Update (Jan. 16, 2019): Following reports that EA canceled another Star Wars project — said to be the one that Visceral Games had been working on — we’ve amended the story with the current status of EA’s Star Wars slate, as of January 2019.
Electronic Arts announced in October 2017 that it would close Visceral Games, after deciding to reshape the studio’s Star Wars project from a traditional single-player adventure into “a broader experience.” The publisher’s explanation is couched in ambiguous language, but the big takeaway is this: Visceral’s intended Star Wars game was story-focused and linear, at a time when open-world multiplayer campaigns with varied gameplay are the games du jour.
We knew little about Visceral’s take on Star Wars, other than the name of its director — Uncharted veteran Amy Hennig — and its proposed style of gameplay. But aside from the booming Star Wars Battlefront franchise, Visceral’s untitled Star Wars game remains the one EA has shown off the most from its ballyhooed licensing deal. And four years into said deal, that’s saying a lot.
Electronic Arts first hooked up with Disney back in May 2013, at which point the companies announced three Star Wars titles in the works: one by DICE, one by BioWare and one by Visceral Games. No further details on any of those games were given at the time.
BioWare continues business as usual
BioWare had the benefit of already working on Star Wars games when this deal came through. The studio cut its teeth on the license, in a sense; among its most popular titles are Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and its successor, Star Wars: The Old Republic. The 2011 online game launched after EA purchased BioWare, making it the publisher’s first taste of the Star Wars property.
While not explicitly stated at the time, it seems as though BioWare’s inclusion among the three studios named in EA’s Star Wars deal at the time was in reference to the studio’s current work on the franchise. New content for The Old Republic is released on a near-annual basis; BioWare has developed expansions every year since EA and Disney began its partnership.
If BioWare plans to deviate from The Old Republic and move onto something new, it has yet to make that apparent to Star Wars fans. One game down, two to go.
And then we got Star Wars Battlefront
EA revealed DICE’s project one month later, during its E3 2013 presentation. Star Wars Battlefront, a multiplayer-only game, launched just ahead of Star Wars: Episode VII in November 2015. While it garnered some criticism for its lack of offline modes and failure to tie into the latest Star Wars film, it was largely a critical and commercial success.
For this November’s Star Wars Battlefront 2, EA Motive joined DICE to help expand the game further. While multiplayer will still be at its core, Battlefront 2 will also have a single-player story mode, which EA Motive is heading up. EA’s spent plenty of time talking it up, which points to the mode as the biggest sign that it listened to negative feedback about Battlefront’s online focus.
The Star Wars Battlefront games remains to this day the only game from the EA-Disney deal to make it to retail. That leaves us with just one of the originally proposed projects unaccounted for.
Visceral’s project comes and goes
In April 2014, EA revealed first details about another Star Wars project in development. This one sounded even more promising than a reimagining of the beloved Battlefront franchise, thanks to a big name attached. Amy Hennig, former Naughty Dog creative director and longtime Uncharted lead, would head up Visceral Games’ Star Wars project.
After that came silence for more than a year, as Hennig worked on the action-adventure game. We heard from longtime Hennig pal and Uncharted star Nolan North for our next drip of information in June 2015. North promised attendees at a convention panel that the game would pull from the Uncharted playbook, as well as that of the canceled LucasArts title Star Wars 1313. Like both of those, Hennig and Visceral’s take on Star Wars was to be a single-player, story-focused action game.
In 2016, EA debuted a brief clip said to be in-game footage from Visceral’s still-untitled project. It came part of a larger package detailing EA’s entire Star Wars lineup — which had expanded to include several more studios since the 2013 announcement. Teams with their own Star Wars projects in development now also included Criterion, Capital Games and, most notably, Respawn Entertainment. (More on that one in a bit.)
In Visceral’s part of the showcase, introduced by Hennig, we got to see a soldier walk out into a bright, desert-like area. Think Tatooine, but with way nicer graphics.
And then? We neither saw nor heard from the game in its initial form ever again. Hennig said ahead of E3 2017 that Star Wars Battlefront 2 deservedly would hog the spotlight at that year’s conference, but that her team continued on with their own work.
This didn’t necessarily trigger any suspicions about the project’s status. Should it have? It’s impossible to say. Whatever was happening behind the scenes is not yet ours to know. Instead, EA has closed the book on the game, more than four years since it was announced. EA Worldwide Studios, led by EA Vancouver, began working on a revamped version of Visceral’s project.
As of January 2019, however, that work may be finished for good. Kotaku reported that EA had pulled the plug on the remainder of Visceral’s Star Wars game, shifting EA Vancouver onto other Star Wars projects.
The company was vague as ever when pressed for confirmation.
“As a natural part of the creative process, the great work by our team in Vancouver continues and will evolve into future Star Wars content and games,” a spokesperson told Polygon.
The game that started at Visceral, according to Kotaku, was indeed an open-world action game, albeit one whose eyes were bigger than its stomach. EA Vancouver is now said to be working on a similar, if much smaller game, due out in 2020.
Respawn enters the action-adventure ring
On “May the 4th,” 2016, Respawn Entertainment announced that it had its own action-adventure Star Wars project in development. The news came as the studio prepped for the launch of Titanfall 2. The mech franchise served as a reference point for director Stig Asmussen, best known for his work on God of War.
EA finally named the project during its pre-E3 2018 conference. It’s called Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, a story situated after Episode III in the franchise canon. It’s due to launch during the 2019 holiday season; we expect the press cycle to kick up any time now and shed more light on the game, especially following the potential shuttering of the ex-Visceral project.
As for Criterion and Capital ...
Criterion worked with DICE to produce a virtual reality-compatible version of Star Wars Battlefront during the franchise’s gap year, back in 2016. Capital Games, meanwhile, is developing mobile titles based on Star Wars.
That makes five Star Wars games (and some expansions) released, one about to launch, and (at least) one in development.
The news about Visceral Games may give some fans or detractors pause about how EA is handling the Star Wars property. But while it’s tempting to make comparisons to the greatly mourned Star Wars 1313 — another promising action-adventure game that very publicly kicked the bucket — for the most part, EA has held up its part of the bargain. Two of the three companies named in its original announcement of the Star Wars deal have released projects based on the series. And if anything, EA has only shown more of a commitment to Star Wars by roping in other branches to work on the license.
Still, it’s disappointing. Here’s hoping that Respawn Entertainment can fulfill the promise of a single-player Star Wars story.
Clarification: Visceral Games is closed, but its project has been shipped off to EA Worldwide Studios and EA Vancouver to begin anew — so don’t expect Visceral’s vision to ever come to fruition.