Star Wars has been the pop-culture franchise on people’s minds lately, between the breakout success of streaming television series The Mandalorian on Disney+ and the upcoming long-awaited finale of the cinematic skywalker saga, Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. Nestled nicely between these behemoth media monsters released a video game developed by Respawn Entertainment, studio behind the wildly popular Apex Legends and Titanfall series. After years of waiting, it seems that our patience for a single-player narrative driven Star Wars game has finally paid off. Though not without its faults, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is the best Star Wars game we have received in well over a decade and deserves a spot in plenty of end of the year “best-of” lists.
Title: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Available On: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Reviewed On: PC
Release Date: November 15, 2019
Game Acquired Through Origin Access Premiere for the Purpose of This Review
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order picks up nearly five years following the events of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. With the Jedi Order nearly eradicated, Jedi around the galaxy are in hiding to protect both their dogma and their lives. One particular Jedi Padawan-in-training, Cal Kestis (voice acted by Cameron Monaghan), lays low as a ship mechanic when his force powers are inadvertently displayed, spawning a multi-planet interstellar journey to complete his Jedi training and protect his own life against the persistent pursuit of various Sith officers engaged in picking off Jedi stragglers. The campaign is filled with interesting characters and locations, spectacular set pieces and cinematics, and enough ties to the Star Wars films to whet the appetites of even the most die-hard aficionados.
Like my favorite games of the Star Wars universe, Jedi: Fallen Order is an action-adventure game focused on exploration and combat. The protagonist pilots no starships and destroys no Death Stars, but instead employs hand-to-hand combat via lightsaber and the use of various force powers remembered from his early years and mastered now through endless waves of Imperial troopers and ravenous beasts. Light RPG elements, including earned skill points and a three-tiered skill tree, enable one to unlock further powers and buffs that, while providing little in terms of gameplay variation, do indeed give an extra edge to the Jedi in his copious encounters.
And if you’re like me, this extra edge you will need. Jedi: Fallen Order comfortably categorizes into what has recently been termed “Soulsborne” (or “souls-like”) games. The combat is difficult and frequently overwhelming, relying on planning attacks, executing dodges and blocks, and predicting and reading the tells of enemies to avoid taking too much damage. I have never played Bloodborne or Dark Souls, so this famously difficult style came as a refreshing change to levels and bosses that are all too often simplified to the lowest common denominator in modern games. I played Jedi: Fallen Order on Jedi Knight (or Hard) difficulty, and found most of the combat reasonably difficult, occasionally overwhelming, and, on rare occasions, unfair. The combat mechanics are pretty simple, comprising of the aforementioned dodging and blocking, a couple of light saber swings, and the use of a few force powers. Slashing with the saber is satisfying, but it’s difficult not to notice the ambiguous hit boxes and small windows for dodges and parries. On more than one occasion, I found blocks not registering at all when playing with keyboard and mouse on PC. This was infrequent enough to not ruin the otherwise fun gameplay, but still remained an annoyance. Force powers also worked unpredictably sometimes, and occasionally not at all, which led to an oft death of my character that truthfully didn’t feel deserved. It should be stated that the different difficulties change parry windows, incoming damage, and enemy aggression, so if upwards of twenty attempts on a single boss does not sound like your idea of a good time, the easier difficulties are there to relieve you and can be changed at any time.
Dark Souls isn’t the only game serving as an obvious inspiration to Respawn. Jedi: Fallen Order really is an amalgamation of mechanics from so many different series and genres, and it serves each of these purposes well. Metroid is an obvious comparison, in that many areas and secrets are unobtainable until the hero learns new skills, after which you will have to backtrack to previous areas, utilize your new force, and open a previously blocked pathway. (Note: This is not mandatory, as returning to previous areas is usually to find collectible cosmetic items. Unfortunately, these cosmetics added such little variation to the game and actual visuals on screen at any time that they were seldom worthwhile.) Light platforming sections, infrequent though they are, feel reminiscent of early 3D platformers with a much higher level of accuracy and polish. Most significantly, Cal’s movement, jumps, rope swinging and wall running felt very similar to a Prince of Persia sequel. Some of these animations and techniques, like shimmying through narrow crevices, were overused and never to any real purpose, but not enough to become distracting. Occasionally, Cal will enter into some larger than life situation with panning cameras, forgiving quick time events, and unbelievable visuals that seem to be pulled directly from an Uncharted game, and make some of the best moments I’ve had in a game all year. Jedi: Fallen Order does not obtain perfection of any of these individual borrowed elements, but handles them all well enough to create a cohesive blend of genres that feels like a fresh product.
Jedi: Fallen Order shines graphically, and from the opening level to the final cutscene I was blown away by the level of detail in both characters and environments. Mountains and plains were the constant backdrop of beautifully rendered planets. Pits and tunnels were decorated with crates, fauna, or wires as the environs dictated, and visiting locations I was familiar with from films and television was a blast. Character animations are realistic and facial reactions, with a few exceptions, are some of the best I’ve ever seen. I did experience a healthy amount of graphical glitching throughout the campaign, not including poor hit box placement. In three consecutive fights towards the end of the game, either I or an enemy clipped through a wall or floor, and only randomly mashing movements and force buttons returned the character to the playable area. Undoubtedly this will lead to interesting speedrun shenanigans, but definitely felt out of place in a game that otherwise was so beautifully and carefully created. Aside from these boundary clips, the entire game ran smoothly at 2k 60fps on my computer with very little stuttering. Few games achieve this level of attractiveness.
Beautiful character animations paired nicely with spot-on voice acting to a memorable cast of Jedi, Sith, and varied alien life. BD-1, Cal’s sidekick droid that rides atop his shoulder, is helpful and cute, like any good droid should be. Greez (voiced by Daniel Roebuck), captain and pilot of the Mantis and your personal chauffeur around the galaxy, provides ample comic relief whenever you return to the ship and became one of my favorites. Others come and go throughout the story, but are almost universally welcome additions and sport perfect voices for their roles. Cameron Monaghan voices protagonist Cal who, without the immense talent of Monaghan, may have fallen into the annals of boring, angsty teen male heroes.
It wouldn’t be a Star Wars property without mentioning the undeniably fantastic soundtrack. Stephen Barton and Gordy Haab composed a score that feels a fitting tribute to the original legendary tracks composed by John Williams. Little riffs from the original soundtrack make “cameo” appearances throughout the soundtrack and are fun to catch when they do. The main title theme contains tinkling notes that produces an air of mystery and exploration, an important facet to the uniquely intriguing world that is the Star Wars universe. Another stand out track is “Black Thunder”, which plays in a particularly intense arena-style scene as you battle waves of enemies. The backing vocals sound distinctly non-human, and though it is in a clearly different style from popular tunes like the ditty from the Mos Eisley cantina, the instrumentation and rhythm sound related enough to feel authentic to this quadrant of the galaxy. Paired with the beautiful graphics, the entire atmosphere of Jedi: Fallen Order fits in snugly with the rest of Star Wars canon.
If you are getting the idea that Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is a great Star Wars game, then you’re on the right track, and I believe that Respawn (and EA) is too. There is so much great about this game that it can be easy to overlook its obvious flaws: graphical errors and glitches, a static and sometimes flawed combat system, unrewarding collectibles, and lacking RPG elements being chief amongst those complaints. A full play through of the campaign took me just over 12 hours – a span that told a cohesive story with impressive components, but in the end nearly overstayed its welcome and resulted in a game that felt to me rather one-note. Jedi: Fallen Order feels like a great base game that Respawn can build upon to make deeper, richer, and more stable sequels that fully explore the powers of a Jedi while polishing the individual elements borrowed from each different genre. A stable graphical base, tighter combat with combos of attacks, and a deeper and more impactful skill tree could turn a very good game into a serious Game of the Year contender. If you’re interested in playing on PC, Jedi: Fallen Order is available on Origin Access Premier, and is easily worth the $14.99 price tag for a month’s subscription. Despite its shortcomings, Star War Jedi: Fallen Order is the single player game that Star Wars fans have been waiting for, and sets up for a franchise that may prove to be the best Star Wars gaming experience available.