Although it suffers from rough patches and an initially uninspired story, this game’s emphasis on exploration and strategic combat ultimately offer a glimmer of hope to fans.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is part of the current Star Wars canon. You can check out the entire timeline by clicking these words.
Movie-licensed video games can be a slippery slope. Oftentimes, developers and publishers pump out a haphazard mess, barren of playability or finesse, and expect fans of the film to gobble it up. Among the few exceptions to this rule is the vast library of Star Wars games. Throughout the years, devotees of George Lucas’s space opera have been graced with a variety of virtual adventures in a galaxy far, far away. From shooter to fighter to strategy to platformer to RPG to hack-and-slash, the Star Wars brand has infiltrated nearly every genre known to gamers. Sure, they haven’t all been winners, but there do exist several titles that are widely considered classics within the community, such as Knights of the Old Republic, Jedi Outcast, Republic Commandos, and the original collection of Battlefront games.
Unfortunately, with the Disney acquisition of Lucasfilm came the dark times. Electronic Arts were given the reigns of future Star Wars games, and they used that power to churn out two new Battlefront titles. Fans lambasted these releases for their lack of content, reliance on online modes, generic first-person shooter gameplay, and infestation of micro-transactions. This past year, however, a new hope emerged. No sooner had fans abandoned the prospect of another acclaimed Star Wars game that we heard of Respawn Entertainment’s upcoming work. Enter Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, a single-player adventure, devoid of EA’s greedy business practices, that lets you gallivant across the galaxy as a Jedi. It wasn’t anything new, but it sounded infinitely more enticing compared to what we’d gotten in recent years.
Taking place between Revenge of the Sith and the original 1977 movie, Jedi Fallen Order is set during the tyrannical reign of the Galactic Empire. The mystical Jedi knights have been hunted to the point of extinction, and the few who remain are in hiding. One such figure is Cal Kestis, who was in training when his master was killed during the Jedi Purge. Ever since, he’s been laying low as a scrap worker on a junkyard planet, cut off from the Force and too afraid to oppose the Imperial regime. One day, circumstances put him in the Empire’s crosshairs, forcing him to go on the run. Along the way, he receives some unexpected help from pilot-for-hire Greez and Cere Junda, another former Jedi. Before he knows it, Cal is swept up in their mission to find a mysterious artifact hidden away by Cere’s late master. Using this artifact, they can locate a new generation of children strong with the Force and potentially rebuild the Jedi Order. With the agents of the Empire hot on their tail, Cal and the others must confront their past mistakes and rediscover what it truly means to be a Jedi.
Now, that premise turns out to be both an asset and a hindrance. A story about a Jedi or group of rebels during this time period is well-tread ground by this point. As such, many plot points are taken from other Star Wars properties and come off clichéd as a result. For instance, the main antagonists are a couple of Imperial Inquisitors, first introduced in the TV shows as Force-wielding assassins tasked by Darth Vader to root out Jedi survivors. We’ve also once again got a Jedi looking for closure after all of his comrades were wiped out in Order 66. Still not convinced? Well, for a more direct callback, we’re presented with yet another ragtag band of rebels and misfits on a small, rundown ship. Where have we seen that before? To be fair, the characters here work together well enough, but it takes them a while to distinguish themselves as anything other than archetypes. In addition, their relationships sometimes come off as impersonal for the sake of moving the plot along; they never experience the crippling friction and reconciliation that ultimately strengthens their bond. This means they can’t help but pale in comparison to the family dynamic seen in Star Wars Rebels and the original trilogy.
It doesn’t help that several moments that are clearly meant to be powerful tend to fall flat, especially toward the beginning. Granted, Cal and the other characters are supposed to be very guarded at the start, not willing to give too much away. However, the matter-of-fact delivery of the actors and uninspired presentation often undermines the drama. I was hoping that director Stig Asmussen would bring an operatic atmosphere and visceral conviction similar to what he pulled off in God of War III, which would have been eminently suited to a Star Wars tale, but he doesn’t really get to stretch these muscles until the latter half of the game. This is also when the actors truly come alive, making better use of the performance capture technology, speaking with more energy, and selling the drama much more believably. This is one of those stories that may not hook you right away, especially if you’re a longtime fan of the franchise, but eventually picks up once the character drama becomes more palpable. Lord knows the MacGuffin search was not cutting it; all that amounts to is a bunch of tedious puzzle-solving in abandoned temples.
That in itself is ironic since one of the Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order‘s most noticeable inspirations is the Uncharted series. Jumping, climbing, and swinging his way through these levels a la Nathan Drake, Cal navigates several multi-leveled areas throughout his quest. Although it works, for the most part, the occasional glitch and need to push a button to grab onto climbable surfaces prevent the gameplay from being as smooth as its treasure-hunting counterpart. Nevertheless, traversing these levels does serve its purpose in simulating the excitement of exploration, a feeling that’s further strengthened by the selection of planets. Much like in Ratchet & Clank or Mass Effect, you are free to land on any planet available to you, going through the journey at your own pace. If you’ve unlocked a new Force power, you can revisit past planets to unlock other areas and collect extra goodies. Not only does this give the impression of being a space traveler, but it also cements the feeling of progression that makes you want to experience more.
Sadly, there are a few drawbacks to this. First, you only have a handful of planets to explore, which diminishes the illusion of being in the sprawling Star Wars universe. Second, the levels eventually become so large and labyrinthine that it’s hard to reach your objective. It’s a problem that’s compounded by the absence of a Fast Travel feature, meaning that there’s a lot of backtracking as you go everywhere on foot.
Third, the collectibles that you come across are mostly used for customization. This sounds enticing until you realize the limitations. You can only change your ship’s paint job, your poncho design, the color of your droid sidekick, and your lightsaber components. These are strictly cosmetic; not one of them influences your stats or abilities in any way. Compare this to Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, where each lightsaber crystal you found had a different effect on your health and Force powers. There are no such advantages here. This, combined with an utter lack of side quests, means that you often don’t have any incentive to explore the levels except for exploration’s sake.
Then again, exploration is only part of the equation, as you’ll be spending just as much time swinging a lightsaber. I know I’m far from the first person to point this out, but the combat here takes heavy inspiration from titles like Dark Souls and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. It goes beyond simply wailing on an enemy and holding down the block button when you’re under attack. You and most other melee foes have a stamina meter as well as a health meter. Every time you block a strike or a laser bolt, your stamina bar drains until you eventually start taking damage. The key is to time your block, putting your guard up just before your opponent hits you in order to parry their strike. This opens the enemy up to your counterattack. Granted, some of the Force powers and lightsaber techniques you unlock can sometimes give you the upper hand, but you still spend the vast majority of the time honing your ability to parry. Failure to do so means certain death, as you and everyone else will die after just a few hits. On paper, this sounds like an effective way of heightening the tension of battle and forcing you to fight with finesse, and it largely does exactly that. This combat system makes every encounter a trial in and of itself, but it rarely ever becomes a chore. The battles are perfectly doable with enough patience and skill. As you test your opponents, trying to find an opening or an angle from which to strike, you as a player begin to feel more powerful and intuitive, further strengthening the Jedi illusion. When you finally topple your enemy, it’s much more satisfying due to being a hard-won and fair victory.
However, this system is not perfect. For one thing, you’ll likely feel cheated by certain design decisions, such as the inability to block during a combo. If your enemies manage to hit you before you can block their initial attack, you can’t put your guard up while they’re executing their follow-up strikes, leaving you with no choice but roll away and wait for another combo before you can attempt a parry. Another egregious example is the occasional hitbox hiccup; you’ll run into fights where your foe’s attack is a foot or two off and still deals damage. Suffice it to say, it’s hard to justify the lengthy post-death loading time when such cheap obstacles are the cause of your demise.
You’ve probably noticed that this review has been very mixed. This is because Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is essentially a double-edged sword. For seemingly every strength that it boasts, it also bears an issue which hampers the enjoyment. These problems prevent the overall experience from being as potent as it should be. In spite of this, when the credits rolled, I couldn’t help wanting more. Sure, it’s rough around the edges, but none of the flaws are crippling enough that they can’t be ironed out in a sequel. Likewise, you could easily see the positive elements evolving and becoming even more refined if given the chance. Much like Kingdom Hearts, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai, The Witcher, Mass Effect, Assassin’s Creed, Kingdom Come: Deliverance, and countless other first entries in a franchise, the game is inspired enough that you’ll want to take the next step in the journey.