There's tons of hype for Bethesda's upcoming Xbox and PC sci-fi game, Starfield, which is set to release later this year. With its endless procedurally generated exploration opportunities and the long list of things to do, this single-player adventure is shaping up to be a literal game changer that provides the broadest range of freedoms we've ever seen in an open-world game up to this point. I was initially all hyped up for Starfield, but as I see more about the game, the more I feel myself distancing from it.
However, Star Wars Outlaws is also on the way to PC, Xbox, and PS5, and with each new trailer or reveal I see my excitement grows. It's got a lot in common with Starfield while also being nothing alike. For instance, your playthrough is influenced by your decisions, there are factions to join, open-world planets to explore, stealth and shooter mechanics, deep-space dog fights, and more. But the more I learn about the two games, the more it's looking like Outlaws will fulfill my sci-fi solo desires better than Starfield can.
1. Starfield looks big... TOO BIG
As I sat and watched the beginning of the Starfield Direct earlier this year, I was absolutely awestruck. So many awesome new abilities and the wide swath of mechanics enticed me with their open-world freedom within this procedurally generated galaxy. But as the video continued, I was confused as my initial excitement started to turn into anxiety. I'm a bit of a completionist, so a seemingly never-ending number of things to complete in a game is stressful.
Meanwhile, the creative director of Star Wars Outlaws has already explained their upcoming sci-fi game has a "manageable" approach to open-world freedom. This specifically means that the worlds are "handcrafted" and built with purpose rather than being procedurally generated and far too expansive. That way, I can get lost in exploration, but not feel like I'm being drowned by too many possibilities.
2. It's the world (galaxy) of Star Wars
OK OK OK. We all knew this had to be in here, right? So, I'm getting it out of the way. Star Wars has massive appeal already for a host of reasons. Despite how much the last set of films tainted the series for me I can't help but get excited at the prospect of playing as new characters and taking on the role of a scoundrel.
The last several Star Wars games have focused heavily on the Jedi side of things, which is all well and good, but I'm starting to get Forced-out. There are so many other stories to tell, and we haven't really even had a good Star Wars game from the role of a criminal in a very long time. So, the fact that Outlaws is set to dive into the criminal underworld feels fresh and exciting for Star Wars fans like me.
Meanwhile, Starfield's brand new world (or galaxy) is an unknown. Sure, Bethesda Game Studios is celebrated for making some of the best open-world games ever made like The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim and Fallout 4. But it's also had some serious missteps. I'm really hoping Starfield will be fun to play, but there's always the chance that it could be a huge bust. And since there's no established lore already to suck me in, I'm not nearly as excited to explore Starfield's space and characters.
3. I need a focused plot to draw me in
So far for me, the problem with games that rely on procedural generation is that they don't always have the most interesting plots to keep me playing. Obviously, there are plenty of people out there who don't need a strong overarching narrative to get them coming back to a single-player game for more. However, I am a self-professed story gamer and quickly lose interest if there isn't an engaging plot to keep me going. This being the case, I'm afraid that Starfield might not capture my attention for very long.
Meanwhile, Outlaws focuses on a character and plot that's already grabbed my interest. Kay Vess is a female Solo of sorts, a criminal living in the time between the The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. It's an exciting period in Star Wars history, seeing as the civil war between the Rebels and the Empire is going so hard that criminals are getting away with a lot and finding lucrative dealings on both sides. This fact no doubt plays into aspects of the game's main heist and adds more depth to the dangers Kay faces.
She and her companions are set to pull off the biggest heist in the Outer Rim and will need to work with various syndicates and dodge Imperial attention if they're to be successful. It sounds like a high-stakes story filled with possibilities for expanding Star Wars lore. Not to mention, it will let me live out the scoundrel life of my dreams in a detailed and refined story without allowing the world to overwhelm my drive.
4. Outlaws looks like it's inspired by classic Star Wars: Dark Forces games
Back when I was just a kid, my older brother brought home Star Wars: Dark Forces and popped the CD into our beige 90s computer. I watched him play through it and then I followed suit. I later went on to play every game in the series. It helped develop my tastes in games and I've measured several single-player adventures against the Dark Forces ones to some degree.
The now non-canon story followed Kyle Katarn, an ex-member of the Imperial Army who turns Rebel smuggler and sets off on a wide range of infiltration missions to ruin the Empire's plans. He eventually becomes a nuanced Jedi in later games, but in the first game, his missions revolve around shooting, investigating previously unseen parts of the galaxy, and interacting with the criminal underworld without the use of the Force. Sounds kind of like what Kay does in Outlaws.
Several fans even speculated that an Outlaws character named Jaylen might actually be Katarn using an alias since the two look very much alike and wear the same kind of clothes. However, Ubisoft just recently confirmed in an interview at SDCC that Jaylen is an all-new character (thanks ScreenRant). Despite this, it feels like Outlaws is taking cues from Dark Forces and feels somewhat similar to it.
The developers at Massive Entertainment have already stated in a behind-the-scenes video that they looked to older concepts surrounding the Star Wars universe when making the game and characters. In that way, Kay looks like she embodies the spiritual nature of Katarn. She doesn't like to play things by the book. She's a bit edgy and adroit but cocky enough to be funny. Plus, her opening story doesn't seem to revolve around being a Jedi, much like the initial Dark Forces game didn't.
This opens up the Outlaws' story to explore new locations and relationships like the Dark Forces games did. And yes, I know that Massive Entertainment already said that Tatooine is in the game (we can't get away from that overly-visited planet since it's so iconic), but we also know that we'll get to at least explore a brand-new location on an arid moon known as Toshara, which functions as a wretched hive of scum and villainy that any scoundrel fan will want to visit. I can't wait to see what's in store.
5. I want to be able to move on to other games
I'm the kind of person who likes to complete all of the big single-player releases that come out the year they come out as they come out. But when a massive game absolutely capitalizes all my time and never seems to end, it prevents me from moving on to the next big game. Admittedly, I do have an ever-growing backlog of games that I don't think I'll ever actually get to. However, being stuck in the middle of a game with no end in sight when upcoming games catch my eye adds a silly amount of stress to my plate.
How many hours of my life will I spend playing Starfield before feeling closure from it? Can I feel a sense of accomplishment and completion or is that not possible? Will it just wear me out with open-world fatigue? Very possibly.
This is how I felt about Bethesda's magnum opus, Skyrim; it was fun at first, but I spent so much time playing without really making a dent that I finally had to tell myself that I needed to just put it down and move on. Not surprising since completing everything in the game tends to require 230+ hours of your time. But even now, thinking about Skyrim makes me feel unfulfilled knowing I didn't complete it.
Those of you who played the 60+ hour Assassin's Creed Valhalla also know what I'm talking about. Since Outlaws is being published by Ubisoft you might think it could fall victim to the same length issues as the latest games in the AC series. However, creative director Julian Gerighty has already implied that Outlaws won't be drawn out or overwhelmingly long due to its "manageable" open-world approach.
Gerighty explained, "So it is absolutely not a 200 or 300-hour epic unfinishable RPG. This is a very focused action-adventure RPG that will take people on a ride and is very manageable."
Now, game length isn't a problem for some people like one of my good friends who tends to only purchase one or two games a year and plays the crap out of them over and over again. So, I fully expect people like him to get the full bang for their buck when it comes to Starfield. However, for a gaming journalist like me trying to keep up with the industry, a never-ending game feels like a slog that prevents me from staying on top of things. So, a not-too-long game with a notable end like Outlaws is more my speed.
6. Meaningful relationships
Starfield will give us the chance to romance and even have sex with the NPCs, join factions, collect creatures, and possibly make other relationships as well. True, we currently don't know a ton about the various characters you can interact with in Starfield, but it's been my experience that games with a wide selection of romanceable characters and interactive NPCs tend to have shallow, low-stakes dialogue compared to games with more focused, story-driven relationships. Meanwhile, we've already got a good idea about the depth of some of the character relationships in Outlaws.
No Star Wars story would be complete without a fuzzy creature and a droid accompanying the main character and Outlaws keeps up this tradition. Nix, a rare cat-like creature known as a merqual, acts basically like an extension of Kay since players can tell this adorable gremlin to perform various actions like sneak off and press buttons or solve puzzles. It's got huge eyes and a Toothless-like head thanks to its wide smile and axolotl ears, which also make the creature endearing to me already.
But it's clear that Nix and Kay have a special bond of trust as demonstrated in videos by how Nix watches Kay's back and how Kay allows Nix to play with a small purple ball she pulls from her pocket. I can't wait to see more of their interactions. Meanwhile, I highly doubt any of the creatures you can collect in Starfield will have these same kinds of playful exchanges.
Aside from that cute creature, there's also the aforementioned Jaylen who seems to have a rocky friendship with Kay but knows her well enough to board her ship unasked and offer her a job that, if pulled off successfully, will make it so "[she] will never have to look over her shoulder again." There's a story waiting to unfold between the two of them and I can't wait to see how they are acquainted.
Then there's ND-5, a battle-hardened droid who fought in the Clone Wars and accompanies Kay on her heist. He hasn't been shown off too much in trailers, but his somber tone seems to add an interesting contrast to Kay's flippant personality. Not to mention, his connection to the Clone Wars opens up several possibilities for his connections and personal history. There's a massive gash on his chest and I'm sure at some point Kay will learn exactly what happened to him.
7. More pressing consequences to your actions
Much like Starfield, Outlaws also has various factions and allows you to make choices when interacting with NPCs. For instance, Kay can choose to align with the Hutts or betray them. Upsetting NPCs can even make it so that a bounty is placed on your head. Of course, bounty systems have been in both Ubisoft and Bethesda games for a long time now. But Outlaws seems to be providing a way to make your alliances carry more weight.
In addition to general like and dislike among criminal factions, a player's decisions in Outlaws determine how aggressive the Empire is toward Kay. In other words, gaining more notoriety can make it so that passing Storm Troopers or other members of the Empire are likely to attack. This might even cause certain sidequests and main quests to play out a little differently. But the added pressure of having criminal groups upset at you as well as the Empire adds an extra level of complexity to Kay's choices.
To infinity and beyond!
I'm honestly looking forward to both Starfield and Star Wars Outlaws, but I've got a feeling that the latter's "manageable" approach to open-world freedom will be more enjoyable for me. Starfield is looking super vast, like Skyrim on steroids, and it makes me feel overwhelmed just thinking about it.
That's why I'm more excited for Outlaws. I'll be able to explore space and various worlds before knocking the game out within a respectable amount of time. Plus, the more focused plot and deeper relationship between me and the NPCs I meet will give me a reason to get excited and keep coming back for more. Plus, it's a star war.
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Self-professed gaming geek, Rebecca Spear, is one of Windows Central's gaming editors with a focus on Xbox and PC gaming. When she isn't checking out the latest games on Xbox Game Pass, PC, or Steam Deck; she can be found digital drawing with a Wacom tablet. She's written thousands of game guides, previews, features, and hardware reviews over the last few years. If you need information about anything gaming related, her articles can help you out. She also loves testing game accessories and any new tech on the market.
Rebecca wrote, "the problem with games that rely on procedural generation is that they don't always have the most interesting plots to keep me playing." I partially agree with that. This is why I'm one of CDPR's biggest fans: I think they strike the PERFECT balance (for my tastes) between open world RPG and tight story.Reply
I also think that Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is one of the best CRPG games ever created, largely due to the tight story and character relationships you are hoping for in Outlaws -- so there's good precedent for that in a Star Wars game. Skyrim and Fallout 3 were probably better overall, but only because they were much newer. The Witcher 3 is the first game I played since KOTOR that I thought was just a hands-down better RPG, independent of age.
However, with more dialog than Skyrim and Fallout 4 combined, and knowing how Bethesda tends to focus their dialog to plot-relevant speech, I think it's a stretch of an assumption that Starfield does not have a compelling story. Freedom to do things outside the story doesn't detract from the story. If the game provides a tight, compelling interactive narrative, I don't think it's fair to hold against it that there are ALSO other things to do, unless the criticism is really just on storage space that it takes up or how long you had to wait for the game to release, neither of which are really criticisms of the gameplay.
I also don't think it's reasonable to resent a game for providing too much value in terms of length. Yeah, I suppose you might see a 3.5 hour movie and say, "I wish it had only been 2 hours," but that's really a function of the story being told and generally indicates that the movie wasted your time. If it's a full experience that whole time, then length is not a problem. And open-world RPG's, unlike movies, let you go at your own pace. If you just want to focus on the main story and ignore the side quests, you can do that and crank through the game in a few dozen hours.
If you are saying you prefer casual games to epic open-world RPGs or just really like Star Wars games for all the lore, that's fine and fair, but that doesn't mean Starfield is not a good (or great) game for its genre.
It may turn out that Starfield is a disappointment -- not released yet, so we don't know. But I worry when reviewers criticize a game for giving players too much. That discourages game developers from building epic, massive, open-world RPG's, which happen to be my favorite genre.
Bottom line, IF Starfield delivers on what they have shown off, then being huge makes it the best value in gaming. Contrast that with the good Sony-exclusives: I loved some of the Uncharted games, but they are short little snippets of games compared to the big multi-platform games. Starfield, on the other hand, is a multiplatform-scale game as an exclusive.
lotta fair points here, i feel kinda fatigued with these massive crazy games (which i call ubisoft effect), it's funny that today we've had headlines about how AC mirage is *shorter*, and that's being heralded as a good thing. there are times when i do want games to be absurdly huge and endless though, and todd howard games is absolutely it. the interactivity of the world is just unlike any other game available on the market, and thus more immersive to me in general. totally appreciate how that's not everybody's cup of tea though. im super hyped for both games.Reply
honestly the only thing that's holding back starwars outlaws for me is that it seems to only be launching on ubisoft connectReply