A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…Respawn Entertainment played Tomb Raider, then they played Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, and then they watched Star Wars and got inspired. Well, it was actually probably quite recently, and I’m pretty sure it will have been in this galaxy, but you know what I mean.
That’s how I feel when I play Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. It is as close to a love-child of those two games as can be (I’m sure you could also compare it to a cross between Dark Souls and Uncharted, but I haven’t played either of those and this is my review, so there), so if you were looking for a TL:DR on this review because you don’t like reading all of the details then these first two paragraphs are it. Tomb Raider, mixed with Sekiro, in the Star Wars universe, but there is more to it than just that.
You take control of Cal Kestis, a Jedi hiding away as a scrapper on Bracca following the Great Jedi Purge. It’s not long before events force (pardon the pun) Cal to use his powers, revealing his identity and making him a target for the Empire. Thankfully, in his attempts to escape Cal is rescued by a former Jedi called Cere and her co-pilot, Greez, who recruit him into their task of travelling to various locations around the galaxy in an effort to rebuild the fallen Jedi Order, hence the name of the game, duh.
I can’t lie to you, Cal Kestis is dull. Very dull. I didn’t find his character interesting at all. He is out shined by the story and development of Cere, who herself still isn’t that interesting, and even the comic relief which is supplied by Greez is more enjoyable than any part of Cal’s development. The only part of Cal’s character which I found even remotely enjoyable is his ever-growing relationship with BD-1, his loyal droid who accompanies him on his journey. The antagonists are slightly more interesting than the protagonists, but even they are little more than stereotypical villains who will be quickly forgotten once you’ve completed the story.
As for the story, it’s one which takes you to a number of gorgeous-looking, semi-open world-planets from the Star Wars universe, exploring tomb-like locations and solving puzzles to complete your objectives. The game is a Metroidvania title at heart, with certain pathways inaccessible until you unlock certain skills or abilities, which gives you a reason to backtrack later on in the game to explore new areas to fight new bosses or to collect more of the games massive number of lore-expanding collectibles. This is one aspect where the game feels a lot like the rebooted Tomb Raider franchise to me, and the puzzling and platforming elements only solidify the comparison. The locations are all expertly designed, and great thought has clearly been put into how each area can open up as you unlock more of your skills. Each planet is varied and enjoyable to explore for the most part although some are clearly better than others, with Zeffo and the wookie planet of Kashyyyk being the most enjoyable by some distance and Dathomir being the dullest. Sound design is also excellent, with both the musical score and the sound effects of lightsaber strikes and blaster bolts providing a truly authentic experience.
As you explore each planet you’ll find Meditation Points located at various locations throughout. Reaching these points give you an opportunity to rest, acquire new skills, and save your game. They are practically identical to campfires in Tomb Raider, but they probably bear an even closer resemblance to Sculptor’s Idols in Sekiro – resting at a Meditation Point will refill your health bar and your number of heals, but it will also cause all enemies to respawn, much like what happens in Sekiro, so deciding whether to rest or not is rarely a no-brainer. Is it worth the hassle of having to navigate all of those enemies again just to refill your health bar, or do you feel like you have enough health and heals left to make it to the next one? Choose wisely, young padewan.
The biggest comparison to Sekiro, however, is undoubtedly in its combat. Much like FromSoftware’s game, Fallen Order utilizes a block meter, asking players to perfect the art of timing their blocks to parry attacks and force themselves an opening before they can attack, making combat a more skill-based affair rather than mindless hashing and slashing. Perfecting the art of dodging at the last minute can also grant you an opening, and you’ll need to learn the best method of beating certain enemies and bosses (more on these in two seconds). Like Sekiro, combat in Fallen Order is brilliant, with the block system lending itself perfectly to the games lightsaber-based combat.
The game also incorporates some challenging and intense boss battles which are very enjoyable. Much like Sekiro (again), to be victorious in these battles you’ll need to learn your opponents attacks and how to react to them, and you’ll also need to perfect your own skills with a lightsaber to stand any chance of success. Your lightsaber is your main point of attack throughout the game (incidentally, you can customize your lightsaber with cosmetic items to forge your own distinct-looking weapon, which is a lovely touch, particularly for Star Wars fans) but as you progress through the story and acquire new skills you’ll also learn a number of Force powers which can be used in combat. These include deflecting blaster bolts back at stormtroopers, slowing an enemy down to a snail’s pace for a short period of time, pulling them towards you for a quick kill, or my personal favourite – using the Force to push them away. I cannot begin to tell you just how many times I used the Force to push an enemy, or even a group of enemies, off a cliff. It is insanely addictive, and it’s also a great way to easily defeat a tough enemy, even if it does feel a bit cheap.
The combination of being able to use all of these Force powers and the deflect-based combat results in a game which really does make you feel like a Jedi – you run into a battle where you’re vastly outnumbered, Force Push two enemies over a cliff, deflect blaster bolts back at a few stormtroopers, and then defeat the remaining foes with your skill and precision. It’s fantastic. I’m a bit unsure about the fact that you have to refill your Force meter by fighting enemies before you can use your powers, because that’s not how the Force works, but I guess it’s something that’s been done for the sake of balance; you would be an absolute unstoppable killing machine if this wasn’t the case.
You’re still a bit of a killing machine (which also feels a little bit against how Jedi’s work) but you’re definitely not unstoppable. Jedi: Fallen Order is hard, and at times it’s very hard, but this is one place where Respawn Entertainment has made a drastic quality-of-life change when compared to Sekiro. In my review of Sekiro, I pointed out how difficult it is, to the point where some players will find it completely inaccessible and won’t want to play it. The same could have been said of Fallen Order had Respawn Entertainment not made the decision to include a number of different difficulty settings, which makes the game accessible for players of all different skill levels, and you can even change your difficulty setting on the fly should you be getting frustrated and finding a certain part of the game too difficult or vice versa. Sekiro only has one difficulty setting, but Fallen Order is all the better for offering a number of options.
Fallen Order does fall short on one particular quality-of-life feature though, and that is fast travel. There is absolutely no way to fast travel between Meditation Points in Fallen Order, which becomes a big issue when the latter parts of the story force you to backtrack through areas which you’ve already explored, or even when you simply want to backtrack yourself to explore new areas. Having to work your way across the entire length of a planet again, once again fighting all of the enemies who you’ve already defeated, quickly becomes a real chore and, frankly, a massive pain in the arse when you just want to get on with things. You’ll resort to simply trying to run past large groups of enemies because you can’t be bothered to fight them all over again, only to get shot while you’re trying to climb something or running into a dead end with a horde of enemies behind you, it’s so annoying. I really can’t believe that Respawn opted not to include a fast travel feature, and it’s definitely one of the most notable frustrations throughout the campaign.
It’s not a game-breaking frustration though, and it doesn’t stop Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order from being the best single-player Star Wars experience in a long, long time. We’ve been waiting for this calibre of a story-based Star Wars game ever since EA got their hands on the license for the franchise, and although a lot of people have very little faith in EA I have to say that they have kept all of their shady practices out of Fallen Order and allowed Respawn to create the game that they wanted to create. Does it reinvent the wheel? Absolutely not. Does it borrow heavily from other titles? Absolutely. In fact, it uses pretty much every trick from the third-person action-adventure playbook. That isn’t a bad thing, in fact it’s the complete opposite, but it is a shame that Respawn hasn’t really tried to do anything new. That doesn’t stop Fallen Order from being a great game, but there is one big, big problem.
For all of its good points—the lush environments, the brilliant platforming aspects, the fantastic combat—Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is completely marred by technical issues, and I’m not talking about small ones. At times, textures render in incredibly slowly, which means you can be running around a completely bland area while the environment pops in around you. There are also major frame rate issues, particularly when there’s a lot going on on-screen, which can make the game borderline unplayable. This can be incredibly frustrating if you’re in the middle of combat, and it cost me my life and set me back a fair chunk of progress on a number of occasions. Enemies also pop up out of nowhere, sometimes just appearing out of thin air right in front of you. These issues aren’t rare either, they are consistent, and will happen to you multiple times during every session. I experienced these problems on a standard Xbox One console, but I’ve read numerous reports of the same issues on both PlayStation 4 and PC, and I’ve also read issues regarding persistent crashes and game-breaking bugs, although I didn’t experience any of that myself.
It’s a real shame, because Fallen Order is a fantastic Star Wars game, and a tremendous game in general, but these technical issues do completely hamper it and hold it back. I’m quite staggered that Respawn didn’t pick up on these issues in testing (maybe they did and just didn’t have time to fix it, I don’t know), but they haven’t been addressed in a patch as of yet or even mentioned as an issue that will be fixed, so we’ll have to see what happens. They don’t completely ruin the experience, and you can play through them, but they do completely break the immersion of the game and can be the difference between victory or defeat in a tight fight. They have had a big impact on my overall score of the game, but it’s necessary, they can’t be ignored.
There’s something here though, and Fallen Order could be the beginning of a bright future for story-driven Star Wars games. It looks like Star Wars, it sounds like Star Wars, and it feels like a Star Wars story, it’s just played out by a cast of bland and uninteresting characters. It’s a lot like the sequel trilogy of movies in that respect, but Fallen Order powers through its character-based problems with fantastic combat which truly does make you feel like a skilled Jedi, even if it does use a system which is borderline stolen from other games. The technical problems really do hold it back from reaching the heights that it would otherwise be capable of achieving though, and the score does reflect that, but as for the future of single-player Star Wars games? We have a new hope.