Star Wars: Hunters Review in Progress

What matters most to any given shooter can vary wildly. Sometimes it’s the hardcore tactical play of games like Hell Let Loose, or the careful competitive balance in options like Counter-Strike. Other times it’s the rich world and lovable characters that help Overwatch shine. For Star Wars: Hunters, a free-to-play hero shooter from developer Zynga, its main focus seems to be on having fun in the Star Wars universe. I still have more of it to play before my final review, but so far Star Wars: Hunters is an enjoyable way to pass time with friends, but potentially too shallow to hold my interest for the long haul.

Star Wars: Hunters doesn’t have the over-the-top destructibility of The Finals, nor the high speed parkour of Apex Legends – it’s a much more conventional hero shooter in the vein of Team Fortress 2, where two teams of bespoke characters (in this case called Hunters) participate in pure player-versus-player shootouts. The most notable way it sets itself apart from other shooters is its Star Wars coat of paint, which it puts to good use. Classic Star Wars music is equal parts nostalgic and exciting, while familiar locations like an Ewok Village or Imperial Starship do a great job of placing the action a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, especially when the blasters start flying and the Wookies start howling.

It feels like the philosophy behind the character designs and writing was “just have fun with it.” For example, one of my favorite heroes is Utooni, who is literally just two Jawa’s in a trenchcoat. Another is J-3DI, a droid simulating the combat style of a Jedi by wielding a lightsaber and using a grappling hook to faux force pull enemies closer. Even the play-by-play announcers contribute to that lighthearted Star Wars vibe – one hilarious bit of commentary talks about the action being sponsored by a new TV series on remembering Alderaan, but makes sure to remind any comedians watching at home that it is always too soon for Alderean jokes.

There are 13 playable characters at launch, with a good mix of unique personalities and abilities across them. Imara Vex, for instance, is a classic Star Wars bounty hunter with skills that focus on mobility and firepower, while Grozz is a massive club-wielding Wookie that lacks range but has an enormous amount of health. That variety of weapons and powers is effective at making each character unique in how they play, which also makes it fun to swap between them and learn their differences.

Hunters manages to be fun by still having nuance where it counts.

Matches, on the other hand, are pretty simple, coming off a bit straightforward and shallow in the 10 hours I’ve played so far. There are four game types, including a simple team deathmatch option called Squad Battle and a basic point-capture mode called Power Control, and they will all be very familiar to anyone who has played a PvP shooter before. Matches are short, roughly five minutes each, which makes sense since Hunters is only currently available on Nintendo Switch and mobile devices – but that also means they rarely have room for a lot of back and forth swings or come from behind drama. You can still be strategic and do things like hide healers behind tankier units, but there simply isn’t a lot of time for counter-strategies to play out. This is speed checkers, not chess.

That may sound overly simplistic, but Hunters manages to be a lot of fun by still having nuance where it counts. Each character generally falls into a Tank, Damage, or Support archetype – they are more effective when used in their assigned roles, but anyone can start blasting (or smashing) and knock out some opponents. That strikes a great middle ground of being balanced enough that skilled play will win most fights, but loose enough with abilities and supers that anyone can rack up kills in quick bursts of chaos.

Because Hunters is free-to-play, as is often the case, it has a mix of free and premium currencies that dictate a lot of the progress you’ll make towards unlockables and vanity items. New characters are unlocked using Crystals, which are earned in small amounts after each match, but you can (of course) expedite the process by buying them outright for real money. In the early going, new Hunters seem to become available at a reasonable clip, but it does slow down each time. I can’t tell quite yet if it slows down too much, but so far I haven’t felt like I’ve been forced into buying anything to succeed.

Meanwhile, Credits are used on cosmetic items and are exclusively free, earned by playing matches and completing additional challenges. I appreciate the way your list of challenges is constantly being pecked away at in the background, giving me some added incentive to mix up who I played as since many of them focus on dealing damage with specific characters. But it’s too bad there are so few things you can actually buy with Credits – as I write this, of the dozens of items for sale on the front page of the shop, only two can be purchased with Credits as opposed to Crystals, which makes them a bit pointless in practice.

Lastly, there’s Fame, Hunters’ answer to XP. Like Credits, playing matches and checking off challenges adds Fame to a specific character, and every level up brings with it a reward. Some are purely cosmetic, like weapon skins and stickers. Others upgrade skills in small but meaningful ways: When Diago the Sharpshooter hits Fame level 2, for example, the damage to his proximity mines increases. The amount is small enough to not make higher level characters outright overpowered, but still substantial enough that leveling up feels exciting. It seems like a good mix from what I’ve seen, and having a path for each Hunter to climb feels like a solid overall goal to work on for now.

In the early going, Star Wars: Hunters has been a simple but fun hero shooter. The Star Wars infused presentation is well executed, striking the right over-the-top tone without tipping into obnoxious. The action finds a good balance as well, tight enough for skilled players to rise above the pack, but with room for anyone to have some success without needing to sweat. I don’t know quite yet if the fun will hold up over the long term, particularly as I climb the ranked playlist, and if the currency and character progression is properly tuned is also not clear yet. A final verdict will have to wait until I’ve played more – but for now, I’m looking forward to jumping back in and smashing folks with a rampaging Wookie.


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