The last LEGO Star Wars game to grace PlayStation was The Force Awakens, and that feels like a long time ago. Like most of its predecessors, and even later entries from TT Games, it's a very safe platformer that sticks to the established blueprint. As fun as they can be, the LEGO games have been making almost no forward momentum, relying on gameplay and established trappings that are rather dated. To some, LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga might sound like yet another retread, but this is shaping up to be the biggest shake-up to the series in years.

After spending about an hour playing the long-awaited title (and a further hour watching a hands-off presentation), we've come to a couple of conclusions. One, this game is big. Two, the developer has finally brought the fundamental gameplay in line with modern expectations, and the result is a much more engaging experience.

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The fixed cameras of yore have been replaced with an over-the-shoulder, third-person view, giving you full control on the right stick. Characters carrying blasters and projectile weapons can aim with L2 and fire with R2 — gone is the floating crosshair rooting your minifigure to the spot. Melee combat now involves a very simple combo system, with enemies blocking your attacks if you keep repeating the same pattern. The Skywalker Saga finally feels like a modern LEGO game.

While a lot of the mechanics have been rightly overhauled, the overall feel of the series remains. The health system has moved from hearts to proper HP bars, but combat remains very easy to pull off, and there's still no penalty for dying. You'll still be hot-swapping between a handful of characters to overcome puzzles, and the drop-in/out local co-op is present and correct. Beyond gameplay, the brilliantly humorous spin on the source material is as fun as ever, and seeing all your favourite characters and locations recreated in the colourful bricks remains a joy. If you're a fan of the LEGO titles, The Skywalker Saga has all the right hallmarks while sprucing up the basics.

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We played the first few levels of Episode IV: A New Hope, assuming the role of Leia as she fights to get a crucial message to Obi-Wan Kenobi. Of course, this is very familiar territory, but with the new gameplay tweaks, it all feels new again. Branching paths occasionally crop up in a stage, and many puzzles will have more than one solution, allowing some wiggle room in how you proceed. We came to a point where we could build one of two objects, each sending us down a different route to the next segment of the level. It's one more way the game feels like an evolution on what we know.

Replayability seems sky-high, too. Each stage has optional criteria to meet in addition to collecting as many studs as you can, and Kyber bricks are hidden everywhere, required to unlock more characters and vehicles. In between story missions, there are many locations that are fully explorable in Free Play, and these mini-sandboxes contain side quests, small puzzles, and collectibles to find. There just seems like an awful lot to see and do.

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You'll be even more free to explore the galaxy at your leisure, too. During the hands-off presentation, we were shown how you can quickly travel between unlocked planets and locations via the map, giving you quick access to all your favourite places from across the nine movies. Even the space surrounding a given planet can be visited, letting you fly around, finding yet more collectibles and even picking up more optional tasks. The example given was a smuggler run, carrying cargo from one planet to another, fighting off enemy ships along the way.

There's so much more to talk about — the game's 300+ characters are divided into classes, and these classes can be upgraded with various buffs and additional skills. Using the Force is more involved, giving you full control of the objects you manipulate. Smart contextual quirks mean certain classes have extra utility; for example, you can freely wander around enemies if you're a droid, as they aren't viewed as a threat. To cap it off, it all looks fantastic — the plastic aesthetic is better than ever.

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These games have tackled this series of movies several times already, but LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga really feels like a meaningful step forward without losing that loveable identity. We feel we barely scratched the surface with just 60 minutes of playtime, but if it can maintain a high level of quality across all nine episodes, this will be a real treat for the fans.

LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga is due for release on both PlayStation 5 and PS4 on 5th April 2022. Are you looking forward to this colourful plastic adventure? Lightsabers at the ready in the comments section below.