Release Date: November 15, 2019Platform: PS4 (reviewed), XBO, PCDeveloper: Respawn EntertainmentPublisher: Electronic ArtsGenre: Action-adventure
Gamers that love Star Wars have been holding out hope for a new single-player Jedi experience for years, and now we finally have one: from the Titanfall and Apex Legends developers at Respawn Entertainment comes Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, an action-adventure game set between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. But is it any good?
Well, yes, we’re very pleased to report that Jedi: Fallen Order is a highly enjoyable slice of Star Wars gaming, although it does take a bit of getting used to. The trailers have played it up as an action-heavy festival of lightsaber slashing, and even though the game does have some really great combat features, there’s a lot more focus here on exploring planets, platforming through areas, and solving tricky puzzles than you may have expected.
Taking on the role of a Padawan in hiding named Cal Kestis, who is portrayed by Gotham‘s Cameron Monaghan, the player visits a number of ancient tombs that are scattered around the galaxy. Working with a plucky group of outcasts and an adorable little droid named BD-1, you have to unlock the secrets of each tomb that you visit. As you complete each planet’s main story section, you’ll pick up a new ability and grow your understanding of the wider story at play. You’ll probably want to come back later, explore a bit more, and find the rest of the planet’s collectables, though.
The core narrative throughline of the game is essentially a McGuffin hunt, but there are so many easter eggs and nuggets of Star Wars history to uncover if you’re looking for something deeper than a simple, accessible story. Fans of Star Wars Rebels and The Clone Wars will be able to pick out some impressively deep-cut references, and lovers of the mainline movies will also appreciate a lot of the stuff that Respawn has crammed into the game.
There’s something for everyone in terms of lore, then, and that isn’t the only way in which Respawn has tailored Jedi: Fallen Order to suit different sorts of people at the same time. The combat, for example, can be altered to four different difficulty levels: if you’re accustomed to games like Dark Souls, you’ll appreciate the option to make rapid parrying very important and to make your foes incredibly violent; but if you’re a more of a casual gamer, you can give yourself more time to block incoming attacks and make your enemies a bit less gung-ho. Whichever way you play, the game continues to teach you new tricks as Cal reconnects with the Force and hones his abilities. Even if you’re playing on the easiest mode, you’ll feel like a Jedi Master by the end.
Along the way, you’ll master your saber skills against a wide range of enemies: there are loads of different types of Stormtroopers, each of which you can defeat in a unique way. There are enemy droids, which hark back to various different films, and angry local creatures on each planet, including some massive monsters. There are bounty hunters of various different sorts, kitted out with powerful gadgets, and there are also a couple of Force-powered Inquisitors, elite soldiers of the Empire that have been sent to track you down, one of which has a really fascinating backstory. You’ll have to properly practice your swordplay if you want to defeat all of these foes at the highest difficulty.
There’s a nice little learning curve to the exploratory side of things, too, and you’ll find yourself growing very reliant on BD-1’s holographic map that shows you which paths you’ve not explored yet and which doors you’re able to open. There’s a nice visual language that guides you subtly through the game’s planets, as well, allowing players to spot which items are interactive: things will glow blue if you’re able to move or smash them with the Force, and you’ll soon learn to recognize the markings on walls which mean you can climb or run along them (the latter of which is fun little trick that Respawn has ported over from its Titanfall franchise).
The game’s flaws are few and far between, and it’s all quite surface-level stuff. For instance, the fact that you can only save the game at specific “meditation” points (much like in the recent Tomb Raider games) can grow quite aggravating if you can only play in short bursts. This feature encourages you to commit some decent chunks of time to the game, but if you can’t fit that into your life, sometimes you’ll be playing for longer than you’d like just so you can get to the next save point. It doesn’t help that dying means you’ll lose a chunk of progress each time, since you don’t have the ability to quick save.
Similarly, the lack of a fast-travel “return to ship” option forces you to explore your surroundings in great detail, but this can grind your gears if you’re stuck in a completed tomb and you just want to return to base and reach the next story beat. That being said, each planet is designed in really impressive detail, and there’s something very rewarding in finding secret collectables and stumbling into new areas. You’d miss out on a lot of that if you could just zip back to the ship at the press of a button, and you’d probably skip some excellent opportunities to appreciate the game’s visually stunning vistas, as well. And if you missed a nice view, you probably would’ve missed a lovely piece of orchestral music that was meant to accompany it. The game’s score is great, by the way, blending familiar motifs and brand new riffs with real success. I’m still humming the game’s main tune now.
You could also criticize the story for lacking a galaxy-saving level of importance with regards to the overarching saga, but to do so would miss the point a little. One of the most impressive things about Jedi: Fallen Order is that it tells heaps of human stories, many of which are caked in regret and lead to personal growth, in the shadows of the evil Empire and its brutal control of that galaxy far, far away. The movies provide us with plenty of world-saving moments, but without the burden of continuing the Skywalker Saga or carrying the whole Star Wars brand on its shoulders, Jedi: Fallen Order is able to tell more intimate stories using the same recognisable iconography. People can have real problems as well as cool lightsabers here.
Finally, it’s worthing shouting out the writing and the acting in the game. Although it may be an inessential chapter in the wider Star Wars narrative, the team at Respawn endowed Jedi: Fallen Order with likeable characters whose stories you want to know more about, and the cast brought them to life with loads of charisma and depth. By the end of it, you’ll feel like you’ve made a whole ship’s worth of new friends, and you’ll be hoping that EA commissions a bunch more games in a similar style. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait quite so many years for the next brilliant single-player Star Wars game.