How damn long has it been since we’ve had a properly good Star Wars game? We used to get loads of them. Now we have things like Star Wars: Battlefront 2, which is admittedly a much better game than it was at launch, but it still doesn’t scratch that itch for a Star Wars adventure in video game form. Our saviour has come though, in the form of the fine folks over at Respawn entertainment. They are the Chose One, and they have brought balance to the Force. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is a singleplayer Star Wars adventure bereft of microtransactions or tacked on multiplayer. And it’s pretty bloody good.
Fallen Order is like some kind of bonkers videogame smoothie where they put the Star Wars license into a blender, tossed in Dark Souls, added a dash of Uncharted and Tomb Raider, and then blitzed the whole thing for a few minutes before pouring it into a cup and handing it to the player. It should probably be a disgusting, lumpy, swamp-coloured mess that only looks appealing to Shrek, but somehow it works. Like, really well. It may not be the Star Wars game I expected or even wanted, but I’m glad to have got it nonetheless.
You play as Cal Kestis, a Jedi Padawan who managed to survive the Order 66 purge which resulted in the vast majority of Jedi being wiped out at the behest of the Emperor. We pick up with Cal in hiding, working on a miserable planet as a scrapper taking apart rusting ships, including hulking Imperial Star Destroyers. But an accident which threatens the life of Cal’s only friend forces the former Padawan to tap into his broken relationship with the Force. Unfortunately, the Empire detect this and dispatch the Inquisitors to investigate, including the Second Sister who acts as the game’s recurring villain, harassing and chasing Cal across the galaxy.
Luckily for Cal the Empire isn’t the only one who takes note of his use of the Force, and to his rescue comes Cere, a former Jedi, and Greeze, a four-armed alien who pilots the Mantis. Rumors of a holocron that could be used to help rebuild the Jedi order lead Cal and his new friend. From there we get a journey spanning several planets old and new, including Dathomir, the planet from which Darth Maul originated.
But the best relationship in the game actually comes from Cal and BD-1, an incredibly cute little droid that Cal runs into early on. Their relationship isn’t the focus of the game or anything, but it quietly grows throughout the runtime of Fallen Order. BD-1 rides around on Cal’s shoulder and is the only companion that actually joins you on planets, so you spend a lot of time listening to his beeps and whistles. He’ll happily run off to scan things or to get ready to helpfully hack a door. At first Cal is unsure, but as he grows as a person he starts to chat to BD-1 more and more, the two of them forming a bond that I loved watching. Just like in the Star Wars movies BD-1 doesn’t get subtitles, but it’s amazing how quickly you start to understand what he’s trying to say to Cal, and Cal himself always seems to know what BD-1 is chattering away about.
The story that Fallen Order tells is engaging and satisfying, managing to feel like an important piece of the Star Wars story without ever trying to be too big or relying on tying itself into the movies. It stands on its own while enriching Star Wars as a whole, much like The Mandolorian show on Disney+ is currently doing. Perhaps more than anything else it’s just nice to see more of the Star Wars universe outside of the movies.
The reason that it works so well is the characters. The overarching plot is nothing new or exciting, but Cal and his friends are such a likeable, interesting bunch that you want to see the story through to the end. Cal in particuilar is fantastic. During the lead up to launch his design and what was shown of him didn’t exactly leave me feeling confident, so I was pleasantly surprised that in the full game he’s fantastic. His journey to reconnect to the Force is interesting and satisfying, and actor Cameron Monaghan (best known for his role as Jerome Valeska in Gotham) absolutely nails the voice work, as does everyone, to be fair.
If there was one disappointment then it stems from a character you meet quite early on. She’s fascinating and pops up quite a few times, but later it’s like the writers didn’t know what to do with her any more. She fades into the background and isn’t given anything to do. Perhaps she’ll factor more into a sequel, assuming we get one. Given how well Fallen Order seems to be doing though, I’d be surprised if Respawn don’t get to continue their saga.
Back on to a high note, though: the villain is superb. The Second Sister proves to be an intimidating foe and Respawn smartly pepper her throughout the story whilst filling in her own backstory. One of the greatest things in Star Wars is how its most iconic villain is such a beloved character, and while Respawn don’t hit the heights of Darth Vader they do manage to make Second Sister one of the best video game villains in quite some time.
Before we get to the combat though, I’ve got to mention the beauty of the lightsaber, although there is a caveat: for the sake of keeping combat balanced your lightsaber can’t just slice through everything and everyone. Yes, it is a bit strange that lots of enemies have things which can conveniently parry a lightsaber or that you can’t just chop a giant frog in half with a single swing. But it makes sense from a design perspective as to why you can’t. I’m getting off the topic, though – the audio for the lightsaber sounds like it was lifted straight from the newer Star Wars movies, so when you bring out the ‘saber it has a snarling, spitting sound that I’d happily describe as orgasmic. When you swing it around it sounds…oh baby, it sounds like everything that a lightsaber should.
Actual combat puts a lot of emphasis on being defensive, using a mixture of parrying and dodges before going in for an attack, because once you’ve committed to an attack animation it can’t be cancelled out of. Humanoid enemies typically have a defence bar that you need to batter before you can start hitting their health as well. The trick is to study attack patterns.
Basic Stormtroopers are just as hapless as in the movies, and can be defeated by easily reflecting their blaster shots or by a single swing of your lightsaber. Sometimes Fallen Order will just throw a bunch of them at you, letting you live out a power fantasy by slicing through them like they’re barely there. If this has been a new Force Unleashed game that feeling would have dominated the combat, but Fallen Order wants to keep you in check, so pretty much every other opponent is capable of ending your life.
The core mechanics of the combat don’t change much even once you unlock a few of the Force powers, although hurling a few troopers off a cliff never gets old. However, things are kept interesting by the way that Fallen Order mixes up groups of enemies to keep you on your toes. In particular it loves to place ranged enemies in tricky locations so that you have to quickly decide whether to jump into the melee or try to reach that pesky heavy gunner first.
Naturally being a Jedi means getting access to the Force, though Respawn helpfully gave themselves an excuse for Cal not having access to them from the very start. Kicking things off Cal can call on the Force to slow down a specific target, be it an enemy or a piece of scenery. Later on you get Force push which is handy for tossing foes off of cliffs or, in the case of more powerful enemies, interrupting whatever they’re doing. Finally, Force pull is exactly what you’d imagine it to be, yanking unfortunate foes toward you for a quick stabbing.
Sadly for Fallen Order the whole Jedi Force powers have been done far better, and quite recently, in the rather excellent Control. Sure, you aren’t a Jedi in Control, but you can use special abilities to throw enemies around using nothing but your mind, and by comparison Fallen Order’s push and pull powers feel pretty weak. Control loved to demonstrate your power through environmental destruction, sending chunks of wall and bits of desk flying into the air, but Fallen Order has none of that. The world around Cal remains resolutely intact.
While swinging a lightsaber around is a big part of Fallen Order there’s a surprising amount of time given over to exploring and traversing the environment using a simple set of platforming mechanics that would feel right at home in Tomb Raider or Uncharted. In other words, it’s spectacle platforming, favouring looking cool over being particularly challenging. That’s fine, though, because wall-running, clambering, swinging and frequently sliding down hills is good fun. Well, except the sliding down hills – that’s kind of naff.
The planets you visit follow the Dark Souls school of design in that they loop and curve in on themselves and progressing through them will open up various shortcuts so that you can get around quicker. There’s a great 3D map that can at first be difficult to read due the way levels are layered on top of themselves, but once you get the hang of reading it it’s brilliant. In a smart move it also displays obstacles that you can’t progress past yet in red, so that you don’t spend ages trying to figure out if you don’t have the correct ability or are just missing something obvious.
There’s a strong Metroidvania element running throughout Fallen Order with numerous abilities you gain letting you access new parts of areas you’ve already been to. For the most part the story naturally takes you back to these areas and makes use of the new routes, but proper exploration rewards you with a nice range of cosmetic customization options for Cal, BD-1 and even the Mantis. In particular there are loads of different lightsaber parts that you can acquire, and while they don’t alter its performance the Star Wars geek in me loved tinkering with the look of my blade.
There’s a lot collectibles to be found when exploring, too, most of which fill in little story details or lore. Fallen Order smartly puts all this stuff in chronological order automatically so that you can always tell if you’re missing a piece or two of a particular storyline. Having loads of lore that you can find in games can be a hit and miss experience, but in Fallen Order the quality of the writing is generally good enough to make reading through it all worth the effort.
The most valuable things you can discover increase the amount of Stims (heal potions) that BD-1 can carry for you, or will increase your max health or Force. These make exploration a lot more rewarding when you stumble across them, especially since they are typically quite well hidden.
It has become a cliché to compare games to Dark Souls these days, but in the case of Fallen Order it’s impossible not to, so enamoured with From Software’s games that it is. The influence is felt everywhere, but is perhaps most obvious in the Meditation points strewn around the complex levels. These act as the game’s checkpoints and also let you spend skillpoints to learn new abilities. They also let you rest, which refills your health bar and replenishes BD-1’s health stims. Resting also respawns all the enemies, too, just like in Dark Souls. It’s a weird idea that doesn’t manage to feel like it belongs in a Star Wars game, and Fallen Order never attempts to explain it away. You just need to accept it and move on with your life.
Whenever you die, and you certainly will, all the XP you’ve earned gets taken away. But in a gameplay mechanic that’s becoming extremely familiar you can get the lost XP back by hunting down the enemy that so cruelly ended your miserable existence. If you can successfully deal damage to the offending goon, though, you’ll regain your lost XP and instantly get your health refilled to max, potentially giving you a helping hand in tricky fights.
Speaking of XP you can spend your skill points to power up Cal using a decently extensive suite of abilities, like amping up Force push so that you can hurl multiple enemies backwards at once, or maybe adding a few new strikes to your limited arsenal.
Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty details of how Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order runs, shall we? As per normal I’m running a GTX 1080ti, a Ryzen 1600 CPU and 16GB of RAM. For the most part the performance was pretty solid running at 1440p but there were also some big drops, especially when moving through certain areas and occasionally during combat, which is always a problem when the timing window for parrying is already tricky to get right. Turning down the settings helps a little but drops still occur, so it seems to be an issue with the game itself rather than just me being greedy.
There were a handful of other problems, too, like a couple of hard crashes. I also fell through the world on three occasions, with two of those just resulting in death but the third apparently being some sort of infinite void. At least that last one meant I could go grab a cup of team, mind.
Other people have reported that there are a couple of scenarios in the game that can actually make the rest of it unplayable.
Problems aside though, Fallen Order is often a beautiful game. Perhaps the animations could be better, especially Cal’s running animation which makes him look like he’s pooped his knickers, but the vistas you stumble across are fantastic. Dathomir is red, dusty and foreboding while Kashykk is luscious and green, packed with towering trees and waterways.
I admit that the first few hours of Fallen Order were tough for me. I remember thinking, “okay, I didn’t ask for Dark Souls in my Star Wars,” and the blend wasn’t meshing with me. Somewhere along the way though, it clicked and I found myself thinking about playing Fallen Order while I was off doing other things, and that’s the hallmark of a great game. Respawn have done terrific work here, and continue to cement themselves as a superb developer.
4 out of 5
Categories: Reviews, Videogame Reviews
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