Things haven’t been so great for Star Wars games lately. Granted, this morose feeling is really only hovering over a single game. The entire tail end of 2017, it felt, revolved around the loot box-fueled disaster of epic proportions that was EA’s Star Wars: Battlefront II. A general public awareness of loot boxes as an issue led to controvery after controversy for the wave of AAA releases in October – November, and Star Wars: Battlefront II sat at the top of the mountain. That was mostly due to how blatantly “pay to win” the loot box system was. The game sold under expectations, was trashed by players and critics alike, and even government bodies got involved with potential anti-loot box legislation. But are Star Wars games in trouble? Not if Respawn can help it.
Respawn is the Little Engine that Could in AAA video game development. Formed after an ugly breakup from Activision by founding members of Call of Duty dev Infinity Ward, Respawn appeared in 2010 and brought Titanfall to the world. Titanfall was met with tons of hype, and people loved how it played – essentially peak Call of Duty with more advanced movement options and mech suits. The game ultimately ended up in bargain bins, largely attributed to not having a campaign. Titanfall 2 happened, with a campaign, and the same thing happened… likely because it was dropped between a new Call of Duty and Battlefield.
A few years ago, we learned that Respawn was roped into EA’s Star Wars deal, and the developer has been working on a more action-packed shooter for EA, while DICE worked on the more military-like Battlefront revival. Then, in 2017, Respawn was actually purchased by EA, where so far it has retained its identity. Along with the Star Wars game, Respawn is working on another Titanfall as well, ostensibly with stronger backing from EA now that the two have merged. In a recent earnings call, EA noted that Respawn’s Star Wars project is likely going to release between April 2018 and April 2019. Fiscal calendar stuff, of course.
But what’s EA going to do now that the combined phrases “EA and Star Wars” are currently knee-deep in gamer rage? Obviously EA can’t back up or back out – there’s tons of money already tied up in a brand like Star Wars, and answering to Disney shareholders on top of your own is likely an actual living nightmare for EA executives. Keeping one set of rich, clueless bloodsuckers is difficult enough, now they’re dealing with an extra set of folks who looked at (RIP) Visceral’s now-canceled Star Wars Uncharted-like game and asked where Chewbacca was.
Respawn’s Star Wars will come out on time, and it will likely resemble Titanfall and/or Call of Duty in some shape or form. It will be fast-paced, arcade-like and potentially full of wall-running and stuff like that. That’s all conjecture, but Respawn seems to be focusing on filling a niche, and that niche is run and gunners with extended verticality. This is actually a big chance for Respawn to finally land a hit, especially if the same juice it poured into Titanfall 2’s praised campaign goes into Star Wars.
Gamers are a fickle bunch, but ultimately it doesn’t take much to earn their good will back. As mad as everyone is about Star Wars: Battlefront II, all it will take to earn that fanbase back is dropping a solid game with less predatory microtransactions. Truthfully, the brand is in no danger at all – people are far too eager to haphazardly throw money at anything with a stormtrooper in it. These games are no different – while Battlefront II fell under expectations, those were ridiculous AAA expectations, meaning the game still sold several million copies. Respawn just has to be Respawn, and chances are it’ll nail it.
What EA and Respawn do have to worry about is taking the conversation history and not burying themselves under more loot box controversy. The heat on that won’t go away any time soon. EA also needs to put more into supporting Respawn’s Star Wars than what ended up happening for Titanfall. The release date needs to make sense, and maybe not go right up against more established franchise shooters. Also, Respawn needs to have enough creative freedom to make another homerun campaign. Nothing in game development is simple, but if the cards are set on the table in the right order, Respawn is just the ticket to salvaging the partnership between Star Wars, EA, and all the nerds out there who desperately want a good Star Wars game.