Tackling the Star Wars franchise is never easy. Between all of the movies, animated TV shows, and the wealth of games, bringing something new and exciting to the table is tough. While the team at Respawn Entertainment have done a valiant job at crafting a new experience in Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, and although its story has its moments and the combat has finesse, it seems to struggle finding its place at the table.
Darkest before dawn
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is set between the catastrophic events of Episode III and the hopeful days of Episode IV. The story kicks off at a breakneck pace. Cal Kestis – the player-controlled character – is Force-sensitive and in hiding. A close call at work (he’s a scrapper who decommissions ships) thrusts Cal into a fight for his life and once again sees him fleeing from the Empire. Pursuing him is the Second Sister, the leader of The Inquisitorius and the main villain of the game.
From here, Cal teams up with a crew consisting of a captain called Greez and Cere, a woman with a mysterious past. Fleeing forever isn’t an appealing option, so Cal joins Cere’s cause: hunting down a holocron that contains the whereabouts of all known Force-sensitive kids in the hopes of creating a new Jedi order.
One of the main characters you'll be spending the most time with is BD-1. This little droid sits perched on your back, dispensing health stims. When it's not on your back, it's off scanning pieces of lore, being used as a powered zipline, or projecting out a holographic map of the planet.
For a story that starts with a bang, it really does struggle to maintain momentum. The middle of the story is a bit of a drag as you skip from planet to planet, chasing the memory fragments of a former Jedi Master, all in the hopes of finding the holocron. Along the way, Cal wrestles with his inner demons and questions his whole purpose. It’s a standard song and dance that fans of Star Wars should be quite familiar with.
What comes as a surprise is just how safe the story is in Fallen Order. Outside of a few impressive moments, the story rarely challenges the player or explores uncharted waters.
The comparison you expect
One of the places where Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order shines is in its combat. The combat is a little more purposeful in Fallen Order than previous Star Wars titles. You will need to time your attacks, block when necessary, and consider each encounter. This challenge changes based on the difficulty selected and at some lower levels it’s still somewhat possible to mash your way through.
Beyond the lowly Stormtroopers and creatures, enemies have a stamina bar and health bar. In order to deal health damage, Cal must whittle down this stamina bar by attacking with lightsaber or the Force. Once depleted, the enemy is entirely vulnerable to being killed.
In boss fights, once the stamina bar is broken, it will regenerate after a few hits have been landed. It becomes a dance of chipping away at the stamina and then going in to strike, all while avoiding attacks.
Avoiding attacks comes down to positioning and blocking. Cal will need to side-step or roll out of the way, jump over attacks, or deflect and block incoming assaults. Perfectly deflecting an attack rewards the highest stamina damage, but it also takes the most skill. Thankfully, the aforementioned difficulty levels change the deflection window timing, outgoing damage, and incoming damage.
To further spice up the combat, new abilities can be learned via the skill tree. This is accessible when using one of the many, generously placed meditation circles. There’s also the option to rest, refilling your health charges (stim canisters) and Force meter, and resetting all the enemies in the level.
As for the skill tree, it includes three paths focusing on the Force, your lightsaber, and Cal’s health. Unlocking a Force ability means being able to push larger enemies, cause things to slow down for longer, and increase your Force meter. Lightsaber abilities include throwing out your blade, a strong over-head attack, and blocking blasters while running. Health upgrades are your standard health increases and how much health you get from stim canisters.
While the combat has its finesses, it unfortunately doesn’t offer up anything new and unique. Probably the most interesting thing you can do was already shown off in some gameplay: slowing down a laser blast and using Force pull to put an enemy in front of it.
The same can be said about the Force. No new or exciting abilities are on display outside of the previously-mentioned slow effect. There are no great displays of Force use, like pulling a Star Destroyer out of the sky à la Force Unleashed.
Much like previous Star Wars games, there is still no dismemberment for human enemies. Dealing a death blow on a creature might result in it being cleaved in half or have its horn cut off, but humans never so much as bleed after being slashed across the gut with a lightsaber.
In the event you’re on the receiving end of a thrashing and you die, all the XP and unspent skill points you had are absorbed by the enemy that killed you. To get this back, you just need to hit the enemy.
But one mechanic that Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order has that will forever grind my gears is a respawn screen. This screen asks the question, “Respawn?” and only offers one option: continue. Play on a harder difficulty and you could be seeing this screen a lot. This respawn confirmation screen simply gets in the way of getting back to the game.
The limits of exploration
One of the differences between Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and other Star Wars titles is its terrain traversal. Cal is able to double-jump, swing on vines, and run across walls. These mechanics are used to great effect in the few dungeon-like areas where new Force abilities are learned and between major areas of a planet.
Unfortunately, Fallen Order isn’t as open-world as it first appears. There’s no plotting out your own course between areas. Each connection is a pre-made deconstructed hallway consisting of set wall-runs and vine-swing spots.
These are great to move through the first time, but on subsequent visits to the same area you’ll be wishing you had more freedom to choose your own path.
The reason you will be visiting the same area repeatedly is due to the clear Metroidvania influence. As you learn new abilities or when BD-1 acquires a new tool, previously locked-off areas will become available for exploration. This encourages the player to return to old planets to see what lies behind those once inaccessible locations.
The problem with this is that navigating around these planets isn’t as easy and carefree as it could be. You wind up spending a lot of time staring at the 3-dimensional map, trying to work out what connects to where and how you’re going to reach the other side of the planet.
It just winds up being tiring having to return to a planet two or three times, run to the new location, and then work your way back to the ship. It would have been so nice to have a quick travel option, even one as simple as allowing the player to return to the ship.
Sometimes you might get lucky and have a shortcut unlocked. This is great and often amounts to a couple of elevator rides. But between these, the movement doesn’t feel nearly as slick as one might expect, especially when the likes of Titanfall and Apex Legends are in the developer’s vernacular.
There were also some frustrating moments when trying to explore a planet. In one instance, a vine was needed to swing across a chasm. Instead of pressing forward, I turned around to see a giant tree branch behind me. Thinking there might be a chest hidden there, I swung to it only to clip through the non-physical tree and fall to my death.
The façade of exploration quickly falls away whenever something like this happens. It’s disappointing, because the environments are gorgeous and worth taking the time to appreciate.
In terms of your reward for exploring, sometimes it's a boost to your health or Force meter, but most of the time it’s a new cosmetic, of which there are many. Players can unlock new colors for Cal’s clothing and poncho and new paint jobs for the Mantis and BD-1. There are also dozens of lightsaber pieces you can find. You can mix and match all kinds of emitters, switches, sleeves and materials to create the lightsaber you want to use.
Space sounds beautiful
What makes a Star Wars experience really pop is its sound design. The distinctive hum and clash of lightsabers is enough to get any Star Wars fan raring to go, and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order takes the sound design to the next level.
Pulling out Cal’s lightsaber and hearing it hum to life is fantastic. Even when catching an elevator ride, you’ll wind up whipping out the lightsaber just to hear it thrumming.
It’s just as pleasing to listen to in combat. Deflecting blaster shots, clashing with other lightsaber-wielders, and hacking droids apart all sound incredible. Even the Force has a deep, reverberating tone as you push and pull enemies around.
As for the soundtrack, it is immediately recognizable and will likely ignite the nostalgia. Each area has its own distinctive theme and action sequences are heightened by the music.
The Dark Side
Outside of personal preferences when it comes to terrain traversal, combat, and story, there were also a host of bugs and glitches. Some of these were minimal, like characters’ feet sinking into the ground, but on more than one occasion a game reset was needed in order to ensure advancement was made.
In one of the earliest sections, Cal had to learn a wall-running ability in order to progress. This involved completing a tutorial where the skill was introduced. Each time I ran at the wall and attempted to perform the manoeuvre, Cal would run on the spot or the camera would freak out, causing him to fall.
Another instance saw the Mantis ship land and open the incorrect door. The ramp led into an out-of-bounds area, preventing me from actually entering the playable space and interacting with the NPCs.
At one point in the story, a cutscene triggered, but instead of the cinematic starting, I was stuck below the map. The underside of the level filled my screen, backlit by the starry night sky. I was unable to move save for the ability to spin the camera around.
Unfortunately, the experience was also marred by severe frame drops and crashes. It’s easy enough to overlook some glitches and hiccups, but these only sought to shine a spotlight on a game that just feels a bit average.
While Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order has some exciting combat and moments of genuinely interesting storytelling and acting, it just falls short of hitting the mark. It borrows heavily from several genres without actually adding anything new to the conversation. That’s not to say it’s bad, it just didn’t leave me wanting to revisit this galaxy.
This review is based on an Xbox One code provided by the publisher. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is available now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
- A Lightsaber and the Force feel good to wield together
- Gorgeous environments
- Lots of lightsaber customization unlocks
- Great music and sound design
- Some interesting story moments
- Story can drag in the middle and feel a bit aimless
- Traversal mechanics aren't fluid
- Some wonky animations, glitches, and bugs
- "Respawn?" screens after dying are always annoying
- Still no dismemberment in a Star Wars game
- No quick travel
Sam Chandler posted a new article, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order review - Between light and dark
Good review mate.