Review: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Seven years ago, LucasArts was acquired by Walt Disney as part of the Lucasfilm purchase, which subsequently led to the closure of the licensed video game developer, bringing an end to nearly thirty years worth of Star Wars video game adaptations from the influential studio. The following year, Disney handed off the Star Wars license to Electronic Arts with a ten-year exclusivity deal, putting one of the most renowned science fantasy franchises in the hands of one of the biggest video game publishers to date. Despite the promising nature of this partnership, EA has yet to find any significant amount of success with the license, after two mediocre releases within the rebooted Battlefront sub-series and a cancelled single player adventure known as Project Ragtag from Visceral Games which ultimately led to the studio’s closure. Back in 2016, Titanfall developer Respawn Entertainment revealed that they would be attempting to create their own single player Star Wars adventure, bringing on God of War 3 director Stig Asmussen to lead the team in the hopes of producing a memorable solo Star Wars game, and as a result, justifying Disney’s decision to partner with EA as fan distrust has slowly risen over the years. That project, called Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, has finally made its way to the masses, and the game’s deep combat, rewarding exploration and set piece moments makes Jedi: Fallen Order a journey worth taking despite some technical issues and a middling story.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order takes place between Episodes III and IV, and five years after the events of Order 66, which wiped out the vast majority of the Jedi Order. Cal Kestis, a former padawan, has cut himself off from the Force and attempts to live a normal life hidden away from the Empire until a life-threatening event forces him to reveal his true nature and abandon his position. Shortly afterwards he comes across Cere, a former Jedi with a mysterious past, and Greez, a pilot with a penchant for betting and eating, who encourage him to embark on their quest to fight back against the Empire and return the Jedi to their former glory in the process. The twenty hour story has its fair share of dramatic reveals, particularly during the final hours, and alternate perspectives on key events in the Star Wars universe, embracing many of the key themes that define the movies. Despite optional opportunities to interact with Cal’s crew and expand their overall depth, however, the cast undergoes mostly predictable character arcs, with Cal being the worst offender, and with writing that far too often feels referential or cheesy, the plot serves its purpose to escort the crew from one planet to the next but rarely aims to go above and beyond outside of a few memorable sequences.

Cal’s journey takes him to a handful of original and familiar planets, and although the game occasionally gives players the impression that they can choose between multiple locations to visit, there’s little incentive to not follow the storyline as it takes players to every location at opportune times. On the bright side, each planet is a joy to explore, thanks to the various biomes and expertly-planned level design that is filled to the brim with combat encounters and secrets. The map system, provided in real time by Cal’s adorable droid companion BD-1, does a stellar job of not only showing players where to go next, but providing hints at optional paths and areas that Cal should return to upon remembering or acquiring new abilities. Each planet introduces new means to traverse their environments, as momentum plays a key role when speeding down lengthy slides, swinging on ropes, running along walls and much more as Cal attempts to reach his next location.

Many of the secrets that Cal can track down are related to customization, as players will open chests to acquire a wide variety of ways to shape Cal, his lightsaber, BD-1 and the Mantis ship to their preference. Additionally, Cal can use the Force and BD-1s scanning to gain additional lore on specific items, locate plant seeds to bring back to the ship and track down harder-to-reach areas to gain upgrades to his health bar, stim canisters and Force meter. With so much to collect, completionists and customization fans can easily double their overall time with the game just tracking down every extra, but the optional nature of most of it won’t discourage players who simply want to continue progressing the story. Several planets also house large-scale puzzle environments, which house some of the more useful abilities and unlocks and feature plenty of creative mechanics and helpful hints from BD-1 to spice up Cal’s journey as the player explores ancient tombs that would feel right at home in a Lara Croft adventure.

The environment is far from Cal’s only hurdle to reaching his next objective, as stormtroopers and a wide variety of alien creatures look to halt Cal’s progress by any means necessary. Throughout the adventure, Jedi: Fallen Order is more than eager to throw new enemy types at the player, from troopers with new weapons to more aggressive animals and several unexpected adversaries that will keep the player on their toes. Every player death sends them back to the most recent checkpoint without their garnered XP, which players use on a fairly simple skill tree to unlock new lightsaber, Force and survival upgrades and can reacquire by facing the enemy that took them down. Resting at each checkpoint will also refill Cal’s health and stim canisters, but will also respawn all enemies even within line of sight, which is never contextualized within the story despite being an interesting mechanic for raising the stakes of combat.

The core combat feels reminiscent of Sekiro, as players attempt to dodge well-animated blockable and unblockable attacks and whittle away at an enemy’s stamina meter while maintaining their own in order to break their defenses and deliver damaging blows. Parrying also plays a key role, as blocking at the right time can deflect blaster bolts back to their sender and stun enemies to leave them open for finishing moves, which, while effective, can get repetitive even in the opening hours. Fortunately, the combat rarely feels repetitive, with lightsaber-based clashes that truly make players feel like a Jedi as new strategies emerge thanks to unlocked skills and abilities and the Force offering up plenty of satisfying opportunities to quickly get the edge on tough challengers. The various difficulty levels are clearly defined to alter the effects of parry timing, incoming damage and enemy aggression, which plays a significant role in the core combat and expands the audience of potential players by addressing a number of playstyles and skill levels. The spacious environments can often lead to Cal stumbling upon showdowns between troopers and creatures, which, aside from being entertaining to watch, players can use to their advantage by stepping into the chaos at the opportune time.

Towards the later stages of the game, players can occasionally rely on brute force to overcome simpler enemies, as health becomes less of an issue and players more fully grasp the combat mechanics. Luckily, the bosses of the game rarely offer this luxury, as players will encounter legendary versions of the creatures they’ve faced previously as well as several plot-related characters with both requiring more precise dodges and strategic usage of Force abilities and parrying. These prominent foes offer some of the most rewarding encounters throughout the adventure, as players are put to their test and encouraged to use every ability they can to stand toe to toe with some truly difficult opponents. In addition to the boss fights, Cal’s adventure features several set piece moments that highlight the single player campaign and while not all of them succeed in every aspect, they provide some of the more memorable moments that stand tall after the events of Jedi: Fallen Order come to a close.

The graphical presentation of Jedi: Fallen Order doesn’t go out of the way to raise the bar, but it rarely falls flat either, instead merely content with allowing the new environment and character designs to impress players as they traverse the galaxy. The background music often feels reminiscent of the orchestral score of the movies, but occasionally branches out with more unique tracks that still feel right at home in a galaxy far, far away, while the voice performances are all fitting, with the overconfident stormtrooper quips and Debra Wilson’s role as Cere representing the highs. As a whole, the technical performance rarely prevent the game from being unplayable, but several recurring issues do pop up, from lengthy post-death loading screens to frame stutters even on performance mode on a high-end console. The only truly impactful problem arises in stim canister deployment, wherein Cal requests BD-1 provide him a health-refilling item, but its length and occasional unreliability can lead to some unearned hits or deaths as the player can only hope that pressing down on the d-pad works as intended. Fortunately, the rest of the control scheme feels well thought-out, as players can easily swap between core moves and unique abilities without too much extra thought or button combinations.

Closing Comments:

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is one of the best Star Wars games to date, thanks to intense combat and satisfying exploration and traversal. Despite a mediocre plot and presentation, Cal’s quest to revive the Jedi Order is full of memorable encounters, unique environments and several high-energy boss fights and set piece moments that pushes the Star Wars universe in an exciting new direction. After years of waiting for a proper single player Star Wars adventure, action-adventure fans and completionists are sure to find plenty to enjoy in Respawn’s latest hit, cementing the developer as one to keep an eye on as they provide a new hope for Star Wars fans.