When LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga was announced, I immediately assumed it would be a retread of older LEGO Star Wars games with gameplay approximations of the The Last Jedi and Rise of Skywalker (the only two film installments without a LEGO treatment). When game director James McLoughlin announced at the top of TT Games’ closed-door E3 2019 presentation that the entire game was a totally fresh experience, I was really surprised!
TT Games is skipping a fresh coat of paint and going straight to a new construction when building the first seven film episodes (LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out in 2016). If you’ve never played any LEGO Star Wars games, here’s the gist: imagine a looser, more lighthearted version of the Galaxy Far, Far Away with collectathon objectives and the ability to switch between hundreds of iconic characters on the fly. If this sounds a bit messy, it usually is, but it’s a lot of fun.
Where The Skywalker Saga changes the formula is turning each film into a standalone experience full of open world exploration. TT Games showed off Return of the Jedi for their demo. After choosing the film from a delightful select menu (complete with animated LEGO dioramas of famous scenes from each silver screen installment), we were dropped into the Millennium Falcon en route to Tatooine.
What we were shown looked like No Man’s Sky made out of LEGO, with the iconic ship speeding toward a growing ball of desert dust. On the way, the Falcon faced what was referred to as “a random encounter” in the form of a Star Destroyer. After making a couple moves against TIE Fighters, the Falcon escaped and headed toward Luke Skywalker’s home planet. On approach, three landing sites were shown on the face of Tatooine, implying that while the sequence is “open space,” there’s a limited number of places to land on this planet (and I’m guessing most others).
Once landing on the planet, control shifted to familiar LEGO Star Wars fare with 3D exploration and collection as one of 200+ franchise characters. The major difference between The Skywalker Saga and previous versions of LEGO Star Wars is a shift in camera perspective. While previous entries would have camera track players from a position and change at various scripted intervals, The Skywalker Saga gives a fully open behind-the-shoulder camera which helps enormously when exploring the surprisingly expansive areas we saw on Tatooine.
Visiting Luke’s family’s moisture farm was a nostalgic treat even as the demo had Lando in full Tamtel Skreej disguise stomping around. Yes, character changing is still here and done on the fly. You’ll have to solve certain puzzles as certain characters, like previous entries. This demo saw C3PO (who can separate his torso from his legs and operate both independently) translate a broken droid (who only said “gonk”) and solve his problem. These puzzles are pretty simple, but appear to call upon lots of Star Wars history to add some charm to the proceedings.
Combat has seen an overhaul as well, moving on from one-hit encounters into a traditional HP meter and combo system. McLoughlin noted that players will discover combos instead of have predetermined and suggested combos, making combat feel more improvised and free. We didn’t see much, only a brief sequence of Luke (in full Return goth regalia) decimating some Stormtroopers with a lightsaber. We briefly saw the new aiming mechanic, which saw Chewie aiming a bowcaster in free-aim up at a Stormtrooper on a cliff. These small-but-noticeable changes in design suggest TT Games believes its core audience is getting older or perhaps just more used to traditional game mechanics.
There’s room for two major Star Wars game releases over the next year, but the joke among many press folks at E3 this year was The Skywalker Saga was the “good” Star Wars game shown at the show (Jedi Fallen Order, of course, made its debut at EA Play the weekend before). Jedi Fallen Order has promise because it’s being developed by Respawn, a team known for frankly stellar work over the past half decade. What’s clear, however, is how much fun TT Games is having reimagining all nine episodes of the beloved franchise. What’s shocking is how different this game feels from previous LEGO games, which might be a great thing considering the volume of LEGO-based titles they’ve released over the past 12 years.
LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga has a 2020 release date, presumably to get past the film release of 2019’s Rise of Skywalker.