Platform: Xbox One (reviewed), PlayStation 4, Windows PC
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Release Date: November 15, 2019
By around the midpoint of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order I felt like one badass Jedi.
I was using the Force to pull and push Stormtroopers into abysses. I deflected blaster bolts back at the baddies who fired them and threw and caught my double-bladed lightsaber like it was a laser boomerang. I slowed time for large groups of enemies as I maneuvered to outflank them, and pulled off all sorts of acrobatic moves via button taps and combinations that required skill and practice but which never grew too complicated.
Despite everything happening on the fly in real time, it all felt interconnected, almost choreographed like a movie scene. I rolled over Stormtroopers’ backs, blocked and parried incoming attacks, and swiped and thrust my way through crowds of opponents, sometimes leaving a trail of droids sliced in twain, their perfectly cleaved insides glowing like slag.
These are the moments during which Fallen Order captures the Star Wars vibe best. And they’re joined by narrative sequences that feature characters, dialogue, sound effects, and music wonderfully faithful to Lucas’ 40-year-old franchise.
Players take on the role of Cal — played with Mark Hamill-esque sincerity and charm by Cameron Monaghan (Shameless‘ Ian Gallagher) — a Padawan who managed to survive the Purge that all but destroyed the Jedi Order in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. He’s become a drifter over the five years that have since passed, making a living salvaging scrap. Until, that is, he’s found by Cere, a one-time Jedi master (voiced and modelled by Mad TV‘s Debra Wilson) with a dark past who recruits him on a quest begun by her own master. Along the way Cal joins up with characters new — a cute little droid named BD-1, who has the body of a miniature AT-ST and the personality of a puppy — and old, including Saw Gerrera (played once again by Forest Whitaker), the feisty and unpredictable rebel leader we first met in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
There’s no denying Fallen Order is stacked with legitimate and enjoyable Star Wars cred. Which made it a little odd, then, that much of the time I found myself thinking less about that galaxy far, far away and more about unrelated game franchises.
At root, Respawn’s action-adventure takes inspiration from games like Metroid and Castlevania. Its small, carefully crafted environments scattered across a variety of planets are filled with areas that Cal can’t access until either he or BD-1 earn the proper ability. That means backtracking to revisit places you’ve already been and trying to remember things like the locations of chests BD-1 was unable to slice into prior to earning upgrades to his hacking system.
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I also detected a strong scent of Dark Souls. Not only are Fallen Order‘s three-dimensional maps filled with clever unlockable shortcuts designed to link up distant points, its challenging melee combat — especially on harder settings — is all about recognizing enemy tells and mastering timing. Plus, resting at a meditation point to regain health and restock healing stims also respawns all enemies around you, meaning there will be times when you may choose not to rest in order to avoid conflict. It’s not as challenging as a Dark Souls game — a smart move, given Star Wars’ much broader audience — but the influence of From Software’s series is unmistakeable.
And there are definitely some clear cues taken from the likes of God of War, Uncharted, and Tomb Raider — particularly during Fallen Order‘s climbing/swinging/sliding/wall running traversal sequences, as well as within a series of puzzle-filled ancient tombs that sees Cal using a mix of Force abilities and physics understanding to do things like maneuver giant balls into place and burn away dried vines.
The games from which Fallen Order draws are some of my favourites, and experiencing elements from each mingled together generally makes for a pretty good time. However, it isn’t quite the sum of its many parts. Most of its constituent bits and bobs feel like imperfect clones of mechanics done better in the games that inspired them.
Environment traversal, for example, isn’t as fluid and intuitive as you might expect. There were times that I felt like I missed jumps not because of a mistake on my part, but rather because the game set me up for failure through bad camera angles or slightly wonky controls. The maze-like maps, meanwhile, feel artificial and confusing — clearly designed with play in mind rather than how characters might practically exist within it. And working through the same locations — and respawned enemies — multiple times over just to get way back to areas I’ve already discovered is only fun if there’s new stuff to do along the way. Generally speaking, there isn’t. I longed for some sort of fast travel system.
It’s also a bit broken. The list of glitches I encountered during my pre-release evaluation was significant. Sometimes the screen would freeze for 20 or 30 seconds as I turned a corner and the software struggled to catch up loading a new area. Floors were just plain missing in a couple of spots (I’d fall into emptiness if I tried to cross them) and refused to load properly until I completely rebooted my Xbox One. The game never outright crashed on me, but the technical hitches did alter my experience for the worse. Hopefully these problems will be ironed out via launch window patches.
I had perhaps unrealistically high hopes for Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a truly great single-player Star Wars game (it was 2003’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, for the record), and the buzz for Respawn’s game leading up to launch has been both positive and loud. I can’t deny that I had plenty of fun taking in this authentic new Star Wars story, but I get the sense that an extra six or twelve months of development could have given us a more polished and less derivative experience.