Star Wars Outlaws Hands-On Preview – A Gunslinging Romp

See my Vess.

Star Wars Outlaws emerged as the big standout surprise of last year’s Ubisoft Forward. I can’t claim that it carried with it the new hope for the state of Star Wars video games because, well, Respawn’s Jedi series does exist. And while the stories of Jedi’s Cal Kestis and Outlaws’ heroine Kay Vess might share the very same galaxy far, far away, their experiences promise to be worlds apart and that’s the most exciting thing about Outlaws for me. 

Save for older shooters like Battlefront and Dark Forces, which also deliver on unique perspectives, the Jedi, along with their trusty lightsaber and ties to the Force, have been the constant in just about every Star Wars game out there. In a world where Han Solo’s cocksure charm is a thing, it’s a source of constant surprise that it has taken this long for a “scoundrel” like Han to be represented—outside of a dance floor, that is. 

But that’s exactly what Kay Vess is. She’s Star Wars’ brand new rascal who’s being pulled in all directions, good, bad, and indifferent, all in the pursuit of a better life for her and Nix. Her inexperience in the scoundrel caper makes her the perfect avatar for the player as they plunge into the game’s underbelly to rub shoulders with the galaxy’s most dangerous criminals all while looking for that last big score that might set her up for good. There’s a relatability to that, the want for a better position in the rat race and, so far, that comes through in Kay’s quick-witted charm. 

Having gone hands-on with three distinct missions from within the Outlaws story, it feels like several games rolled into one. There’s a stealth game that places importance on infiltrating strongholds while overriding locks with a Dataspike, there’s a bombastic action-shooter that falls in line with the fundamentals of Massive’s The Division franchise, there’s a rad dogfighting game full of spectacular low-orbit skirmishes against gorgeous backdrops, and there’s a crisp platforming game that feels like a “something borrowed” from Respawn’s Jedi, a sort of sister franchise for Outlaws. Most staggering of all, there’s a level of polish and production poured into each of these elements most games could only hope for—it truly has the aura of an expensive game. 

And while there might be a big galaxy to explore, the three campaign missions on offer were all linear and to the point, each focusing on the above features. 

With the team’s pedigree, it’s no surprise that the gunplay is pretty on point. It, at times, feels loose and apprehensive which speaks to Kay’s tenderfoot beginnings as a gunslinger. Outlaws is, for all intents and purposes, a western space opera and although you can’t duel bounty hunters, Kay can harness her adrenaline to hip fire on a few unsuspecting enemies not unlike Red Dead’s Dead Eye. Although you’re able to pick up half-spent guns from fallen enemies in the field, your blaster really is your best friend in Outlaws as it plays a lone hand in Kay’s limited arsenal. Fortunately, mods can be installed to it throughout the adventure to stretch out its use, both in combat and exploration. By unlocking upgrades for both your hand cannon and your speeder, you’re able to open up previously inaccessible locations much like your standard Metroidvania. The minimalist, one-weapon approach paid dividends for Control’s service gun a while back and I do expect it’ll work out just fine here. 

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I expect I’ll own him in plush form one day, but Nix really is a phenomenal companion to Kay. After all, she’s got his best interests at heart, too. He isn’t just cute, however, and really is rather versatile in the field. The left bumper serves as a catch-all call to action for Nix and highlighting certain things in the environment gives context-sensitive options for what the critter can do, whether it’s lifting a key card from a trooper’s pocket or setting off an explosive trap. One thing is certain, he’s a handy member of the team and was especially helpful during ‘The Relic’, a mission that tasks you with slipping in and out of a Crimson Dawn syndicate with a sought-after curio. 

While it mightn’t deliver on the nimble piloting found in something like Squadrons, with all of the pitch and yaw that comes with that, taking the Trailblazer out for a traipse across the stars feels like being uncaged. While you can quick turn on a dime, it’s hardly an exercise in twitch reaction timing. Sadly, the skybox I experienced felt more like a blank canvas than one splashed with life and opportunity, plus the old girl can handle like a bit of a shopping cart from time to time. The dogfights, as they are, are fine, it’s the exploration aspect that feels a little bit toothless. 

The flying might lack total satisfaction, however setting the ship back down on a planet’s surface from orbit is such a cool feature. Similar to Starfield, you select a landing spot and watch as the ship barrels through the troposphere to touch down on-world. It’s simply a clever and novel mask for loading times but I don’t care, the illusion it gives of seamless space-to-soil transit is worth it and the John Williams-esque orchestral swells punctuate the high-fantasy of these moments.

At this point, and with an admittedly limited sample size, I am not entirely sure what to make of the level design. The wrecked High Republic cruiser you explore highlights some concerns I have, from the infamous paint-splashed ledges suggesting distrust in players to work out the optimal path through to the relatively mundane objectives throughout. Where other adventure games might turn kickstarting the heart of a starship a trial unto itself, all Outlaws demands is the flipping of a few switches. It fell kind of flat especially when bookended by thrilling setpieces. 

But again, that’s a specific example from a level designed to spotlight the game’s platforming. It doesn’t nullify the fact that Star Wars Outlaws is an enormous, varied medley of action tropes and, against all odds—never tell me the odds, by the way—Massive doesn’t miss in delivering an unbelievable level of polish. After some dark times for those at the cross-section of the Star Wars and video games fandoms, we’re so fortunate to live in a time where we’ve now got two franchises that just get it right.

Brodie was a guest of Ubisoft with travel and accommodation covered for the purpose of this preview.