Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order Review
My favourite Star Wars action game — and the genre needs distinction because, ya know, Knights of the Old Republic — is Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II. It was a pitch-perfect blend of blaster bolts, platform puzzles and cheesy FMV. While KOTOR had the superior story, the very essence of playing a Jedi had, for me, not been recreated since the adventures of Kyle Katarn. The promise of a return to a good Star Wars game was almost too much to take seriously. Jedi Academy disappointed, and the less said about the Force Unleashed series the better. But in the safe hands of Titanfall and Apex Legends developer Respawn, I had a glimmer of hope.
The resulting game, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, is exactly that: safe. Set after the events of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, it hits the beats that fans expect and demand, wields the Force in a winning way and empowers you with a series of progressively more powerful and exciting moves with which to take on the Empire. It also falls foul of platform banality and repetition, uninteresting companions, and gameplay which steals the best and worst elements — depending on who you talk to — of Metroid, Uncharted and Soulsborne games to name a few. At least, to begin with.
The first few hours are a bit of a slog, in truth. Proving once again that the Star Wars universe loves a velar stop, the protagonist here is Cal Kestis, an everyman Padawan hiding his Force powers in the wake of the purge which scattered the remaining Jedi across the galaxy. He’s a perfectly bland and serviceable hero, stashed away as a scrapper at the start of the game in a salvage job which would definitely not have passed a health and safety review. Still, the quirks of the wreck he has to explore teach you the platforming basics and anyone familiar with Nathan Drake’s exploits will be at home here. Cal runs, jumps, scales walls and hangs from pipes with aplomb. Other acrobatics are not as well realised, however. Recurring segments through the game see you sliding blindly down muddy banks and icy ramps with the skill of Eddie the Eagle and the grace of Bambi. Similarly, rope swings require a level of pixel-perfect accuracy that frustrates far more often than necessary. When you combine these two mechanics it culminates in a perfect storm of controller fury. Fortunately, they don’t make up the bulk of the platforming which is key to the Metroidvania gameplay of Fallen Order.
Cal’s aim is to track down a list of fellow young Jedi squirreled away — the eponymous Fallen Order — and that means planet-hopping into various scrapes which unlock childhood memories of training from his Master, like a war veteran learning how to walk again. You’ll slowly relearn Force abilities like pull, push and double-jump, while experience gained from fighting enemies and discovering secrets will grant you skill points to spend. The available skills are varied and include new lightsaber moves, improved health and stamina, and more diversity in your basic Force abilities. Progress ticks along at a steady pace which means that however you decide to build out your version of Cal, the improvements will feel satisfying.
Respawn has populated the planets with numerous and diverse creatures for you to swing your shiny stick at. From the arachnid Wyyyschokk to the burrowing bog rat, enemies offer a variety of challenges. Cal can dodge and roll like a student of Sekiro, and basic heavy and light attacks summon echoes of the Souls series. But while fending off fauna and flora is reasonably fun, it’s the battles with the Empire which feel most satisfying. Returning a fizzing blaster bolt back to a Stormtrooper provided the satisfaction I’d been waiting two decades for; waving off masses of enemy fire made me feel simply invincible. Melee variations of shock troopers wield hammers and maces which require you to parry and return their attack; stamina bars for both parties will wear down until defences are breached so mixing up your defensive and offensive moves are key. It’s like a lighter variation of a Soulsborne game in terms of tactics, but the difficulty is surprisingly ferocious — even on the second lowest setting. Even the easiest “Story mode” will present a challenge to those unfamiliar with this kind of combat, though at least you won’t take environmental damage when you misjudge a jump and plummet into nothingness.
Battles are mostly fun then, but can sometimes feel unfair due to animations which feel like they are a little off. Amidst all the pizazz and crackling saber noises, the feedback feels hollow and Cal responds a split second later than I wanted him to, as if he was buffering moves. It took a bit of getting used to and unfortunately didn’t improve as the game progressed. While timing a move right makes you feel like a badass, the game is all too keen to show off kill animations which left me vulnerable to other enemies; when you’re surrounded by melee troops while simultaneously being picked off by ranged fire, it’s all you can do to roll the hell away into a corner. Stim packs are Fallen Order’s version of Estus Flasks and can heal you a limited number of times. These are crucial when fighting some of the game’s bosses (and optional bosses) and can be replenished when you save at a meditation circle. These checkpoints act like, you guessed it, Souls’ bonfires. You can regenerate your health and stims here but the trade off is that all defeated enemies respawn. Similarly, if you are killed by an enemy you are returned to the last meditation circle you used and must then find the creature that killed you — if you’re successful in hitting it, the experience points you lost by dying are restored, and your health refilled. It’s a tactical trade off which draws much from Miyazaki’s games.
The game looks in turn stunning and ropey as hell. Visually wonderful vistas lead into murky caverns, while pop-in abounds. You’ll end up inside cliff faces, buried in floors and experience enemies jerking all over the place. The camera is desperate to get in as close to Cal as possible in a fight — especially indoors — which makes close-quarters combat utterly awful until you can roll out of it and hope the camera resets. One thing that did disappoint was the lack of visual consistency with the lightsaber. Non-human enemies get chopped in half, horns hacked off, limbs severed. But up against Stormtroopers, the most you see is a burn trail across their armour. At first I thought that the game was toning down the violence for kids — but then I realised it’s a 16+ rated game, and some cutscenes will happily show bad guys being dismembered. I don’t know about other people but I assume a lightsaber — given it’s light, and all — would penetrate most materials. The fact that this is only partially realised here feels very unsatisfying. Even Dark Forces 2 let you hack off a Stormtrooper’s arm.
Story-wise, it’s a mixed bag. The game doesn’t properly get going until you’re around five planets in. BD-1 is Cal’s main buddy, a cheeky robot who acts as MacGuffin locator, door opener, path unblocker, and general Wall-E-esque cutesy merchandise-friendly bot. There is a genuine connection between the two which is portrayed well. Cal’s other companions are a pilot and an ex-Jedi, both of whom take time to develop into people you give a damn about. When that does happen, you’ll either be fully on board or have jumped into an escape pod. I’d recommend persevering, though, even with the long loading times between levels, as Respawn has made a compelling second half to an otherwise humdrum first. Outside of the main story there are plenty of lore items and sense echoes to uncover to add a bit of lore, but given how restricted the time period is within the large universe, you shouldn’t expect anything that shakes up established canon.
This might feel like a fairly pessimistic review, but in truth I enjoyed Fallen Order mainly because I forced myself to play on past the initial eight hours and uncovered a rough gem in doing so. There is a definite curve at work here, which is a shame as I was hoping that the game would be a treat straight out of the gate. That is absolutely not the case, but much like Luke on Dagobah if you are willing to brave the mud and complete your training, you’ll be rewarded with an enjoyable romp. It might not fully scratch that Jedi itch, but it’s the closest thing we’ve had for quite some time.
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