Preview: LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga
Despite dozens of licensed LEGO games releasing over the last 15 years, a lot of people still hold the LEGO Star Wars games in high regard as the best ones in the series. Part of that is no doubt because they were the first to use the familiar formula, so the excitement it brought before it got stale leads to a bit of bias. But there’s also the great sense of humour it had with its pantomime cutscenes, and all the hidden areas and secrets to discover in the games. And they were simpler — anyone could easily pick the game up, regardless of their gaming skill, and have a good time with it. The LEGO series has evolved since then, and to some people the addition of new mechanics and open worlds might veer too far away from the simplicity that brought them to the series in the first place. To those people, LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga might be a bit off-putting, because it’s by far the biggest evolution of the LEGO formula to date. While I only got to experience about an hour of its A New Hope section, it’s clear that someone was screaming “MORE!” like Kylo Ren during development. While it does feel a little excessive in some areas, it also adds a lot more depth to the gameplay.
The gist of the LEGO games, if you haven’t played one before, is that you play through the events of various movies using the unique abilities of each character in the cast to solve puzzles. The combat was rarely much more than button mashing, with the focus being on unlocking new characters so that you could go back to previously completed levels to find hidden areas and collectibles using their arsenal of abilities. Along the way you witness a comedic spin on the movies’ stories, with scenes like Darth Vader explaining he is Luke’s father with gibberish grunts and a family photo. What’s exciting about The Skywalker Saga is that it makes all 9 episodes of Star Wars into your playground, providing you with levels and open hubs based on each one.
My demo started off with Princess Leia and Wedge Antilles trying to get the Death Star plans off of their ship, by smuggling them in the memory banks of the droid R2-D2. The level was split into two parts — a more action-focused segment with Leia and Wedge, and a more puzzle-focused one with R2-D2 and his companion C-3PO. What was immediately clear is that the combat, an oft-criticised part of the LEGO games, has been majorly improved. Characters wielding firearms can now go into a free-aiming mode, allowing them to make more precise shots. You can defeat enemies faster by aiming for the head, and if they’re wearing a helmet then you can knock them off with a well-aimed shot. You can use the environment to your advantage, as well. Some parts of the level will allow both you and the enemy to take cover behind makeshift LEGO walls, which can be blown up into beautiful LEGO pieces. Enemies will take the time to rebuild destroyed cover, providing an opportunity to hit them while exposed. There are also gas tanks you can shoot off their hinges, causing them to fly around the room like a Looney Tunes cartoon before blowing up and taking down anyone in the vicinity. That person could be you, if you’re not careful. I can’t confirm that this happened to me, but I can confirm that it’s hilarious. With everything getting blasted to bits and stormtroopers running about with their helmets getting blasted off, the battles felt much more dynamic and engaging, rather than something you just mash your way through.
The puzzle section was more traditionally LEGO Star Wars, with C-3PO and R2 using their abilities to solve puzzles rather than fight. Although they can actually fight now, which I’m torn on, because having characters who couldn’t defend themselves was really funny in the original LEGO Star Wars games. Threepio can still be disassembled during battle, though, and you actually have to piece him back together, which was great fun to try and do during the thick of battle. This was where I started to feel how much ‘more’ there was to everything. The droids can fight, and their hacking is no longer done at the press of a button – it’s a minigame now. This did lead to a great Deus Ex-like scenario where Threepio hacked some turrets on the ship to mow down some Imperial soldiers.
I started exploring the menus some more too, and found things like a skill tree that you can use to get upgrades (some affecting specific classes of characters like bounty hunters getting money for defeating enemies, and some more general upgrades that let every character move faster) and optional objectives you can complete (separate from the usual Minikit puzzles, which return) to earn Kyber Bricks, which are the replacement for the Gold Bricks from previous LEGO games. The True Jedi status has been changed too, now having three different levels you can reach with different amounts of money earned in the level that each reward you with a Kyber Brick. It’s hard to gauge how this will feel in the long run but I’d be lying if it wasn’t a bit intimidating to see all this in a LEGO game, something normally known for its simplicity. I do appreciate the team trying out new things though.
While I didn’t get to replay the level with a big cast of characters to see what they could do in there, it did seem like it was designed with a similar mentality to a lot of the more modern LEGO games, where the story levels have more of a focus on set pieces and action while the exploration and optional areas to discover are delegated to the open hubs outside of the levels. And let me tell you: it’s very easy to get sidetracked in these — I spent the bulk of my session here and so only got part-way through the second level before my time was up. I saw two hubs, one set in the canyon around the Lars moisture farm and another around the infamous hive of scum and villainy, Mos Eisley. The canyon hub was a bit smaller and felt more in line with the hubs from games like LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens or LEGO Jurassic World, whereas Mos Eisley was more like a chunk taken out of the open world-style LEGO games.
Both hubs were fun to explore, with nice verticality and plenty of hidden nooks and crannies to poke your nose into. There are quests and puzzles scattered about that can reward you with Kyber Bricks or extra characters and vehicles to use in Free Play mode and, of course, plenty of things to smash in order to get more LEGO studs to buy things with. In between levels there’s also segments of story placed within the hubs, like C-3P0 and R2 making their way through the Tatooine desert or Luke and Obi-Wan getting past a stormtrooper by telling him these aren’t the droids they’re looking for. More recent entries in the series have blurred the lines between the story levels and the hubs like this, and it helps keep the levels focused on more exciting parts.
Speaking of Obi-Wan, using the Force is so much more fun now. You can pick objects up and move them around freely, and even throw them at enemies in the middle of a fight. I was having more fun than I should have just picking up rocks and droids and then yeeting them into the distance like Team Rocket. Sometimes in puzzles you’ll also need to move objects about to fit them together, rather than just holding a button and watching them go like magic. Lightsabers in combat seemed about the same as usual, but reading some of the ability descriptions in the skill tree made it seem like there’s more to the melee combat that I hadn’t seen yet. Characters in general have a lot more they can do, and sometimes it can be a bit confusing working it all out. In the second level it was telling me to use Han Solo to interact with a specific mechanism and I didn’t really get why. These things are usually signposted in some way, but perhaps I missed a tutorial pop-up of some kind.
The new mechanics added to The Skywalker Saga make it feel more like a traditional action-adventure game, but the LEGO heart is absolutely still there. There’s plenty of great gags in the story, like Darth Vader taking over the intercom of the Tantive IV and pretending to be the captain, or Obi-Wan’s reaction to Luke asking how his father died. And for LEGO Star Wars purists who’ll be turning on the option to turn all the dialogue into nonsensical grunts, there’s still a lot of visual gags in the cutscenes that will work without the dialogue. Another nice touch with the cutscenes is that they’re now animated in more of a stop-motion style, similar to The LEGO Movie, playing up the fact these are toys re-enacting the movies. My biggest concern with the game is that all the additions might bloat things a bit too much and make the experience intimidating for more casual gamers who usually play LEGO games. But what I played was super fun and shows the TT Games team really pushing themselves out of the confines of their usual formula.
Editor’s note: The version of the game that was exhibited for preview was on Xbox, not Switch, and as such, this preview omits mention of performance or Switch-specific features. We’ll be sure to cover these details in our review.