It’s been four years since the first Star Wars Jedi game was released and now Respawn Entertainment has returned with the sequel, aptly named Star Wars Jedi: Survivor. This is a continuation of the story players experienced back in 2019 that builds upon the character of Cal Kestis and his motley crew as they try to not only stage a rebellion against the Empire, but survive all manner of threat. There are a lot of similarities between the sequel and the first game, as much to its benefit and as its detriment. On a whole, the experience is an improvement over the first, with additional weapons and movement options, along with richer characters.
A New Hope
The story of Star Wars Jedi: Survivor takes place five years after the events of the first game. Cal Kestis is striking at the Empire however he can with his new crew after his old ragtag bunch went their separate ways. After a bit of trouble, Cal is once again fleeing, this time with the goal of bringing his crew back together to not only work at taking down the tyrannical Empire, but to find a safe haven for other Jedi on a planet called Tanalorr.
Cal’s character has grown quite a bit from the first game. Though he can still be a bit bland at times, he’s a rational protagonist with clear goals and is, amazingly, in-touch with his emotions. He understands his own limitations, tries valiantly to work through them, all while empathizing with others’ plights and goals.
The main antagonist, Dagan Gera, plays well off of Cal’s own fears and goals. Both are obsessed with reaching Tanalorr, though their reasoning differs. It’s through this motivation that they can see a piece of themselves in the other and all the emotional turmoil that comes along with it.
Unfortunately, there are some inconsistencies with the story and character motivations. Cal tries to keep his identity a secret lest the Empire come and endanger those he cares about and yet, within the first few moments of arriving on the friendly world of Koboh, he lets a bad guy walk off. Seconds later, he asks a new ally to keep it hush-hush that he’s on the planet.
Toward the end, a few character motivations fell apart and illogical decisions were made. Some of these decisions appear to go directly against Jedi teachings. It left me puzzled, questioning why these established characters would act in such a way. By the time the credits rolled, I didn’t feel content with how the story wrapped up.
The Light side
The discontent with Star Wars Jedi: Survivor’s narrative also seeps into the gameplay. For those that focus on the story and leave exploration for later, the back and forth between locations becomes painfully obvious. Cal is just everyone’s go-to man, “Go to here, and then go to there.” You’ll just finish a mission chasing the next McGuffin and you’ll need to go back to the previous planet or the base of operations, Koboh.
Thankfully, Koboh as a hub world feels great to explore. It’s basically southern US of A in space. Most characters have a drawl, there’s a ranch, and the moment you sweep into town on a cloud of dust, you’re fighting out front of a saloon. It’s a welcoming place, ignoring the obvious threats lurking in the avenues and ravines that are begging to be explored.
And explore you will, especially as you return with new abilities that grant you access to previously unreachable locations. These new areas could hold dungeons that ask you to solve some Force-based puzzle or tough monsters to fight, and all seem to reward you with a chest containing a health or Force upgrade, or even a cosmetic.
Truthfully, I don’t usually give two credits about cosmetics in single player, story-driven video games, but Star Wars had other plans for me. One chest in the early parts of the game contained one of the best hairdos a bloke from Australia could want. I had secured a mullet. Cameron Monaghan looks pretty great in a mullet and I now feel both represented and passionate about cosmetics.
There are a host of improvements upon the first game that Respawn included in Survivor. Firstly, the map is significantly improved in both legibility and use. Terrain elements are now blocky with less cluttered details, with elevation changes clearly defined. While it does feel weird to change and rotate the camera around – almost as though the focal point is below or behind the map – you can now fast travel to locations via the mediation points. It speeds up the exploration and cuts down on the need to repeat the restrictive traversal areas.
Many of the first game’s abilities, weapons, and moves return for the sequel. Cal can use one lightsaber, two separated lightsabers, Darth Maul-style double-ended saber, and his Force abilities. As the story progresses, you’ll acquire some new weapon options including a blaster-lightsaber combo that spices up the combat and everything can be expanded through the upgrade system. Plus, the lightsabers can now, literally, disarm opponents, slicing off human limbs and cleanly cauterizing the wounds.
As you fight through the campaign, some of your companions will join you, offering their unique abilities into the mix. Merrin can lock down foes with her magic while Bode, a new jetpack-using fella, can throw down stun grenades. It’s a nice addition that can help turn the tide of battle, especially on the harder difficulties.
Survivor introduces a wealth of other characters to enrich the world. Found while you explore, these characters will return to Koboh’s town center and open up shop. Any materials you find while exploring can be traded for cosmetics or even perks, equippable items that improve or alter some aspects of Cal’s repertoire of tools. Some of these characters are simply there to flavor the experience, like Turgle, a gangly, bumbling, frog-like alien whom I instantly fell in love with. I would kill for you Turgle.
For every positive addition, there still exist some of the woes I held with the first game. The movement, though flashy, never reaches its full potential outside of the predetermined traversal sections. These sections are still restrictive, requiring players to string together specific moves along a set path. It’s unfortunate, because you’re given all these moves like a grapple and dash, but you’re never unleashed within a playpen to use them freely. Arenas will have curved walls and other bits hanging from the ceiling, but you’re fighting on the ground.
The combat tends to feel quite samey after a while. It’s still a treat to carve through droids and Stormtroopers with ease, especially in the few times the game throws large groups at you, but more often than not you’re whittling away at stamina bars. When at its best, the fighting can be rewarding, especially against bosses, but when above-average mobs require multiple stamina bar breaks, it starts to get repetitive.
You’ll whittle down a stamina bar, get in a few choice hits, and then need to back off. This in and out method is repeated until the foe is out of health, and then it’s on to the next above average foe. Sekiro got this right, rewarding you with a one-hit deathblow if you could reduce the stamina gauge. In Survivor, every foe with a stamina bar has the potential to turn into a drawn out fight thanks to their quick recharge.
Using the Force is always a joy, especially when you can push, pull, and hold enemies up in the air. Unfortunately, many of the stronger combatants are completely unconcerned by your attempts at telekensis. Even after upgrading, you must still go through the process of whittling down their stamina for a brief moment of control. It can be unsatisfying and leaves you feeling more like a padawan than a Jedi that’s been fighting non-stop for five years.
The Dark side
For all the good, there was also the bad, and my time playing on PC was marred by a few issues. There were frequent frame rate hiccups in combat and texture pop-ins during cutscenes. I also experienced a couple of crashes and the final boss sunk into the ground, breaking the encounter, and required a restart to get it to work.
As a user that enjoys a good Y-axis inversion, when it’s not implemented well my whole world crumbles. Though the camera is inverted when controlling Cal, it’s not when looking at the map, gliding on one of the bird creatures, or aiming laser devices to solve puzzles.
For all the high points the story told, the cutscenes unfortunately undermined the efforts. The cinematics were almost unwatchable. Dialogue would stutter, stop, repeat, and play over the top of other lines. Emotional story beats were made unintentionally hilarious. A Day 0 patch promises to fix this, and I hold out hope that it does, but this is the game I was given to review.
The war within
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is a marked improvement upon the first game, despite suffering from some of the woes I had with the 2019 title. Cal Kestis’ journey across the galaxy is fraught with danger and the supporting cast are a treat to chat with whether in the midst of a mission or as you explore Koboh. While the combat and movement is still quintessentially Star Wars, it feels like the game has yet to reach its full potential. The good news is that, if you’re a Star Wars fan, you’re going to have a great time in this galaxy.
This review is based on a Steam key provided by the publisher. Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is scheduled to release on April 28, 2023 on Xbox, PlayStation, and PC.
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor
- Wielding a lightsaber and the Force still feels great
- Cal, for the most part, makes logical decisions and recognizes his own shortcomings
- Interesting and unique supporting characters (Turgle rules)
- Koboh is packed with reasons to explore and vendors to visit
- Significantly improved map and fast travel
- Dismemberment, finally
- You can give Cal a mullet and a Chopper Read moustache
- Cutscenes stuttered, dialogue stopped, repeated, and overlapped
- Traversal and combat woes from the first game are still here
- Story loses momentum with illogical character motivations
- Y-axis inversion doesn't work on the map, creatures, and puzzle elements