Now that I have your attention with the first line, one that would be classed as crossing the streams of two rival franchises, enough to cause Nerdmageddon, let me begin by saying that Jedi Fallen Order is fantastic. EA believed that single player games were dead, with the current generation of players preferring recycled multiplayer, battle royale kind of games. Well, they have proven themselves wrong. It has been many a year since we were blessed with the beautiful creations of Knights of the Old Republic, and the Jedi Knight series and I first thought I was taking a chance when I bought this, but I was wrong to be so hesitant. Although it starts a little slowly, I found myself engaged with almost each moment and looked forward to putting the disc back into my console any time I thought about playing it again. It is not perfect, far from it, and I wouldn’t go as far to say that it’s the best Star Wars game, but it is the best we have had in a long time.
(“Did someone just say shzoooooom?”)
It all takes place 5 years after the “The Revenge of the Sith”, a movie that introduced the imposing figure of Darth Asthma, and shows us what has been happening during the years the Empire reigned over the galaxy. Cal Kestis, our named hero, was a former Jedi padawan that managed to survive for reasons that are later revealed, so they won’t be spoiled here, but before he completed his training. He has been laying low on the planet of Bracca, working as a scavenger and living a life of near solitude, so as to avoid being noticed. He doesn’t appear to have any motive besides carrying on and surviving…just because. He tends to be a bit of a loner and usually keeps to himself, but befriended a large alien dude that wants him to leave and find something better, oblivious to Cal’s past as a Jedi in training. Everything comes to a sudden change when Cal uses his abilities during a moment of extreme stress, revealing himself and then bringing down the sniffer dogs of force sensitives, those that assisted Vader in the purging of the Jedi, the Inquisitors.(“Heard you was talking shit about the Empire!”)
If anyone is a fan of the Star Wars: Rebels animated series, a somewhat mediocre to okay show, then you would already be familiar with who these folks are. Simply put, they track, hunt and kill the remnants of the Jedi Order, putting down any potential threat to the Empire’s reign, and they found you. You will eventually meet and team up with Cere Junda, a former Jedi Knight, and Greez Dritus, four-armed dwarf thing with Wolverine sideburns and a sharp tongue. I love that little guy. Together you all try to rebuild the Jedi Order, giving Cal some incentive to do something besides nothing, watching him become suddenly interested in being a Jedi and saving the galaxy, something he never seemed interested in.
(“Wait, let me guess; you have a bad feeling about this?”)
Cal is a bit of a bland dude. He has a similar start to the other heroes (Anakin, Luke and Rey), being young, living a little isolated, doing nothing of note until an incredible destiny is thrust upon him, and just going with it (I know Luke didn’t want to at first and Rey just moaned about going home but they changed their minds quite easily). EA did not take much risk here and decided it was safer not to tread on any new ground. Cal doesn’t stand out too much and is instead supported by the other two in his crew, proving to be much more interesting. This may be due to Cal having to hide himself for so long, and from a young age. It’s entirely reasonable for someone to be distant, quiet and not very expressive, but this is Star Wars. No one behaves normally. Cal exists within the realm of fantasy so it would be absolutely fine if he just went “fuck it, I’m going on an adventure”.(“I’m going to space Vegas.”)
The story goes deeper than what it initially shows and thanks to learning the history of its characters I actually started to get the “beginning of the rebellion” kind of vibes that I got when I finished The Force Unleashed. It might be the run-of-the-mill good guy vs. bad, but as the story progresses I do get to see that resisting the dark side isn’t easy, that every force-user has had this internal battle. We see more of the Inquisitors, two of them at least, and learn a little about how they came to be. Most importantly, we get to travel to different planets on a ship and kill things with a lightsaber.(If you don’t wear all black, are you even a villain?)
Yes, here we go, we get to the bits I have been really excited about. The combat is very solid and will be something that fans of Sekiro would know quite well. It’s a little flashy, and is somewhat boring at the start, but once you begin to progress a little it improves by a much larger margin. There is a combination of blocks, dodges, rolls, parries and deflects so that you may defend yourself against ranged and melee enemies. You mostly come across stormtroopers, but they will wield different kinds of weaponry, offering more of a challenge when they are mixed. Some of the enemies include Purge Troopers, specifically trained to deal with Jedi. They use a shock staff that can block and parry lightsaber strikes, and they can work around some of your force abilities, making them more of a challenge and deadly to a swing-happy player.
The combat requires you to be patient, planning how you will take down your enemies and it is easy to miss a step if this playstyle is new to you and get killed. Blocking a blaster bolt or an electric baton will lower your block health. Once it is empty your block will be broken and you will become a pincushion of burn marks as you are beaten and shot to death by a suddenly efficient division of assholes in white plastic. Melee attacks can be parried when you time your block just as a hit lands, allowing you a chance to hit back or move to a better position. Even more satisfying that this is being able to deflect shots back at the sender, killing them with their own surprisingly accurate shots and all without having to close the distance.
Combat is simplistic at first, but experience is earned with every encounter and you are awarded skill points which are used to upgrade Cal through any of the three skill trees; lightsaber, focus and survival. Some skills will become available as the story carries forward but there will be a great variety of skills that will change Cal for the better and make him much more of a threat to the Empire than your typical learner. Sadly, the combat also reveals the shortcomings of a once dangerous weapon, the lightsaber. Although it looks and sounds beautiful, it has now become nothing more than a glorified glow stick. Standard grunts can be killed in one or two hits, but some stronger enemies, such as bosses and mini-bosses, tank clean hits from a weapon that has literally melted through a frickin’ metal door, and cut off more hands than a cannibal with a finger fetish. Instead it is used to beat your enemies to death, and still leaves scorch marks. This is all the more apparent when only non-human enemies are dismembered, something that does bother me a little whenever I know for certain an attack I made should have turned someone into ribbons and dust.(The lightsaber, also called the sunburn stick.)
Despite the shortcomings, combat is fun and even better when it’s up close. It is even better when fighting one of the few lightsaber wielding opponents. It wouldn’t be a Star Wars story without someone carrying a red saber to clash against Cal, representing the dark side, and the visually stimulating clash of the glowing blades. The boss fights aren’t too difficult but they’re enough to keep you on your toes and when it comes to an Inquisitor it feels like it’s personal, getting them back for their part in the fall of an ancient order of galactic guardians. Cal will become more formidable, but he never becomes a Jedi god. Cal isn’t Luke or Anakin, blessed with exceptional abilities and having masters to guide them, or Rey where he is powerful just because. It’s not his abilities that make him good, it’s you as the player. Your experience earned from successful battles is what makes Cal grow, so as you improve, so does he, and you still need to be on your toes. The enemies don’t become any less difficult; you become better at taking them out. This is thanks to a borrowed system from the Souls series, something that resembles the bonfire checkpoints.
At certain points of the game you can meditate and restore your health and health canisters (consumable items similar to estus flasks), and choose where to spend your skill points. After resting the enemies that you have killed so far will respawn in the same places. I liked getting a chance to run by a group of enemies that smacked me around, changing my approach and remembering where they were so that I could give them another go, a perfect opportunity to farm experience points. The enemies are scattered through largely explorable areas set on multiple planets with some of them being large creatures.
Imagine if Tomb Raider/Uncharted met God of War and you might find where they got their inspiration for level design from. Everything feels huge, and the scale of the background environments are immense with some indigenous creatures or something else populating some of the regions in the distance. Some of these planets are new, and have not been mentioned in any Star Wars material, reminding me that the galaxy is vast and there is so much that can be played around with. Everything looked stunning and I went back through planets I had already been to just to admire it again. Although it isn’t an open world game, you can come and go to planets as you like, as long as they are available. A feature I very much liked was how you travel to other planets. On board your ship, the Mantis, which acts as a hub-like safe zone, you can choose to leave the world you are on and as soon as you select another the ship will disembark, fly out of orbit and enter hyperspace, all whilst walking around the ship. As soon as the game is ready to load your selected planet you are asked to sit down in the cock-pit so that the Mantis can then land safely at the starting point.
All of this replaces some generic loading screen with random useless messages such as “when you kill an enemy, he dies”, and just makes it feel more like an episode of a Star Wars series. The levels might have been too good, because the game suffered with drops in frame rate and some texture pop-ins, which would be a little annoying when you needed a lot of focus to try and traverse these large worlds. It would ruin the immersion as I tried to jump across a chasm after sliding down a massive hill before grabbing hold of a conveniently placed vine to swing over to a cliff that is just close enough for me to barely grab onto. Yeah, this is where you will see a lot of Tomb Raider/Uncharted, everything just happens in a way that allows you to move across the environment, or weeds you can grab onto to climb and so on. The frame rate dropping would be distracting when timing and precision are key to moving around, sometimes resulting in an untimely death.
On top of excellent combat, a good story and impressive visuals there is also a small hint of customisation. This revolves heavily around the lightsaber. Yes, you get to change the parts that make up your dream weapon. Throughout the game there are chests/trunks that contain lightsaber parts, as well as crystals and material types. This allows you to change the handle, emitter, switch, metal and blade colour, making your very own unique combination that just looks beautiful when it is put to use. There are plenty of options and promotes exploration, knowing that there is something new hidden around each world. Cal’s outfit cannot be changed, but the colours of his outfit, and optional poncho, can be changed with any colours that are found in the same way lightsaber parts can be found. It’s nothing much to boast about but at least I can put on colours I think would suit him best that might match the lightsaber parts I chose.(“Where is my magenta dye?”)
His outfit colours can be changed in the pause menu but the lightsaber can only be re-arranged at a worktop, with some found throughout the different worlds and one located on the Mantis. I did play about with my parts, wait…no I’m going to stick with what I said. I sometimes swapped around with anything new I found, just to make achieving it worth the effort it took, but they do not change the damage output. In fact, nothing does. The lightsaber is your only weapon, and it does the same amount of damage to all enemies. The tougher ones just have much more health and are more likely to defend better (some parrying if you get too carried away). I quite liked this decision, as it stops players relying on a fully kitted out arsenal but skill and smart use of skills and abilities without having to compensate. The weapon doesn’t get better, you do.
It didn’t take long to complete, but I felt like it was as long as it needed to be. The ending wasn’t amazing, but already knowing what happens anyway means the ending makes sense. We already know Cal is doomed to fail so we don’t really need to know it will end for him. We know the Empire continues to dominate until the Rebel Alliance is formed, but maybe there will be some DLC to show what happens to Cal. We neither see nor hear of him in other movies, mostly due to being a newly created character, but perhaps he can be inserted into the creation of the Rebels. Just because he was never mentioned, doesn’t mean he might not have made some impact somewhere. Everything was supported by a beautiful track of the notorious Star Wars themes, bringing me right back to my much younger self when I watched A New Hope for the first time, when I became mesmerised with one of the greatest sagas that never happened in real life but was way more interesting.
There are many features I did not mention because this game is best played without already knowing what is in store. Just know that I had a blast and even after completing everything I still want to play it some more. The only feature, besides DLC, that I would want to add would be a new game plus. It may shorten the game to have access to all upgrades, as some areas are inaccessible until you learn certain skills via playing the story mission, but it would mean kicking the asses of some bosses and making those fights into an even greater spectacle. Of course, my favourite part of this game was the reveal of the last “boss”, something that pays homage to the ending of Rogue One, and a scene that is even more haunting. This game is a step in the right direction for EA and they may have surprised even themselves with the positive feedback received. This game will be their first step into a world they once inhabited a long time ago and should be enough for them to pursue other projects, including a second title. One can only hope for a return of a Jedi-based game that expands everything even further, and maybe even take more risks to offer something unique.