Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order full review
It’s one of the great gaming mysteries of our time - since EA took over the Star Wars videogame licence, despite multiple attempts, it has so far failed to release a big-budget single-player game in that universe. Jedi: Fallen Order looks to finally fix that.
From developer Respawn - best known for the Titanfall series and the battle royale smash, Apex Legends - Fallen Order blends the cinematic set piece platforming of Uncharted with the challenging dodge-counter-parry melee combat of Souls games, as you fight your way through a Star Wars universe still reeling from the impact of Order 66 - the command that killed the Jedi.
EA showed off gameplay from Fallen Order for the first time at EA Play, just before E3 2019, and we got to watch an extended demo, including loads of moments not featured in the public stream (which you can watch below).
Then, just a few short weeks before the game launches we got the chance to play Fallen Order for ourselves, whilst also taking the opportunity to talk with some of the creative minds behind this next instalment in Star Wars' gaming universe.
The game is out now on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. You can order it now from Amazon.
What seemed like one of the most promising aspects of this game before we even got to play it, was learning that it is considered official Star Wars canon.
Slotting in somewhere between the events of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (where the execution of Order 66 takes place) and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, this stamp of approval implies that extra care and attention has been paid to the game's development, both from an in-universe narrative perspective and from a technical and gameplay point of view.
The Fallen Order team at Respawn worked closely with Lucasfilm to create a game that feels faithful to the Star Wars universe; going so far as to call upon talents like Ben Burtt (the man responsible for some of its most iconic sounds, including R2-D2 and the lightsaber), alongside Doug Chiang - design director for the Star Wars prequels and the concept artist responsible for the game's principal new ship, the Stinger Mantis.
It also means you'll see familiar faces throughout the game. Although the Respawn team weren't willing to give away who else from the wider universe might make an appearance, we've already seen Forest Whitaker's Saw Gerrera in previously-showcased gameplay.
The 'levels' of the game take the form of different planets, consisting of both familiar locations - like the forest-covered Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk - and completely new worlds, built specifically for this game's story, such as the windswept tomb-filled planet of Zeffo.
While lightsaber combat lies at the heart of Fallen Order's gameplay, exploration is a huge component too. Through a blend of environmental storytelling, psychometry (or Sense Echo) and the ability to scan the various fauna and objects you encounter, you piece together both the Empire's effect on the universe following the events of Order 66, as well as the protagonist, Cal Kestis' personal journey from Padawan to fully-fledged Jedi.
Fans of the lore will also be able to unearth all-manner of flavour text around items, creatures and characters too.
Exploration also contributes to the game's skill tree system, which adds force powers to your repertoire that help in both combat and traversal, along with character customisation options covering Cal's various ponchos, BD-1's possible paint jobs (short for Buddy Droid), and new pieces and parts for your lightsaber.
Respawn actually admitted that the lightsaber customisation aspect of the game was directly inspired by Savi's Workshop - one of the attractions at Galaxy's Edge, the new Star Wars-themed addition to Disneyland in California. Like the Workshop, in-game Cal can alter various aspects of his Jedi weapon, from the hilt to the emitter and the blade colour (although as far as we're aware, this customisation is all purely cosmetic).
As hinted at with the game's original teaser imagery, the pommel of Cal's lightsaber is frayed and damaged. We weren't able to glean why this was during our hands-on time with the game but it apparently has some pretty significant story implications.
While character and weapon customisation is a nice inclusion, a bigger question mark has hung over the choice to cast a relatively generic-looking white human male protagonist for this latest title.
After talking with the game's narrative lead, Aaron Contreras, however, it seems that this wasn't a conscious decision at all, but rather an organic byproduct of the casting process.
"It was never really a question of 'Oh, we want to make a specific human' or anything like that. We had characteristics for Cal that fit into this story.
We actually insisted on not specifying race or ethnicity, for example, which we had to push back on with the casting professionals because they want to help you funnel things down but we wanted to look at a whole wide range of performances.
In the casting process, which I [Aaron] was super-involved with, we were like 'here's the personality - this sort of like 'actions speak more than their words'; he's got this quiet optimism - the sort of person who, you could throw a galaxy at them and they'd keep fighting' and that's what we were looking for, and we found Cameron Monaghan and we were like, 'Whoa, this is Cal'."
As a result, like some of the game's other primary characters, Cal's character design happens to be modelled after the voice actor portraying him, albeit with a few extra scars and scrapes to emphasise the tough time he's had hiding from the Empire.
An elegant weapon
When it comes to lightsaber combat - arguably the heart of the game - Respawn has nailed the look, sound and feel of the franchise's signature laser sword. Combat borrows from the rhythm of Souls games, with an emphasis on dodges, counters and parries; perfect timing keeping you safe from harm and maximising your damage output.
The complicating factor is that it’s not all melee and plenty of Cal’s Stormtrooper opponents keep their distance to pummel you with blaster fire while others - including the new Purge Troopers, trained to fight Jedi - will get up in your business. That means you have to keep track of multiple opponents and types of attack, using your lightsaber to deflect laser blasts as much as block melee strikes.
Fights feel fast-paced for the most part, although bumps do arise when handling crowds of 'troopers invading your personal space or when trying to juggle both close-range and distant attackers at the same time. The Assassin's Creed series handles the former better, although the addition of force powers - namely force pull - certainly even the playing field somewhat.
For a padawan, Cal seems surprisingly proficient in the Force, letting you use your Jedi magic to freeze enemies in place, yank them towards you and more. One particularly creative moment from the EA Play gameplay demo saw a dev stop a laser blast in its place before dragging the responsible Stormtrooper straight into it.
If that sounds a bit jarring, it’s only half of it. Despite confirmation that Cal's story remains solely on the light side of the Force, during actual play, you'll find more than enough adversaries to slash your way through or kinetically blast off ledges into the abyss.
For the most part, it’s a bloodless battleground but even so, combat feels undeniably gnarly, especially when you execute a potent finishing counter - and in Contreras' own words, "we follow what's authentic to Star Wars and how dismemberment is realised by Lucasfilm." Suggesting that, while you don't cleave Stormtroopers in two during general gameplay, specific cutscenes and battles may render lightsaber-sustained injuries with a little more in-universe realism than usual.
Padwan to Jedi Master
Depending on what draws you to Fallen Order, you can choose from four difficulty tiers, with the path of least resistance titled 'Story Mode' - for those who simply want to enjoy the game's visual, narrative and exploration elements above all else. As you bump up the challenge enemy attack strength and aggression increase, while the damage done by your lightsaber remains constant.
Beyond the battles
As for traversal of the game world (or worlds, technically), climbing itself could have been lifted straight out of Uncharted or Tomb Raider, and it shares those games’ blockbuster bluster and scale too, with TIE fighters spinning through the air and explosions all over.
There’s some limited puzzle solving too, but this was the least compelling element of what we experienced. Force pushing objects to make bridges, freezing fans to get through the gaps, short-circuiting systems to open doors - there’s nothing here too surprising, and it looks exceptionally linear.
Variety mainly comes from each planet's unique biomes and distinct creatures - many of which you may find yourself in combat with, if you're not careful.
Graphically speaking, Fallen Order (running in Unreal Engine 4) looks slick enough to justify those cinematic aspirations, though we have our hesitations too. Faces and other animations seemed slick and fluid, but some environmental effects, like water, not to mention some character animations during gameplay seemed a little unfinished.
With dynamic combat and stylish set pieces that should live up to Star Wars’ big screen heritage, Fallen Order is shaping up to be a promising new entry in the franchise's gaming universe.
Respawn may be best known for online multiplayer experiences but the brief campaign in Titanfall 2 was one of the best AAA single-player experiences in years, instilling confidence in the developer's ability to deliver an engaging narrative here, too.
The influences that the team behind the game have pulled upon seem obvious, but the specific cocktail here feels like its own beast. As a result of past missteps on EA's part, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order only needed to be passable to succeed, but first impressions suggest it's so much more - a game that Star Wars fans could genuinely fall in love with.