“It’s been a long time since we've done a story-driven action-adventure game in the Star Wars
universe like this. We want to work with best-in-class partners to make these kinds of games and it was a natural fit to work with Respawn
. Once we saw the way they can deliver combat and story, we knew that they were the right partner for a game like this.”
That’s Doug Reilly, vice president at Lucasfilm Games
, introducing Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
at a recent hands-on event in Anaheim. His opening may seem par for the course, but it’s worth dissecting. That last “story-driven action-adventure game” was Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II
, made at a time before LucasArts
became a Force ghost.
In kind terms, The Force Unleashed II was a lacklustre follow-up to the awesomeness of its predecessor. In less kind terms, the sequel felt like a cash grab that didn’t respect any of the deeply important (and once canonised) storytelling of The Force Unleashed.
The few hours of hands-on time I just had with Fallen Order boasts the same kind of grand storytelling as The Force Unleashed, and despite comparatively leashed Force powers, its gameplay is even better. In some key positive ways, Fallen Order is The Force Unleashed II that fans of the original deserve.
For everyone else, Fallen Order is a Star Wars game that builds on the pedigree of game director Stig Asmussen’s God of War
portfolio. While that body of work doesn’t include the recent amazing entry
, the core elements that have been part of God of War since day dot are the bones of Fallen Order; satisfying combat, epic storytelling, and a cinematic sense of scale.
Fallen Order is one of those games whose combat doesn’t translate well in trailers or extended gameplay videos. In the hands of a proficient player, it looks simplistic and the kind of mash-and-slash mess that doesn’t appear to have any depth to the combat. That may well be the case on Story Mode difficulty – the lowest of the four – but things are decidedly trickier on Jedi Master difficulty, the second hardest.
"Fallen Order is The Force Unleashed II that fans of the original deserve.”
Switching difficulty levels offers a refreshing transparency in terms of what it means for gameplay, simplified to three bars that change based on how hard you make things. Choose Story Mode, for instance, and the Parry Timing bar is full and forgiving, while Incoming Damage and Enemy Aggression are both incredibly low.
Scale things all the way up to Jedi Grand Master, the toughest of the four, and the Parry Timing bar is only 1/8th full, with damage and enemy aggro bars maxed out. Jedi Master simplifies things by halving the bars for all three, but this half-bar difficulty becomes deceptively difficult if you’re not careful.
One-on-one fights against most of the fauna and basic troopers is a cakewalk and a great way to test out new moves. Where things get spicier is in how Respawn has designed fights with multiple enemy types, which becomes a Batman: Arkham
-like combat puzzle. In these scenarios, even the basic one-slash Stormtroopers become pests, firing from afar at inopportune moments to interrupt your combat flow.
Grappling with the melee variant of Scout Troopers, who are armed with batons capable of blocking lightsabers, is tricky when they’re in groups, and any trooper with an orange pauldron means you’re in for a tough fight. Throw a rocket launcher-wielding Stormtrooper into the mix, who seemingly doesn’t give a Sith about detonating his brethren, and fights become a whole lot more frantic.
There’s a great sense of death deterrence at play, too, with clear inspiration from Dark Souls
, spliced with a touch of Shadow of Mordor
’s iconic Nemesis System. Die – and you will – and you’re sent back to the nearest manual save point, stripped of any XP you’d gleaned since your last upgrade point. Your killer will usually gloat about killing you, further incentivising un-Jedi-like revenge, and they now glow orange to make them easier to spot.
To get your XP back, you only have to damage them but, if like me, that death came from a backline prick with a rocket launcher, you have to get past other goons before you can deal that damage. This notion of risk/reward is also present in the manual save system. Sporadically placed meditation points offer an optional rest function that restores all health, your Force meter (otherwise filled by attacking enemies), and fractional-health-granting Stim-shots. It seems a no-brainer to do this every time you save, but resting respawns all enemies in an area.
"There’s a great sense of death deterrence at play, too, with clear inspiration from Dark Souls, spliced with a touch of Shadow of Mordor’s iconic Nemesis System."
After one particular manual save, I fought a towering and tough Zeffo Tomb Guardian who almost killed me. I’d used all three of my Stim-shots in the fight to stay alive, but I second-guessed whether I should replenish at the nearby save point or kick on in the hopes of easier fights and another not-too-far-away save point.
I opted for the nearby option, though, and won the round-two fight without taking a hit. Death or near-death fights are fantastic instructors in Fallen Order, and figuring out the attack patterns of a new enemy type is essential to survival. Even basic animal threats can dish out a lot of damage if you don’t respect them and attempt to button-mash on by.
The save point is, as far as I can tell, also the only place where you can spend upgrade points on new abilities. The skill tree is separated into three core branches (Force, Lightsaber, Survival), and despite some tempting options in the Force path, I spent all my points in the lightsaber section. This path is where you unlock new combat options, which makes the already robust base combat even more appealing.
In terms of encounters against basic threats, it means more ways to play with your prey. For the tougher fights, these new moves fast prove essential for more efficient crowd control or a faster way to take down mini-bosses. They even occasionally act as tutorials. For instance, one particular upgrade offers a longer-range second light attack if you pause between button presses. This proved handier than I’d hoped in more than one scrap.
While combat is a big part of Fallen Order, exploration is arguably just as important. There’s a map that helps you track everything, including a convenient marking for areas you’ve yet to check out, but there’s a lot of joy in good ol’ fashioned discovery. BD-1, your upgradeable robo bestie, jumps off your back and chimes when there’s a point of interest to scan, which is a must for lore fans eager to know more about these lived-in planets. This scan function also works on new defeated enemy types, with tips for the best way to tackle them after you likely butchered your first encounter.
Venturing off the main path is also a great way to find new customisation items – for your ship, outfit, and lightsaber – as well as more meaningful upgrades like additional Stim-shots for BD-1 to administer in a fight. It’s also where you’ll encounter Fallen Order’s Metroidvania design philosophy, where a red-hue on an object lets you know that you have to return with the corresponding ability or BD-1 upgrade to crack a case or explore further.
"Venturing off the main path is also a great way to find new customisation items – for your ship, outfit, and lightsaber – as well as more meaningful upgrades”
This ‘what’s in the box?’ tease ties into the greater mystery at the heart of Fallen Order. I’ve deliberately avoided diving too far into story details, partially for NDA reasons but mostly because even the smaller surprises warrant experiencing for the first time in-game. There’s a confidence in the storytelling that impressively walks the line of standalone Star Wars story and interconnectivity to familiar characters, locales and events.
While main-pathing Fallen Order is certainly one way to play, if you’re a Star Wars fans like me, you’ll love the narrative tidbits that are the reward for getting lost. Even after the two hours I spent on one particular new planet (Zeffo), I’d only clocked up a meagre 30 percent completion. With multiple planets on offer, and Metroidvania incentives to revisit them, the longevity for completionists and those looking to get lost in the iconic galaxy far, far, away is looking healthy.
In terms of cons or glitches or weird tech hiccups, they were thankfully sparse given the game is out next month. I experienced the odd AI fail where Stormtroopers seemed happy to stand around while I slashed through their buckethead buddies, and there were some frame drops, though never during combat. We were playing on high-end PCs, too – i9 9900K CPU, 16GB of RAM, and beefy NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti graphics – and in 4K, which is likely why the game looks so damn gorgeous.
It may have taken EA four years and three attempts to get a Star Wars game right at launch, but what I’ve played of Fallen Order says that it’s on target to stick the landing. The Force is most definitely strong with this one.
EA paid for flights, food, and accommodation.