Star Wars Jedi – Fallen Order Review: Did Respawn push the ‘good’ button?

Star Wars – Jedi: Fallen Order
Release Date: November 15, 2019
Developer: Respawn Entertainment (Titanfall series, Apex Legends)
Platform(s): PS4, XB1, PC
Genre: Action-Adventure

Review By: Brandon Wright
Played: On PS5, January 2021
Review Date: February 24, 2021

The history of Star Wars games is a rich legacy. For a licensed series, the quality of many of its titles have been remarkably high. The early days featured space shooter classic TIE Fighter as well as the early Star Wars platformers like Super Star Wars on the SNES. In the N64 era we saw the start of the fantastic Rogue Squadron series as well the cult classic Shadow of the Empire. Then in the 00’s there were a veritable bevy of strong and diverse Star Wars titles: the highly acclaimed Bioware RPG series Knights of the Old Republic, the much beloved (OG) Battlefront games, the cult classic Jedi Knight series, the still-active Empire at War RTS, the popular MMO Galaxies, the first-person shooter Republic Commando, and even the well-done Lego Star Wars series.

In the past decade, things have taken a turn for the worse for the franchise (not just in gaming but… that’s another story). Aside from the solid Bioware MMO The Old Republic, the early 2010’s mainly featured a Kinect game followed by the Star Wars license’s acquisition by EA. Since EA has taken over we’ve gotten some mobile games, the 2015 DICE Battlefront reboot which disappointed massively, and in 2017, the micro-transaction-riddled and lootbox-heavy gambling sequel called Star Wars: Battlefront II. To EA/DICE’s credit, after getting absolutely roasted over the coals for their horrific practices in Battlefront II, they cleaned that game up and it’s now a pretty fun multiplayer experience. Nevertheless, the license has taken a long fall in the gaming sphere.

As a result, when a single-player Star Wars game was teased by EA as early as 2016, and later fully revealed in 2018/2019, Star Wars fans were intrigued. Learning that Respawn was developing the title, known for the quality Titanfall series (and then for Apex Legends), gave some fans (such as myself) hope that the game might be good. EA even claimed that the game would have no micro-transactions (such a low bar to clear, yet a nice surprise). After seeing early gameplay, which showed that the game seemed to be taking inspiration from other quality gaming franchises and was generally well-received, fans were excited. But did Jedi: Fallen Order live up to the hype?

I’m glad and somewhat surprised to say, it does.

Fallen Order follows the adventures of Cal Kestis, a Jedi who is one of the last remaining survivors of the Order 66 purge. It is a canon story in the Star Wars universe, taking place between episodes 3 and 4. A group of Imperial Inquisitors is hunting down the remaining Jedi, led by a woman called the Second Sister. Cal is flushed out of his hiding place and joins up with Cere, a former Jedi, and Greez, a pilot, and together they discover a secret that may be the key to reviving the Jedi Order. From a lore perspective, the overarching plot doesn’t do anything mind-shattering (it couldn’t really) but it provides some extremely cool fan-favorite moments and feels like a suitable story for the canon. From a plot perspective, the story is solid but nothing spectacular; the main characters have pretty interesting character arcs, and there are a couple of solid plot twists. And the bombastic finish caps the story off quite well. Nevertheless, while the story and writing is well done, and the game is very well voice-acted, the gameplay is the focus here.

Fallen Order plays out largely like a classic action-adventure game, a bit like Zelda. Cal will visit and explore several worlds, uncovering new pathways, secrets, and shortcuts. There are variety of enemies in his way which will test Cal’s combat skills. There are even a handful of “dungeons” of a sort featuring a variety of puzzles which are fun, while not being overly difficult. On top of this loop, Cal will have the opportunity to revisit previously explored worlds to open up new paths with newly acquired powers. Some of these return trips are optional, and reward players who explore and keep notes on areas they can’t yet access. This metroidvania-like feature is enhanced with a useful map screen that clearly marks areas that cannot yet be explored and ones that have been made available.

This exploration aspect of the game is perhaps what surpassed my expectations the most. Fallen Order is decidedly not an open-world game – it features a handful of large but linearly-constructed and finite worlds, separated by a hyper-space jump / loading screen. This world-hopping and overall structure reminds me a bit of Metroid Prime 3‘s layout. However, despite not being an open world, there are a number of opportunities to branch off the beaten path, mostly for cosmetic items, but sometimes for significant upgrades to your health or force power. There’s even a lightsaber upgrade I discovered which I still can’t quite tell if it was an optional upgrade or not – a good sign of player-led discovery. Even when it comes to following the main objective, there are no compass markers or waypoints here – just a single highlighted area on your map which won’t be revealed until you come across it (ala Metroid). This made exploration and traversal feel rewarding, rather than just an area to check off a list.

As mentioned, exploration is tied to a number of upgrades and new powers Cal acquires over the course of his journey. This could be a droid upgrade that can unlock a new type of door or a force push power that can push down bridges. There are a number of upgrades, but to be fair, some are more exciting than others. The force-based powers all add pretty interesting mechanics, but the aforementioned droid upgrades can be a bit of an unexciting addition – a far cry from Samus’ super missile or speed booster. This is partly because the force upgrades tie smartly into both exploration and combat – the other major gameplay focus of Fallen Order.

The combat encounters in Fallen Order are a highlight of the game. Armed with his lightsaber and ever-growing array of force powers, Cal faces a variety of Stormtroopers, creatures and monsters, Imperial Inquisitors, and more. The combat system is best described as a mash-up between Zelda and Dark Souls, obviously with a Star Wars flair. Cal can deal out light and heavy strikes, dodge, block, parry, reflect blaster bolts, and employ the aforementioned myriad of force powers. At first the player will only have the ‘slow’ force power, which can help control and mitigate enemies, but the later additions of force push and pull with some other perks really help shake things up. There’s no better feeling than parrying an incoming blow, dealing out a few quick saber strikes, and finishing with a flashy force push sending a trooper careening off a cliff.

Fallen Order is no hack-and-slash however, nor is it a straightforward “block and strike” system like Zelda. Enemies can be very aggressive, and multiple will bear down at you at once. Over-extending yourself will get you killed, and the player must learn to time parries, manage blocking (which is limited by essentially a stamina meter), and avoid getting stuck in long attack animations at the wrong time. Force powers use up Cal’s force meter, which can be replenished by landing melee strikes on enemies. Thus, finding an adequate balance of well-timed force powers, parries, blocks, dodges, and assaults is key to gaining the upper-hand in combat. A friend recommended I play on the Jedi Master difficulty – which seems to be the “intended” difficulty based on the difficulty selection UI – and it felt like a good balance of challenge and fun. Just note that if you play on a different difficulty your experience my vary from mine.

I found the enemy variety quite refreshing. While you certainly will be fighting a lot of stormtroopers and their kin, there are also a lot of different creatures to fight, including some large mini-boss-style ones. Not to mention the purge troopers, who can be a tough fight. Some enemies shoot lasers at you which can be reflected; others shoot missiles which must be dodged or manipulated with the force. Melee enemies will rush you and sometimes use unblockable attacks which must be detected and avoided. Inquisitors will execute long combos and block many of your strikes. Some enemies will throw shock grenades which can stun you; creatures will often headlong charge while you are elsewhere engaged. Learning the tendencies of each enemy type is a rewarding experience. Additionally, boss encounters are generally fun variations in the combat, with unique moves to learn and some epic moments throughout the story.

The combat is not without some flaws, however. The camera can occasionally be wonky which can result in enemies getting cheap shots off-screen. There are also moments when the timing of animations does not feel that it is matching button presses, but that could just be my inexperience with souls-style combat. Regardless, combat can feel stiff on occasion, but this works just fine as long as you’re not approaching the game like a hack-and-slash. This may frustrate some, but I found it worth getting use to the game’s slightly more methodical pacing.

Cal has a generally satisfying power curve as he gains new abilities via working up a skill tree. These new skills can be simple enhancements like additional force meter or more health, to heavy strikes, lightsaber throws, area-of-affect force power upgrades, and more. A skill point is acquired every level, and experience to increase your level is acquired both through overcoming enemies in combat and exploring and discovering secrets. This dual approach to progression is satisfying as being a thorough explorer feeds into better combat abilities, as well as allowing you to find the elusive exploration upgrades. The skill tree enhancements never really felt like game-changers, but a handful of moves were very flashy and fun to play around with. Enemies get tougher and tougher so the additional skills and enhancements certainly help Cal keep up to par in combat, even if they weren’t very unique.

One of the best parts of the combat is also reflective of a transcendent quality of the game – how faithful it sticks to the source material. Lightsabers buzz and lasers fly just as you’d hear in any Star Wars film. Enemies look and act similar to how they play out in the films, with purge troopers and inquisitors providing as exciting a lightsaber fight as you’ll see in most Star Wars media. This faithfulness to the source material extends beyond the combat and into the presentation of the game as a whole.

Fallen Order is a nice-looking game, both technically and thematically. Part of what makes Fallen Order‘s world so interesting to explore is how varied and striking its locations are. From the unique biome and jagged cliffs of Bogano, to the diversity of Zeffo – a planet which contains a full imperial base, a weather spire, a village, an underground icy tunnel system, a crashed clone wars-era Venator capital ship half-submerged, and an ancient tomb – and more, the places you visit are fascinating and feel right at home in the Star Wars universe.

The characters look good and are well-animated. The facial motion capture / animation overall is quite good, and though Cal himself can give off a bit of a dorky vibe, he honestly ends of being kind of charming. All the action has that Star Wars flair and Cal can pull off some flashy combos and moves. There are also a variety of Uncharted-style set-piece moments which are a pleasure to play and watch. This could involve escaping an attacking starship to a fighting an AT-ST walker one-on-one, to a tense climbing sequence.

Respawn was also on point in the audio arena. Sound effects are pulled straight from the films’ libraries, and new ones sound right on point for the franchise. The music and ambience swells and fades with a very similar sound to John Williams’ brilliant scores. It really adds to the Star Wars mood. As mentioned previously, the voice acting is also very good and helps relate to the characters. The only area where conversations feel a bit stiff is in the ad-hoc conversations Cal can activate outside of cutscenes. Not much animation was done here, but it’s not terrible or anything – just not on the same level as the cutscenes.

One note I’d like to make here is that I played the game on PS5, where (with a recent patch) it receives near-4k resolution and 60 fps. At this performance level the game looked great and felt very smooth. However, I had also played a bit on the previous console gen, which ran at 30fps, and it unfortunately seemed quite blurry and had graphical issues. As a result if you have a PS5 or Xbox Series X/S, I highly recommend playing the game on those machines for the optimal experience. If you can only play on last-gen, watch some videos to see if you’re good with the visual experience you’ll be getting.

Going into Fallen Order, I knew the game was generally well-received, but didn’t end up taking the plunge until over a year after it came out, despite my curiosity as a Star Wars fan. I had my expectations set up for a decent or average action game in the Star Wars universe, which I would have been happy with. But after playing for a few hours, I was in a very pleasantly surprised mood. I had anticipated the combat being decent, but it was even better, being very fun and tactical. I had no idea that the world would be as interesting to explore as it ended up being – I thought the linearity of the game would prevent that, but I was scouring every area for secrets and was having a blast doing it. And again to my satisfaction, the game generally held to that high bar throughout and finished on a high note.

The final level and last confrontations were excellent and rewarding for Star Wars fans. I finished the game in a bit less than 25 hours, but it didn’t feel too quick; the timing felt just right. No repetitive side quests. No grinding for XP. No horrifically difficult fights I had to retry a million times (though the game was still challenging). No empty areas with nothing to do. And no BS micro-transactions, lootboxes, battle passes, or overpriced DLC. Just a great Star Wars game.

Fallen Order has a handful of issues. One or two worlds felt linear to the point of hampering exploration, but even those provided some wonderful vistas and moments. Sometimes the battle camera and animations could get wonky. The myriad of cosmetic items to find in the world ended up not feeling very rewarding about halfway through, and I ended up wishing there were more upgrades to find via exploration rather than cosmetics. And there were a couple bugs, including me phasing through a cliff and having to kill myself until I respawned. But none of these issues were really anywhere close to detracting from the overall experience.

In the end, Jedi: Fallen Order may not be the expansive, open-world Star Wars action experience fans have longed for for a long time, but it is a well-crafted and focused game that takes some of the best parts of the stalwarts of the action genre. It writes a solid story in the Star Wars universe, it has fun combat, surprisingly beefy exploration and metroidvania-like mechanics, and a variety of interesting and pretty locations to explore. I highly recommend it to both Star Wars and action-adventure fans.

Verdict

Superb

  • Pros
    • Engaging Combat
    • Fun and diverse worlds to explore and revisit
    • Excellent audio/visual presentation
    • Solid story
    • Embraces the Star Wars theming wholeheartedly
  • Cons
    • Cosmetic items end up not feeling very rewarding for exploration
    • Some minor bugs
  • Preference-dependent
    • Length on the shorter side for a AAA title, around 25 hours

Thanks for reading!

Brandon

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