It's incredible to me that the last Lego Star Wars game came out in 2016. This was Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens, based on the first game in the new trilogy. For whatever reason, the other two films never got their own games - I just assumed that was because nobody liked the films that much. The truth is, developers TT Games have been working on them all along, albeit as part of Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, a mega-game including all nine mainline films in the franchise.
It's been in development for a while, and has been delayed several times, allegedly resulting in extensive crunch. It's finally coming out on April 5th, but having played about an hour of Episode IV, this is not the Lego Star Wars-ing I remember. The plots are the same, of course, but much of its mindless minifig bashing has now been swapped for... over-the-shoulder third-person shooting? I feel a great disturbance in the Force.
I still kind of think of Episode IV as Episode I, to be honest, but it's the one from the 70s - you know, with Luke all on the moisture farm hearing the call for adventure and the Mos Eisley cantina and that. I did the whole bit on the rebel ship where Leia records her message for Obi Wan and wellies Artoo and Threepio down to Tatooine, then a bunch of side missions on the planet, before running around the hub areas. These were the desert around the farm, and Mos Eisley itself.
In short, it felt like the best version of the Lego games you loved when you were younger. The first thing you notice is that the game is now very shiny and very high def compared to the older Lego games of yore. Thems are some sexy bricks. The earlier movies have been totally remade, and there are more visual gags, more character-specific powers to solve puzzles with, and more collectibles. The Skywalker Saga levels have multiple routes - for example, in one bit Leia finds a corridor full of Stormtroopers, and can choose to build a fire extinguisher or a turret gun. The latter allows you to waste the guys, and the former opens up a side path so you can sneak by and then open an airlock (to also waste the guys). This also dings an achievement for doing a unique thing hidden in the level, each level having three.
The levels also have nooks and crannies that reward exploration with jokes or collectibles. I found a weird little camp suggesting there was a stowaway on the rebel ship, and in the desert of Tattooine there were a couple of Jawas who'd set up a football game. As well as the hidden Minikits that add up to new vehicles, every level has Kyber Bricks that you can use as a currency to upgrade character abilities to have longer or greater effects. You need a force user to levitate stuff (and to score in that football game), Luke can dress as a Stormtrooper, and - my favourite - some aliens have side missions for you but you can't speak to them unless you're controlling a protocol droid. That's cool! And there are very many more of these that I didn't get to play around with. Jedi have a bunch of mind trick stuff they can do, for example.
It's maybe a sad indictment of how jaded I feel about Star Wars in general these days, but I enjoyed the hub areas way more than the story levels. It was just fun leaping around and riding on improbably large alien beasties and finding secrets. Some dudes had found an abandoned house but it was locked - the key must be nearby! So I explored and found the key. A little robot wanted protection from Jawas as it travelled over the desert, and at the end it opened a secret cave door with a new minifig unlock. Another desert cave had a Kyber Brick inside, but it was too dark to see inside. Then I found a torch outside! There are lots of these little gleeful moments of discovery and delight.
But possibly the other thing that felt kind of off about The Skywalker Saga is that it's just kind of a third-person shooter now, and this is most evident in the story. This is in some respects good, because the camera in the older games was a sort of weird mix of side-on and isometric and it was often difficult to navigate or tell what was going on properly. There are also some cool things that have been added around the combat, such as Han having a special ability to see what stuff he can dead-eye to set off an environmental trap.
It's not like it's the first time you've shot baddies in the Star Wars Lego games. I'm not opposed to destruction and mayhem - one of my favourite things about the Lego games is that you're actively encouraged to just destroy everything in sight, with your little minifig characters running around with flailing arms like malfunctioning robots.
But that third-person camera, and the new emphasis on combat... it made it feel like an actual shooter, and that threw me off a bit. It's just weird to be routinely headshotting Stormtroopers in a Lego game. And you should headshot them, btw, because that makes their helmets fly off and then they're easier to take out. This game even has waist-high cover, for Pete's sake.
Despite this, I still really enjoyed what I saw, and would play more. But every time I got someone down my sights I kind of thought, "That's not very Christmassy", you know? But then I thought about it and realised this is probably designed for core Star Wars fans i.e. 38-year-old parents who want to play this game in front of their children, if not with them, so a third-person shooter makes sense? May the Force be with you.