It has been a dark time for fans of single-player Star Wars games. After EA secured the rights in 2013, the only games released have been the two multiplayer Battlefront games, only one of which offered a short single-player campaign.
To the rescue comes Titanfall developer Respawn Entertainment with Jedi: Fallen Order, a single-player Star Wars game combining the lightsabers and Force powers of ye olde Jedi Knight games with Soulsborne combat, Tombcharted exploration and environmental puzzles, and Metroidvania-style (semi)-open ability-gated level design. Is it enough to restore peace and order to the galaxy?
The Princess is on another planet
The game takes place a few years after Episode III and the infamous Order 66, initiating the inquisition that all but wiped out the Jedi Order. You are placed in the shoes of Cal Kestis, a Jedi Padawan in hiding. Without spoiling much, I think I can safely say at that he soon finds himself very much not in hiding, running from the Empire together with a small crew including the “grumpy-softie-grandpa” pilot Greez Dritus, crew-leader-cum-Cal’s-mentor Cere Junda, and Cal’s sidekick droid, BD‑1.
I imagine the lore appeals to Star Wars fans, but I found the general narrative leaving much to be wanted. I can live with generic, predictable comic relief characters like Greez, but I’m disappointed that Cal himself is a fairly two-dimensional “good guy” with less personality than his wet poncho. He has no agency, lacks charm, and is never tempted by the Dark Side even in his darkest moments. The game also wastes a good opportunity for relationship development between Cal and BD‑1, making them BFFs from the minute they meet. Thankfully, a few other characters have more depth, including the game’s main antagonist. Nothing unpredictable as far as Star Wars goes, but refreshing nonetheless.
The overarching story is not something I was able to get particularly invested in; it lacks direction, risk, and emotional payoff. You’re traveling back and forth between different planets at the typical cue of “the door is locked, let’s see if the holocron/astrium/macguffin that opens it is on another planet”.1 This is a tenuous motivation at best given that lightsabers are all but canonically approved as the galaxy’s best blowtorches. Throw in a handful of cringe-worthy on-rails setpiece moments for good measure.
Jedi: Fallen Order looks great, though. The early-game and late-game cutscenes (the rest less so, sadly) look stunning, particularly in HDR, as do some of the planets you visit. The lighting effects are superb, with lightsabers casting a suitably colored sheen over everything in the vicinity (your lightsaber is even used as a torch in dark places).
Composers Stephen Barton and Gordy Haab (the latter a Star Wars veteran with titles like The Old Republic and both Battlefront games) do a good job with the background music, whether for exploration or combat. A pleasant surprise to mix things up a bit is the inclusion of the energetic Sugaan Essena by Mongolian folk rock band The Hu, whose throat singing sounds sufficiently alien to feel right at home in the Star Wars universe. (Heck, the game even starts with Cal listening to it on his headphones, planting it firmly as in-universe.)
The narrative shortcomings can be forgiven (if not forgotten) as long as the core gameplay loop is rewarding. The question on everyone’s mind, of course, is whether Jedi: Fallen Order caters to the Jedi power fantasy all humans are born with.
I’m happy to report, though not without qualifications, that yes, with a lightsaber and the Force at your fingertips, Fallen Order allows you to Jedi the heck out of the Empire and feel awesome doing so.
With several of the lead designers and directors from older God of War games, it is perhaps unsurprising that combat generally feels great. The lightsaber is your only weapon in Fallen Order, and they have gone all in on this “elegant weapon for a more civilized age”. From the powerful snapping and cracking of parried lightsaber strikes to the huge variety of delightfully animated attacks and combos, combat looks and feels authentic; indeed, downright cinematic if you play it right.
The careful, deliberate Soulsborne-style combat is an excellent match for this spiritual successor to the Jedi Knight games.2 Gone is the shallow “run around and wave your lightstick” combat, replaced with a system that emphasizes reading the enemy and carefully timing when to parry, dodge, attack and use Force powers. I played at the second hardest difficulty setting, and found that everything above regular Storm Trooper grunts required at least a modicum of concentration and strategy.
When you die – and you will – you respawn at the previous save point, and lose all experience since you saved. But if you manage to get back to and damage the enemy that killed you,3 you’ll get all your experience back, along with fully restored health and Force, allowing you to face them at your best instead of weakened by the previous encounter and trek back. At save points, you may optionally choose to restore your health, which will also respawn all enemies, making you constantly consider whether you can risk making it to the next save point with your current resources.
Batteries not included
Main main gripe with the combat is that the game doesn’t really teach you the nuances of the combat system, which runs deeper than it lets on. You can block, parry, evade, roll, attack in quite a few ways, and use several Force powers. If the sheer number alone isn’t enough (for example, when is it safe to just evade, and when do you have to roll?), there are many synergies and combos to be discovered, too. The lack of guidance leaves you entirely free to experiment, but without being very deliberate about this, you may miss out on quite a bit of rewarding combat technique. For example, the game teaches you early on that when enemies glow red, they are about to execute an unblockable attack, and you have to roll out of the way. But only after dying several times in a row much later in the game to the both unblockable and seemingly un-roll-away-able attack of an enemy boss, and subsequently frustratingly pressing buttons at random, did I discover that unblockable attacks can be interrupted by, say, a simple Force Push.
In short, you’ll probably have a better time (not just easier, but resulting in more cinematic and rewarding combat, too) if you read some online combat guides after playing a little while. While I can appreciate going to “the meta” for strategies, in this particular instance the game should do a better job of teaching the player. (There is actually a “practice mode” with waves of enemies, but it’s only unlocked after completing the game, and it’s more of a sandbox that doesn’t explicitly teach you anything.)
Additionally, combat may at times feel a bit too deliberate, even underpowered. Particularly when revisiting previously explored areas, it would be nice to be able to mow through already defeated enemies. Even at Cal’s strongest, overgrown rats require three normal slashes to die. This is somewhat alleviated by Force powers and Force-consuming special attacks, but you can’t exactly spam those. In short, some hack ‘n’ slash would be great, but I don’t want to punish the game too much for this; there are competing concerns at play, and overall, the game strikes a good balance between strategy and power fantasy.
When you’re not filleting local wildlife, pushing Stormtroopers off cliffs, or giving Rocket Troopers a taste of their own medicine, you’re exploring and solving environmental puzzles akin to Tomb Raider and Uncharted games (Tombcharted?). The exploration/combat pacing is well tuned.
The game takes place on a handful of different planets. You visit most planets several times during the campaign, and the Metroidvania-style ability gating itself works well; certain areas are locked off until you have acquired the abilities to traverse the obstacles (whether new Force powers or upgrades to BD‑1, your friendly neighborhood lapdog chicken robot and zipline trolley). Exploration is rewarded mostly with cosmetic upgrades and Force Echoes (the Jedi equivalent of audio logs), but occasionally you’ll find Force and health upgrades, optional minibosses, and even new, non-critical combat abilities.
The planets start out as mostly linear the first time you’re there, and as you explore and gain new abilities, you unlock shortcuts, effectively opening the level up a bit. There’s a 3D map that shows the areas you’ve discovered, places you have yet to visit, places you can’t get to yet, and how many collectibles you have yet to find in an area (which sadly doesn’t include Force Echoes). As with all 3D maps it quickly gets thoroughly confusing for dense, non-linear levels with a lot of verticality, but in general it serves its purpose fairly well.
The Metroidvania-style ability gating clashes somewhat with the exploration aspect, though. The first time I was on a planet, there wasn’t that much to explore, so I generally found myself looking in every nook and cranny for collectibles. However, a lot of places were unavailable, requiring me to return when I had the necessary abilities. But which are those? And would the story drag me back there soon anyway? In the end, I waited almost the whole game, until every power was unlocked, before revisiting areas to scoop up the collectibles, making the exploration a lot less organic.
This highlighted another problem: The level design is occasionally dreadful, requiring you to make 15-minute treks through previously explored, hard-to-navigate environments full of enemies just to get to that one area at the “back” of the level you haven’t yet fully explored, and then to make another 15 minute hike back identical to the one you did when you first visited the area in “story mode”, but with mostly empty “arenas”. This has a tendency of breaking the suspension of disbelief set up by the story beats, and the game suffers for it. I was very close to 100% completion but ultimately chose to forgo some collectibles because the long haul back and forth simply wouldn’t be worth the hassle.
Jedi: Fallen Order excels at allowing you to Jedi the heck out of the Empire. The combat is the star of the show, making it the best game to date demonstrating how playing as a Jedi ought to be like. The combat is well balanced, and, while not perfect, is thoroughly fun if you dive into it.
Outside the combat, the game shows some sloppiness in its execution. The lacking story and tedious backtracking if you want to “catch ’em all” makes the game less than it could otherwise be.
All of that plays second fiddle to the combat, though. If you liked the old Jedi Knight games and are willing to invest a bit of energy in learning the nuances of Fallen Order’s combat system, chances are you’ll have a good time.
Fans have long been waiting for a worthy successor to the Jedi Knight games. Fallen Order isn’t perfect, but certainly fits the bill.
I honestly can’t for the life of me remember why there was so much traveling back and forth.↩
You are considerably less of a hack ‘n’ slash Force wrecking ball than than in Force Unleashed, which is why I consider Fallen Order to be closer to the heart of the Jedi Knight games.↩
Revenge apparently being canonized as a wholesome pastime for Jedi?↩