I’ve avoided many of 2020’s big games because they’re simply too big. Titles like Watch Dogs: Legion and Ghost of Tsushima, with their huge maps and endless quest lists, feel like part-time jobs. But while I appreciate my freed-up nights and weekends, I miss the specific cadence of open-world action games: that distinctive combination of pitched fights and methodical, low-stakes scavenging. And the new virtual reality game Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge comes surprisingly close to offering a compromise — or it would, if there were more of it.
Galaxy’s Edge was developed by Lucasfilm effects studio ILMxLAB, creator of the Oculus Quest launch title Vader Immortal. Where Vader Immortal was an interactive cinematic roller coaster (and not in a bad way), Galaxy’s Edge is more open. It takes place in the wilds of Batuu, the setting of Lucasfilm’s Galaxy’s Edge attraction at Disneyland and Disney World. Your character, a droid mechanic, has drawn the ire of the local Guavian Death Gang. Between chats with a level-headed cantina bartender named Seezelslak (voiced by Saturday Night Live alumnus Bobby Moynihan) and a slightly twitchy droid dealer named Mubo (voiced by Matthew Wood), they have to explore Batuu and defeat the Death Gang using their blasters and some helpful flying remote droids.
ILMxLAB built Galaxy’s Edge for Facebook’s Oculus Quest 2 headset. Like a lot of Oculus exclusives, the game shoots for what I’ll call “AAA vibes”: graphical fidelity and gameplay options reminiscent of huge PC and console titles, but designed for a lower-powered mobile console by a comparatively small team on a ridiculously tight timeline.
Consequently, Galaxy’s Edge plays like the demo of a game about five times its size. It’s got fast travel but only between a half-dozen locations, including the cantina and Mubo’s workshop. It’s got a crafting system but only one craftable item. If you craft that item, you can access a separate mini-story within the game, framed as an epic tale from Seezelslak. But it’s barely the length of a side mission. I played through virtually all of Galaxy’s Edge in maybe four hours — less than half the length of Spider-Man: Miles Morales, another recent take on short open-world games.
ILMxLAB has announced a second installment of Galaxy’s Edge for next year. And to be blunt, if you’re looking to really sink into a virtual world, you should wait for this one to grow. For now, it’s an interesting experiment: a studio squeezing a particular genre of giant game into an extremely compact package.
Galaxy’s Edge basically keeps the aesthetic of a high-budget open-world game but dispenses with any kind of statistical or mechanical progression. It features no weapon or character upgrade system and a single unlockable power: there’s a jetpack that lets you reach high places, and midway through the game, it lets you hover slightly higher. Blasters can’t be recharged, so you spend the entire game killing Death Gang soldiers and stealing their weapons, which come in a handful of variations. You’re given a multitool to help solve mechanical puzzles and repair your combat droids, but the puzzles get only slightly more complex over the course of the game.
The combat system feels a little clumsy and under-tested. Among other things, the droids get destroyed so suddenly that repairs are mostly useless, and the interface — which consists of pulling guns and equipment off your body — kept me accidentally grabbing the wrong device. (A few placements are especially awkward if you shoot left-handed.) Games like Half-Life: Alyx have set a high bar for well-designed VR shooting, and Galaxy’s Edge doesn’t clear it.
But Galaxy’s Edge puts a welcome focus on the rhythm of shooting and exploring. Its narrative rewards — even small ones like finding collectibles — feel richer because they’re not competing with a mechanical grind. Without any upgrades to help you out, there’s a real sense of accomplishment when your combat skills improve. Meanwhile, the disposable weapons keep you constantly looking for new equipment.
Galaxy’s Edge is one of very few modern action games where your character just doesn’t really get more powerful, sitting alongside indie titles like the bullet hell game Furi. In an experience that’s otherwise jam-packed with features despite its short length, that’s an interesting and elegant decision. The contemporary games that Galaxy’s Edge clearly evokes are structured around tech trees and incremental upgrades. But powered by the simple fun of VR shooting, Galaxy’s Edge is arguably better without them.
How long would this formula stay satisfying? Almost certainly not the 20 to 60 hours I might spend on a non-VR open-world game. ILMxLAB has framed Galaxy’s Edge as something you play for its story, but the game’s plot isn’t as focused or compelling as Vader Immortal’s. And despite solid voice performances from Moynihan and others, there’s no standout character like ZO-E3, the droid voiced by Maya Rudolph in Vader Immortal. The story taps into players’ affection for the Star Wars universe, but it doesn’t expand that universe in a very memorable way.
Ultimately, though, that doesn’t matter because I don’t want to spend dozens of hours with Galaxy’s Edge. I want a small slice of an expansive-feeling world... just not one that’s quite this small.
Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge is out on November 19th for Oculus Quest and Oculus Quest 2.