Image from Techradar (Not an Ewok in sight)
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is a strange miracle.
It is a more than competent action adventure title from the original creators of the Call of Duty franchise, under the sway of a publisher which has time and again proven to place profit over quality. This game should not exist. It should not be as good as it is, even though it is not fully one with the force.
Respawn Entertainment, who are known for their work on the Titanfall series, a COD spiritual successor set in the future with giant, controllable mech suits, deliver a jack of all trades and near master of all experience.
It is more a “Jedi Knight” than “Master” when it comes to what it entails in game mechanics. For the beginning of what damn well better be a new, unfettered franchise from Electronic Arts, it is enough.
Fallen Order is set in the near two decade span of time inbetween Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, the dark times, as Obi-Wan calls them. Dark they are, whether you are a Jedi or not. In this instance, you play Cal Kestis, a Jedi apprentice in hiding following his survival of Order 66, the beginning of the Great Jedi Purge that signaled the end of their order, hence the title, and the rise of the Galactic Empire.
For those who watch Gotham, you may recognize Cal’s face, as it’s the same actor who plays that version of DC’s Joker. Fitting, as this is not the first time a heroic male lead in a Star Wars story is portrayed by an actor who also portrayed the Clown Prince of Crime.
Cal is working in hiding as part of a scrapping team on the planet Bracca, breaking down and destroying the remnants of both the Old Republic and the conflict that ended it, the Clone Wars. Circumstances forces Cal to use the force to protect his best friend and work buddy and thus the Empire gets wind of a Jedi on the planet.
The Inquistorious, introduced in the cartoon show Rebels that acts as a sequel to the acclaimed animated Clone Wars series, are tasked with finding and purging the galaxy of any remaining Jedi. Not all the Jedi being hunted are killed. Something far worse lies in store to those that manage to be captured.
Cal makes a run for it upon his cover being blown and eventually makes it off-world with help from a odd duo and their spaceship: Cere Junda, a former Jedi master who has renounced using the force and Greez, a short four armed alien whose personality is a cross between Danny Devito and a moderately tempered Rocket Raccoon( at least the MCU version.)
Cere convinces Cal that the time for hiding from the Empire,and the Sith that control it, is over: it’s time to rise up. How so? The Rebellion as seen in the Original Trilogy hasn’t quite formed yet. It’s only five years since ROTS. Instead, Cere wants to go on a near Indiana Jonesesque artifact hunt in search of a holocron, a force infused object of power meant to hold information.
A holocron on the planet Bogano apparently holds the key to a list of children who are force sensitive, apparently as part of a prophecy or prediction. We all know how awesome prophecies turn out in Star Wars, am I right?
Cere wants to find the holocron and with it, the children, and raise them up to be the next generation of Jedi and take the war directly to the Empire. Cal is skeptical of whether this journey is wise and he himself is ready to be the Jedi to complete it. He’s not. Not yet.
Cal and the Mantis travel to several worlds in search of artifacts that act as keys to open the Jedi Temple on Bogano. One of them is Kashyyyk, the Wookie homeworld that either made its debut in Revenge of the Sith or the Star Wars Holiday Special. There is a Life Day reference so I’ll let you ponder that for a bit.
Cal is aided in his journey in two ways. One is the most adorable droid in Star Wars yet, just edging out BB-8 and R2-D2. BD-1 is a small, bipedal droid that can crawl and hang on Cal during their on-foot excursions.
He scans the environment for information and secrets, heals Cal with stims and can through upgrades unlock once inaccessible crates and doors and hack certain droids like the imperial probe from Empire and the large,long armed security droids from Rogue One.
BD-1 is your most reliable ally though his response time in healing you upon request from button prompt can feel too slow at times, especially in tougher fights. The other form of aid comes from moments in his journey when he flashes back to his time as a young padawan in training under his master to learn how to do cool Jedi things to traverse the environment like wall-running, double jumping and pulling/ pushing objects.
An overly convenient partial amnesia Cal has from the trauma he endured during Order 66 is responsible for him forgetting those lessons. It’s a way to spread out what is readily available for the player to do when exploring the semi-open locations on offer.
Jedi: Fallen Order does a great job of making you feel your power and skill as a Jedi grow naturally as your search continues on. It’s not just the act of taking out enemies in your way, it’s also using Cal’s rare ability to use the force to sense objects and collect their “echoes”, which both give him experience to level himself up as well as background information on the events that transpired before he arrived at a certain location.
Like learning of a family going on the run from the Empire or how the guerrilla resistance movement on Kashyyyk is doing based on those echoes recalling small moments from the past for both Cal and player to piece together.
It’s not only an earnest way for Cal and the player to engage in Respawn’s well-crafted slice of the Star Wars world and mythos, it makes players want to fully explore every secret and part of the worlds that are visited.
Not all the planets have these semi-open environments for Cal and BD to explore and fight through, some like the opening on Bracca are linear plot focused A to B paths, not unlike the Uncharted series.
That brings me to how Jedi: Fallen Order takes aspects of many different game series and combines them into a mold that feels completely like its own genuine article. There’s the action set-pieces and traversal system from Uncharted, surprisingly thoughtful and occasionally challenging puzzles also from Uncharted and Tomb Raider.
There’s the clear inspiration taken from what is easily one of the most influential game developers from both the last and current generations: From Software. “From” is their name, just so you’re not confused. You may know them as the makers of the “Souls” series, creating incredibly challenging yet for those with the time and patience( not me) rewarding experiences.
Whether it be the Dark Souls titles and their spiritual predecessor, Demon Souls, or successor,Bloodborne, the mode of play involves a melee-like experience of a player going through open-ended areas full of dangers and traps in an attempt to fight and dodge their way past and through enemies.
Eventually, to progress further, they face supremely difficult bosses that absolutely demand not only a true understanding of how to play the game and your build of the character you’re controlling but figuring out the boss’ pattern of attack and defense.
Do it fast because when you get hit by them, you have very few chances after to reciprocate before you’re dead and back to the checkpoint, which if you’re careless or overconfident could be hours back at a situated location called a “bonfire”.
Jedi: Fallen Order in terms of overall challenge is not entirely Dark Souls set in Star Wars. They’re are several difficulty settings you can switch to at a moment’s notice if one setting becomes too much for you. I haven’t tried the hardest difficulty but based on the description of enemy health, damage you give and take and most importantly your “parry” response time, it sounds just about as difficult as a From title.
Two other factors from the Japanese studio influence Fallen Order in a meaningful way. They’re meditation points, which are essentially this game’s bonfire. There, you automatically save upon using the point and level up Cal and BD’s abilities and rest, which restores your health, force and stims.
It also respawns all the enemies you have faced in your encounters exploring the planet’s locations, save for bosses and several one and done enemy scenarios. This may seem unfair at first, but it is a way for you to always have your guard and focus up when dealing with enemies and to further train yourself in the game’s mechanics of lightsabering, and using the force for defense and offense.
Using a point and resting is also a gamble based on how ready you are to face enemies in places you may have struggled earlier. It’s ultimately more rewarding than annoying in that it makes you appreciate the depth of combat you would hope for in using the force and your lightsaber.
The second element from..From Software’s line of work can be found in a game that was released this year in fact: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. The Feudal era Japan/ Samurai simulator continued in the same style of gameplay of the studio’s “Souls” titles, but with an emphasis on “parrying” your opponents. That means carefully timing your blocking of the enemies attacks to both block and attack them back, often in a maneuver that could make or break the fight.
This style of correctly blocking against your foes is very suitable for a game about being a lightsaber wielder. Nearly every lightsaber duel I have seen in Star Wars is ultimately about breaking through the other’s attacks to score a hit, hopefully involving a lethal blow.
It can be challenging to know when exactly the right time to parry an attack can happen and there are alternatives to the parry, should you find the opportunity like dodging, jumping or rolling around the enemy to where they’re exposed. Some enemies however are wisely placed in some situations where either you learn the parry or hope you have enough stims to bleed through the enemies’ strikes.
The game, should you wish it, can be a pretty great challenge that makes your victories small and large feel like they really matter, not just for the player getting the hang of the mechanics, but for making Cal’s gradual journey to get over the trauma of the past and become a true Jedi feel meaningful.
I wouldn’t call this the best Star Wars story but it is certainly a worthy enough return to a larger world. The beginning of a new tale that I actually do want to see a follow up for. The acting and narrative is really decent, even occasionally great and always on point in understanding the kind of escapist adventure Star Wars was always intended to be.
The arcs of several characters including Cal, Cere and one that I will omit for mention due to it being something of a spoiler feel real and worth pursuing further, hopefully to a welcome conclusion.
In terms of disappointments, they’re few and not above post release revision. Playing on the PS4, in a similar vein to Control from earlier this year, the game’s performance can leave much to be desired. Old problems interfere with Cal’s adventure like slow-down, frame-rate drops and textures popping in or taking longer than I would like to load in. Visually, it can make a beautifully realized Star Wars story look ugly in several intervals.
It makes it much harder to ignore that Jedi: Fallen Order appears to be running on older hardware which means it’s not the most graphically up to date game in the first place. When the game’s performance worsens in these moments, though patches have been steadily improving overtime, it can actually get you killed while playing while also blowing the needed sense of immersion into your own Jedi power fantasy.
The other issue has to do with a pre-order bonus for the game, the closest the game comes to resembling an EA product. Like many, I waited until after release and the reviews came in to pick up Fallen Order. The pre-order bonus was an orange color for your lightsaber blade. This also acts as confirmation that the new Disney management of the lore considers orange-bladed lightsabers canon. And the fans rejoiced!
Turns out, partially thanks to tigers and Half-Life, orange is my favorite color. If I was a Jedi and had to choose the Kyber crystal for my weapon, it would certainly be orange. Despite its orientation on the color spectrum, it’s still a light side color. Only black and red are dark side colors, which sucks if you like those.
I’m hoping they make orange a downloadable piece of content for everyone later down the road, otherwise it sucks that my preferred color for a lightsaber in the game is cordoned off for the elite “preorder crowd.”
Furthermore, the customization system in the game can feel somewhat disappointing. Don’t take it the wrong way, it’s better than making all the cosmetic unlockables be stuck behind a money-grubbing paywall, as EA is infamously want to do, especially with their take on the multiplayer Battlefront games. Be thankful for what you got, I guess.
The customizables come in the form of parts and color schemes for your lightsaber, which you can change as much as you want at workbenches, even creating forms that can resemble classics used by Obi-Wan, Darth Vader, Mace Windu and Luke Skywalker.
You also can find through unlockable chests littered throughout the game’s planets color schemes for BD-1, your ship the Mantis as well as outfits For Cal which come in both jackets and…ponchos. Some of the designs look great and Jedi-like but it is odd that you can’t choose other styles of wear like Jedi clothing and robes, vests not unlike what Han Solo would wear or something else new. Often, I had Cal not wear the ponchos and just have different colors of the same jacket.
Nothing else comes to mind. The game’s length, depending on how interested you will be in exploring fully the planet locations and finding all the items to customize and strengthen Cal, will vary. It is not a very long game, but I struggled to really consider it short. It feels just long enough for the chapter or episode it wants to tell, enough meat to sate future endeavors.
This is only the beginning of hopefully a well-crafted new side to the ongoing cultural juggernaut that is Star Wars, whether you like, love or love to hate on for reasons reasonable or petty. It’s a Star Wars tale where the obstacles in your way are worth persevering over, whether those obstacles were intentional or not.
Of course the force is strong with this game, my and maybe your feelings already knew it to be true.