Ask yourself a question: when is the last time you’ve played a good STAR WARS game?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock lately, it’s not hard to notice the deluge of STAR WARS media. Its everywhere, and with another movie and at least 1 upcoming show, there is one area where it’s heavily lacking. Video game publishing juggernaut ELECTRONIC ARTS has had the STAR WARS license since 2013. When DISNEY acquired the rights to the STAR WARS franchise they partnered with EA to give them the rights, exclusively, to make games until 2013.

Death Troopers are the best trooper variation. Courtesy of Electronic Arts

A massive change from the previous glut of STAR WARS games, EA has slowed their production to a trickle. These games don’t even meet the “quality before quantity” statuate. The meager offerings put forth by EA range from merely okay to downright awful. With a media juggernaut such as STAR WARS this seems a little…underwhelming? There used to be a time when the market was veritably flooded with STAR WARS  games, and while they also ran the gamut quality-wise, there were some interesting games. To cover every single STAR WARS game ever released would be completely insane, however I’m going to be talking about some of the stand-outs throughout the years. Yes, there will be Wookiepedia links. No, that’s not a typo.

Star Wars Gaming in the ’90s

Back when I was younger, in the early 90’s video-games were a relatively new thing. We had us a Super Nintendo (SNES) and my dad, ever the STAR WARS aficionado made sure we had all of the SUPER STAR WARS games. These games while not the best were some of my first forays into the digital universe of STAR WARS. Like most older games, these games DID NOT MESS AROUND. Between my dad, brother and myself I doubt we beat them. The games were side-scrolling games, as was popular at the time. You mostly played as Luke Skywalker, blasting and carving your way through levels vaguely reminiscent of the original trilogy. Each game, while totally ridiculous, was challenging and really, the only way to get your STAR WARS fix.

Why is Luke fighting ED-209 from ROBOCOP. Courtesy of LucasArts

Eventually, the older Expanded Universe started to take off, and we saw new games come out which pulled away from the main trilogy. Games like the DARK FORCES series expanded on the mythology of the STAR WARS series. These games were predominantly First Person Shooters and introduced the character Kyle Katarn. Before Disney’s STAR WARS: ROGUE ONE, the DARK FORCES series detailed how Kyle and his partner Jan stole the plans for the Death Star. Under LUCASARTS, in addition to the DARK FORCES series, plenty of other games were released around this time. From the on-rails shooter, REBEL ASSAULT to the first STAR WARS: RACER game and even the movie tie-in game for STAR WARS: EPISODE 1: THE PHANTOM MENACE

The Millennium and Star Wars Game Boom

Around the advent of the Nintendo 64 and the original Sony PlayStation is when the games themselves started taking off. From Pandemic’s STAR WARS: BATTLEFRONT series and it’s fantastic digital battlefields to the continued reign of Factor 5’s ROGUE SQUADRON series. Those two were my first foray into the Expanded Universe. BATTLEFRONT still exists today, however the 2015 and 2017 games are pale imitations of their successors.

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What’s that, you don’t want to play as the Gungans in STAR WARS BATTLEGROUNDS? Courtesy of LucasArts

The DARK FORCES series eventually blossomed into the JEDI KNIGHT series. Made by RAVEN SOFTWARE, both JEDI OUTCAST and JEDI ACADEMY were (and still are) some of the best and most fun examples of light-saber combat ever released. In fact, JEDI ACADEMY still has a community on STEAM to this day.

At the same time, the PC real-time strategy games STAR WARS: BATTLEGROUNDS, EMPIRE AT WAR and FORCE COMMANDER. Both incredibly fun, challenging and well

Lastly, lest I forget, BIOWARE’s STAR WARS: KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC released around this time. Widely seen as one of the best Star Wars games of all time, KOTOR take place 4000 years before the first STAR WARS movie. KOTOR’s massive success left an indelible impact on the world of STAR WARS. It was one of the first games to tell a large, stand-alone story not connected to any existing material.

Clone troopers rushing into battle in the original STAR WARS BATTLEFRONT II. Courtesy of Electronic Arts.

One of the greatest parts about the number of games was the absolute variation of genres. From adventure games, to shooters, to strategy games, arcade games, racers, even a fighting game and a TWISTED METAL clone. The less we talk about STAR WARS DEMOLITION and MASTERS OF TERAS KASI the better, though.

The Massively Multiplayer Era Part 1

Back before WORLD OF WARCRAFT was a bonafide cultural phenomenon, the MMO genre was a mostly unknown. Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMOs) are pretty much what it says on the tin. There is one giant world, and everyone creates a character exists in the same place. Much like normal RPGs you level up, gear up and run dungeons. In the early days, besides some over-all world building, there was very little story.  One of the first big games to breach the public consciousness was Verant Interactive’s EVERQUEST.

A funny moment in STAR WARS GALAXIES. Courtesy of Sony Online Entertainment.

The game promised endless customization and the ability to create your own character and visit your favorite planets. To someone who had never heard of MMOs before, this game absolutely blew my mind. You could be anyone you wanted. Bounty Hunter? Comando? Medic? Hell, you could even forgo combat entirely and focus on crafting, exploring and even dancing (long story with that one.) You could even become a Jedi, but it wasn’t easy, as you can see in that link.

The Massively Multiplayer Era Part 2

For a time, things were great. The game held up its little niche, and even released a few expansions. The first and largest, STAR WARS GALAXIES: JUMP TO LIGHTSPEED, let you have your own space ship. Unfortunately, around the time of the third expansion, a little game called WORLD OF WARCRAFT started gaining popularity.

A Peaceful Spaceport in STAR WARS GALAXIES. Courtesy of Sony Online Entertainment

The studio behind GALAXIES saw this and recognizing the potential juggernaut in the making, decided to change their game. Almost over night, the game itself became a pale imitation of WORLD OF WARCRAFT. These new changes cut down GALAXIES classes from 37 to a paltry 9. You could even start as a Jedi. This eliminated any kind of special feeling of being one, as the Jedi were supposed to be all but extinct. After some time spent like this, the game began to die, and unfortunately in 2011, after nearly 8 years, the game finally shut down. To this day, there are some dedicated fans and numerous emulation projects, keeping the early game pre-changes alive.

The Massively Multiplayer Era Part 3

Wanting to build upon the success of the popular KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC franchise, original creators Bioware created their own MMO. BIOWARE announced STAR WARS: THE OLD REPUBLIC in 2008, and eventually released in 2011. Being touted as the first MMO with full voice acting and a fully fleshed out story for your character, the game was ready to take WoW’s crown. Not only that but as of this writing, it is known as one of the most expensive video-games ever created. Hilariously, and unfortunately, this backfired horribly.

TORtanic, aka THE OLD REPUBLIC. Courtesy of Electronic Arts

While the game itself was a fairly straightforward MMO, it did little to sway people from the phenom that was WORLD OF WARCRAFT. The game started with millions of subscribers and eventually lost the majority of them within the first months. Critics’ major complaints were that despite the “fully voice acted story,” there wasn’t much difference in gameplay from other MMOs. That, and after you beat the story, there was precious little end-game content. For players who take MMOs seriously, end-game content is a big deal.

Neglecting this much content is always a big deal when it comes to hard-core MMO players. While your average player might play for a few hours per day, there is a subset of people who will blow through early game content. Eventually, they did fix many of the complaints, but by this point, the game had garnered enough negative press for it not to matter. “TORtanic,” as it came to be known, still exists to this day. Around November 2012, the game itself went free-to-play, no longer requiring a monthly subscription.

The 2010’s and EA’s Star Wars Deal

After Disney’s acquisition of the STAR WARS franchise in 2013, they immediately granted Electronic Arts exclusive publishing rights to all STAR WARS video games. This was a huge deal because up until now, multiple studios had been publishing games under the LucasArts studio. This enabled multiple studios to work on different games at once. But now that EA is the primary license holder, the once veritable flood of STAR WARS content has been slowed to a near trickle.

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Fighting Boba Fett in STAR WARS JEDI ACADEMY. Courtesy of LucasArts.

The STAR WARS BATTLEFRONT series is one of the few survivors of the old days. EA rebooted and released its version, simply known (again) as STAR WARS BATTLEFRONT in 2015, to relatively tepid reviews. The overall consensus was that the game wasn’t incredibly balanced and was pushed out the door ASAP because of the new movie being released that year. Another major downside of this version was that as the game went on, expansions were released, splitting the player-base.

Hope you like shelling out extra cash to keep playing the game. Unfortunately, the number of expansions released (not to mention the cost) nearly doubled the base cost of an already $60 game. Trying to find a match was a nightmare. This all eventually came to a head when almost every game at the time had a season pass, with multiple downloadable packs. Season Passes and DLC slowly became more and more despised. EA released the sequel STAR WARS BATTLEFRONT 2 not even a year and a half later. Of course, not without its own share of controversy.

Microtransactions, Mobile Games and Mess-Ups

Around the time of BATTLEFRONT 2’s release, the next hot button issue was an increased monetization of games. Known as “Loot Boxes” or simply “Microtransactions,” many games include the ability to purchase skills and boosts with real money. BATTLEFRONT 2 was especially egregious because, in order to unlock weapons and skills, it required a ton of grinding (or playing match after match after match.) You can alleviate this by purchasing in-game crates with either real money or in-game crystals, that you never seemed to earn fast enough.

Players damn near revolted and after a disastrous PR campaign, EA shut off its ability to buy loot boxes. The loot boxes did come back much later, allowing you to purchase cosmetics instead of skill advantages. This seemed to placate the player base, and EA Dice went even further to completely revamp the skill system. They released a road map highlighting the future of the game, announcing a veritable smorgasbord of free(!!!!) content. These new characters, stages and classes are being released for free, not to mention more customization options!

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Imperial Special Forces in EA’s BATTLEFRONT 2. Courtesy of Electronic Arts

Notice how I’m only mentioning the BATTLEFRONT series in this section of the article? BATTLEFRONT is currently the only AAA title released under EA’s tenure. I could link dozens of articles here about all of the revealed and canceled games from the last 6 years. At this point, it is practically a running joke that they won’t release another STAR WARS game. Oh, sure, there are plenty of mobile games (STAR WARS GALAXY OF HEROES, anyone?) But every single time a new STAR WARS game is announced, it’s almost immediately canceled. From STAR WARS 1313, STAR WRS RIVALS and even an untitled galaxy spanning RPG from VISCERAL GAMES.

Looking Into the Future of Star Wars Gaming

The only title still alive seems to be RESPAWN ENTERTAINMENT’s STAR WARS JEDI: FALLEN ORDER. While no game-play has been shown as of yet, it is on track for release later in 2019. Compare what we have now to all of the utter diversity from the 90’s-2010’s. I’m not on team “DISNEY sucks!” because I do like all of the STAR WARS movies they’ve put out, including SOLO. However, deep down in my heart of hearts, I think that giving one company a basic monopoly on a tenet of their flagship franchise was a huge mistake.

It’s absolutely criminal that more studios can’t explore their own corner of STAR WARS’ rich and expansive universe. Hearing about all of the canceled projects genuinely makes me sad that we can never experience them. A small part of me still hopes that FALLEN ORDER will be the game we all want.

Now, if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go back to mourning the death of STAR WARS GALAXIES, and planning my next article about how shutting it down ruined my childhood. Or is DISNEY ruining my childhood? No, just kidding.

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