It’s not often I find a good Star Wars game. I feel that most titles holding the Star Wars license to be rather dull, uninspired, and a bit cash grabby. After the situation involving Star Wars: Battlefront II and their lootboxes; it’s very easy to dismiss any games that have the EA (Electronic Arts) logo on it and claim to be a good Star Wars game. The bad taste that EA has left in our collective mouths is only whisked away by this Respawn Entertainment developed zesty pallet cleanser called Jedi Fallen Order. Jedi Fallen Order has a lot to unpack and a whole lot more to prove. Between EA stating that “single player games dead” and Respawn trying to prove themselves as a powerful developer; Jedi Fallen Order seems to be a title that brings balance to the force in so many ways.
Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order is a single player adventure game that takes place between the movies “Revenge of the Sith” and “A New Hope.” You play the padawan Cal Kestis portrayed by Cameron Monaghan (Shameless, Gotham). Cal is a survivor of the infamous Order 66, and lays low on a scrapper planet until he is discovered. He then joins up with others as he ventures through the galaxy in search of an ancient artifact.
During Cal’s adventure you will see various planets, obtain upgrades, and engage in some of the most immersive combat that I have experienced since Dark Souls. The level design is an absolute love letter to games like Metroid and Castlevania. With parts of the levels designed with locked doors and inaccessible areas that can only be ventured to as you gain additional abilities.
I will state right here that there may be some spoilers about the gameplay up ahead but not the story itself. My general belief about the game is this: If you are a Star Wars fan, you will like this game for everything it offers and I might even say it’s worth the full price of admission. Alas, I bought in early due to my own personal feelings to support more single player experiences as well as Respawn as a development studio. If you do not know, they are responsible for the Titanfall series, Apex Legends, and most of the staff were previously a part of Infinity Ward; making games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. I digress.
Upon loading up Jedi Fallen Order (JFO) in front of my wife I can hear her gasp at the crisp graphics of the Mantis (the ship you use to traverse the galaxy). My personal awe continued as I walked through the halls of various environments. JFO throws a wave of dark and matte color pallets at you with some colors standing out in order to point out traversal set pieces. Nothing in this game is brighter than the lights on various consoles and droids that inhabit the various lush planets and drab hallways. Of course the brightest light is the very lightsaber that Cal holds at his side. The choice for a darker tone reflects the desperation and the hostile takeover of the Empire. Granted, Star Wars hasn’t been an overtly colorful franchise. JFO lends itself to the overarching tone that George Lucas originally envisioned for the movies, and Respawn accurately replicated.
From the dark scrapper planet you start out in, to the pale reds of Dothamire; Respawn successfully designed every level to emit a sense of emotion and personality. Unfortunately, the same careful crafting of the levels doesn’t fully translate when it comes to character models. Besides the pivotal characters in the game, most other side characters are not fully detailed and look rather out of place. Considering the graphic fidelity of a game like this, wookies (not a spoiler since there are always Wookies in Star Wars) look like they smashed right out of a Playstation 2 game and jumped right into this one.
Some parts of the game tend to stutter a bit, and sometimes the textures in the environments don’t pop up right away. These tend to be the signature technical malfunctions of the Unreal Engine. Unlike other developers, Respawn decided to use the Unreal Engine instead of the DICE (Battlefield) developed Frostbite Engine. Despite the Unreal Engine having these issues in many other games, I still think Respawn made the right decision by not using the Frostbite Engine. As we have seen with titles like Mass Effect: Andromedia, the engine is not a “end all, be all” for all EA developers. Okay, I’m done with my hyper nerd speak here.
With the mishaps that the graphics tend to have, the models of various enemies still pop like an amazing fireworks display. The Stormtroopers glow with an exceptional white shine, as you run up to them and cut them down. The flow of animation in each enemy is distinct and tight. From overgrown three eyed frogs to the new Purge Troopers; movement and action is key to a game like this. If we ever see a sequel to this game, I’ll gladly take the cascading combat elements over finer detailed wookies.
If graphics and color design are the face of a game, the gameplay is the personality. The more you get to know this game (despite the graphical imperfections) the more you are dragged in. With every satisfying swing of your lightsaber, and every droid you cut in half, you feel immersed. For the first time in a rather long time, being a Jedi never felt this good before.
The controls themselves are fairly basic. Movement and camera controls are on the joystics as they rightfully belong. Swing attacks are X/Square with Y/Triangle being your more harder hits and additional combat abilities that take up your force meter. B/Circle is your dodge (double tap to roll), and A/X is to jump. The left bumper/L1 is used to block, parry, and send blaster bolts back to the sender when pressed within a window of time. The rest of the buttons are tied to various force powers. The one thing that changes which is a control option I have never thought about before is how the interact button is tied to clicking down the right joystick. When you are exploring and interacting with certain parts of the environment, your thumbs rarely leave the joysticks unless you are jumping and running. You also never really jump when you are trying to open a crate or attempt to perform another action. Creating a button scheme that allows you to perform various operations while not crossing into other actions is critical, and it successfully works.
JFO is a game that highlights the concepts of exploration and traversal. You will be climbing up vines, walls, and sliding down various luges. Despite the combat being solid and fluid, this is where the game starts to show a bit of the control issues that can damper the experience a bit. The moments of the game where you start to slide down a track of sorts becomes rather troublesome. The camera hits the wall and you can’t see where you are supposed to turn. Or that you turn too much and you send Cal careening off the track and into the abyss below. Graciously enough, the game places you right back where you last stood.
Out of all the control options, I wonder why the left bumper/L2 is reserved to grab onto vines and walls. I can’t remember a time where I ran towards a wall that I didn’t want to climb. It just seems to be an additional input that could have been better placed if it was even really needed.
As traversal is a bit tricky to handle at the worst of times, combat is where this game excels. Every swing carries weight to it. Every block and parry feels well deserved and executed. Even sending bolts back at enemies feels rewarding. Dodging and executing a perfectly timed strike feels incredible and made me feel powerful. When you perfectly parry an attack, a short vignette plays as you roll over the back of the enemy and end his virtual life. Every bit of combat is an absolute delight. Depending on the difficulty you choose, enemies can be pure cannon fodder or be incredibly tough.
The experience itself almost has an effect on how I go into a fight. On easier modes I found myself running right in, taking out enemies fast and in a style reminiscent of the combat seen in the Star Wars prequel movies. On harder difficulties, the fights are more tactile. You feel like a true padawan under these more intense difficulties. Every blaster bolt and strike against you feels more deadly and can prove devastating. The pace becomes slower and thoughtful, more akin to the combat in the original trilogy. Except with way more enemies around who can and will hit you off screen. Be ready for that.
Of course with enemies being difficult, there is a risk/reward system in place. You will find various mediation points where you can used stocked up experience points to enhance your abilities. You can also rest, regaining your life as well as stamina vials that are similar to the Dark Soul’s estus flasks. Of course by doing this, you respawn every enemy within the level. If you are struck down in battle, you respawn at these mediation areas, and if you want your experience points back, you must find the enemy that killed you and take it out in swift retribution.
The most satisfying and immersion producing element of the game besides the combat is the direction of sound. From the moment you light up that saber, getting ready to take on waves of foes, to the random conversations the stormtroopers have when you are not in combat with them; helps create this quintessential Star Wars experience.
One of the things I hate the most when it comes to audio is the imbalance of audio levels. When you watch a show, there are times where the audio is so low that you turn up the volume. Then you have to quickly lower it as an explosion reigns through the scene and gunfire is blazing. Thankfully the sound quality of JFO is bar none some of the best I have experienced in gaming.
From the moment I heard ships screeching above me, at the very beginning of the game; I knew there was something special about the sound design that I could appreciate. The first time I heard a lightsaber ignite, I felt chills as the sound was just perfect. Blaster bolts firing (even off screen) instantly sent the message that I should block. Even the sounds of grunting from enemies and Cal created this sense of realism that I really appreciated.
One of my favorite sounds is the quick sizzle you hear as your lightsaber hits various elements that surround you. There is a crisp burn as you smack at a door, hoping that you can open it by sheer will of force. The remnants being the line of light left behind from your saber, and the crackle of metal slowly melting.
When you bounce blaster bolts back, you hear the shots firing from the weapon, the bolt hitting your saber, and going back to the very trooper that pulled the trigger. The stormtrooper is hit, emitting the familiar sizzle of the bolt penetrating his armor and sending him flying back in a series of yells and grunts.
The detail in sound doesn’t just stop there. As I said before, the stormtroopers have full blown conversations when not in combat. They will talk about various aspects of life and their experiences, making me realize that these are more than just nameless soldiers. In combat, the troopers change. They will comment on your attacks, shout when you are low on health, and even goad you into battle. They have smack talk that I haven’t seen since my friend Brian beat everyone in NBA Jam.
Outside of the enemies, your allies are also expertly acted. Debra Wilson (Mad TV, The Outer Worlds) plays Cere and she nails the part. Every ounce of her character really lends to the story. Daniel Roebuck (The Man in High Castle, LOST) as the alien Greez also perfectly exudes the tough let lovable alien that really helps bring a raw sense of emotion to his character. Even Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera lends his talents to help make JFO a true Star Wars masterpiece. Also BD-1, Cal’s little droid buddy, is absolutely adorable in it’s own little way.
(Note: Do not look up the cast on IMDB or else you will spoil something big for yourself. I have spoken.)
It’s not often times these days that I sit down and play a game for hours a day, let alone spend some time writing about my experience with it. When something with this level of impact comes along, I feel like I need to give it as much attention as I can. Respawn has delivered an experience that upon finishing, I wasn’t ready to part with. I still find myself loading up the game and trying to find every little secret that this game holds. I still find myself enjoying the feeling of pushing my 1,000th stormtrooper off a cliff. Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order delivers a great fully packaged single player experience in this day and age that is filled with nothing but tons of “games as a service” titles. Thanks to Respawn and their dedication to delivering a wonderful Star Wars title, I once again have a new hope for this license.
(I beat Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order after roughly 16 hours. I continue to play and find secrets that can up the hours to an even higher amount. I played on the Xbox One X.)