Star Wars: Outlaws’ Giant Planets Could Be a Giant Problem

No checklists, please.

Star Wars: Outlaws planet vista

Thanks to Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry, Ubisoft helped define the modern open-world game — for better and worse. The checklist fatigue that many players have with these types of games led to the likes of Elden Ring, which eliminated the now-familiar trappings of a “map game” and encouraged a more freeform approach to exploration and mastery of its systems.

Star Wars: Outlaws looks to be another sprawling game from Ubisoft, and while it won't have as many planets as Starfield, reports on how massive the Outlaws’ planets will be have already left me exhausted.

The galaxy far, far away is made up of countless planets, and Star Wars: Outlaws takes place on a collection of the most lawless in the Outer Rim. In an interview with Edge Magazine, creative director Julian Gerighty discussed the size of Outlaws’ planets.

“It’s a crude analogy, but the size of one planet might be [equivalent to] two of the zones in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey,” Gerighty told Edge, “It could be two to three zones. But it’s not this sort of epic ‘the whole of England recreated’ approach.”

While two zones don’t sound immediately unmanageable, the entire map of Odyssey dwarfs previous AC titles. There are single zones that are multiple times larger than Assassin’s Creed Syndicates London.

Gerighty also boasted that the planets will be handcrafted by the development team, as opposed to the procedural generation approach taken by Bethesda for Starfield’s planets. There are currently four planets confirmed to be in Star Wars: Outlaws. Though as we get closer to launch that number may increase.

While some will read Gerighty’s claims and think that bigger must be better, it ignores one of the most tiring trends in gaming — one that Ubisoft is the source of. Open worlds can feel wonderful for players due to the illusion of freedom. See that mountain? You can go climb it! Yet so often these worlds are empty of meaningful interactions for players to engage with.

Bigger open worlds are no match for smarter world design.

Bandai Namco

Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry have addressed this problem by filling their game worlds with endless checklists of tasks. Conquer a fort, climb a tower, find a collectible, find a different type of collectible — the list goes on. While it does fill the map with icons that communicate to the player that there are so many things to do(!) these tasks are repetitive and mind-numbing. Especially so many entries into a franchise.

In the past few years, the backlash to this type of open-world design has led to games like Elden Ring, Breath of the Wild, and Tears of the Kingdom. Tears of the Kingdom and Breath of the Wild share the same map that, like Elden Ring’s, is less than a third of the size of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s map. Yet both of these maps feel more lived in and full of mysteries to uncover thanks to a smarter world design that encourages natural discovery from the player.

Even Assassin’s Creed Mirage, the next title in Ubisoft’s tentpole franchise, is fixing the open-world problem by returning to the one-city style map of the original Assassin’s Creed.

While the promise of exploring multiple planets in the seedy side of the Star Wars universe as an outlaw does sound promising, I don’t want these planets to be needlessly filled with repetitive tasks bereft of meaning in order to make them feel full. At that point, I’d rather explore a single world that actually has interesting things to explore. Let's hope Star Wars: Outlaws is able to capture the magic of the galaxy far far away in all of its handcrafted planets.

Star Wars: Outlaws will release in 2024 for Xbox, PlayStation, and PC.

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