Here we go again, the third game release under the EA Star Wars games 10 year deal, this time coming from the highly talented and experienced team at Respawn Entertainment. Titanfall and Apex Legends have been huge successes thus far but can this trend continue with their action/adventure game set in the Star Wars universe? If past ventures are an indicator then absolutely, but if not, I’ve got a bad feeling about this.
Cal Kestis is a former Padawan of the Jedi Order, training under Jedi Master Jaro Tapal. I say was, because we’ve all seen the films and know Palpatine put Order 66 into effect, which in turn declared all Jedi an enemy of the republic. This brought on the seeking out and destruction of any and all Jedi forcing many into hiding and for some a complete overhaul on who they are. Cal became a rigger of the scrapper guild on the planet, Bracca. So far, I am all in, being presented with the type of story I’ve always wanted to dive further into, what life was like for the Jedi following the purge.
What I also love is that for a Star Wars story it feels like one of the more grounded ones. Our hero is deeply flawed and faces many challenges in his journey. Not only that but at no point I felt out of place travelling through space, battling weird creatures and different races or running across walls. It’s a fantasy game sure, but doesn’t seem so unrealistically absurd. I wish I could explain this better, but I’m limited by my weak mind that is surely at risk of the mind trick.
The journey from start and finish had me hooked, always wanting to see what was next for Cal and the characters I encountered along the way. I found myself infatuated more and more on my quest to rebuild the Jedi Order. This was bolstered by interesting characters, unique enemies to face, the variety of planets to explore and even the new ways to fight that you can acquire throughout. I wanted more Star Wars and damn it, I was getting it in spades.
I’m finding it difficult to do this review because I of course want to speak about many of the enthralling characters, but I feel you need to meet them for yourself. I do what I can to provide a spoiler-free review, and anything and everything could be regarded as a bit of a spoiler. There are situations where you will laugh, and ones that may induce a tear or two. Such is the weight of powerful story-telling that isn’t afraid to explore both the good and the bad parts of life as a post-Order 66 Jedi.
Action/Adventure can be the one of the hardest genre’s to cater for, relying not just on one key aspect of the medium, but many. Gameplay, story, visuals and audio are all majorly important in delivering an experience that is both rewarding and satisfying to play. Many action games can get by with impressive gameplay, RPG’s can be held up with a fantastical and complex story but you truly need all aspects to come together for this genre. Immediate thoughts on combat took me to the Dark Souls games with the importance of parrying, dodging and attacking at precise moments. Not to mention the difficulty faced at even the standard Jedi Knight level.
There is a weight to the lightsaber that can I felt with each swing and parry. You are rewarded for expert timing and are encouraged to take a more deliberate approach to combat as opposed to trying to hack and slash your way to victory. I faced the biggest challenge of all whilst playing this game, myself. I have always come to an understanding that I like to go gung-ho, and swing wildly at anything in my path, and I got absolutely decimated for it time and time again. It seems I just cannot change, not having the patience to deal with the slow methodical approach, especially when equipped with a weapon I just want to have fast-paced battles with.
The souls-like combat style complements and yet seems to hinder at the same time the overall feel of the lightsaber duel. In some ways it adds to the epicness by having a long drawn out fight to the death in which each second matters and in other ways it can feel far too slow and even a slog to get through battles. During one boss battle I just couldn’t seem to overcome, I was forced to reduce the difficulty to story mode and from there I had no issues what so ever finishing the game. There is a huge leap between the two lowest difficulty settings and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, some games are absolutely meant to be played a certain way, a way that just doesn’t fit my personal playstyle.
So duel’s aren’t the only fight to get into, there are plenty of stormtroopers trying to shoot from afar with their fancy blasters. One of my favourite aspects of the gameplay is being able to deflect bullets and return them back to sender. I’ve felt like such a bad-ass before, but being a Jedi in this, I feel powerful and at the same time I don’t feel over-powered to the point of boredom, there is a challenge and a danger which made it important to keep track of not only the number of enemies but the type of them too. You grow in strength but are presented with new baddies to figure out and beat each time.
Outside of battle, there is a heavy focus on platforming and puzzle solving as you navigate through each area. With many branching paths, and some only being accessible later on after you acquire certain abilities. What I found myself doing is heading back to areas after a new force power and seeing where else I could now venture. There is plenty of space to explore for those who want it. The platforming itself is solid, it has some of the common issues like missing jumps due to being off the mark slightly but it executes well and you can see clearly where you went wrong.
One trend that is to easy to identify with all three Star Wars games published by EA thus far is that they all look gorgeous. Respawn have gone a different route in terms of game engine, instead of Frostbite being used once more, Unreal Engine 4 is at the core of Fallen Order and does a fantastic job in showing that there are other engines out there that may perhaps be a better fit than the often clunky and jarring Frostbite engine.
Put simply, this looks authentically Star Wars with everything from the expansive universe to the smallest details on articles of clothing and items. When roaming through each planet I feel immersed into the location and can’t help but smile that I’m perhaps as close as I can be to being in the films. From popular previously visited planets like Kashyyyk and Dathomir to the lesser known Bogano and Zeffo, it all seems familiar in terms of the universe I’m surrounded by, in-game of course. Real-life universe is somewhat different, sadly.
The variety witnessed from one planet to the next has not gone unnoticed, and is appreciated oh so much. Being able to go from the lush-green jungles of Kashyyyk to the treacherous icy plains and mountains of Ilum and to the dry, barren landscape of Dathomir is refreshing and helps prevent boredom that can come when exploring the same style of areas constantly. They have differing colour palettes, structure architecture and wildlife between each planet that every time I would visit a new place for the first time I had to explore every nook and cranny and take it all in.
Another way the game likes to put a stamp on authenticity is through its music and sound effects. The John Williams vibe is present and has been evolved upon to deliver something unique and yet someone without even having played the game could tell, oh this is Star Wars music right here. From start to finish, from one mission to the next, the soundtrack does a great job in taking me on this journey of loss, hope and conflict. It’s present in not just cutscenes, but in exploration and battles too and expertly tells the story of what is happening on screen. It evokes this sense of nostalgia and wonder at the same time, keeping the tension high where it needs to be and calming the mood when it’s called for.
Sounds effects play a pivotal role in atmosphere building, we all know what lightsabers and blasters are supposed to sound like thanks to many films, games and tv shows over the years and of course it all carries over here. That being said many new sounds have to be included what with the new creatures and weapons, each one coming complete with satisfying sounds that make it genuinely fun to play and interact with the new additions on top of the stuff I already know and love.
Along the way there are collectibles to seek out that come in the form of lightsaber parts and customisation options for Cal, BD-1 who is your charming droid companion and the Mantis ship, mainly coming in the form of skins. It feels like more a quality of life type deal in which the extra is there if you want it, and rewards the exploration of each world.
More on the rewards front, you can acquire skill points through combat, force echoes and by scanning various lifeforms which in turn can be used to enhance one of three skill trees, lightsaber combat, survival or force powers. As you journey on there is always the opportunity to improve and get stronger. The best thing about the skill system is you are encouraged to head off the beaten path and dig for the lore, at least that was the case for me.
OVERALL: 9/10 – EXCELLENCE
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is perhaps one of the best Star Wars games of all time, up there with the likes of Knights of the Old Republic and the Jedi Knight series. It’s a more than competent action and adventure game that delivers rewarding and tough gameplay, combining it with a fascinating story filled with captivating characters and finished off with a huge helping of beautiful visuals and stunning sound design. Its difficulty curve is steep leading to many infuriating moments and thoughts of putting off playing the rest of the game. I’m just so glad I swallowed my pride, lowered the difficulty and kept on at it. What an experience.
Written by Rhys Baldwin.