Game review: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (PC/Xbox One)
EA Games has a lot riding on Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Their use of what is a premium movie licence has not exactly produced stellar results. Whilst Star Wars: Battlefront 2 was a vast improvement on the first game, it still had its issues.
For Fallen Order, EA has conscripted Respawn Entertainment (Apex Legends/Titanfall) to produce a single-player focused Star Wars game. No strangers to narrative videogames, Respawn, being made up from veterans from the Call of Duty series, are an inspired choice to create this new chapter in the (canon) Star Wars mythos.
The game is set five years after the events of the Revenge of the Sith Star Wars prequel movie, following the Emperor’s Order 66, calling for the extermination of the Jedi. Players take on the role of Cal Kestis, a former Jedi Padawan that has so far managed to elude the Empire.
The game starts with a very Star Wars opening as the camera pans across the Imperial salvage yard on the planet Bracca. Cal works here scrapping the huge ships left over from the Clone Wars, savaging material for the Empire’s new fleet of star destroyers.
When an accident exposes his Jedi powers, Cal is forced to flee with the help of former Jedi, Cere Junta, and the captain of the Mantis, Greez Dritus. Together they embark on a quest to unlock the secrets of the Jedi whilst taking on the might of the Imperials, in particular, the Force-using Inquisitor known as the Second Sister and her squad of Imperial Purge Troopers.
The story is good, capturing the essence of Star Wars, if not quite its heart. But it does fare far better than I thought it would, certainly a lot better than any other game in the last ten years. The inclusion of character from the movies, voiced by the proper actor and not an imitator, is a sign that EA may, finally, be taking the Star Wars franchise seriously. The addition of Star Wars audio effects guru, Ben Burtt, providing the chirps and bleeps for Cal’s droid companion, BD-1 is a nice touch.
The gameplay is not really unique, Respawn making little effort to hide their inspiration. The game consists of three aspects: exploration, puzzle-solving and combat. The exploration and puzzle-solving elements have been cribbed straight from the likes of Uncharted, with Cal climbing and leaping from ledges a la Nathan Drake. It very much fits the actions of a Jedi.
The combat, health/rejuvenation and checkpoint system has been inspired by the Dark Souls games. Thankfully, it’s not as punishing as a Souls game, and unlike FromSoftware, Respawn takes the time to explain how it all works. Again, this gameplay mechanic suits that of a Jedi Knight.
During the Emperor’s great Jedi purge, Cal lost much of his connection to the Force, restricting his powers. Of course, as players progress through the game Cal reconnects to the Force, via an unlockable skills tree, becoming more and more powerful. Whilst this makes for some good gameplay progression, the downside is that in the early game, Cal’s Force powers a bit dull and the pacing of the game suffers for it. I can see some players, as I was, being a bit underwhelmed, for the first few hours.
At the basic level, Cal can attack and block with his lightsaber. A well-timed block will parry and attack allowing a counter or deflect laser fire back at the shooter. Many of the larger enemies also have unblockable attacks that need to be dodged away from. As players progress, Cal unlocks more Force powers enabling more ferocious and effective attacks as well as some defensive/helpful moves like Force push and pull. The more Cal hones his powers the better the game gets.
Cal is not just fighting common Stormtroopers. The Force-equipped Inquisitors carry lightsabers. Purge troopers have powerful electrified staffs. There are also troopers wielding electrified batons capable of taking a lightsaber hit. Imperial security droids, similar to K-2SO from the Rogue One movie can take a good beating. And there the odd AT-ST that need to be taken out. The planets also have native fauna to deal with.
Combat is challenging, perhaps more so that you’d usually expect from a Star Wars game, but not unreasonably so. (It’s nowhere near as challenging as Dark Souls games that served as its inspiration). It does take a bit of discipline. It’s no good spamming attack buttons. Cal needs to also dodge, block and parry to be victorious.
Like the Uncharted games, the puzzles are often set in multi-layered chambers. By using combinations of climbing, jumping and using Force powers players need to figure out how to access objects and unlock areas. The game does a good job of training the player on what to look out for, but some of the puzzles can still present a challenge.
There are meditation points scattered around the various levels. Meditating at one of these points saves the game, making the location a respawn point should Cal get himself killed. Resting at a meditation point replenishes his health and the quality of health stims carried by BD-1. Resting also causes all enemies to respawn, so it needs to be used wisely. Meditation points can also be used to upgrade force powers when Cal has skill points to spend.
There are six planets to explore. Each location can be visited more than once, either in the course of the story, or if the player wants to return to search for secret areas. Whilst the levels will repopulate with hostiles each visit regardless, returning to an area as part of the story will see different enemies and new areas available to explore.
The game levels are intricate mazes full of obstructions that can only be passed when Cal has the required force power or BD-1 has the necessary upgrade. To begin with, I found the maps annoying, coming across the same dead ends time and time again. As I learnt to use BD-1’s holographic map to plan my routes, getting around became easy.
Despite my initial fears, with the developers reusing areas, the level design is so well done that that you don’t really notice that you’ve been there before. The maps offer enough variety, be it new bad guys or new routes and accessible areas, to keep things interesting.
The game has many collectibles. Most important are Force echoes which, as well grant Cal XP, also add to the story. There are also containers filled with cosmetic enhancements for Cal’s clothes, BD-1’s paint job and the Mantis’ livery. Oh, and lightsaber customisation.
At workbenches, Cal can use lightsaber parts obtained on his journey to make a unique weapon. As well as swapping out various components, the colours of the handle can be changed and, depending what Kyber crystals Cal has, the colour of the blade can be altered as well. Dedicated Star Wars fans will have a field day with this feature.
The game uses Epic’s Unreal Engine, rather than Dice’s Frostbite Engine - the go-to game engine powering most of EA’s games. The game’s visuals are very good, some of the vistas looking like Star Wars movie production art. The game perfectly captures the Star Wars aesthetic. Some of the animations, especially Cal’s walking animations, are a bit wooden and could have done with a bit more polish, but that’s just a minor niggle.
On the whole, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is the Star Wars game that we have been waiting for since EA took over the licence six years ago. It’s disappointing that we’ve had to wait this long for a game that embraces the franchise, moving it forward. As much as I enjoyed Battlefront II’s single-player game, the package was still a rehash of the old Activision multiplayer Star Wars game.
Not since Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast have I felt that a single-player game has captured the Star Wars universe as well as Fallen Order. The more I played, the better it got. It could do with a bit of polish, but it’s still a great game.
With a style that fits nicely into the current Star Wars mythology, well-implemented (if not original) gameplay and an intriguing plot, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is a worthy addition to any Star Wars fan’s game library.