Disney Interactive may have canceled Star Wars: Attack Squadrons before it even left beta, but the company has bigger and bolder plans for Star Wars: Commander, a new free-to-play combat strategy game released today on the App Store for iOS devices. An Android version is coming in a couple of weeks.
The first thing you'll probably notice about Star Wars: Commander is how much it might remind you of Supercell's chart-topper Clash of Clans. But there are major differences between the two games, Disney Interactive says, the first of which is that you get to choose a side. You can either play as a member of the Rebel Alliance or the Galactic Empire, and the items, story details, and worlds you'll experience will vary depending on your faction choice.
Join the Rebellion and you'll encounter iconic Star Wars heroes like Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Princess Leia. (The movie actors did not record voiceover for the game). Play on the dark side and you'll get to control AT-ATs, TIE fighters, and Stormtroopers in your effort to dominate the galaxy. "What we really did want to do was continue the line of innovation in the [free-to-play combat strategy game] space," Disney Interactive executive producer Nathan Etter says. "We could have just chosen to let people play one side [but] we really wanted to invest, and differentiate the two and really give people an authentic experience across both."
Another element that Etter believes sets Star Wars: Commander apart from the competition is its emphasis on story. "Often, in some of these games, I can't say in all of them, but in some of these games, story isn't really a prevalent piece of the game. But we know we're making a game for a broad audience of Star Wars fans, and story is absolutely essential to them."
Stories in Star Wars: Commander will involve characters that you already know (Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, Darth Vader, etc), as well as new characters that you haven't seen before from the expanded Star Wars universe. Star Wars: Commander soft-launched earlier this summer in markets like Australia and New Zealand, and the response to the story has been positive, Etter says.
"That storyline has been something that a number of the players have remarked upon quite positively and have been excited to see," he said.
The main story for Star Wars: Commander takes place within the Galactic Civil War of Episodes IV-VI. You start the game on Tatooine, but that's only the beginning. Disney plans to support the game with plenty of post-release content (missions on Hoth are one example), as the company considers Star Wars: Commander very much a service--not an uncommon thing in games today.
Since we were already talking about story, I had to ask: is Star Wars: Commander going to be considered canon? After all, Disney and Lucasfilm said back in April that Star Wars games would be considered canonical going forward. The answer? Yes and no. While you'll encounter famous Star Wars icons like Han Solo and travel to places like Tatooine with its Tusken Raiders, those elements are of course canon, but the player-created situations are not.
"I think what we at Lucas....we have a story team that we work very closely here with," Lucasfilm executive producer Matt Fillbrandt says. "And I think games offer a unique opportunity for storytelling that you don't necessarily get of other, linear storytelling devices like books or TV shows or movies; which is exciting in that we have the opportunity have player choice like we have with this game. Am I going to be on the Rebel side or the Empire? So we don't really look at it from a canonical standpoint because the player is effectively making up their story and their experience."
One element of Star Wars: Commander that will no doubt be contentious is its business model: free-to-play. Etter says that Disney wanted to make the game free-to-play as opposed to paid so that it could reach as wide an audience as possible. Being a free-to-play game, Star Wars: Commander will allow you to spend real-money to buy virtual currency, but the developer promises everything in the game is available for free, and there are no elements of "pay-to-win."
"We don't want, and will not let this become, a pay-to-win game" -- Executive producer Nathan Etter
"You can install the game, you can play through all of the content that we produce for free," Etter said. "You get access to all the story content, you can play the PvP campaigns, you can play the time-limited campaigns and unlock the special rewards...all of that's free for our user."
You can also buy Crystals, a virtual currency that you can use to speed up gameplay. However, Etter assures fans, "We don't want, and will not let this become, a pay-to-win game." That's because the items you can buy with real world money do not affect your attributes; they only let you speed up gameplay. In addition, in Star Wars: Commander's PvP mode, the game will match you up with competitors based on skill. If you and another player install Star Wars: Commander on the same day, and you pay to speed things up and your friend doesn't, you won't continue to be matched up with that person. "A lot of our game design time is spent making sure that we do have a level playing field for players," Etter said.
The Star Wars franchise is one of the biggest across all media, and the chance to bring it to a new genre is not one that Etter and his team plan to squander. "We're all huge Star Wars fans," he says. "The opportunity to work on this title is something I am really proud of; I was honored to be a part of the team. So we're as excited as Lucasfilm to be able to put this out and really create a really authentic experience for all the fans."
Finally, if combat strategy games aren't your thing, Disney assures fans that it is constantly exploring opportunities for how it can expand the Star Wars gaming universe even further. "I think we're always looking at new opportunities to bring games to many different platforms," Fillibrandt says. "We have lots of different partners that we're working with...partnerships that we've had in place for a long time, and others are new. [There are] opportunities within the Disney studio structure as well. So there is a lot of opportunity to do other games, yeah."
Battlefield developer DICE is currently at work on Star Wars: Battlefront, which is scheduled to launch in 2015 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. In addition, EA recently hired former Naughty Dog veteran Amy Hennig to work on another new Star Wars game, rumored to be an open-world title.
You can download Star Wars: Commander today on the App Store.
|Eddie Makuch is a news editor at GameSpot, and you can follow him on Twitter @EddieMakuch|