The Force is strong with this one.
A Long Time Ago…
In Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, Emperor Palpatine enacted Order 66, a purge that saw the clone armies betray and kill nearly all members of the Jedi Order. There were a few that survived this surprise attack though. Most notably from the main saga, of course, are Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda, but extended canon like the Star Wars: Rebels show revealed that they were not the only survivors. Cal Kestis, the protagonist of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, is one such survivor and he has spent years in hiding, trying to cut himself off from the Force and his past in order to survive.
Cal can’t stay hidden forever, though, and is discovered by a couple members of the Empire’s Inquisitors, dark-side force wielders tasked by Darth Vader with hunting down surviving Jedi. He is rescued by the Stinger Mantis, a ship captained by Greez Dritus and another former Jedi Cere Junda. The ship and its crew become Cal’s home and primary companions when Cere recruits him to follow in the footsteps of another Jedi – Eno Cordova – in order to open an ancient vault with information that she doesn’t want falling into the Empire’s hands. Cal befriends Cordova’s old droid, BD-1, who aids him on the journey by unlocking new paths for Cal and healing him in combat as they fight across a series of hostile planets trying to uncover Cordova’s path.
An Elegant Weapon for a More Civilized Age
An action-adventure game in the style of a 3D Metroidvania, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order features a great deal of running and platforming around as you explore the game’s various planets, with some occasional backtracking as Cal and BD-1 acquire new skills that allow you to traverse previously inaccessible paths. Combat centers around the Jedi’s iconic lightsaber. But instead of a simple hack-and-slash dynamic that we’ve seen in previous Star Wars titles like The Force Unleashed, Respawn Entertainment has drawn inspiration from the dodge and parry-centric stylings of FromSoftware’s Dark Souls and Bloodborne titles, requiring a more strategic approach to every fight. Even small hostile alien slugs can take down Cal with only a few hits if you’re not careful.
As you slash through assorted alien creatures and Stormtroopers, you’ll gain experience and skill points that can be used to unlock added health and force upgrades, as well as more diverse attack combinations. More potent force abilities such as the ability to slow down, pull, or push enemies are tied to the story but once acquired, can be upgraded via the skill tree as well. BD-1 is equipped with a finite amount of health stims that can be used to heal up Cal in battle. The impact of these stims can be upgraded through the skill tree while the maximum number can be increased by exploring the world for a series of gold chests. Meditation points are scattered around each planet and on the ship, where Cal can unlock these skills and restore his health and force meters and his inventory of stim packs but, similarly to the Dark Souls bonfires, doing so will also restore any defeated enemies in the area.
The Greatest Teacher, Failure Is
I have a long-standing, complicated history with games of this ilk, stemming from a lack of patience for FromSoftware’s unforgiving difficulty. Recognizing that I do not take pleasure in dying over and over in pursuit of the “git gud” ideology, I have largely avoided those titles. But for my 2016 Extra Life stream, I committed to 24 hours of Bloodborne as part of the annual fundraising event, donating a dollar for every time I died during the stream. After 143 deaths, I still knew the series and genre weren’t for me, but I did ultimately walk away with a greater appreciation for those who enjoyed them. Since then, whenever a new title in that style comes out and the conversation around putting difficulty settings in those games arises, I fall firmly on the side of the argument that difficulty settings allow the game to be accessible and approachable for more people to the detriment of none. And now I have Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order as my prime example.
The fact that Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order allows you to change the difficulty to one of four settings at any point in the game made this an infinitely more inviting experience for me. I played through the entire game on the Jedi Knight setting but knowing that I could drop it down a level to a very story-centric easy mode at any time served as a comfort when I would struggle in a particular fight or area. Meanwhile, I appreciated that those diehards who really want the unforgiving brutality of a Dark Souls could have played the game on the Jedi Master or Grandmaster difficulty to their heart’s content.
I Have a Bad Feeling About This
While the difficulty options in Respawn’s approach to this genre are very much appreciated, they fall short in capturing other elements, namely the enemies. Dark Souls and Bloodborne are often lauded for their grandiose and memorable enemies, be it the run of the mill monsters that litter your path or the epic boss encounters themselves. Fallen Order feels mostly limited by comparison. There’s a small variety of Stormtroopers that feel appropriate to the era but the hostile alien species across the various planets often feel more or less like generic nondescript sci-fi creatures instead of those from the wider world of Star Wars, which is a shame because so much of the world design expertly nails the Star Wars aesthetic. Most of the boss fights tie directly into the game’s plot of “Cal versus the Inquisitors hunting him” so they usually lack scope and scale set forth in FromSoftware’s entries. There are a couple exceptions but they are too few and far between and left me wanting more of those types of encounters.
While I have seen many reports of bugs and glitches from people playing Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, I personally did not encounter too many of note. Occasionally Cal might jump onto a narrow beam and his legs would wig out a bit, trying to determine the geography but another small jump always resolved this. The greater frustration for me came in the long loading times following a death. If Cal fell off the map, by missing a jump or failing to grab onto an all too narrow dangling vine, he would respawn right away nearby with a bit of a drop in health. That was fine. But when he died died as the result of losing all of his health, it would take minutes to load back in at the last meditation spot. And if you’re bad at these games, that might wind up meaning ten minutes of loading times to progress five minutes in the world, which can really grind the enjoyment down to a halt. Fortunately, Respawn seems to be releasing patches to specifically address this issue as the game will undoubtedly find a wider audience around the upcoming holidays.
Lastly, another element that this game pulls from Dark Souls and Metroidvanias is large maps that will require multiple visits and a lot of backtracking to explore everything. But unlike the best examples of this genre, the backtracking in Fallen Order often is more frustrating than fun. This is partially caused by difficult-to-navigate maps. The planets themselves often feature many similar environments and it is far too easy to get turned around or lose track of which way you need to head to progress to your destination, even when examining the holographic map of an area. This confusion is also bolstered by the number of times you might wind up revisiting each planet at various points in the story. The Dark Souls-esque shortcuts you uncover help a little but when the level designs don’t fully fold back in on themselves, it can be needlessly time-consuming to run back through thirty minutes of a map you have already been through once or twice before. This left me wishing for some sort of fast travel system many times throughout my time with the game.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order establishes a winning formula with its combat, clear affinity for the design and aesthetic of the galaxy far, far away, and an engaging mix of new characters (with BD-1 a clear standout). I very much look forward to the strides Respawn can make if allowed to produce a follow-up that can address some of the issues of polish and hopefully an even wider array of enemies and bosses to put the fun lightsaber combat on full display.
8.0 / 10
That Great Game
- Nails the Star Wars aesthetic
- Great lightsaber combat and force powers
- BD-1 is a worthy droid companion in the spirit of R2-D2 and BB-8
- Difficulty options in a Souls-like!
- Not enough enemy variety
- Load times
- Lots of backtracking
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order was reviewed on a digital retail copy of the game on a PlayStation 4 Pro. That Nerdy Site’s Review Scoring rubric can be found here.