*A One Act Scene
We're in an elevator at Disney HQ
, an EA
executive is there alongside a Respawn
creative director to give the company the latest on its Star Wars
EA Exec (whispering)
: “Let me do all the talking, you creatives don’t know anything… now, how did it go again?”
"What if we combined Metroid Prime and the most recent God of War, with writing akin to The Force Unleashed? Oh, and with a cute droid companion… let’s call him, BD1?”
He says at the top of his voice, with false confidence.
To which LucasFilm
) would respond with a flat palmy wave and a “eeeeh…”.
Elevator music, mind, plays on in the background in typical Kenny G
The Respawn creative director nervously elbows the EA exec and motions with his eyes for the exec to check the palm of his hand, where he made maddening notes.
"But you haven’t heard the BEST bit yet -- it will have impossible combat designed in the vein of Dark Souls, Bloodborne and the recently successful Activision-published Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice...”
“Activision… Sekiro?” the EA exec repeats in his head, alarmed and excited. Whispers are traded. The Respawn creative director stands as still as a Storm Trooper while the Kenny G elevator music casually transitions from a lite license-free take on an Elton John
classic to the Cantina music from Star Wars: Episode IV
, likely in the heads of both execs ‘listening’. Music is transformative and personal in that way.
Exclaims the Disney exec gleefully shouting:
The EA exec feels the energy in the small space, wanting only to join in on the landmark decision. “And Activision “new IP” dollars!” he shouts out loud before realising he’s done just that. Our creative director is eyeing the number of floors left to go before he can escape this madness. Thankfully for him, the elevator doors open and he has a meeting “elsewhere, in a Galaxy Far, Far Away”. “May the dollars, I mean Force, be with… us?”.
Why we haven’t started all reviews with the elevator pitch for the game, even after 20-plus years behind the keyboard in this role, is beyond me. But it’s certainly the most succinct way to explain
what lies ahead.
"I mean, you see how a scrapper scraps a fucking Star Destroyer. That’s just beyond cool..."
Fun aside, those other games mentioned are specific to the core experience of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. From the cinematic outset the game is wonderfully ‘Star Wars
’. You get drawn in. The characters are all great and the world built around them is instantly desirable to exist within. I mean, you see how a scrapper scraps
a fucking Star Destroyer. That’s just beyond cool. But quickly our player-character in Cal Kestis
, once upon a time a Padawan
, inadvertently reveals his Jedi
-trained past -- it’s the game’s Save the Cat moment, and from then on out, he’s classically Light Side.
This is sort of the first problematic part of the game, in that it’s one-note. One Kenny G-note at times, despite the influences injected from those aforementioned games. This isn’t a bad thing from a narrative perspective depending on your feelings across Anakin
, but the singular path of the game’s story undermines the planet-hopping nature of what Respawn has tried to craft here. Is this Mass Effect, or is this The Force Unleashed? And that question begins to rear its head a lot in the nature of the game’s seemingly-ungated-but-very-gated worlds. I completely skipped Kashyyk -- technically the game’s third world because I’m an explorer in games, which means I’ll avoid
progressing the story as much as possible. The problem is, I needed to go to Kashyyk to gain abilities from there to properly traverse the game-world. It’s very Metroidvania
in this way, which is fine. But the gating needs to be handled better than “you just can’t go any further because you can’t jump more”.
That said, planet-hopping is easily one of the more fun aspects. You progress in these large spaces, then find ways to open up quick access to them for later exploration and exploitation. And the set-pieces, to bring into view previous God of War games and the most recent one, is a key pillar. If there’s one thing any Star Wars fan will tell you, it’s that the grandeur of the Star Wars universe; the size of its ships and planet-destroying man-made moons down to basic Womprats is what they crave. And that is on full display here.
Moreover, your core companions are loveable, with your droid companion in BD1 taking the space cake. He can feed you (limited) stims when you’re low on health and hack most things. He’s upgradeable and customisable. As is yourself and your trusty light saber. The game goes a long way to making sure you feel -- and look like -- the Jedi you want to be. Where it all falls apart is in its poor service to Souls-like combat and checkpoint design. And it’s where I had the most issue with the game.
"Patrols remain exactly the same, and you get into an old-school mentality of simply remembering patterns. It belies the idea of an expanded combat concept..."
AI is all three aggressive, cheap and not overly smart. Enemies also reset whenever you “Meditate” -- the game’s version of Souls’ bonfires. But there’s no room for grinding with this mechanic. And they’re not at all dynamic. Patrols remain exactly the same, and you get into an old-school mentality of simply remembering patterns. It belies the idea of an expanded combat concept and can also frustrate the fuck out of you. For the first three planets I played on the highest difficulty setting, fully aware of the Souls-like design. But it was more than punishing. Unweighted and frustrating. When you fall off a ledge, for example, you just reset at a spot close to *there*. But enemies might still be aggroing
, because the world hasn’t reset and they’re clearly still upset at being burnt by a light saber. And if you respawn
facing the wrong way, you’ll get jumped. Immediately.
Dropping it down a level and doing more story became the only way to start re-enjoying the experience because even as a player who enjoys punishing difficulty levels, what the highest only does here is lower your hit-point data and raise that of the enemy. Frame-data is also borked, so even if you still have an amount of health after being knocked down and want to get back to your feet, the amount of animation time it takes for you to do that, versus the animation time of a specific enemy to just come and kick you in your Jedi teeth is plainly ill-balanced and, as a result, unfair in the spirit of a videogame.
"The game’s numerous biomes are also gorgeous and the acting throughout, alongside the writing, is just excellent. It just feels a bit incomplete..."
What all of this means is that Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is a mixed bag. It borrows from some of the best in the business, but doesn’t do so competently, or even expansively. Some of the game’s basic traversal such as swinging on ropes is simply terrible. And often when you need to string together the game’s platforming gameplay like jumping, swinging and wall-jumping, it can often just be a bit of a crapshoot. A Day-One patch will definitely need to be implemented as well, because the review code we played had more than its fair share of bugs and glitches.
The good, however, is that the story here is classic
Star Wars. The characters are infectious, and the planet-hopping and Metroidvania game design, once you’ve gained most of your base abilities, is fun and rewarding. The cheeky load times between planets is cleverly masked through your ship’s take off and then jump to hyperspace. It has more than enough nods to the original trilogy, while building on some of its own lore (the Nightsisters are just plain awesome). The game’s numerous biomes are also gorgeous and the acting throughout, alongside the writing, is just excellent. It just feels a bit incomplete where some extra time in QA and then development would have served it much better. The product offered here is good, but not quite as brilliant as it could have been.