Note: for an additional perspective on Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, please check out our previous impressions post.
After years of promises and false starts EA, with the help of Titanfall developers Respawn Entertainment, have finally given players a grand Star Wars adventure to play. The campaign from Battlefront II was a much needed boost to that game and coupled with great technology helped fill the void briefly but this is something else entirely. Respawn’s history is short but Titanfall 2 proved they could make some real campaign magic and with Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order they’ve delivered on a game that many fans have waited a long time for. And it’s done so leveraging a whole set of genres not before seen in the franchise’s history which makes for a game that’s entirely unique and it’s all for the better.
You play Cal Kestis a Jedi Padawan who has gone into hiding after surviving Order 66 which wiped out the Jedi in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and cemented Palpatine’s place as the Emperor. In hiding and now working as a scrapper ripping apart ships for parts and materials, Cal’s Force powers are exposed when he saves a friend from death and is soon on the run as the Empire sends its agents after him. With the aid of new friends he escapes and is set on new quest: to try and rebuild the Jedi Order.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is a third person action adventure that aligns itself very closely to games such as Tomb Raider, Uncharted and even Batman: Arkham Asylum with its worlds to explore, loot to take and enemies to overcome. Armed only with his lightsaber Cal must use his growing skills to not only defeat his enemies but find the answers he desperately needs. The story fits its need nicely to place your unknown Jedi into the world and also give him motivations that aren’t reliant on the films or television series but can cherry pick enough references to still feel like it’s a part of the universe. In that respect I think it works out really well and delivers a couple of surprises and payoffs that may make it worth your while to play through.
Many of the characters that surround Cal do well in setting the tone of the story thanks to their histories intertwining with the plot and Star Wars history (especially Cere) but there’s been a bit of criticism in that Cal can come across as being one dimensional in comparison to the rest. I do agree that his character may be weaker than the others but it didn’t really faze me much. Getting that balance for a player controlled character is a challenge many developers face; you want to give players room to make the character their own through play but if they have a detailed back story it may fall apart in gameplay if it pushes too hard against what is being established. Keeping Cal’s path simple and focused on being a Jedi lends itself well to letting the player unleash themselves on the Empire in their own way.
The worlds that you visit are genuine characters too. Each one is its own little sandbox that reminds me a lot of the world structure used in Rise of the Tomb Raider. They’re all fairly dense areas with plenty to find and lots of shortcuts to discover and you’ll need to return to them multiple times to access everything on the maps. Though a Jedi, the full extent of Cal’s powers are not immediately available and he has to relearn them which also enables some areas to become accessible later in your playthrough. Yes… it’s a Metroidvania in that respect. Admittedly this is a familiar gameplay device to force players to have to revisit areas but thankfully the game has a strong enough story driving it to make the reasoning for all of this halfway acceptable though it does fall into some very familiar tropes for this genre of game. I do feel a Jedi does make a good fit for the game with their acrobatic abilities and need to face up to enemies in close quarters combat. Challenges faced by characters in both The Clone Wars and Rebels series have included enough “tomb raiding” to show it works.
Scattered throughout these worlds are meditation circles which are the equivalent to Dark Souls bonfires, acting not only as checkpoints but also as your means to restore your health (at the expense of enemies respawning) and upgrading your character’s abilities. During the course of play you accrue XP which on leveling up rewards you with skill points for spending on Jedi skills. Over time you start to see that there’s a lot of skills you have to work towards that you’d hope would have been already available for Cal. It almost seems like a miracle he can swing a lightsaber in the beginning without taking his own arm off. And death can come swiftly too and from there the game takes cues from Dark Souls and will resurrect you at the last meditation circle you stopped at with all your current XP lost but thankfully none of your earned skill points. To get the lost XP back you’ll need to find the enemy who killed you and score a hit on them and hope to not die again. With success and failure tied so closely to the meditation circles you find that if you ignore stopping at any along your path you’ll find that you may have to cover a lot of distance to get back to where you died to continue the fight.
Strangely it’s in the combat where the game falters. Fighting enemies relies not only on your ability to make use of your Force powers but also in parrying attacks from both melee and ranged weapons. This is timing based and is WAY harder than it should be and can make even single opponents deadly if your timing is off. I’m terrible at it which doesn’t help. I wish the game had considered adding button prompts like Rocksteady’s Batman games so that fights involving groups could flow better because there’s been numerous times I’ve failed simply by being surrounded and not having a clear counter to help me out. That may go against what many have described as “Dark Souls lite” combat but you’re wielding a lightsaber here and for Star Wars fans you’d think the majority of fights would go in your favour but that’s not the case here. There’s a few difficulty spikes in the game too that compound the combat issues. Visiting the planet Dathomir too early will likely serve as a massive beat down to anyone unprepared as will one of the big boss enemies you encounter early on. In case of that boss enemy you can at least choose to avoid it which helps. I ended up reducing the game’s difficulty a few times from Dathomir onward just to progress through the game. Ability upgrades go far in tipping the odds in your favour but parrying, which is meant to be core to combat, still doesn’t feel as intuitive as I hoped and I ended up avoiding it in favour of more aggressive play. Maybe the aforementioned Batman or even Devil May Cry could have been better influences for making Jedi combat work?
The production values put into the game from the outset are staggering. I never thought another Star Wars game could beat the Battlefront games on pure fidelity but Fallen Order surpasses them with some truly spectacular work. The “introduction” level may be extremely linear in play but the presentation does a great job of hiding it behind a facade of a sprawling scrapyard. This area also sets up the timeline too with massive Republic Attack Cruisers being torn apart all around you as TIE Fighters fly over head. These designs from both the original and prequel trilogies plus the TV series really gels together and it feels cohesive. To me it sells the story from the start which is what’s important in a game part of a long running franchise. Your ship in the game, the Stinger Mantis, feels more a luxury car at times but has enough space in it to make walking around it helpful with the facilities it has available to you… including a meditation circle. I’ve also noticed a many details that show the developers have been willing to take a few steps further in making the game into the world. How the game transitions between areas is just perfect with an in-game view of inside the Mantis taking off as it jumps to hyperspace followed by a seamless cut to an external shot as you arrive at your destination. Might just be the best load screen ever. My favourite so far involved a fight with an AT-ST which after it was destroyed a pilot crawled out of the top hatch and continued the fight. I can’t think of a single Star Wars game that would have thought to include that.
Collectibles are strewn throughout the game worlds and the most obvious ones offer cosmetic upgrades to Cal, BD-1, the Mantis and of course your lightsaber. Though not offering anything advantageous to gameplay (with maybe one exception) the lightsaber upgrades let you customise your weapon with enough unique parts to eventually get something that could resemble your favourite character’s own weapon. It makes little difference to the game but is a fun distraction and for those with a keen eye when using the required upgrade benches maybe a hint of what else is in store for you in the game. Beyond the cosmetics BD-1 has a handful of his own upgrades too which are necessary to gain access to additional areas. Some are essential for play while a couple of others are bonuses to existing abilities.
With so much of the game actually succeeding so well in getting a Star Wars adventure right I’m still surprised with some of the stumbles that it makes. Combat is a real pain for a good part of the game until you gain enough Force powers to start racking up cheap kills. It’s so easy to be overcome by a small group or even a single creature just by failing a parry that any way to get easy kills is a massive bonus but you don’t get a lot of that at the start. The meditation circles are not always ideally placed with you having to traverse some big areas just to kill the enemy who killed you a few minutes earlier. If you’re stuck in a difficult area having to repeat the journey over and over again will suck. The game’s reliance on closing off areas until you acquire the right skill/tool can be frustrating too with it feeling a little forced at times to make people keep coming back to planets. Finally, stability of the game is OK but I’ve had a couple of crashes during my game time including one that completely shut down my Xbox. Despite this I’ve still found the game ticks all the right boxes for me and I’ve been caught up in the experience so much I couldn’t put it away.
I’ve really enjoyed my time playing Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. It brings the franchise into a new genre and executes it well thanks to a good story, some great map design and stunning interpretations of the franchise’s signature sights and sounds. If the combat relied less on tight timing and more on allowing players to go with the flow (of the Force!) and be a Jedi bad-ass I think it might have been one of the best Star Wars games, period. It’s close though… hopefully we see developers Respawn get another crack at it with a sequel.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is out now on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Reviewed on Xbox One X.