Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order Review — This is Where the Fun Begins
A magnificent blend of genres makes Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order a solid game, but technical hitches prevent it from taking the high ground.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
PC, Xbox One
Review copy provided by the publisher
I have a firm belief that lightsaber battles should not be fast and flashy. Jedi Knights are not all-powerful invincible superheroes, and fights are more fun to watch and experience when every move has a purpose, weight, and strategic value. I can only imagine that wielding such a weapon would be hard. And boy, is Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order a hard game to play.
Perhaps my lack of experience with any Souls-like combat disqualifies me from discussing the combat difficulty, but I appreciated Respawn Entertainment’s take on lightsaber combat as education on this subgenre. What Respawn has crafted is a Star Wars game with a blend of gameplay genres that fit well together, and high production values that we rarely see from games related to the franchise.
With all of those promising elements in mind, it was disappointing that the final package was riddled with technical issues. At points, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is coarse, and rough, and irritating (and it gets everywhere).
And boy, is Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order a hard game to play.
I have plenty of praise to throw at this game, but I wouldn’t toss much of it towards the story. The premise is probably what anyone could guess from a game with “Jedi” in the title and takes place between episodes III and IV: sometime after the Order 66 purge of Jedi at the hands of the Emperor and the Clone Troopers, survivors are scattered around the galaxy. One such survivor, Cal Kestis (played by Cameron Monaghan), escaped as a Padawan and now works discreetly as a scrapper.
All goes awry when his cover is blown, but he finds saviors in characters named Cere and Greez, who fly a ship called the Mantis. Cere is on a mission to restore the Jedi Order, and Cal answers the call to action. The premise lacked in any tension on a conceptual basis, however; anyone who has seen the movies knows that none of this will come to be until after Return of the Jedi, so instead, the story hones in on the histories and emotional baggage of both Cal and Cere, who acts as a mentor to the former. Greez was just there for comic relief, I suppose.
Ultimately, the story was far from compelling, and while Cal went through some semblance of an arc, he seems too understated a character to be invested in, and what are supposed to be big character moments fall flat. It doesn’t feel like a story in this universe that needed to be told, and while it plays with existing lore concepts in a fun manner, it doesn’t add any new perspective to the larger world.
I found the female antagonists to be significantly more interesting, particularly the villainous Second Sister and a Nightsister named Merrin (either one who would have been a better protagonist for this game). Now I crave a Star Wars game all about the wretched hive of scum and villainy.
…while Cal went through some semblance of an arc, he seems too understated a character to be invested in…
Luckily, the game fares better during the actual game part. To summarize, I would describe Jedi: Fallen Order as an action-adventure game with Uncharted platforming, Souls-like combat, Metroid Prime-style navigation and environments, and the occasional bits of Titanfall wall-running. This mix sounds solid on paper, and I’d say that it was well-executed. As Cal, you’ll run, jump, slide, and climb; not too much of a challenge, but I appreciate the small requirement of having to pull the left trigger to actually grab onto a ledge to make climbing a more active mechanic.
Movement is pretty self-explanatory, but combat is a bit tougher to wrap your head around. There’s a basic attack button and a heavy attack that uses Force, but players will have to be more patient and utilize both the block and evade buttons. This is not a game that rewards spamming, even at its easiest difficulty. Instead, you’ll have to fight defensively, getting the timing of blocks just right to either deflect blaster shots or parry physical attacks. Health is refilled manually, with a limited number of stim cartridges provided by your trusty droid BD-1, adding another layer of strategy.
Enemies will each have a stagger meter of sorts along with their life bar, and successfully parrying an attack will deplete part of that stagger meter. Play your cards right and get your enemies to stagger and you may be able to kill them with a single hit as a reward. Basic Stormtroopers will also be joined by more persistent and aggressive Purge Troopers and Security droids, and all of the planets have their own hostile wildlife and fauna to contend with too; even choosing to rest at Meditation Circle save points has strategic considerations, as resting to restore health and stim carts will make all enemies respawn.
Combat is slow, deliberate, and weighty, with each enemy being a potential threat. But playing smart and taking risks may reap rewards. Mashing the attack button is brave, but foolish.
This is not a game that rewards spamming, even at its easiest difficulty.
The combat is solid and enhanced by some useful Force abilities. One that I admittedly underutilized was a Stop move, which slowed down or froze enemies for a short amount of time. Later on, Cal will learn how to Push, Pull, and double jump. I would have thought that some of these abilities would be easier to learn than stopping goddamn time, but these additional abilities make sense when you take into account how the game wants players to explore the world.
I was reminded the most of Metroid Prime 3: Corruption while exploring Fallen Order’s environments as that game, unlike many Metroidvanias, had a number of different segmented worlds instead of one large map to explore. The game is quite smart in presenting impassable areas (i.e. a rope you can’t reach or a bridge that needs to be lowered) distinct enough for players to leave a mental bookmark for, but a helpful holographic map from BD-1 also marks elements of the map by color; green for passable, red for blocked, and yellow for unexplored. As you gain abilities (i.e. Force Pull to grab the rope or Force Push to lower the bridge), some of those red marks will turn green.
As a result, there is an incentive to revisit earlier worlds as you progress through the game; abilities you earn in the third planet will open up a number of avenues on the first planet. And backtracking isn’t as painful as it may be in similar games, as getting farther into a world will open up shortcuts that will expedite the return trip. Jedi: Fallen Order has some pretty smart level design overall, and getting sidetracked to find goodies (including Force Echoes, lightsaber parts, extra stim cartridges and Metroid Prime-esque artifacts to scan, and collectibles to increase Force and health) was more fun than tedious.
My one nitpick about traversal concerns wall-running, which seems like a Respawn staple at this point; this movement ability felt more tacked on as an obligation, with only ridged walls allowing for wall-running in specific areas rather than letting players loose to allow creative usage of it in both exploration and combat. So uncivilized.
Jedi: Fallen Order has some pretty smart level design overall…
But that praise applies to when Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is working properly. As a massive fan of Respawn Entertainment, it was shocking to see a studio with that pedigree put out a product with so many egregious technical issues. With visual and sound glitches galore, this is a product that has produced a number of both frustrating and unintentionally funny moments as a result of some harrowing hitches.
For one, the dialogue was out of sync by many seconds for a majority of the cutscenes during my initial playthrough. At several points during gameplay, the background music would cease for a few moments. At one point, the sound was completely gone, and I experienced one hard crash late in the game (and right before I was about to save too). Sometimes climbing will produce some hilarious-looking glitches, and other times, enemies will be completely unresponsive to my presence.
— Chris Compendio (@Compenderizer) November 16, 2019
— Chris Compendio (@Compenderizer) November 16, 2019
I realize that throwing a bunch of my personal clips from Twitter in a professional review is unorthodox, but please enjoy this encounter with this T-posing Dathomirian and his popping-in brother:
— Chris Compendio (@Compenderizer) November 17, 2019
I suppose that we can chalk this up to being the studio’s first game with the Unreal Engine (and at least it isn’t Frostbite), but it was surprising to see a game with such a massive media promotional blitz in this condition. All games will have their respective problems, but the technical hiccups with Fallen Order were just so prevalent and distracting. It is a game in desperate need of some patches.
So it wouldn’t be radical to declare that Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is the best Star Wars game in years, but in a macro standpoint, it only wins the title by default, which probably says something about the sparse number of games under EA’s management of the IP. It isn’t essential Star Wars, but its issues on the storytelling and technical fronts aren’t enough to ignore it. Fallen Order is there for the taking if you need some extra lightsaber action, and that, it does well.
Just be ready to exercise patience, use the Force, and think.