Video games are an iterative medium. Many developers take what was done before and put their own spin on it to make something new. In that regard, Respawn Entertainment has taken inspiration from Dark Souls (and coincidentally, Sekiro), “MetroidVanias” and the Uncharted series, and even a little Shadow of Mordor in the form of the Haxian Brood bounty hunters that show up from time to time, mashed them up, and made Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. For anyone who has played these sources of inspiration, they will easily recognize them in Fallen Order. Though they will also recognize what all of the aforementioned series have all done them better. That’s not to say Fallen Order is bad game. It’s not. It’s actually a genuinely good game with a (at times) great narrative. However, the lack of polish and “jack of all trades, master of none” nature of the game keeps Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order from being truly great.
What Fallen Order does best is its story. Set five years after the events of Revenge of the Sith, the story begins on the planet of Bracca where our protagonist, Cal Kestis has been in hiding after Order 66, which caused programming in the Clone Army to turn on and execute the Jedi. Anyone familiar with Star Wars will know that thousands of Jedi were killed leaving only a relative few left, spread out in hiding across the galaxy. Cal was a Padawan (apprentice to a Jedi Master) when Order 66 went down and has since been working on Bracca doing salvage on abandoned Starships. It doesn’t take long before events cause him to use his Force powers, which brings Inquisitors to Bracca. Inquisitors are Dark Side Force sensitives (they can use the Force) who have been tasked with hunting down the remaining Jedi. By using the Force, Call has essentially triggered a signal which puts him on the run. He’s saved by Cere and Greez in their ship, The Mantis, and they set off on the adventure that makes up the story of Fallen Order.
All of the characters are either good (Greez) or great (Cere and a late game addition who is actually the best character in the game but for story reasons I won’t spoil). The Mantis is Greez’s ship and Cere has charted it for the very purpose of saving Cal and going on this journey across the galaxy. Last and certainly not least, is BD-1. Cal’s extremely helpful droid. Cute as anything Lucasfilm has ever created, BD-1 (BD) will throw Cal healing stims (needles) to regain health (and once upgrade, refill the Force meter), as well hack doors, help with zip-lines, and hack enemy droids (which was beyond crucial in the final boss fight). BD is all around awesome and also figures into the larger narrative in a significant way.
I won’t spoil any of the details of the story as it is actually quite good, if marred by some of the game design. For “reasons” that feel liked padding, Fallen Order has you doing a lot of back tracking, not just on the five planets themselves, but going back and forth between planets. It does find a way to justify this within the story, but considering how quickly the Inquisitors showed up after Cal used the Force, it begs the question as to why Cal doesn’t encounter them more and more often.
As this is a video game, having Cal have access to all of his powers from the start wouldn’t make much of a video game so narratively, by cutting himself off from the Force to stay hidden, he has to reconnect to his abilities and hone them over time. As far as justifications go, it’s actually pretty good. To my point above about backtracking, unlocking new Force power and abilities means previous inaccessible areas are now available to explore via your newly acquired Force abilities ( ie: Metroidvanias), and it’s here where the first bits of Dark Souls DNA start to show.
One Step Forward, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back(track)
Each respective planet is its own map and they’re all interconnected and in many cases wrap around on each other much like those in the From Software games such as Dark Souls, Bloodborne and Sekiro. Unlike those games which have fast travel and a great deal of tension relieving shortcuts, Fallen Order has none of the former, and very few of the latter. And the few shortcuts it does have don’t really help all that much considering the actually insane amount of backtracking you need to do in this game (and its much worse if you’re going for the Platinum trophy or the full 1,000 point gamerscore because you will miss areas on your first run through of the area if you’re playing without a guide). Thankfully, each planet is diverse and full of areas to explore and have their own conflicts that Cal will deal with along the way. This makes the narrative feel a little bit disjointed, but it lends itself to the larger universe where the Empire’s rise to power caused ripple effects that have affected many planets differently. While Fallen Order’s story is grand, epic and mostly satisfying, barring some pacing issues caused by the backtracking, it wraps up in an extremely satisfying way without poking any holes in the established logic of the overall story and saga. It also leaves room for a sequel or two. And by the end of it, I definitely want to see more from these characters.
The story is good and all, so how is the gameplay? For the most part, it’s fun. Combat with a lightsaber is always badass and in Fallen Order it’s no exception. As Cal gains more and more powers, by the end you can pull enemies and skewer them with your lightsaber, or pull them to you and push them off of cliffs. In fact, I think I killed as many enemies by pushing them off of ledges as I did cutting them down (there are a LOT of ledges in this game, is what I’m saying). Some tougher enemies I didn’t even bother fighting. Just whoosh, off the ledge you go for easy XP. And by the end, with fully upgraded Force powers, combat options open up drastically and make even the most challenging bosses much more fun to deal with.
As you kill enemies, find secrets, have BD scan things in the environment, you will earn XP. Once you’ve filled your XP bar and get a Skill Point you will need to “meditate” at a save point (think bonfires in Dark Souls or Prayer Idols in Sekiro) where you can spend them to upgrade your force abilities that involve your lightsaber as well as some health and Force meter related upgrades. Resting at a save point will reset all of the enemies in the area, again, like From Softwares’ titles, so you can farm them if you’re close enough to earning a skill point and don’t want to risk losing the XP.
Inspired but Does Not Aspire To…
I mentioned early how Fallen Order coincidentally shares some of its design with Sekiro: Shadows Die twice. It’s a coincidence because Sekiro released eight months ago, and having an idea how long it takes to make a game, finish it and ship it, the two games were being worked on for much of the same time. So it’s wild to see similar systems at play here like how filling your XP bar will give you a skill point that can’t be lost if you die but anything you earn between earned skill points is forfeit (though in Sekiro you lose half and it can’t be retrieved, in Fallen Order the enemy that kills you has to be hit to get it back). Coupled with Fallen Orders heavy emphasis on parrying and how it affects enemies posture bars, the similarities are uncanny. Normally, this wouldn’t be too much of an issue because great game design is great game design, right? The difference here is that in Sekiro, parrying was an exact, almost rhythmic type of mechanic that was impeccably polished and precise and in Fallen Order it just isn’t. The timing isn’t very clear and seems to be different for each enemy type so it doesn’t feel nearly as good. Thankfully, you have those Force powers that go a long way to mitigating the frustration. That isn’t to say the combat isn’t good. It is. But when there is a game released this year that is doing a lot of the same things in regard to melee combat and parrying, it stands out as less-than.
Fallen Order also has a lot of platforming a la Uncharted, but that too lacks the refinement of its clear inspiration. You’ll miss many jumps that you should have landed and it seems that Respawn knew this would be happening often as there is almost no penalty for missing a jump and essentially falling to your death. Instead of a game over screen, you will almost instantly spawn back to your most recent piece of solid ground to try again with only losing a little bit of your health (how much health you lose is determined by the difficulty you chose. I played on Jedi Master so I would lose significantly more than someone playing on Story Mode). This is an unfortunate negative on the overall experience because when the platforming is working like I’m sure they intended, you can string together a pretty good run that makes you feel as agile as you should. I mean, this is the same studio responsible for the Titanfall franchise, which have some of the most fun, polished traversal mechanics in gaming. However, here instead impeccable controls, they’re merely “good enough” to play the game.
Then there are the slides. Oh, those damn slides. So many slides. For reasons I can’t even begin to fathom, Fallen Order has an almost hilarious amount of sections and areas where Cal will step on a slope of either mud or ice and slide down like he’s snowboarding. These wouldn’t be too bad if I didn’t feel like many times I was going faster than I could control and would fly right off the edge only to have to start the whole section over again. Then, for funnies, Respawn added some platforming sections to them. If I have any major gripe against this game and hope to whatever deity I have to that they never include these again, it’s these godddamn slides. They add nothing, feel gimmicky, and are all around dreadful.
It’s worth noting that there are some customization options available as you progress through the game and find in chests. Most of them are lightsaber parts to customize the look of your lightsaber, others are ponchos and outfits for Cal, paint jobs for the Mantis, and for BD. Sure you most likely won’t see much of your lightsaber during the game but it’s cool to see even a little attention to detail. My one complaint in this area is that I didn’t really care for any of Cal’s outfits. They’re just color swaps on a weak design to begin with. This is a game about a Jedi. Respawn should have included skins that made him look more like a Jedi.
Always a Padawan, Never a Master
Considering Respawn’s track record for making incredibly polished games, it’s kind of shocking how technically rough around the edges Fallen Order is. Texture pop-in galore, some sections where the frame-rate chugs for a few seconds, sometimes enemies wouldn’t spawn where they were supposed to and from my personal experience, the game crashed to the home screen three times. One time this unfortunate incident happened during the toughest boss fight in the game. If I had thought I was actually going to win that particular fight I would have been furious, but instead I laughed incredulously as it happened.
If I sound like I’m being hard on Fallen Order, it’s only because there is a great game in there that is — at best — good due to a surprising lack of refinement and polish. The story is good, using Force powers in combat is excellent, the lightsaber dueling is good, if not perfect, the Force powers really make you feel like a badass Jedi, the boss fights are varied and fun. I just wish Respawn would have lost some of the things that very clearly didn’t work (have I mentioned how much I dislike the slides?), and spent more time refining the things that did. Despite all of my gripes and the games lack of refinement, polish and true innovation, I still had fun actually playing it and consuming the story. Ultimately, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is the best Star Wars game we’ve gotten since EA got the rights and probably the best Star Wars game since the original Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic.
- A good Star Wars story with great characters, especially BD-1
- Fully upgraded Force abilities make combat dynamic, fun and make you feel like a Jedi badass
- Planets feel distinct and unique from each other
- Building your own lightsaber is cool
- Way too many sliding sections
- Pulls from other games but doesn’t match any of them
- The backtracking and lack of fast travel options makes it feel like padding
- Surprising technical issues