Fallen Order succeeds, despite all odds, in delivering a fulfilling single-player adventure that takes full advantage of the Star Wars universe and that should pave the way for even greater EA projects set in a galaxy far, far away.
The state of Star Wars in 2019 is complicated. On the one hand, The Mandalorian (set to be publicly available on Disney + in the UK by the very end of March 2020) seems to be getting rave reviews from fans and critics alike, whereas, on the other hand, the controversial release of 2017’s The Last Jedi and the exit of Game of Thrones showrunners, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, from an upcoming trilogy that they were attached to, does not bode well for either the last entry in the mainline Saga, Rise of Skywalker (set to release Christmas this year) or any future projects coming soon to theatres. The future of the entire franchise, then, is hard to predict. Is The Mandalorian a win that’s big enough for audiences to seek more Star Wars content on the small screen? Is J.J. Abrams’ latest film going to deliver the impossible by bringing fans together and by bringing the Skywalker story to a fitting end? Is Rian Johnson’s trilogy ever going to happen? Is MCU’s Kevin Feige going to be the one to shape the galaxy to come?
The state of Star Wars video games in 2019 is perhaps less complicated than that. Following EA’s first two efforts since being granted the Star Wars license, Dice’s Star Wars: Battlefront and Star Wars Battlefront II, which have been marred by controversies and lacklustre critical reception, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, developed by Respawn Entertainment (studio that also brought you Titanfall 2 and Apex Legends) is a sure-fire hit and the beginning of a franchise that will take single-player Star Wars experiences well into the next generation of video game consoles and beyond.
Set in the aftermath of Revenge of the Sith and the subsequent Jedi Purge that followed, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order starts with the premise that some Jedi, as has also been explored in other canonical media such as Star Wars Rebels, have miraculously survived. Enter Cal Kestis, a former Jedi Padawan now hiding away from the threat of the newly-formed Galactic Empire. Prompted to reveal his Force sensitivity in order to save a friend, he is then discovered by the terrifying Inquisitors, a Sith force formed by the Emperor to completely eradicate the Jedi. Rescued by Cere Junda, a former Jedi that has closed herself off from the Force following the traumatic events of the Purge and by Greez Dritus, a wise-cracking Latero gambler and captain of the ship The Mantis, Cal finds himself on the path to resume his destiny as a Jedi and to restore the Jedi Order to its former glory.
The story of Fallen Order builds on this premise and peppers its many planets with fascinating characters and themes that are both refreshing and are authentically Star Wars. BD-1, the droid that accompanies and aids Cal through his entire journey, is more than just another quipping R2-D2, his bond with Cal making him one of the best (and certainly most adorable – move over, baby Yoda!) recent additions to Star Wars. Similarly, mostly everything that Fallen Order adds to the world of Star Wars goes beyond simply paying reverence to what has already been established. Visits to Kashyyyk, for example, one of Fallen Order’s explorable planets, tell not just the story of how Cal grows into power and how his relationship with his crew changes, but it also tells the story of how the Wookiee world is ravished by war and conflict. Fallen Order, as such, is successful in operating both within Star Wars at large and also in delivering a fulfilling story about failure, perseverance, trauma and hope.
On the game design and gameplay side of things, Fallen Order wears its inspirations on its sleeve. Combat-wise, Fallen Order follows From Software games by challenging the players to be meticulous when dealing with enemies, many of which can easily dispatch Cal with just a few hits. The game, as such, definitely fights back – part of the game design’s philosophy being to have the player try and try again to make it past any given encounters. It is a good thing then, that the game’s difficulty can be adjusted at any point to fit the player’s preferred way of experiencing the game and what it’s like to grow into a Jedi – the gameplay fully reflecting the steady rate in which Cal reconnects with the Force.
Fallen Order is also in part difficult for the only method to restore health comes by way of BD-1’s ‘stim packs’, which the player can request in the respite between attacks. These ‘stim-packs’ are limited, however, and they can only be recovered at ‘Force meditation’ spots – essentially Fallen Order‘s save points. Combat is also severe for dying comes with losing progress and the experience earned – the only way of retrieving the latter being to hit the enemy that has previously defeated Cal. Fallen Order is as such a bit more lenient than the aforementioned From Software games.
However, this comparison only proves to be detrimental to Fallen Order, as on the whole the combat never really reaches the heights of what From Software does best. Furthermore, Fallen Order never offers encounters that fully replicate the intensity and the grandeur of, for example, Bloodborne‘s most memorable enemies. This being said, as the game progresses and as the player obtains more powers to fill in their Force repertoire, it is still incredibly satisfying to use this increasing repertoire in conjunction with the incredibly satisfying melee combat. Not since The Force Unleashed or Jedi Knight:Jedi Academy has it felt better to be a Jedi.
Traversal and exploration, the two other core tenants of the gameplay, are tied to Cal’s Jedi capabilities as Fallen Order sees Cal wall-run, slide and use his Force powers in order to progress. The player is also encouraged, after acquiring new abilities, to return to planets already visited in search for pathways that were previously inaccessible. Subsequently, these newly discovered areas might be the key to progressing the story and/or finding collectables. These collectables range from customisation options for Cal, his lightsaber, the Mantis and even BD-1 to Force ‘essences’ and ‘echoes’ that provide tid-bits of lore and which gain the player some experience points for use with Fallen Order’s skill-tree. The customisation options, however, are never a good enough reason to want to seek out the chests found in all of Fallen Order‘s planets as most of the unlocks are simply unexciting: after the initial rush that came with customising Cal’s lightsaber, it was difficult to be enticed by the prospect of yet another emitter or hilt that, different as they might be, don’t make a a big difference when playing the game.
And yet, despite the unlocks being uninteresting, the traversal in Fallen Order remains rewarding by virtue of how the levels are arranged. It is exhilarating to explore every nook and cranny of the planets because there’s always the chance of stumbling across a breath-taking vista or a segment of the map which, by way of Cal’s prowess with the force, are fun to travel. It also helps that the maps are interconnected, allowing the player to steadily unlock shortcuts to regions of any given level. And whilst Fallen Order never revolutionises this level design formula which is reminiscent of Metroidvania games nor does it offer platforming that is tighter or better in any way than something found in Uncharted or Prince of Persia, it is still a very fun world to explore.
On a technical level, Fallen Order shoots very high and, more often than not, it achieves its targets. This being said, it is undeniably a game that suffers from severe texture pop-in, weird animations and bizarre (yet entertaining) glitches. It’s never anything game-breaking (the game never crashed) or something to take the player out of the experience, but it is still something frequent and severe enough to take note of. It’s important to note, too, that this is very much a late-generation game and that playing it on standard base hardware (i.e. the standard PS4 and original Xbox One) might come with more frame drops and resolution dips than encountered when played on PC or enhanced consoles.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is an amalgamation of elements of incredible games past and it shows. The result is an extremely fulfilling game and one which ends up being more than the sum of its parts. And whereas it offers nothing new in the grand scheme of video games as a whole, in terms of EA’s time with the license and considering EA’s penchant towards ‘live-service’ games and micro-transactions, Respawn Entertainment, with Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, prove that a single-player, narrative-driven Star Wars game can be great yet again.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is available now for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Check out the launch trailer below: