Three years ago I reviewed Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens and found it an oddly incomplete experience. The whole film was there, miniaturised into Lego form. There were extra missions too - further adventures from Disney's new franchise canon - included to pad it out. But it still felt a little too brief for a Lego game - experiences which, typically, cover a whole movie trilogy or more inside a single release.
Packing in all nine major episodes, Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga feels like a direct response to that - and the appropriate next step for a video game series which, while it may not reinvent the brick from game to game, has evolved beyond recognition from the very first Lego Star Wars, released nearly 15 years back. Yes, we've seen the bulk of these stories transformed into Lego games before - most of them, in the now rather ironically-titled Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga - but this was a long, long time ago, in a very different way.
Lego games have changed a lot in recent years, and there's a lot of the more recent titles evident in the Skywalker Saga demo shown at E3. The large open worlds, for example, seen in recent entries like Lego Jurassic World and Marvel Super Heroes and yes, The Force Awakens, make a return here - as does the latter's Galaxy Map for navigating between them. In The Skywalker Saga, the map has grown far larger, and I noticed you were now able to choose from multiple destinations on a single planet. For example, we were shown Tatooine circa Return of the Jedi, but you could still land at your choice of Mos Eisley, Mos Espa or Anchorhead.
Once again, story missions will only form a part of your time with the game - the rest being spent exploring open worlds and finding side-missions and collectables hidden within them. Giving players things to go do and find is a far more modern, YouTube-friendly method of game design, but it's also one which far better reflects the game's source material than slicing movie scenes up and presenting them as linear levels. In the E3 demo, acres of desert looked open to exploration, from the Lars Homestead to Jabba's Palace.
Helping all of that, under the hood, lies a much-needed new engine - one built to handle the large open worlds of the modern Lego game era. There's nothing extraordinary about its new capabilities, perhaps, though we were directed to its ability to weather Lego bricks appropriately and depict sand-covered minifigures while on Tatooine as evidence of what it is capable of. Whether because of the new engine or not, there are notable refinements in the game's combat - the most involved of any game in the series so far. Enemies now have health bars, and damage numbers fly off when you slice Stormtroopers with a lightsaber or knock Jawas over the head with a gaffi stick. At last, you can aim down sights and free aim when packing a blaster - combat no longer automatically locks on. And, as with other games, you can unlock higher stud combos by chaining kills.
All-new to the Lego series is the addition of random space battles, seen when entering a planet's orbit. TT Games didn't show this off in detail, but it's another feature which makes the series' universe feel more authentic and alive. And, as ever, there are the ghosts of previous Lego game mechanics repurposed in a new way. As a Jedi, you can mind trick enemies to make them dance, or distract them, or turn them against others. It feels similar to some of the abilities which magical characters could play around with in the Lego Harry Potter games.
It remains to be seen how much detail Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga will go into, considering its mammoth nine film storyline, but it already looks the most ambitious Lego Star Wars game to date - and with its freshly-minted engine, perhaps a new hope for Lego games in general.