It’s 2019 and the Star Wars brand is more powerful than we could’ve possibly imagined. The final film in the Skywalker Saga releases in less than a week and The Mandalorian is gaining continuous praise. It’s no coincidence that EA and Respawn Entertainment chose this time to release Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. A return to the single-player story driven Star Wars games, this game was meant to bring balance to the franchise. After the various controversies with the Star Wars Battlefront II launch, it’s a relief to see a new direction for the series. With Respawn leaving their comfort zone with first-person shooters, is the force strong with their new action game?
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order tells the story of Cal Kestis, a Jedi survivor from Order 66. Taking place between Episodes III and IV, Cal has been avoiding the Empire for years working as a rigger. Due to unfortunate circumstances, the Empire’s Inquisitors prove that he can’t run forever. With the help of a kind stranger, Cere Junda, he joins the Mantis crew and becomes a part of something bigger. Without going into details, the story covers most of what people want in a Star Wars plot. A hero’s journey, conflict, redemption; Fallen Order has it in spades. Being that it’s a canon story, it’s great to see it woven into the universe without hammering you over the head with nostalgia.
A lot of the story elements will also reflect on the gameplay. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order allows players to explore multiple planets as they earn abilities to open more areas. If that sounds familiar, then you’ve probably played a game like Metroid before. Fallen Order takes a lot of inspiration from this series, especially with the Metroid Prime games. Cal meets a small droid named BD-1 early on in the story, and with him, he can scan objects and enemies to collect data. BD-1 also implements some traversal abilities as Cal finds upgrades for him over time. It also seems that Cal has forgotten some of his Jedi training, making his own Force abilities recover over time. This will usually bring up flashbacks of Cal as a Padawan, training with his Master. While it’s a bit different for Star Wars, it’s a good approach here.
While the Metroid Prime elements come with some fun features, it also comes with some of the unfortunate side-effects. Fallen Order uses similar techniques to mask load times, though that unfortunately means the return of the infamous loading elevators. During various sections of planets, Cal will have to stand on an elevator to travel between areas. Sometimes this will be a handful of seconds while others, it can take nearly half a minute. There are also moments where doors will take a few extra seconds to open to a new area. It breaks the pace a bit, and while it’s not the end of the world, the game could have better optimization.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order has a stellar presentation, but that very presentation acts as a mask for quite a few bugs. It’s far from the worst offender this year, but I’ve come across multiple bugs during my experience. Crashing, temporary freezes, falling through solid environments, etc. Some may blame this on the development being rushed to meet a launch date. It could also be a matter of this being a different kind of game for the developers. While the game could use a bit more polishing, it luckily doesn’t ruin the overall experience.
While the game takes a lot of cues from Metroid, the actual combat takes more inspiration from games like Sekiro. Combat is easily one of the strongest points of the gameplay here. Cal will wield his Lightsaber to slice, defend, and parry his foes. He has a stamina gauge for blocking and dodging and parrying require specific timing. Depending on the difficulty, this timing can be more or less forgiving. The combat makes skill imperative and really requires players to focus on their foes. While it might not be as difficult as Sekiro or other Soulsborne games, there are some real challenges ahead for those that seek them.
What sets Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order apart is the fact that Cal can use Force powers. Over time, Cal will gain the ability to use the Force as part of his arsenal of abilities. Not only will this apply to combat, but it will apply to puzzles and exploration as well. At least with combat, it makes fights a lot more unique, especially when you mix up the abilities. Pull an enemy across a gap and drop them down a cliff. Push an opponents thermal detonator back to the sender. Even slow down an enemy and take advantage by attacking them while they’re vulnerable. These abilities use Force energy, and Cal has to fight and defend to use it consistently. There’s no cooldown here, so players shouldn’t expect the option to abuse the powers.
When it comes to traversal, Fallen Order will feel familiar to fans of games like Uncharted or Tomb Raider. Cal can shimmy along ledges, climb rock walls, swing on vines and ropes, and even run along walls. When combined with the Force, this adds a lot of clever tricks and for players to utilize. Use the Force to bring ropes to you or pull down platforms to provide a wall to run on. While this does make for some fun level design, there are a couple optional areas that didn’t seem to make sense. While managing to complete these odd puzzle rooms, I’m not really sure I actually did them correctly. Luckily the mechanics are easy to adapt to different situations and can potentially open up new options.
Graphically, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order ranges from incredibly detailed to above average. From the opening moments in Bracca, the game introduces a lively world full of great attention to detail. These moments feel like a high point, as later planets are a bit more underwhelming in comparison. They still look good and get the job done, but it definitely feels like the artists focused on the first impression. As for characters, the models look great and capture their actors perfectly. That being said, their facial animation feels off when compared to games like Death Stranding or Gears 5. At least the performances from the actors do a good job making an entertaining narrative. Then there’s the Wookies… but we won’t talk about them.
Cameron Monaghan does well as Cal, making for a charming yet unexpected hero. His performance works best when he’s alongside his supporting cast. Debra Wilson does well to shine as Cere, and Elizabeth Grullon does a solid performance as the villainous Second Sister. Perhaps the best performance in the game comes from a later crew member, delivering an emotionally impactful take for their character. We don’t want to spoil it, but the character ended up being one of my personal favorites. They especially have a good chemistry with Cal and other crew members. Like classic Star Wars tradition, the game does well to make a melting pot of humanlike and alien characters alike.
The game does well to make for plenty of variety in the environments. While Star Wars is well known for having several themed planets, Fallen Order mixes it up a bit. There’s no sand planet with two suns here. While each planet looks and feels different, they even have their own segments that change things up a bit. Even when not using the classic tropes, these worlds still give off plenty of Star Wars vibes. Boss battles all offer unique elements too, making them each require different strategies to handle. Even the musical score adds plenty of John Williams nods while still sounding different and working with the variety of the game.
One thing that does get a bit repetitive is the inclusion of dozens of chests in the game. While having collectibles isn’t a bad idea, the items to find only give players aesthetic options. They can customize the crew’s ship, BD01, Cal’s poncho, and even his Lightsaber. While it’s great to have tons of materials to build your perfect Jedi weapon, it’s not rewarding enough for some of the efforts. They feel almost like pointless items spread around the universe to find. Perhaps if they offered bonuses to the gameplay, it would be different, but since they’re simply for looks, most would likely stop exploring to find them.
As mentioned before, Fallen Order doesn’t hammer you over the head with nostalgia. That isn’t to say there aren’t a lot of cool references and nods here and there. The game employs elements from areas of the Star Wars lore really needed more fleshing out. At some points, it can feel like the ultimate Star Wars fan film, but others, it still has its own identity. There are a couple familiar faces, but they never overstay their welcome and fit perfectly in the narrative. Their inclusion doesn’t feel shoehorned in and it even makes sense for them to be there. Even some of the new characters take the chance to explore ideas the Star Wars canon has only barely scratched the surface of.
While Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order has some flaws, the combat and story have the high ground. The bugs and other quality issues are simply not enough to bog down the experience. Even if collectibles are merely for looks, the exploration is still fun and combines a lot of cool ideas. Fighting enemies is rewarding enough and offers a game for players of most skill levels. Respawn has done something for fans of the series, making what is practically a love letter to the franchise. Because of this, thankfully, we can happily say the single-player Star Wars game is back in full force.