Star Wars Outlaws aims to be the Han Solo simulator we’ve always wanted

Kay Vess (left), a woman with short wavy brown hair, faces off against a bunch of stormtroopers in an Imperial space station docking bay in Star Wars Outlaws
Image: Massive Entertainment/Ubisoft

It’s time to go scoundrel mode

As I walked down the stairs of the Belasco Theater in Los Angeles, the location of Ubisoft’s Star Wars Outlaws demo event at Summer Game Fest 2024, my accompanying PR person asked me the question I’m sure she asked every reporter who walked down those stairs with her: “Do you like Star Wars?” A simple question, and yet a weirdly hard one for me personally to answer in 2024. Andor was a revelation, yet I still taste the ash of The Rise of Skywalker in my mouth. And so, when I answered “yes,” I forced my brain backward into remembering why I had ever liked Star Wars in the first place.

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As a child, the Harrison Ford fantasy-adventure movies that played over and over in my household were not Star Wars; they were Indiana Jones. For that reason, when my 12-year-old self finally saw Star Wars — previously ignored in the Myers family household — I was flabbergasted. I already thought I had seen the coolest possible Harrison Ford character, and yet here was Han Solo, who was so much cooler that he destroyed my entire barometer for coolness. All future “cool” characters would hereby be measured against him.

As I told this polite, probably bored PR person that story, I realized I was summarizing how difficult of a situation Star Wars Outlaws actually faces. Imitating Han Solo’s coolness is no small feat, and Solo: A Star Wars Story unfortunately showed how difficult it is for somebody who isn’t Harrison Ford to pull off anything close to his alchemical coolness formula. At this point, the whole idea of an open-world Star Wars game in which you play as a Han Solo type is the pipe dream that dorks like me have been claiming they want for years (and it even almost happened once). That means the stakes are even higher — and the couple of trailers we’ve seen for the game have made it look fine, but not great.

Now that I’ve played three 30-minute chunks of Star Wars Outlaws, I have some hope that developer Massive Entertainment can actually pull this off.

Kay Vess’ ship in Star Wars Outlaws, the Trailblazer, engaged in a dogfight with a TIE fighter
Image: Massive Entertainment/Ubisoft

When the demo loaded up, the introductory screen promised me “scoundrel gameplay,” a hilarious phrase that admittedly got me into the right mindset. The first sequence started in an Imperial base, where heroine Kay Vess and her tiny little alien friend Nix are sneaking around. Nix serves a similar gameplay function to the droid companion BD-1 in the Star Wars Jedi games, but has the same lax moral code and ride-or-die BFF sensibilities as Chewbacca.

A little blue circular indicator would appear on screen any time I could call on Nix for help, either to distract an enemy or to pick up a valuable item for me. From moment one of seeing Nix fling his tiny body at a stormtrooper’s face, I fell in love with my badass little buddy. I then took advantage of almost every moment that I possibly could to call upon Nix, since it was a lot cuter to watch him scamper around picking up items for me than to walk over and do it myself. Nix is not exactly a powerhouse in combat given his size, of course, but he can certainly throw off bad guys and grab health packs.

It’s possible I could have snuck my way past this first section, but I’m about as good at that as Han Solo would be (“I prefer a straight fight to all this sneaking around,” as he says). So by the time I reached the station’s docking bay, I had triggered a shootout with Imperial forces. Once my own starship arrived to bail me out, I ran right past the laser fire onto it and flew out of there with the Empire on my heels. Then it was time for some dogfighting. I dispatched a couple of TIE fighters and flew over to a communications satellite, which I then hacked to clear my “wanted” status so that the Empire wouldn’t keep on chasing me around. Mission complete.

in a screenshot from Star Wars Outlaws, Kay and her little alien pet Nix dash away from the viewer, both in partial silhouette, as she fires a grappling hook toward a pole; in the background there’s a massive reactor
Image: Massive Entertainment/Ubisoft

The second 30-minute chunk appeared to take even more significant inspiration from the Star Wars Jedi games, which have their fair share of parkour-based environmental puzzles. Before that bit began, I did get to check out a more densely populated hub area where I could see question marks on the waypoint marker at the top of the screen and overhear conversations with NPCs that probably could have led to side quests. Once I got to the place Kay was told to go, I found an excuse for some parkour and platforming, as Kay took a cue from Nathan Drake (you know, the other character inspired by a Harrison Ford performance).

People who hate seeing convenient yellow paint on various surfaces in order to be able to tell where your character can climb will not be fans of this aspect of Star Wars Outlaws, but as somebody who gets lost in games constantly, I appreciated it. Kay doesn’t have Jedi powers like Cal Kestis, but she has definitely been to the same rock climbing gym or whatever. She also has a grappling hook, plus an electric setting on her sidearm that lets her power up elevators and other devices for puzzle-solving purposes. Almost this entire sequence was enemy-free platforming and exploring, climbing across various hazards to flip switches. It was fine; you’ve played something like this before in any number of third-person action games in the post-Uncharted landscape.

The third and final 30-minute segment of this demo was where I really got my scoundrel on. In this section, I was stealing an artifact — one that had apparently been previously stolen from some other faction, to whom Kay intended to return it. This sequence was far more clearly intended to be a straight-up stealth mission, and I stayed undercover for at least the first few minutes, creeping Samus-style through air shafts and doing silent takedowns of guards until one of them dropped a keycard I needed. Soon there weren’t as many enemies left, and I had noticed some conveniently placed explosive barrels, so I decided to go with a full Han Solo-style shootout (with Nix’s help, as usual). This was significantly louder and a lot more fun. After clearing out the room, I grabbed the artifact, then shot my way out of the rest of the building.

As she walked, Kay had a fun conversation over her communicator with one of her shipmates, a mysterious droid ally named ND-5. What I remember about the conversation was Kay being mocked for assuming that by returning this artifact, she wouldn’t be presumed to be the original thief herself. ND-5 told me I should be “terrified.” Kay responded with the equivalent of “fuck it, we ball.” I didn’t get to see how the rest of the scene played out, but I really liked the whole heist setup, and the banter was refreshingly snappy.

Kay Vess, wearing snow gear, walks away from the viewer through a city on a snowy planet in Star Wars Outlaws
Image: Massive Entertainment/Ubisoft

The best thing about the “Han Solo simulator” concept is that you’re playing as a Star Wars character who doesn’t have a lot of power — no Jedi powers, obviously, but also no significant social or structural power. The actual power fantasy here is being a cool person with high charisma, because that’s really all you’ve got. Well, also a grappling hook and weirdly good parkour skills, but you get where I’m going with this. It’s part of why Andor was an interesting slice of the Star Wars pie; it was about regular people, albeit regular people who became rebels rather than scumbags. It’s fascinating to see what the Star Wars universe looks like at ground level rather than from an epic space-opera vantage point — and that’s what an open-world Han Solo simulator could potentially achieve, provided it has some decent story beats and good one-liners along the way.

Based on what I played, whether you like this game will depend in part on whether you like the Uncharted and Star Wars Jedi games. And yet, those aren’t open-world games, and I didn’t get to see enough of the hubs or side quests to know if Star Wars Outlaws is going to be as sweeping and borderline overwhelming as some other Ubisoft open-world games have been (looking at you, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey).

The biggest responsibility of all — being the Han Solo at the center of the simulator in question — rests on Kay’s shoulders. I’m now very curious to see if she can handle that challenge this Aug. 30 when Star Wars Outlaws is released for PlayStation 5, Windows PC, and Xbox Series X.

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