STAR WARS JEDI: Fallen Order
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: November 15, 2019
Ever since the first Star Wars arcade game in 1983, Star Wars has been a constant and reliable source of inspiration for video games. It’s easy to see why. Star Wars has always been a hugely popular franchise, and the movies lend themselves to all sorts of gaming styles: we’ve seen shoot-em-ups, racers, fighters, RPGs, platformers, MMOs, shooters, and strategy games all capturing moments and ideas from the films. It all works because the source material is so broad and evocative. The quality has been equally diverse, but we’ve had some classics out of the franchise: The Dark Forces/Jedi Knight series of Force-infused first person shooters, the first Battlefront series, Rogue Squadron, and Knights of the Old Republic are just a few of the venerated games. However, the glory days ended when LucasArts shut down its game development and EA acquired the Star Wars license. Their emphasis on pay to win multiplayer led to the incredibly controversial Battlefront II.
And that brings us to Jedi: Fallen Order, a single-player Action RPG that defies EA’s bad reputation to become the best Star Wars game in years. Fallen Order stars a Jedi Padawan who survived Order 66 and went into hiding as a humble scrapper. After a run-in with Darth Vader’s Inquisition, a cabal of Dark side Force users charged with tracking down an eliminating surviving Jedi, Cal finds he can no longer hide from his past and sets off on a quest to protect the next generation of Force-sensitive children from the Empire’s machinations. I won’t say much more about the story, but I can say this as a general statement: Fallen Order is focused on gameplay. Most of the game is fighting your way to the next waypoint, then watching a brief cutscene to earn a new waypoint. The story becomes a lot more present towards the end, but if you’re here for a story and aren’t interested in action RPG combat, this probably isn’t for you.
So let’s talk about the gameplay. Cal has a lightsaber and a slew of Force abilities that he uses to navigate levels and fight enemies. Combat requires careful attention to enemy attack patterns. Even lowly Stormtroopers hit hard, so the player must study each to learn when to block, parry, dodge or attack without taking much damage. Particularly satisfying is Cal’s ability to perform the most famous Jedi manoeuvre of all: returning lasers back to their senders with a well-timed parry. I found myself getting excited when I walked into a room full of Stormtroopers with blasters, because of how fun that mechanic is. As Cal defeats enemies, he gains experience points that eventually add up to a Skill Point to buy new attacks or passive abilities from a Skill Tree. Pretty standard Action RPG stuff. He explores a series of planets, each with its own Metroidvania style level design, with plenty of secrets and alternate paths to reward revisits whenever he finds a new ability. These are huge setpieces that alternate between platforming and climbing segments, combat encounters, and slides as Cal navigates his way toward his objectives. Checkpoints come in the form of Jedi Meditation Circles, where Cal can cash in his Skill Points or rest to refill his health, restock his healing items, and respawn enemies. When Cal dies, all his XP gets attached to whichever enemy killed him. If he makes it back to that enemy and lands just one hit, he gets his lost XP back. If that sounds like a mash-up between Dark Souls and Uncharted, that’s because Jedi: Fallen Order absolutely is a mash-up of Dark Souls and Uncharted.
For the most part, it works, but those two styles of games aren’t really meant for each other. For one thing, this is a very linear game with a lot of one-way routes that stifle exploration. Since so many of the collectables are out of the way and levels can only be traversed in a long loop, going back for one more missed item or secret area can be a huge time commitment. You have to be willing to go all the way around the planet again (although you do find shortcuts as you go). And often it isn’t worth it. Most of the collectable items come in the form of cosmetic upgrades, such as lightsaber or character skins, along with Force echoes that reveal tiny bits of lore. These aren’t great rewards, but I felt like I had to try to grab them, because hidden among all the chaff were rare gems–upgrades to Cal’s lifebar, Force meter, or healing stim capacity. I couldn’t ignore the crates and Force echoes because sometimes they mattered, but far more often, I was disappointed by a new poncho. By the end of the game, Cal had enough ponchos to clothe his own team of Old West bandits, and I’m not sure that was worth my time.
Any comparison of a game to Dark Souls begs the question of how difficult it is. I’ve beaten every Dark Souls game and played Fallen Order on hard. This game was a lot easier than a Souls game, but still provided a reasonable challenge. Traversing levels and fighting common enemies were usually fairly easy (I started feeling embarrassed for the Stormtroopers after a while), but the areas between each meditation points were designed to test your endurance. All those easy fights and chip damage can wear your health bar down. I will also say that the combat is a lot rougher around the edges, which made boss fights harder than they needed to be. For example, Cal’s attacks have pretty long animations that you can’t cancel, and I never got a good handle on the parry timing for melee attacks. Don’t @ me. I beat Sekiro.
I have my quibbles, but I had a really good time with this game. Running around as a Jedi with a lightsaber and Force powers was a blast without ever making me feel completely overpowered. The levels had a good flow as long as you stayed on the critical path, and the alien worlds were gorgeous. I’ve seen people ask whether this game be notable if it were an original IP without the Star Wars paint job. I can only answer that question with another question: Would this hypothetical original IP let me Force Push dozens of Stormtroopers off ledges? Because I’ve been doing that for over 20 years and let me tell you, it never gets old.