EA’s lengthy exclusivity on Star Wars games is coming to an end, and it’s ending courtesy of … Ubisoft. That’s not a sentence anyone expected to start 2021 with, especially given the last 12 months Ubisoft had. But the director of The Division 2 and the same engine that powers Ubisoft’s post-viral MMO will now be turning their attention towards the Star Wars universe.
So, what exactly could they cover?
The project’s astronomically early in development, so don’t expect to see this in 2022 or even 2023. Ubisoft Massive are still reportedly working on that Avatar MMO, with a whole separate team within Ubisoft Massive dedicated towards Avatar since at least 2017. But since we know what engine is being used, we can at least have some fun by brainstorming what might happen going forward.
First, let’s start with what the Snowdrop Engine has done in the past.
Games made by Ubisoft’s Snowdrop Engine
The Division series has always been the game most people identify with Ubi’s Snowdrop Engine. But it’s been used in a lot more diverse titles than that. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle was actually the second game produced with the Snowdrop Engine, which tells us that it’s perfectly capable of being used for Switch and cross-platform development. South Park: Fractured But Whole — but not the Stick of Truth — was made on the Snowdrop Engine as well.
That’s actually super important, because it means we can draw a few conclusions from this:
- While real-time combat/action is an assumption, there’s functionality for turn-based/more tactical offerings;
- More RPG elements and tools have been built into the Snowdrop Engine than just what’s been seen in The Division series;
- Vehicle combat and exploration has been done before, courtesy of Starlink: Battle for Atlas
Along with Starlink — and its brand of space-exploration combat — the upcoming Settlers RTS reboot is being made on the Snowdrop engine too. Now while there might not seem like an enormous amount of systems that carry over from an RTS to, say, third-person RPG/shooters (like what Ubisoft Massive has traditionally made), knowing that the tech for turn-based RPGs, XCOM-style tactics games, an RTS and giant MMO looter shooters is all within the one engine gives us some room to play with.
Now before we start theorycrafting on the possibilities, it’s worth looking at this quote from Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot:
“The Star Wars galaxy is an amazing source of motivation for our teams to innovate and push the boundaries of our medium. Building new worlds, characters and stories that will become lasting parts of the Star Wars lore is an incredible opportunity for us, and we are excited to have our Ubisoft Massive studio working closely with Lucasfilm Games to create an original Star Wars adventure that is different from anything that has been done before.”
So an “original” Star Wars adventure that’s “different from anything that has been done before”. What could that look like?
An action-adventure in the Star Wars Rebels universe
I like this idea because it fits the framework of The Division really well. You can tell an original adventure or story within the timeframe and universe established by Star Wars Rebels — maybe you’re taking missions from Ahsoka, Sabine or Ezra, or coming up as the next generation of rebels in their stead. It could also be a factional play, where stories are told from either side of the equation and it’s more of an action-adventure with trappings akin to The Old Republic, but with a looter-shooter framework similar to The Division 2.
Either way, Rebels has a ton of potential. And in that vein, there’s also another route that could be particularly interesting…
A modern take on Star Wars: Rebellion
Rebellion was made into a tactics/grand strategy game in the late ’90s, but most recently its success has been through the very good Fantasy Flight board game. Two players/teams control the Empire and Rebel Alliance, with the Empire having a set amount of turns to discover the location of the Rebel home base. They do this by slowly moving from one planet to another, with the occasional Death Star nuking of cultures and civilisations along the way.
The Rebels try to put a stop to proceedings by sending out their heroes on missions, recruiting more followers and planets to their cause. They’re better at diplomacy — not killing cultures makes people like you more, funnily enough — and so they need to remain as active as possible, scurrying around the galaxy for help.
So what happens if you took this base idea — running missions from one part of the galaxy to another, slowly staving off the grand destruction of the Rebel Alliance — but put it into a modern framework, engine and context?
A good parallel here could be the Mass Effect games. Imagine launching missions from a ship or a grand hub, and then dropping in on various planets in third-person and completing various objectives. That could then feed into a grand or strategy-lite layer that unlocks other missions or impacts factional support across the rest of the map. A simple solution for resolving major “battles” could be a giant horde-style mission with a small squad of forces — not too dissimilar from the Star Wars: Rebels approach. But the Snowdrop Engine could also power slightly larger fights, maybe something on the scale of a Star Wars: Battlefront 2 fight.
What would be super cool is if you had that base setup with players able to contribute on both sides of the equation — Rebels and the Empire — and these grand fights effectively played out like large, or at least small scale PvP battlegrounds (8 vs. 8, 12 vs. 12, 16 vs. 16, and so on). The Division 2 has only ever supported four players in a party at once, although the Dead Zone expanded that to 12 players per instance. Even that could work if you’re running small missions — maybe the Empire is doing a raid on a satellite tower to disrupt Rebel communications, and the Rebels have to quickly attack as a party of 6 to save crucial intelligence.
The Division 2 meets Republic Commando
Republic Commando was a solid shooter fun. And while this very direct mashup of old thing plus thing Ubisoft has already made isn’t the most creative, it’s absolutely something that could work in a modern context. There’s a structural question over whether you go Starlink: Battle for Atlas style and venture to multiple planets and do missions in that form, or whether you centre the action on a particular planet and have the entire thing connected, Division 2-style.
Either way, there’d be a huge appetite for a redux on Republic Commando‘s brand of Star Wars adventure. Also, Republic Commando totally still holds up today.
A sci-fi explorer/merchant adventure adaptation of Star Wars: Outer Rim
Outer Rim is another cracker from Fantasy Flight Games, but this board game focuses on the bounty hunters rather than the Jedi or grand politics. You play as one of four mercenaries who bounce between one of 11 systems, completing jobs and earning fame, money and along the way. You’ll run into blockades, gamble your winnings, swap cargo and weapons to other players, play Sabacc, and do some light video game-style quests.
In a lot of ways, Outer Rim takes a ton of inspiration from modern licensed video games. As Luke outlined in his review, its structure is very much that of a Star Wars adventure that has no connection to the current Star Wars stories or plot lines. It’s fun on its own, it’s not complicated by Jedi drama or canon.
So why not take the concept further?
Studios have pitched to make a Star Wars: Privateer style game before. Double Damage wanted to do a “modernised take on X-Wing with all the classic bits” back in 2016. They’re the studio behind the Rebel Galaxy games, so they’ve effectively already made their own Star Wars: Privateer game by now. It just doesn’t have the official trappings, terminology, music, characters…
… OK, so there’s still plenty of room for that. But more of a focus on the smugglers, the scrappy characters within and around the Star Wars universe is something that fans have been screaming for. It’s part of The Mandalorian‘s success (among other things), where the highlight isn’t so much on the clash of empires or the Force, but the factions that live in between it all.
X-Wing or Galactic Battlegrounds, but with more management and less tactics
I don’t think Ubisoft would bet the farm, as it were, on a giant, grand scale RTS. That would be awesome if they did, though. (Maybe it’s something Mike Morhaime’s Dreamhaven could pitch, since Disney/LucasArts Games seem keen on taking more pitches these days.)
But the concept of controlling the Alliance or Empire from more of a management element rather than pure strategy/tactics. The style of The Settlers reboot means a lot of that core functionality has been added, or exists, within the Snowdrop Engine. Retooling that to make it work from a Star Wars perspective could be a hell of a lot of fun, especially if you then throw in the extra layers of characters, cut scenes, grand themes and drama that the Star Wars universe provides.
Going full XCOM could be another option as well. The X-Wing miniatures game with some kind of overarching management layer — something akin to BattleTech — absolutely could work. And if you wanted to do a Rogue Commando or digital spin on Star Wars: Legion where you’re recruiting mercenaries and then assigning them to missions, that’d also be a ton of fun.
Cities: Star Wars Skylines
Cities Skylines is obviously another publisher and another engine entirely, but I don’t know that this one is completely out of the realms of possibility. Think about the simulation and management elements that a game like The Settlers requires. You’ve got thousands of NPCs (according to the official site) that run around with their own jobs, AI systems and objectives. There’s settlement (read: city) management. There’s indirect combat and morale management.
If something like faith and religion is being introduced into the new Settlers, then couldn’t that be retooled to have some form of affinity for the Force? The goods management and supply chain could work in a sci-fi context easily enough too — it’s just a matter of digging the right material out from the Star Wars universe.
As fun as this would be, I also think it’s super unlikely just because it’s the least mass-marketable idea of the lot. City management can be tons of fun but it doesn’t have the mass appeal of a first-person or third-person action-adventure. I don’t think you break nearly a decade of publishing exclusivity for, say, a game where you play as the mayor of Coruscant.
Although, if we’re being honest, everyone would absolutely play the shit out of that.
There’s obviously a huge amount of potential within the Star Wars universe, so it’ll be keen to see what Ubisoft Massive’s original pitch was. Hell, if you have a studio that’s done a lot of work with MMOs, can you imagine what a modern Star Wars Galaxies MMO would be like?
Either way, it’s definitely a project to get excited for. But what about yourselves — what would you love to see a Ubisoft x Star Wars project tackle?
This story has been retimed to coincide with May the 4th.