|System: PS4, Xbox One, PC|
|Dev: Respawn Entertainment|
|Pub: Electronic Arts|
|Release: November 15, 2019|
|Players: 1 Player|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Violence, Mild Language|
by Lucas White
Respawn’s contribution to the Star Wars universe comes after a long road of drama and controversy. EA’s Star Wars deal has gone in some strange directions, to say the least, and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is yet another. Respawn Entertainment, the developer behind the Titanfall series and home of many Infinity Ward refugees, has developed a game well outside its usual wheelhouse. There’s no reason to believe Respawn can’t venture away from shooters, but it does paint Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order with a unique context. Wearing its inspirations on its sleeve, this feels like a giant bundle of experimentation and influences from current and past gaming trends. It’s rough around the edges, but has a distinct energy to it that helps it stand out, especially among other Star Wars games.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order takes place a few years after Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. It’s a direct response to the “Order 66” scene, in which the Clone Army betrays the Jedi and massacres nearly all of them. The story follows Cal Kestis, a Padawan (smol baby Jedi) who managed to escape and spent years in hiding. Living as a scrapper, an incident on a dangerous crash site forces Cal to use the Force in front of an Imperial Probe Droid. Now openly on the run, Cal quickly finds himself involved in a mission that could potentially revive the Jedi Order.
It’s worth noting that Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is a project under game director Stig Asmussen. He joined Respawn after leaving Sony Santa Monica, where he worked on God of War (even directing the third game), which helps explain this game’s genetic makeup. However, much like Sony’s latest God of War, Fallen Order is more interested in “Soulslike” combat. Albeit here it is present with a number of twists designed to cast the sort of wide net you’d expect from third-party software. Fallen Order isn’t a typical Soulslike in the way we tend to know them; it’s a more ambitious, multi-tiered hybrid of familiar trappings seasoned with Star Wars flavor and a few of its own tricks. The easiest comparisons to make, beyond FromSoftware’s Souls games are Tomb Raider and Metroidvania, with the former being much more overt.
Instead of a huge open world, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is set on a number of planets, each with a deliberately-designed path full of secrets, shortcuts, puzzles, and enemies. Much like a Souls game, foes are dispersed in specific spots, some out in the open and others as traps. Beat one and it stays dead until either you die or you rest up at a save point–then the “board” resets. If you die, you’re sent to the last save point and you lose all your EXP. Get back to what killed you and tag it once, and you get it all back. It will be familiar to anyone who has played a game like this, albeit a little more forgiving. You only have to hit the offending obstacle once to get your stuff back, and save points are relatively generous. Sometimes going forward will cut you off from running back to the last one, but you’ll come to another one pretty quickly.
EXP also doesn’t explicitly power you up, at least in terms of stats. Instead, you’re filling out a surprisingly modest skill tree, which gives you additional abilities and a few passive bonuses that are mostly connected to Cal’s health and MP/Force. Progression is more about expanding combat options and survivability, instead of worrying about stat growth and builds, so the whole experience feels more like a traditional action game. There isn’t as much RPG fiddling. That said, there are opportunities to grind if you want, although the skill tree is often gated off by story progress.
Speaking of story progress, you’ll also run into various upgrades throughout the maps. This is where the “Metroidvania” elements kick in. Much like Tomb Raider, finding new gear or upgrades for your adorable droid buddy will open up new paths. Sometimes, it’s as simple as being able to push and pull objects/damaged scenery with the Force, and other times it involves traversal stuff like wall-running or a double-jump. The story’s structure often has you traveling back and forth between planets, with new objectives letting you fill out your maps more. You’ll even occasionally be reminded of things you left behind that have nothing to do with the story, but do offer nice, little bonuses if you take the time to explore. And frankly, that’s good, because the story is pretty boring.
There are some interesting things happening in Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, in terms of plot beats, but the connective tissue is either fluff or dead air. While running around, exploring, clowning Stormtroopers, and brawling with extraterrestrial beasts can be a hoot, there isn’t always much motivating you to do so. Cal is on the run and sort of searching for a hidden list of surviving Jedi, but the exposition is super light and separated by huge, meaty chunks of gameplay. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, but when Fallen Order wants to have its big, dramatic moments and interpersonal tension, it’s hard to care when all the story really does is ask you to care at its own convenience.
Cal is a wet blanket of a protagonist as well, having the most generic sort of main character personality without being a silent JRPG hero. He occasionally has moments where he’s sad, angry, or trying to be funny, but he’s such a slice of Wonderbread that it’s hard to relate with him. Even when Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order tries far too late to address the trauma of surviving Order 66, the story relies on such moments without nuance or depth. Perhaps it’s a symptom of trying to do too much.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order wants to be a Star Wars story, a tale about trauma, an epic treasure hunt adventure, and do big lore things. The story just kind of ping-pongs between these things at random, ensuring that any potential impact is dulled at every turn. Luckily, it’s all reasonably paced, with much of the usual AAA bloat totally absent. Sticking to the critical path is surprisingly fast, and most of the optional stuff is much more productive than chasing waypoints on a giant map. I didn’t love the story, but as a busy adult person, I felt like my time was respected in a way most big releases don’t anymore.
Despite the underwhelming narrative, I still happily lost plenty of time to substantial play sessions. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is a little janky and far from the most visually impressive AAA game I’ve played, but it’s a ton of fun to navigate. Its Tomb Raider sort of platforming is pretty bland, but finding the different nooks and crannies (especially when acrobatics finally get involved) is rewarding. Every new ability pings that part of your brain that knows you’ll soon be finding cool stuff behind locked “doors.” Most of that cool stuff is cosmetic too, from color swaps for Cal, your ship, and BD-1 (who is basically a robot puppy), to parts that let you customize the look of your lightsaber. That element is especially cool, as there are a ton of options and none of this stuff asks you to spend extra real-life money.
If exploring is fun, then combat is even more fun. Sure, it’s all Dark Souls-inspired, but that only means you have to avoid enemy attacks or you’ll die really fast. Otherwise, it’s fast and dirty, with enemies having no problems being thoroughly in your face. While you will have to dodge, roll, and parry attacks to survive, you also get to dish out plenty of pain yourself. Cal gets a number of fun moves that utilize his Jedi powers, and things stay just simple enough that each one feels designed with a situational purpose. Parrying has a real nasty vibe to it too, with unclear visual tells, plenty of sparks, lightsaber sound effects, and balance-oriented animations that make each fight feel like a frothing scramble for survival.
Cal is hardly better than an amateur and finds himself constantly clawing his way out of situations he shouldn’t be able to win. Stormtroopers are appropriately inept though, and doing things like Force-pushing them off cliffs, deflecting shots back at them, and listening to them verbally soil themselves is a great break between the more intense slugfests. You still have to take them relatively seriously however, as they will ruin your day if you let them (especially on harder difficulties). Oftentimes, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order will use grunt enemies just like FromSoftware does, tucking the occasional loser just around corners and behind blind spots to make sure you’re paying attention.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is a big, sloppy hodgepodge of AAA video game tropes, nerdy Star Wars stuff, and unearned blockbuster drama. It definitely has the feel of a scrappy passion project that somehow came out of a massive corporation at a time when the Star Wars brand really needed a win. It’s almost comparable to the Star Wars: The Force Unleashed games, only with a new set of contemporary trends and a much larger budget. It’s janky, some of the set pieces are clumsy, and the storytelling is more of a miss than a hit. Still, the intergalactic exploration is seasoned with Metroidvania-lite gatekeeping and combat systems that successfully blend Star Wars flash with Soulslike danger and make the magic happen. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order has the spunk of a PS2 game, the game design of a PS3 game, and the scale of a PS4 game. That’s a win in my book.
Writing Team Lead