You know a franchise is big if people are nostalgic for a spin-off crossover product getting its own loving re-imagining.
When LEGO Star Wars first launched, no one could’ve imagined the series stretching all the way to 9th gen hardware. After years of honing its craft across a myriad of games, Traveler’s Tales has returned to its roots. This time around, with a brand new engine and design philosophy.
Boasting dozens of open worlds, hundreds of playable characters, and all nine Star Wars episodes, The Skywalker Saga is set to be the biggest game in LEGO history.
Shame that all that ambition crumbles under the weight of some sub-optimal design choices.
What am I talking about? How could a LEGO game not be a slam dunk at this point? I mean, sure, we’ve had totally unnecessary LEGO tie-in games, but LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens was amazing enough to rank in BLG’s top-rated Star Wars games. So what led TT Games from crafting one of the best LEGO games in years to such a middling mess?
Well, there’s a whole demoralizing, harrowing report by Polygon regarding the studio’s turbulent last few years, to start. You can really see the scars of development hell. Certain set-pieces, such as the new podracing course and speeder chase on Passana, feel as though they never quite left the beta stage.
The engine swap means certain features that were handled brilliantly last time, like the shooting and vehicle combat, are only a close approximation at best. They lack the spark they once had, leaving a gnawing sense of how much better this game should be given the talent behind it.
That’s the fundamental issue with The Skywalker Saga. It’s rarely bad, but it’s never quite the exceptional, jaw-dropping thrill ride TT Games is known for. They’ve done things with the Star Wars IP over the years that far exceeded the creativity of those helming the films. Which is why the sheer mundanity of LEGO Star Wars’ latest is so perplexing.
LEGO Star Wars V: The Search for More Sidequests
LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga is technically about playing through all nine central Star Wars films. All DLC currently announced is just additional character packs themed around spin-offs, so it’s safe to assume what’s in the box is all we’re going to get. As such, I really have to ask:
Why on earth is the majority of this game nothing but sidequests that have next to nothing to do with the films?!
First, there are the fetch quests for recovering a number of items or that require destroying five to ten items, or that require going to another planet to fetch something before you can open a door.
Then there are the races that can sometimes take under ten seconds to complete. There are also dogfights against the same cluster of enemies with no variation or unique environment to fight around.
And it doesn’t stop there, they’ve also thrown in super basic puzzles that often rely on fetching the puzzle items by bashing the environment a ton.
There’s also Capital ship boarding – okay, to be fair, this one is at least novel the first time you do it, but even it has a formula. Or, worst of all, the more elaborate platforming sequences that are more likely to frustrate rather than entertain.
All of those issues? That’s LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga. That’s most of the game whenever you’re not in a specific story mission, and even then, several sub-objectives borrow mechanics from these sidequests. It’s a walking, talking checklist that would do a Ubisoft open-world sandbox proud.
There is, without any question, vastly more content here than in virtually any other LEGO Star Wars game. It’s the depth, humor, and novelty that take a substantial hit.
You’re Bricking Mad
It’s not all to waste. A vastly improved melee combat system offers a Devil May Cry-esque suite of moves but is just as easily button mashed by younger players. Being able to use a mouse in addition to your keyboard on a PC is miraculous at improving control fluidity.
Though there are a few areas where players will find some friction, the overall flow of the gameplay has never been better. This is the LEGO Star Wars gameplay as you imagined it as a kid, rather than what was achieved at the time.
The variety of stages and sandbox environments is equally fantastic. Navigating Naboo is a wholly different experience than, say, Tatooine, Kamino, or Takodana. Though the side content is repetitious, they do at least offer different types depending on where you’re at. Playing as a villain is far more useful aboard a Star Destroyer than a Jedi, for instance. A few levels bring back the split teams mechanic from LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars for good measure.
A Class Act
Character classes are now much more distinct as well, with dedicated upgrades to invest in. These range from foundational, like a combat support probe droid, to utterly pointless, such as the scavenger having the ability to use… different colors for their gadgets. The core skill tree is what you’ll want to invest the most in with the game’s new collectible, Kyber Bricks.
Kyber Bricks replace the Power Bricks and other collectibles of previous games. Other than the odd Datacard used for bonus Extras like stud multipliers and a few keychains for some vehicles, Kyber Bricks are the majority of what you’ll collect. There are over a thousand of them. Minikits are barely a factor, only appearing in the handful of scripted levels.
To be fair, it’s not unusual for some moments from the films to be purely cutscenes or merely a fraction of a larger level. What’s more unusual is having only the cliff notes versions of each movie in what’s supposed to be the “BIGGEST LEGO STAR WARS EVAR.”
The pitch before launch was that the open worlds would allow for the smaller moments to sprinkle in organically. Outside of moving exposition to when players are running around and a few smaller moments like going to Dexter’s bar, the sandbox levels are divorced from the main narrative.
I really tried to find some of the rock-solid storytelling that LEGO Star Wars is known for. The Freemaker Chronicles and LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens were honestly two of my favorite Star Wars stories in a while. Despite consistently great voice acting for most of the episodes, the Skywalker Saga falls flat in this regard. The sole exceptions are Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. These campaigns have memorable uses of the open world as well as narrative tweaks that make for a better journey. Particularly with, of all things, Anakin and Padme’s romance.
You’d think that maybe this was for the humor of it all, but it’s not that either. Some jokes are uproariously good, but others are just… bland. They can change in style enough that I have to wonder if each episode had its own separate creative team. Mumble Mode, a much-requested feature, didn’t really offer any additional humor beyond the initial novelty.
The humor isn’t the only inconsistency, as there’s a peculiar shift in what’s “acceptable” for a LEGO game. Just a few years ago, LEGO characters could give a peck on the cheek and face – and if not die, then something equivalent occurred to get them out of the story. There was tension to it all, real stakes alongside a cavalcade of laughs.
LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga meanwhile restrains itself over necessary story moments only to make some scenes darker. One death is played out heavily for humor, while others are skirted around. A previously poignant scene to Kylo Ren’s depth now just turns him into an a-moral, unrepentant jerk that conflicts with his overall arc.
I’m not asking for Mass Effect here, just a clear through line. If the Skywalker Saga was nothing but a loving parody with jokes for young and old fans, I’d be on board with that. If it was a kid-friendly director’s cut of the saga, trimming the issues, adding depth where needed, and streamlining the journey, I’d be down for that too. Or even the surprisingly story-heavy focus of the LEGO-ified Force Awakens. Any one of these would work, but flip-flopping constantly isn’t ideal. I never knew what to expect. Some scenes would land great, while others were an absolute mess.
A Pile of Potential
That’s LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga to a T. Everything is messy. Never truly great. Maybe part of it was the engine swap – the third-person shooting and vehicle controls don’t quite feel the same either. Things feel less Star Wars and more Disney Infinity-esque.
Other times though, it’s purely artistic, like looping the same song from a soundtrack at a location, no matter if it fits the tone of casual exploration. Or how you can go from gorgeously framed scenes to flat, lifeless framing in the same story beat.
Reviewing this game made me feel like I was losing my mind. Every now and then, it’d get so good that I’d think maybe it was turning a corner. Then it’d do something mind-boggling again, and it was like I stepped on a LEGO brick. Which isn’t getting into the instability issues, with some glitches requiring a restart or really finagling the mechanics to keep progressing.
I love that you can use the sandbox environments to achieve things in ways other than the developers intended. It’s one of the few positives to the shift in design philosophy. Those sorts of solutions shouldn’t be a necessity though. There are also several AI bugs, and some loading screens going upwards of two to five minutes despite other levels loading seamlessly that were far larger. There are a few LEGO blocks out of place under the hood. Even an early patch that was only 2.9 megabytes large ended up necessitating reinstalling 30 GIGABYTES of the 41 of the base install.
I can’t understate how much I was looking forward to LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga. After the amazing burst of creativity during TT Games’ last outing into Star Wars, it’s just so disappointing I have to spend more time parsing apart the tangled mess of design. There’s a lot of love in this game, it just takes considerable patience to get to the good stuff.
The lore nods, the in-jokes that only absolute mega Star Wars nerds will get. They even worked in a Willrow Hood mission!
The Skywalker Saga is many things, but lazy isn’t one of them. Rather, it’s tragically both under and overcooked in the wrong ways. It does enough right for you to get something out of it, but nothing warrants actually going for 100% completion. That might sound perfectly fine, but for a TT Games LEGO project, that’s a weird place to be.