After finishing up the latest episode of The Mandalorian, I slipped on my Oculus Quest 2, loaded up ILMxLAB's Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy's Edge, and was immediately thrust right into the world I was watching on my TV. It was one of the most uncanny pop culture experiences of my life. And it was a reminder of the power of virtual reality to deliver a genuine sense of presence. I wasn't just playing a game -- I was standing in a dirty spaceship, chatting with a sassy Droid and so close to living the Star Wars life I've always wanted.
Vader Immortal, ILMxLAB's previous VR series, was a classic narrative told across three episodes. Tales from the Galaxy's Edge — which launches today on the Oculus Quest store for $25 — is something different. Taking a cue from the Disney theme park of the same name, the game is focused on immersing you in the universe of Star Wars and giving you the freedom to play it however you like.
You play as a lowly Droid repair tech who gets into a skirmish with the Guavian Death Gang (as one does), and finds shelter in a cantina on Batuu. Once there, you can wander as you see fit. Play a game of darts, chat with the barkeep Seezelslak (played by SNL's Bobby Moynihan), or explore the wilds of Batuu. I spent several minutes just drinking in the atmosphere, like the porgs strewn throughout, and the out of place '50s era jukebox. But eventually, Seezelslak mentioned that he could tell me a story if I brought him enough ingredients for a drink. So off I went, blasters in hand.
You'll be using those blasters quite a bit through the game, it turns out. You're not a powerful Jedi, so you have to rely on less civilized guns and accessories, like remote droids and thermal detonators. Think of it like Rogue One -- you're stepping into the shoes of someone who doesn't normally star in a Star Wars film. While the game aims to give you a sense of freedom, the areas throughout Batuu are fairly linear hallways. You'll walk a bit, round the corner, and be confronted with a variety of enemies over and over again.
It's not the truly open Borderlands-esque experience I was hoping for, but the game is still a pretty compelling VR experience. Enemies aren't exactly smart, but I enjoyed hiding behind pillars (while physically doing so in the real world) and trading blaster fire. It's nice to have a variety of ways to wipe them out, and you can use your jet pack to perch yourself on high spots as well. You can holster up to two guns, though that's not always necessary since enemies always drop their gear as well. You've also got a multi-tool for solving the (admittedly basic) puzzles.
Tales from the Galaxy's Edge looks fantastic on the Oculus Quest 2 as well. It's a far brighter and more colorful game than Vader Immortal, and the headset's improved resolution made everything look sharper. (And yes, you can play it just fine on the original Quest.) Its excellent sound design and score, led by Battlestar Galactica composer Bear McCreary, genuinely made me feel like I was starring in my own Star Wars film. And an eventual appearance by C-3PO (voiced by Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 cemented the experience even further.
For most players, the highlight of the game will be the Temple of Darkness, the story Seezelslak ends up telling you once you collect his drink ingredients. During that 15-minute tale, you play the role of Ady Sun'Zee, a Jedi padawan who lived during the High Republic era. I won't spoil much of her story here, except to say she eventually needs the help of Yoda himself, voiced by Frank Oz. While short, I appreciated at least having one portion of the game where I could use a lightsaber.
According to producer Alyssa Finley, ILMxLAB plans to release additional stories for the title -- it's called Tales from the Galaxy's Edge, after all -- with the next arriving next year. They'll also appear as bar conversations, which gives the studio the freedom to let you inhabit new characters without building an entire game around them. It's an intriguing concept, though I hope the future tales are longer than just 15 minutes.
As much as I enjoyed it, Tales from the Galaxy's Edge doesn't make as strong an impact as Vader Immortal at first. That game lets you regularly use a light saber and encounter one of cinema's greatest villains. It's meant to be a great way to show off the potential of VR for newcomer. Tales from the Galaxy's Edge is more of a second course, one that can show experienced VR players a new way to tell immersive stories.