This damned swamp toad is staring at us with three yellow eyes. It's the fifth time our young padawan has been brutally killed here and we've come to the conclusion that we're going to have to try a completely different tactic. We formulate a new plan of attack and test it right away. And yes, this time, things went a little better. A little. This attempt was followed by yet another, but it was during this one that we finally succeeded in shredding the toad with our ice-blue lightsaber. The satisfaction from doing so is huge in a way we can't compare to anything other than winning a hard-fought battle in Dark Souls. Of course, this raises the question: is Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order a Souls-inspired game?
The answer must be... "no". But to some extent, it's also "yes". Indeed, it's clear that Respawn Entertainment has been inspired by From Software's now genre-defining titles. There is so much that can be traced back to Lordran, not least how to deal with the many deaths and experience points that must be recovered from the enemies who defeat you. But this is Star Wars, not a Japanese game made for a hardcore audience; it's intended for a mass audience and therefore there are five levels of difficulty to choose from, where the standard challenge is the second easiest.
Anyone who wants a challenging (but not sadistic) adventure will find it here. However, there are also other differences, and early on we noticed how Respawn has put its own signature style aside and instead has been unabashedly inspired by the best third-person adventures the gaming world has to offer. There are very clear similarities to the Batman: Arkham series, other ideas are drawn from the more recent Tomb Raider games, and the basics revolve largely around the classic Metroidvania concept.
That's not to say that Respawn has failed to find its own identity for Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. On the contrary, the studio has very skillfully put together a competent adventure that stands on its own two legs and is based around the horrific Order 66, whereby Emperor Palpatine orders the extermination of all Jedi. Those who love Star Wars will know that very few Jedi Knights escaped the ruthless persecution of the Empire. Not even the children were spared.
As you no doubt know already, the few who, against all odds, survived this attack had to hide. In two of the more famous cases, they took refuge in the deserts of Tatooine and in Dagobah's swamp. In the case of Cal Kestis, the protagonist of this adventure, he has retreated to a huge heap of space scrap where he does his best to stay out of trouble. However, just working with scrap would be a fairly sad excuse for a Star Wars adventure, and events lead to Kestis having to reveal that he is a Force user.
In doing so, the Empire is committed to relentlessly chasing him down and strengthening its grip on the galaxy, and they send out their best inquisitors to hunt him down. These are harsh odds for a young Jedi who hasn't even finished his training yet. Fortunately, he soon gets some help and the adventure can begin in earnest. That's the scene set, but from now on we're going to try to keep this spoiler-free, even though the story actually plays a smaller role than we expected.
Just like the Batman: Arkham games and the Tomb Raider reboot, there is a well-written story running in the background that's brought to life by some fine voice acting. On the other hand, we didn't notice much of the story beyond the cutscenes, as the focus is very much on gameplay, and in those terms, it's both varied and entertaining. Where other action-adventure games often offer the somewhat strenuous forest stage, the mandatory indoor level and then, of course, the snowy expanse - Star Wars has the advantage in that it can offer any environment by just inventing a new planet.
This is what Respawn has done and during our journey, we visited both well-known and new locations (which means that it's always exciting to find out what happens next). However, something we reacted a little negatively to is how the game worlds never feel entirely plausible. For example, villages can have lethal precipices cutting through the streets, and it's hard to think why anyone would want to build a home in a place that would probably end up killing its inhabitants every other day. In the same way, stormtroopers with heavy weapons often stand in locations that a young and agile Jedi has difficulty reaching, and there are also platform areas where you have to jump around like a Jedi-powered Super Mario.
Then again, the focus is on gameplay. Games are intended to be fun to play rather than logical. In the same way, thin fences - so thin that even a slightly overweight and lazy editor like yours truly could force their way through - totally succeed in keeping Cal at bay (and this is despite the fact that Cal has a lightsaber that can be used to open armoured doors). It feels a little silly to look at a collectible that we can't get to because there's a fence blocking our path and where instead, we have to take the spaceship to another planet, learn a new ability and then return later to retrieve the object in question.
A minor complaint it may be, and we clearly prefer that gameplay outweighs realism, but of course, we like it best when the two work in perfect harmony. However, since the game is always fun to play, it never feels like a problem and, with everything happening at a fairly high pace, we unlock more abilities that make Cal stronger and thus also more fun to fight with.
And it is needed. Although Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is not sadistic, it is still a challenging game. An ordinary stormtrooper or some pitiful space beetle can be the end of you if you don't watch out, and there are several spikes in the challenge in the form of really difficult enemies. However, the skill trees are not completely open, and you can only choose from what is offered, and so you might end up unlocking everything available before the next set of skills are opened as part of the story. Thus, there isn't much freedom of choice when it comes to levelling up. Sure, you can choose whether you want a bigger Force meter or to learn a new kick - but it's more like you're choosing the order you unlock things rather than tailoring your build from the get-go.
There are secrets to unlock everywhere. Often these will be dramatic events that you can "read" with the power of the Force to give a little more context. However, there is also plenty of cosmetic stuff for yourself, your little sidekick BD-1 (it's Star Wars, everyone has to have a fun droid!), your lightsaber, and your spaceship. We thought that this added very little, and changing colours on BD-1 every now and then, or changing the start button's design on the lightsaber (which we can't even see when we're walking around), felt a little superficial. That said, every now and then we also found useful things, such as increasing the amount of stim packs BD-1 can carry.
The battles themselves are fairly basic in their design. You have your Force powers and you have your lightsaber, and it's important to use them in the best way for each scenario. With a well-timed press on RB, you can perform a parry that can be used to reflect back shots at stormtroopers, as well as execute countermeasures in close combat. The system is very similar to that of the Batman: Arkham games and we think it works great here. When you later have the opportunity to choose between better Force and lightsaber abilities, we think the former is preferable as being able to do things like push enemies away or slow down time gives you tremendous benefits.
There is plenty of variety in the battles, although for spoiler reasons we won't tell you what you will face and how things are spiced up. Let's just say that there are a few moments in the game that seriously made us consider a career change and sign up to be a Jedi Knight. We're talking really epic stuff that will be appreciated by Star Wars fans who know the universe beyond the movies.
You'll also find that you do things other than fighting. As mentioned before, the various planets have different environments, and of course, different kinds of challenges await. These also tend to be focused on gameplay rather than plausibility; sometimes you have to walk around and push giant orbs across levels, elsewhere there are physics-based puzzles to solve, and at other times you'll have to figure out how to use the Force to jump across a series of platforms. And all the while you're doing this, you'll keep seeing doors or openings that you can't get through, where you have to come back later after getting the necessary abilities. All of this is a staple that works great in Metroidvania games, but it's all stuff that breaks immersion.
Technically speaking, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is a joy to play. Certainly, there are occasional hiccups in the frame-rate, but it's not game-breaking. The adventure is absolutely delightful to behold with exquisite details and drop-dead gorgeous backgrounds. The collision detection sometimes leaves a little to be desired, the hair animations are not always top-notch, and that the loading times could have been faster, but in general this is one of the best-looking games of the year. The quality visuals are also accompanied by music and audio design that brings the feeling of the original trilogy back.
Although the story surrounding Cal's adventure hasn't been prioritised to the same extent as the lore-driven gameplay with its entertaining challenges, that doesn't mean that the story doesn't hold up. On the contrary: the dialogue is good, the script is well-written, and the cutscenes are great. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is simply a Star Wars treat that delivers on all fronts, although we want to highlight the gameplay in particular, as well as the variety and the delicious graphics.
Sure there are some little things that could have been better, but overall this is the best Star Wars title that EA has released since it acquired the license to make games set in A Galaxy Far, Far Away back in 2013. It's fun to play, hard to put down, has a great story, high replay value, and it once again shows why Respawn is one of the most interesting and talented developers right now.
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