There’s always a certain amount of excitement around a new Star Wars game – they seem to bring an anticipation to gamers that this time it will nail how the saga has always made people feel. When EA axed 1313 there was a collective sigh felt around the universe as the promise of a swashbuckling adventure was snuffed out. Out of the ashes rose a new hope though when Respawn were given the chance to build something different and have brought us that in the form of Jedi: Fallen Order. With their FPS pedigree it’s a bit of an unknown on what they can do with third person action game, but at least their cinematic credentials are solid. Can they deliver something that will restore faith in EA having the license for the series, or are they going to force us to be disappointed once again?
You are Cal Kestis, a former padawan who’s been hiding from the Empire since the execution of Order 66 and the Jedi were wiped out. During an accident in an intergalactic scrapyard, Cal unwittingly reveals his connection to the force and catches the eye of the Inquisitors – the Empire’s Jedi hunters and eradicators. With a little help from a mysterious saviour, Cal manages to elude capture and sets out on a quest to retrace the steps of an old Jedi to find a holocron that details the locations of all the force sensitive children in the galaxy. Along the way he rediscovers his connection to the force, makes some new friends, and visits exotic locations… all the while waving his lightsabre at anything that looks like it can do him harm. It’s a pretty epic tale told across several planets and encounters, and with much of the Star Wars lore intact, provides its own take on the universe we all know and love.
What Respawn have brought to the table with Jedi: Fallen Order is a third person action adventure that owes a lot to Uncharted and Bloodborne for its style of play, and Dark Souls for its level structure. It’s basically an exploration game through intricate large scale maps with split second timing combat thrown into the mix. The methodical block/parry/attack style of swordplay made famous in the Souls games, and copied by the likes of The Surge, makes it’s debut in the Star Wars canon, and because it’s all based around lightsabre battles it makes a lot of sense. Understanding the enemies tactics and moves is as important as mastering Force powers when it comes to victory, because when he fails in a fight, Cal reverts back to the last meditation point he visited. At least there’s the chance to hunt down the enemy that killed him to recover health and lost experience points. It puts a lot of emphasis on not flying in and trying to slice everything in half, as even the most innocuous bit of wildlife can drastically reduce the health bar.
Speaking of the Force, this is what Cal’s skill points get fed into. With several abilities to learn and upgrade it adds a decent amount of variation in combat and promotes experimentation to get through an opponents guard. Get it all flowing and it does feel like a being a bad ass Force wielder… miss the timings and it’s going to be punishing. If the Souls comparison of Jedi: Fallen Order doesn’t sound appealing, never fear. The difficulty options interestingly really only affect the timing windows for combat and the amount of damage taken, and it makes these really visible so there’s no guesswork involved. There’s handily a story mode option that gives generous response times and lets the player focus on the impressive environments and traversing them. Nathan Drake has nothing on Cal who uses his abilities to get around the gorgeous yet hazardous worlds he visits. Freezing objects, pushing and pulling them, and double jumping all over the place is always interesting and shows off some of the level design to great effect.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order also has its fair share of physics puzzles to solve too that have a strong Tomb Raider vibe to them. They’re well thought out and some are quite grand in scope, to the point of multi-tiered chambers to scale to find the solutions. If things get sticky then there’s always BD-1 on hand to help with a clue. BD-1 is Cal’s ever-present robot companion that serves a few purposes, mainly opening doors, containers and scanning the local flora and fauna to give background detail and fill up the data archives. When he’s not powering terminals, he’s riding along like an animated backpack and giving out light in dark places. As far as companions go, BD-1 is pretty damn good. The others that join the adventure and populate the Mantis (the ship that takes you from world to world) are decently realised too. It’s mainly Cere and Greez (former Jedi and pilot, respectively) chatting away, but the group begins to feel cohesive as time passes and the relationships deepen.
With hidden loading happening throughout, the devs have had to be a little ingenious in how they hide the data streaming, and the conversation flow is one of the best implementations I’ve seen. When selecting a new planet to travel to the whole process feels like the crew gearing up to head off, with Cal being able to wander into the cockpit to see the current planet drop from view and the leap to hyperspace take place. Greez and Cere will continue to naturally chat during all of this, and the end is only signalled when you’re encourage to take a seat for landing. It’s smooth, clever and makes for a far more interesting proposition than a static loading screen. It’s also another way Jedi: Fallen Order gets across the history of the characters and what’s been happening in the Galaxy. As the Mantis is the home base, it’s here Cal’s lightsabre can be customised depending on the parts found, and there’s always a meditation spot that grants access to the skill tree. To change the look of the ship, BD-1 and outfits there’s a simple menu in the pause screen, and there’s quite a lot of choice, with most rewarded for taking the time to really scour the levels.
Not exactly ones to skimp on the visuals, Respawn really go the whole hog to make this look and feel special, and the design is superb. The level of detail like hair blowing in the breeze, the flickering of the lightsabre, the creak and groan of decaying locations, as well as the thought that’s been put into bringing worlds like Dathomir and Kashyyk to life are impressive. From the opening section to the very last part it all sells itself with the way it looks. The acting is pretty good too with particularly impressive performances from Debra Wilson and Daniel Roebuck. I can’t say I was actually massively sold on Kestis himself as the lead, but then it doesn’t matter too much when you’re in control. The full weight of Skywalker Sound is brought to bear too with ensuring the audio is as appropriate as the graphics. Whether it’s the theme tune, the ship sounds, or the clash of laser sword on Stormtrooper armour, it feels authentic. It’s got the type of presentation that will have your inner child grinning for the majority of the 20+ hour runtime – 30+ if you’re going for 100% completion.
However, it’s not perfect. With high hopes comes the inevitable disappointments, and whilst they’re not game breaking, they are very visible. The engine struggles to keep up with the texture loading, and it’s not uncommon to play the beginning of sections with flat coloured walls and floors. Pop-in is ever present as objects get loaded after you’ve run through an area; and if you’re sprinting then those clever data streaming sections can get left behind and the whole thing just pauses until it’s done. Distracting from the story being told in cutscenes is the woeful lip syncing that gradually gets worse through the game, until it looked like it was over a second out in the last scenes. Most of the problems are limited to the above, and there’s nothing truly horrendous, it’s just the lack of polish on display when the rest is so well done. If there’s anything I’d pick in the combat as an issue it’s the targeting’s desire to select the most distant enemy so that you get a good pummelling from those up close. Whoever mapped the camera and target select to the right stick also needs their circuits checking.
In Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is a brilliant game that will have fans comfortably playing from start to finish and milking it for all they can get. It’s let down by its technical faults, yet manages to overcome them by presenting some of the best level design seen since Uncharted 2… and it sort of rips bits of that off, so it needs to be. There’s a fantastic game here that has a depth to it that I wasn’t expecting with nicely paced progression, and it’s got me excited for what can be done with the franchise. Don’t let the comparisons to Dark Souls put you off if that’s not your thing – it has some elements that it shares, but delivers a very different tone of game and is much more arcade focused in style. It really does feel like they’ve taken Yoda’s teachings to heart for this: “Do or do not. There is no try.”.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is available now on PS4, Xbox One and PC for around £45.