Jedi: Survivor Could Be the Best Star Wars Sequel In Years
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is so much more than just a worthy follow-up to Fallen Order. Here are our impressions from a recent hands-on preview.
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor carries all of the advantages and burdens that come with the Star Wars franchise these days. It has the franchise sights, it has the franchise sounds, and, most importantly, it has the franchise name that makes you stop and look at the game whereas the hundreds of other games released in a given year have to work so hard for that first glance. However, it also has to deal with the expectations and associations that come with that name. Specifically, it has to navigate the struggles of delivering a truly spectacular Star Wars sequel.
Ever since Empire Strikes Back, the Star Wars franchise has struggled a bit with sequels. It’s a little hard to define a sequel in such a sprawling franchise that is often broken down into trilogies, but we’re essentially talking about direct follow-ups to a new narrative in the Star Wars universe. The Phantom Menace, to a degree, but certainly Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, and even pretty much the entire Star Wars sequel trilogy. Those sequels are certainly not universally considered to be “bad,” but there are degrees to which they are all burdened with the expectations set by Empire (and Return of the Jedi, to a slightly lesser extent). They didn’t necessarily deliver the kinds of definitive follow-ups and conclusions that the best sequels are often tasked with delivering.
Star Wars video games have fared better in terms of sequels (Jedi Knight 2 and Rogue Squadron 2 spring to mind), but they’re far from bulletproof, and they haven’t been very good lately. Force Unleashed 2, 2017’s Battlefront 2…even KOTOR 2 was infamously rushed to release. Put it all together, and you start to see why many of the best recent Star Wars stories kind of go off in their own direction.
So when I tell you that I walked away from a recent hands-on demo of Star Wars: Jedi Survivor thinking “I haven’t experienced a Star Wars sequel that good in a long time,” I don’t expect that to mean much on its own. However, you should know that Jedi: Survivor feels like that rare Empire-quality sequel that is bigger, better, and yet, perfectly representative of the spirit, excitement, and ideas of the thing that came before it.
Jedi: Survivor’s Story Is Deeper, Darker, and Stars a Much More Interesting Cal Kestis
Jedi: Survivor picks up about five years after Fallen Order’s ending. Jedi Knight Cal Kestis is still on the run and outnumbered by the forces of the Empire, though he is significantly more powerful, wiser, and confident than he was at even the end of Fallen Order. The demo I played joined Cal’s journey about an hour into Survivor’s main campaign. He has just crash-landed on a remote planet and needs to find the parts required to fix his ship, the Mantis. As you can probably guess, this seemingly remote planet is filled with dangers as well as unexpected new adventures that touch upon Cal’s past while setting his future in motion.
I’ll apologize in advance for how vague I have to be about large chunks of the plot (including the settings and characters) I saw in the demo. There are many things we can’t say about it, and even if I could say more about it, I didn’t see enough of Survivor’s story to give you anything close to a comprehensive impression.
However, Survivor’s story showcases quite a bit of promise in its earliest stages. “Darker,” is the word you’ll hear a lot of people use to describe it, and that’s certainly true. Cal is in a bad spot, and anyone who knows anything about Star Wars lore knows that things don’t get better for the Jedi between the events of Survivor and the start of A New Hope.
However, the word that came to mind so early into Survivor’s story was “mature.” Many criticized Cal Kestis for being a pretty generic Jedi protagonist the first time around and…well, that wasn’t an unfair criticism. Cal became more interesting throughout Fallen Order, but he struggled to shake that generic player avatar label.
Survivor addresses that issue fairly early on. Cal has grown, his enemies and friends have grown, and the game’s writers have grown with all of them. You sense a lot more confidence this time around in how Cal is, why his story is significant, and how it fits into this universe. The absence of the first game’s (necessary) “getting to know you” period means Survior’s story feels more confident and ready to explore ideas that go beyond the usual franchise trappings.
Cal’s growth is greatly enhanced by the decision to not “reset” his character in the classic Metroidvania sense. Power-wise, he’s about as strong as he was at the end of Fallen Order, which means that he doesn’t have to scramble to pick up a bunch of suddenly missing abilities and prior pieces of knowledge.
It’s an unusual decision for a sequel to a Metroidvania-style game, but it’s a decision that allows Cal to step into Survivor firmly on his own feet. It’s also a decision that forms the basis of Survivors‘ biggest draw: its gameplay.
Jedi: Survivor Opens Up the Fallen Order Experience Without Succumbing to Full Open-World Design
Survivor still utilizes the Metroidvania and Soulslike structural elements that helped make Fallen Order stand out (shortcuts, checkpoints, ability-based progression, etc.). However, nearly every aspect of that design structure is significantly larger this time around. The game hasn’t gone full open-world as some hoped it would, but it’s closer to that style than Fallen Order ever was.
The areas you explore in Survivor are significantly larger than they were in Fallen Order and allow you to go off in whatever direction you choose far more often. Of course, there are plenty of side missions and activities to participate in off the beaten path, though you should know that the beaten path isn’t always easy to see. There were a few times when I found myself “accidentally” participating in a side activity because it felt significant enough to be part of the main adventure. For instance, I ended up spending quite a bit of time in a kind of puzzle area that reminded me of a Breath of the Wild shrine. Your eyes will wander, your feet will stray, and you’ll constantly feel encouraged to explore all side paths before moving on with the main game.
The game’s expanded size is supported by new quality-of-life improvements (most notably, the ability to fast travel between meditation points and acquire mounts), but it’s truly enhanced by one of Survivor’s most welcome and most requested features: expanded character customization.
Survivor is filled with lightsaber customization options, Cal customization options, and even BD-1 customization options. You can modify just about every major element of all of those things, right down to Cal’s beard and the shape of BD-1’s eyes. More importantly, most of the modification options you find are located throughout the game’s worlds. Some are acquired via the main story, but many are discovered as rewards for participating in some kind of side content (even if it’s just discovering a hidden area).
To be honest, I’m a little mixed on that specific aspect of the game. For as welcome and visually interesting as those customization options are, there are times when the distribution of cosmetic items v.s. items that offer some kind of gameplay benefit (such as additional health restoration charges or character-enhancing Perks) feels a little uneven. You’ll embark on some side content, defeat a challenging enemy, and your reward will be a new pair of pants (not a specific example). So many of those side activities are enjoyable on their own, but I wonder if those who are less incentivized to pursue that aspect of the game will lose a little interest if those cosmetics do indeed make up the bulk of the rewards for some of those activities.
Similarly, I am curious about how Fallen Order‘s traversal mechanics will feel across the course of Survivor‘s seemingly larger and longer adventure. Specifically, I’m talking about things like wall running, wall climbing, and general platforming challenges. You’ll encounter quite a few of those mechanics as you navigate Survivor, and there were times even in the demo when I felt the novelty of those mechanics becoming a bit of a chore given how much more of them there were. It wasn’t a big issue for the demo, but we’ll see how it plays out across the course of the game.
Thankfully, Survivor‘s more traditional Metroidvania elements thrive in the transition to larger worlds. It’s a genuine thrill to discover shortcuts in this game, and it’s a bigger thrill to realize how many parts of the world are essentially elaborate interconnected puzzles. In the demo alone, there were a couple of seemingly insurmountable obstacles in open areas of the map that ended up being overcome in some fairly surprising ways. It’s one thing to offer bigger environments and quite another to offer bigger environments where each component of a given area typically connects to the rest of the world in notable ways.
For as exciting as those changes and expansions are, though, it’s pretty clear that the true star of the Survivor show is the game’s combat.
Survivor Isn’t Afraid to Show You How Powerful a Jedi Can Be
Jedi: Survivor doesn’t make sweeping changes to Fallen Order’s combat. At its core, the game still offers that Soulslike-style of fighting that asks you to study enemy patterns and look for your attack window. Survivor’s expanded roster of enemies certainly helps keep things fresh, but Survivor doesn’t mess with the good thing that Fallen Order found in that area.
However, Survivor’s additional lightsaber stances make everything sing. Along with the returning single-blade lightsaber and double-blade “staff” lightsaber stances, Survivor lets you access a dual-blade stance, a crossguard stance, and a blaster stance. Of those new stances, I only got to experience the dual-blade stance during the demo, but I immediately fell in love with it. It’s a very aggressive, high-risk, high-reward style of play that offers a genuine change of pace and new strategies.
The crossguard stance seems to be much more defensive, while the blaster stance is truly wild. It allows you to access a new array of parries as well as some stunning special attacks (such as lifting enemies into the air before “dead eyeing” them all down with well-placed shots). We’ve never really seen anything quite like it in a Star Wars game, though I must emphasize the word “seen.” We only saw the blaster stance in a hands-off demo that showcased an end-game character build.
What a demo it was, though. While more of a technical showcase that wasn’t pulled directly from the game, that demo suggests that Cal will eventually be powerful enough to take on a dozen or more Stormtroopers via Force powers, advanced lightsaber attacks, and other weaponry/items. We’ve seen Jedi mow through lesser foes in various Star Wars media, but the idea of being able to grow a Jedi into something this powerful and to be able to almost toy with some enemies by truly mastering those powers is a fascinating premise.
So much of Jedi Survivor‘s combat seems to be designed to showcase why a Jedi can be a dangerous enemy even when there are not many of them. Survivor even features some long-awaited dismemberment animations, which are rare enough to remain novel but help sell the lightsaber as a unique weapon rather than a shiny sword.
For what it’s worth, I’m a little curious about how the final game will handle these new combat options with the modified skill tree system (which offers different skill trees for general character upgrades, each stance, and Force powers). It’s not clear if you’ll be able to unlock all (or most) of those abilities in a single playthrough but I got the impression that you might be better off committing to a certain style of build.
Regardless, Survivor is the first Jedi game I’ve played since Jedi Outcast that really sells the power of an experienced Jedi while also challenging you to truly master a Jedi’s ability via combat mechanics. Then again, that’s just one of the many ways that Survivor reminds me of some of the great Star Wars games that came before.
Jedi: Survivor Is an Elegant Sequel for a New Age of Star Wars Games
As I mentioned before, the amount of things I can’t say about the Survivor demo is only eclipsed by what I don’t know about the rest of the game. There are many unanswered questions about where Survivor goes beyond this early point in the adventure, and I’d be lying if I told you I knew how long its strengths will hold and if some of my unanswered questions about the game will be answered satisfyingly. The game is right around the corner, and there is much about it that still needs to be classified as “potential.”
However, Survivor has the potential to be that rare kind of Star Wars sequel that delivers a definitive follow-up to an already exceptional experience while standing tall on its own. While I don’t think that it will necessarily win over those who simply did not care about the first game (that’s a hard road for any sequel to walk), I’m amazed by how much of this game directly addresses complaints/requests fans had about the first game. Customization options, larger worlds, dismemberments, a more interesting protagonist…it’s all there.
Actually, that’s not the impressive part. Lots of video game sequels offer more. What’s amazing is how Survivor addresses all of those complaints/requests while staying true to the vision of the Fallen Order experience.
This isn’t a Rise of Skywalker example of so much feedback (and often the wrong kinds of feedback) being incorporated to the point that you end up with something designed to please so many that ultimately satisfies so few. The Survivor team clearly took certain pieces of feedback to heart because they were the pieces of feedback that allowed them to create a better version of the thing they started and the idea they believed in. It’s the kind of harmonious product that combines fans’ desires and creators’ ambitions in ways that some other Star Wars sequels haven’t always done.
It’s almost always nice to return to Star Wars on some level. However, whereas previous Star Wars sequels sometimes betrayed that feeling by relying on it to carry too much of the weight, Survivor takes little for granted. It’s as eager to celebrate its previous successes as it is to acknowledge and address its flaws. It’s bigger and better in the ways we often expect video game sequels to be, but it’s the team’s obvious enthusiasm for delivering the best version of something they were already clearly proud of that makes it feel potentially quite special.
As EA loses its Force choke hold on the rights to Star Wars, more Star Wars games are going to come from so many more developers. Yet, it’s the Survivor team at Respawn that seems to be in the position to truly lead this new age of Star Wars games. Survivor may very well end up being an invaluable piece of a promising series, but it’s also a game that manages to impress all on its own.
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is scheduled to be released on April 28th for Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 5, and PC.