“It really makes you FEEL like a Jedi!!”
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is the latest Star Wars game to hit the mass markets, published by EA and developed by Respawn Entertainment. It’s generated a good deal of hype for its gameplay premise alone; a lot of people have compared it to the FromSoftware games in how its combat is executed and that is going to definitely draw in some players, me included. After finishing Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice earlier in the year (which is my personal game of the year), I figured the Star Wars franchise would be the perfect series to have an action game focused on lightsaber combat, so I was pretty excited to try this game out. Fallen Order takes place a few years after the infamous Order 66 (from the Revenge of the Sith film), which resulted in almost all of the Jedi being wiped out. You play as Cal Kestis, a former Jedi padawan who managed to survive the purge, eking out a living as a parts scrapper on a planet called Bracca. To avoid spoiling the “tutorial” mission, stuff happens and then you’re on a quest to explore different planets to find something to use in the struggle against the Empire, while “rediscovering” your Jedi abilities on the way. Obviously the Empire becomes aware of your existence, so naturally they’re going to oppose and try to kill you.
As far as the basic gameplay premise goes, it’s an action game with a combat system that is somewhat reminiscent of Sekiro with a focus on lightsaber fighting. If you’ve played Sekiro (or honestly any FromSoftware game in general) then picking up Fallen Order should be relatively smooth. However, I would say that the enemies in Fallen Order actually strike a nice balance as far as how to approach a given combat scenario; you’re encouraged to strike a balance between evading vs. straight-up blocking/parrying depending on the enemy and what attacks are used. Parrying usually has the biggest reward as it usually staggers the opponent and drains some of their stamina bar (if their stamina empties it leaves them vulnerable for a big attack), but it requires more precise timing, and not all attacks can be parried/blocked, which is indicated by the enemy glowing red before their attack. However, unlike in Sekiro, you are actually vulnerable for a little bit if you lower your guard, so block-spamming to achieve parries is not advised. Due to this, I’m not sure on how parrying multi-hit attacks work, as my success with trying to parrying them is pretty inconsistent. Later on in the game you gain access to the Darth Maul lightsaber style where you fight using a double-sided lightsaber, which has its own unique move-set compared to the standard single-blade style, and you can freely switch between the two as needed which is also super cool. Aside from the core lightsaber fighting mechanics, you can use the Force in combat as well, with applications from slowing down your opponents to pulling/pushing them, including throwing them off edges for instant-kills. There’s a lot of real creative stuff you can do once you unlock more abilities, so experimentation is encouraged. The only real thing I wasn’t a fan of regarding the combat was that the boss fights aren’t really good. Most of the boss fights are just tougher versions of enemies you already fight in the game, so fighting them is the same except for the fact they have more health and hit harder, which is pretty disappointing since the boss fights were easily my favorite parts of the FromSoftware games. That’s not to say there are no good boss fights; there are a few fantastic fights, but overall the boss fights were a weaker part of the game.
If I’m going to make a comparison to the Souls games, then naturally the question of difficulty is going to come up; how hard is Fallen Order compared to the FromSoftware titles? Personally, I think the game is definitely challenging, especially to players who don’t have any experience with games that have similar combat systems, but if you’ve played the Souls games and/or Sekiro, you’ll probably feel right at home with this game, and perhaps even find it easier. I personally didn’t find this game as hard, mainly due to the plethora of options you have at your disposal like the Force and the relative simplicity of most enemy move-sets. That being said it’s not exactly a walk in the park, and there are definitely parts in the game that can feel pretty difficult especially if you’re not prepared. This game also does come with a difficulty slider, so if you feel that things are either too easy/hard you can always adjust the setting to accommodate your personal tastes.
The combat makes up just half of Fallen Order’s gameplay loop, and the non-combat portions of the game definitely have some Metroidvania vibes to them. No, Fallen Order is neither a Metroid game nor a Castlevania game, but its fundamental approach to exploration is similar to how those types of games operate. The worlds are pretty big and generally divided into sub-regions, and at first your ability to explore all of those regions are limited due to your lack of skills/equipment. In Cal’s case, it’s with (re)learning Force abilities. An example would be an area that has a bridge you need to knock down to progress. You can push the bridge down with Force Push, but you don’t have access to Force Push at the beginning of the game, so you have to wait until you acquire that ability before you can go back to explore it. It’s cool because it gives players who like to explore rewards for putting in that extra effort, but at the same time, a lot of those areas are generally completely optional so players who don’t care about that as much can just follow the story. The exploration is also tied to a lot of puzzles and platforming, and I thought those were done very well in general. The developers were pretty creative in how the different Force abilities can be mixed together to solve challenges that normally look impossible, and for the most part the puzzles were easy enough that they can be solved with a little bit of brain power (and the occasional hint from your droid), but not difficult enough to the point they’re frustrating.
I do have a few issues with the exploration, with my biggest gripe being the lack of fast travel between meditation points in the same area. Now I can sort of understand why it’s not a thing, as the exploration being tied to your Force abilities could have some unintended interactions if fast travel is enabled, but to be honest I feel like there are ways they could implement fast travel without it interfering with the core Metroidvania-style exploration. Maybe limit fast traveling to sub-regions, where you can only fast travel to different meditation points as long as you’re still in the same area. This sort of ties in to a more minor issue which is an opinion on the design choice rather than it being an actual problem, but the meditation points and mechanics tied to it are the same as the Souls games. You lose your experience when you die and have to retrieve it, and you respawn at the nearest meditation point. While from a gameplay perspective it’s a great mechanic, I do find it odd as there’s no “lore” explanation for the respawning mechanics, whereas the Souls games all had legitimate, in-game reasons where the protagonist revives at bonfires. Cal may be a Jedi, but he’s not an immortal/undead with the ability to resurrect from the dead.
The writing’s serviceable, and about as good as you’d expect from a Star Wars game. Cal is a cool character (no alliteration intended), whose background and story present a new angle into the Star Wars universe, especially what happens after the infamous end to the Clone Wars. He does his best to stay in high spirits despite everything that’s happened to him, but you can tell that he’s still affected by the tragedy, as evidenced by his nightmares/flashbacks and his inability to use the Force well at the start of the game, in which he’s forced to rediscover those abilities he’s lost. He’s quick to work with Cere and Greez to try and fight the Empire, but he’s not super trusting towards them (especially Cere), albeit he realizes they’re the best bet he has at standing a chance. Overall I find him to be a likable underdog character who’s neither too “fine” but at the same time not too down and wimpy, which makes him easy to root for while not finding him annoying, which is important since most of the story focuses on him. I don’t have any issues with his companions either; BD-1 is a cute, lovable droid and Cere also has an interesting character arc that comes with just as much baggage as Cal does, while Greez generally doesn’t serve any real role outside of comic relief but at least he’s not awful. I do think the last companion who joins you (I won’t reveal whosince it’s spoiler territory) is pretty awesome, but I feel like that character joins way too late in the story and doesn’t get the chance to be properly explored, which is a bit of a missed opportunity.
The world building is also excellent; the planets you explore are all filled with cool tidbits you can learn either from scanning with your droid companion or through “Force echoes”, and they both give nice background information about the planet you’re exploring and certain past events that might have happened in the area. The setting and the characters also feel consistent with the Star Wars timeline; it taking a few years after Order 66 means that the Empire is now the dominant force in the Galaxy, but there are still traces of rebellion throughout the galaxy and individuals like Cere who still believe that the Jedi Order can be re-established. There are also references and callbacks to the movies if enough attention to detail is paid, which I think is really great on Respawn Entertainment’s behalf, as a way of paying homage to the original source material. The game’s Metroidvania style of exploration and backtracking would not be nearly as fun if the world building isn’t good, so props to the team for creating an engaging game universe that’s interesting to explore.
The absolute best part of the story comes at the very end though, and Fallen Order sure knows how to deliver a narrative climax. Prior to that I thought the actual plot was well-executed but nothing particularly extraordinary, with my interest in the game generally being maintained by the combat system and exploration, but the last arc of the game definitely kept me invested all the way through, and I think the game ends on a satisfactory note that also keeps opportunities for sequels and future stories open.
I don’t have too many problems with Fallen Order from a design/writing perspective aside from the lack of any fast travel system, but I did have a few issues with some the game’s technical aspects. The performance wasn’t completely smooth, and frame drops were relatively common (generally any time when Cal moves very quickly like sliding down a path), and the animations can bug out at times which leads to some odd/funny visuals. It definitely lacks some of the finer polish that I’ve come to expect from these sorts of action-adventure games, which isn’t enough to put me off from playing the game but it does get annoying at times when these blips happen. Performance optimization is important even if it’s not directly tied to the core design of the game. With that criticism out of the way, overall, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is fantastic, and is perfect for anybody who likes Star Wars as well as anybody who enjoys a good action game with good combat.
Rating: I think this game is worth buying retail, though to my knowledge it is actually offered on EA’s Origin Pass and can be played through there, which is cheaper than buying the game itself.