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What if: the new Star Wars strategy game is just XCOM 3?

Former XCOM devs are working with Respawn on a new Star Wars strategy game, and we're very excited about it

A rebel trooper shooting a blaster at a stormtrooper in our imagined Star Wars strategy game

So it looks like we’re getting more Star Wars games. Three of them, in fact, as Titanfall and Apex Legends developer Respawn Entertainment takes the lead on a trio of new games set in a galaxy far, far away. One is some kind of FPS, another is a sequel to the acclaimed Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, but it’s the third one that we’re most looking forward to. Hold onto your butts folks, we’re getting a new Star Wars strategy game.

But what form is it going to take? Where is it going to be set? How many Bothans will have to die to bring us this information? We can’t know for sure right now. All we do know is that it’s not being developed by Respawn directly, instead they’ll assist with production.

The bulk of development is being handled by Bit Reactor, a brand-new studio staffed by a number of ex-XCOM devs, which aims to “usher in the future” of turn-based tactics games. That means we’re probably not going to get the Empire of War sequel we all want, but what if we get the XCOM 3 we deserve instead?

XCOM’s tried and true DNA is ripe for adaptation. If Gears of War can do it, so can Star Wars, and since Firaxis doesn’t seem especially keen to develop XCOM 3 any time soon, I think the fanbase may now be ready to accept a spiritual successor.

Space warfare in a Star Wars game

But where would it be set? What would it look like? Idle speculation is the best speculation, so here are some things I’d be looking for in a new Star Wars tactics game.

There are a few possible choices in terms of setting. Disney is currently pushing the High Republic as the new hotness, but there’s still plenty of love for the classic eras as well. Besides, Quantic Dream’s already working on a High Republic game. I’d love to see a Clone Wars-era tactical strategy game, but the overall design of XCOM 2 – which was a game about guerilla warfare against a far more powerful force – means that Bit Reactor’s game is better suited to the timeline of the original trilogy.

This is well-trodden ground by now, however, there aren’t many other eras that are part of the current official canon. The Old Republic’s status is very much up in the air, and little between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens has really been explored outside of The Mandalorian and Book of Boba Fett.

A lightsaber fight in Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

The Clone Wars makes sense, too: it’s still quite popular as a setting, and in the current canon it’s the only era that features a large-scale war between roughly even opponents. Clone troopers also possess a strong visual identity that captures some of the coolness of the Empire, but benefits from the fact that they’re positioned as the ‘good guys’ right up until Order 66 is triggered. That’s not saying we couldn’t get an Imperial-era tactics game where we are the baddies, of course, but those kinds of games tend to be the exception.

By contrast, Rebel Alliance ground forces lack an iconic visual identity, which makes them prime candidates for XCOM’s customisable, yet uniform, soldiers. Of course, this is all making a big assumption that the new game will be land-based. Maybe we’ll get something based on Fantasy Flight’s X-Wing miniatures game? Or dare we hope, a turn-based Empire at War fleet battle game?

The XCOM formula has been repeated to great success with games like Gears of War: Tactics and even Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, proving there’s plenty more you can do with the template.

Stormtroopers ready for battle in Star Wars Battlefront 2

However, I’m wary of Firaxis’ new Marvel’s Midnight Suns, which is trying to knock down the barrier between turn-based tactics and action for a lighter, more stylised experience. I’m sure it’s going to be fine, but I hope the new Star Wars strategy game doesn’t go in this direction.

It’s been 16 years since the last full-blooded Star Wars strategy game, Empire at War – I don’t want anything that could diminish the tension of a tactical skirmish between two squads. Poring over your troop placement so you’ve got the upper hand when the fight starts is what tactical games are all about, and it tickles the nerves in ways you just don’t get when you’ve got the option to Force push someone out into the open, or impale them from distance by throwing your lightsaber with Force-guided precision.

A bold move for this new Star Wars tactics game could be to keep the focus off the Jedi and place it on the troops, whether rebel or clone. We get it: Jedi are cool, but TV shows like The Mandalorian have shown there’s a lot of potential in the mundane side of Star Wars. And in any case, the Jedi’s role as frontline commanders is only really explored during the Clone Wars, and even in that conflict there’s space to keep their presence to a minimum.

Rebel troops battling with stormtroopers in Battlefront 1

The original Rogue Squadron novels, and more recently Battlefront II’s single-player campaign, provide inspiration for a hybrid land and space tactics game. Both of these present us with a squadron of elite special forces that are as capable in starfighters as they are on the ground. A mix of dogfighting and land-based engagements would be something to behold, and could elevate this new strategy game above the typical XCOM experience.

If you can’t quite tell already, I’m pretty excited. There’s a lot of talent behind this new game. Whether we get Star Wars XCOM, a turn-based Republic Commando game, or something else entirely, I can’t wait to see what Bit Reactor cooks up. Star Wars strategy games have a strong legacy, and we’re well past time for a new chapter.