem like it was brimming with potential even if some of the stealthy gameplay segments and stealth sequences felt very familiar. As someone who admittedly only dips into the Star Wars universe every now and then for a new movie or the occasional game, Kay makes for a refreshing change of pace from the ever-hopeful and supremely talented Jedi that frankly get a bit boring to play as. Largely because of her backstory and her frequent quips, playing as Kay felt chaotic and improvisational as if getting spotted by an Imperial was as much as the plan as staying hidden was.

Kay's got a blaster that has two different modes and a insta-stun with a long cooldown, but the scrappiness of combat comes from a bit of cover and any weapons you find along the way. Kay can pick up more advanced weapons like rifles or launchers to use for as long as they serve their purpose and have ammo with guns laying on barricades and tables just as our Rebel heroes from a movie or series would find them laying around in their time of need. The gunplay honestly wasn't too special, but it felt fair and far from spongey with enemies dropping in just a few shots so long as you use the right tool for the job.

But even when I was feeling in-character and viewing Kay's resourcefulness and willingness to improvise as part of the experience, it was still evident that parts of the game's stealthier systems need some fine-tuning before release. Using cover in Star Wars Outlaws largely consists of just crouching behind something while blasters fire overhead, so there's not much to it other than waiting for breaks in fire to return your shots. Similarly, enemies often seem to be just waiting around for you to sneak behind them and knock them out. You can use Nix to cause distractions and put enemies in more opportune situations, but that's pretty much all he could do in the demo. Through skills and whatever other progression systems are in place in Star Wars Outlaws, we'll hopefully see his arsenal and capabilities expanded later to make him more than a point-and-click distraction.


A space battle in Star Wars Outlaws.


The most intriguing part of the demo, however, was the reputation system. Star Wars Outlaws incorporates several factions, some of which are totally new, and they all have their opinions about what Kay is doing and how she's doing it. During two of the three missions, my actions resulted in a popup that signified gained or lost favor with a group and immediately made me recall my recent actions to question who I'd upset and how. Khavari and game director Mathias Karlson assured me in our interview that the faction system won't totally lock players out of experiences, so I could put that worry aside, but I'm interested to see just how deep the reputation trackers go.

Ditching the Jedi in Star Wars Outlaws was the obvious choice with a game like this, but even so, it works well, and Kay is plenty likeable to carry a story alongside her companions Nix and ND-5. Ubisoft is not exactly known for taking great risks with its formulaic Assassin's Creed and Far Cry games among other series, so while comparisons are sometimes unhelpful going into short demos like this one, it was somewhat expected that Star Wars Outlaws would play as safely as it does, at least during the parts I saw. Despite that, however, there's still some rebellious allure to it that makes me want to see more of its story even if we're bound to see some Star Wars tropes and a Jedi cameo or two at some point.