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I don’t get my hopes up for a lot these days. I’m busy with a ton of responsibilities, and I’ve found that setting high expectations is rarely worth the effort. It’s more efficient to let things pleasantly surprise you. But that strategy didn’t work for Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.
The latest game from Respawn Entertainment is available November 15 on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. This is the studio that made the all-time great Titanfall 2. And some of the talent that worked on Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and God of War 3 took key positions on the production of Jedi: Fallen Order. And to get me even more excited, Respawn recently said it drew inspiration from Dark Souls, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, and Metroid Prime for this game.
So yeah, I was fully hyped for Jedi: Fallen Order. And the nice thing about having high expectations is that occasionally something comes along and surpasses them. And that’s exactly what Respawn has done here.
What you’ll like
Everything serves a purpose
Let’s start by getting reductive. Jedi is a 3D Metroidvania game like Metroid Prime. It also has the combat, save system, and death-punishment mechanics of a From Software game like Sekiro. But Respawn didn’t just slap these two great tastes together because they are popular. The studio carefully selected those elements because they serve its design goal.
So what is that design goal? It’s progress. Everything in Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is about progress. It’s about pushing forward, overcoming adversities, failing, and getting better. That singular theme connects the story, characters, and gameplay mechanics into a cohesive whole that left me in awe.
In Jedi, you are always making progress. This comes in many forms. You are always improving the Force abilities of your character, the failed Padawan learner Cal Kestis. But you are also always pushing through one of the half-dozen worlds.
Since this is a Souls-like, each encounter with enemies is potentially deadly (I played on the Jedi Master difficulty, which is equivalent to hard). That makes the progression from one bonfire-like meditation point to the next feel like a victory.
And then since this is a Metroidvania, few things are more satisfying than unlocking a shortcut to make your return journeys through a space quicker and easier.
But of course, you (the player) are also progressing. You’re getting better. You’re learning how to survive certain encounters through some repetition, sure. But you’re also learning to understand the combat and how to dissect any new opponent. The combat encourages this with clear enemy animations to give you visual data to act on. And landing blows has a satisfying sound and look, which acts as its own reward.
It’s rare to play a game that always understands what it’s doing to the player. Titanfall 2 is probably the last time I noticed this level of mastery in the design of a game.
Boss battles are part of the progression
Respawn’s commitment to progression is most evident in the boss battles. Most games treat bosses as periods on the end of a sentence. They are obstacles that stand in the way of progression. But in Jedi: Fallen Order, they often feel like they are part of moving forward.
Multiple boss fights end before you expect them to. Without warning, some major event will interrupt the action and push the player to some place new. This happens throughout the game. It’s to the point that almost no boss fight ends with you standing victorious over a dead enemy — which is probably useful for a story about a light-side Jedi. But it also means that the game is always keeping you on your toes.
It’s like Respawn asked itself why are we putting boss fights in this game? To make the player feel like they have made progress. And then how does this particular boss fight move the game forward? And Respawn’s answer was different every time and always creative.
The theme of progress comes up explicitly in the story. At one point, a character says that the obstacles that stand in your way are the path forward. And that almost feels like game director Stig Asmussen talking to you.
And Jedi: Fallen Order has a lot of moments of sharp writing like that. One of my favorites is when a character tells you to try again but “faster and more intense,” which is a reference to a joke about how Star Wars creator George Lucas directs actors.
I also ended up adoring the cast of characters. Cal is the weakest, but he’s not unlikable. His face just isn’t as expressive as some of the others, and some of his line deliveries sound like they came at the end of a long day in the recording booth. But he’s a serviceable stand-in for a Luke Skywalker-style character.
The rest of the crew is easy to fall in love with. The highlight is BD-1, your droid partner. That’s probably not surprising for anyone who played Titanfall 2 — its best character was also a robot. BD-1 is expressive, cute, and heroic. There’s a stunning moment late in the game involving BD-1 that caused me to panic because I grew so attached to the little guy.
Former Jedi Cere is the leader of your team. Like Cal, Cere is holding herself back due to guilt following the events of Revenge of the Sith. And a big part of the story is about these characters learning to run toward the obstacles in their past to find the path forward.
Greezy is the captain of your ship, the Mantis, and he’s a roguish gambler with a sensitive nose and a love of cooking. But your crew doesn’t necessarily end at that point. You can pick up a stowaway or two, and these are some of my favorite characters in the game.
On the other side, you are primarily facing off against an Imperial Inquisitor called Trilla Suduri, “The Second Sister.”
She is an incredible villain. I found her threatening but also obviously overcome with fear in the way you would expect from someone in the employ of Darth Vader. It takes a combination of great acting, performance capture, design, and writing to make a character like Trilla work, and Jedi: Fallen Order checks each one of those boxes.
When the story is done, I was absolutely ready to spend more time with these characters. And I hope Respawn gets a chance to do that.
What you won’t like
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order looks like a modern blockbuster. But it’s not on par with a lot of other games in terms of its visual technology. I’m not holding that against it. Overall, the game does more than enough to capture the appeal of the Star Wars universe. That’s the bar this game had to clear, and it does.
The only time the visuals are a problem for me is when they are distracting, and for me that happened a lot with the way lighting interacts with objects and characters.
One of the clothing options that Cal has is a poncho. When you wear a poncho, you expect light to have trouble getting in underneath the material. What happens is that light bounces around and loses its intensity as two objects meet. This leads to nooks and crannies that have increasing levels of shadows. This is called ambient occlusion.
Jedi just doesn’t seem to have ambient occlusion at all. This results in characters popping out of their environments in an unnatural way. And objects look just like they are floating beside one another in some weird development white space instead of physically interacting.
This doesn’t ruin the game, but it does make it look slightly cheap in spots.
Another Jedi story about light versus dark
While I love the characters and a lot of the writing, I’m not as big of a fan of the overall plot. This is a game about a Jedi, so once again it’s a story about the Light side versus the Dark side.
Now, the reason I still praise the writing is because I think that the game does understand the current arc of Star Wars. In The Last Jedi, characters began looking critically at the Jedi Order and why it seemed to create supervillains on a regular cadence. By the end of this story, characters begin reckoning with that.
But when every story about a Force user has the same basic structure and a similar villain, it makes the universe feel small. And Fallen Order is definitely guilty of that to a point.
You’ll have to be OK with backtracking
Welcome to the objective part of the review. This is where I talk to you about something that I like and is actually good, but I recognize that some people may not like it. Maybe we need a public service address section for these kinds of things.
Yes, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is a Metroidvania. And yes, that means you will have to do a lot of backtracking. This means that you might spend an hour or two navigating a maze, and then you’ll need to run from that maze back to your ship. The game doesn’t put you on a magic slide that sends you right to the Mantis.
Again, this is a good thing. So much of Jedi: Fallen Order is about opening up shortcuts and acquiring powers that make traversal easier and faster. Part of the reward is getting to go back through that difficult maze in a fraction of the time it took you the first time around.
But yeah, if you can’t stand backtracking and learning a space, be warned that you’ll have to deal with that here.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is the ideal example of a Star Wars game in 2019. It’s an expert blend of multiple genres. It has characters that you love spending time with. It has the deeply attractive design aesthetic of the movies.
But Fallen Order is more than just “a good Star Wars game.” Respawn has made one of the best 3D Metroidvania games ever. And it’s among the best Souls-like games as well.
It is the kind of achievement that is only possible when one of the best developers in the world puts all of its might into making something special. And I hope we get more just like it in the future.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is available now on PC and Consoles for $60. Electronic Arts provided a download code for the PC version for the purpose of this review.
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