By Daniel Shaw:
It’s a strange day when I sit down to write a review and find myself having to pause to contemplate the game’s title one final time; because it’s that clunky. I hate to begin with such a nitpicky complaint, but having spent several months fumbling over Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order’s multitiered name, I feel I have a right to my curmudgeon ways! Naturally, the writers would have brainstormed dozens of main titles and subheadings. In the end, however, they just loved them so gosh darn much they decided to use them all! One little revision is all it would’ve taken to make their product easier to talk about; my deepest sympathies go out to all the individuals making video reviews for the number of takes they likely had to go through saying the fool thing in its entirety. Star Wars: Jedi: Fallen Oder: The Video Game just doesn’t flow, is a chore to fully say, and is destined to be forever shorthanded to Fallen Order.
There, I’m done. Back to the review.
From day one of Fallen Order’s announcement, it’s
been under an incredibly scrutinizing microscope. It’s
brought to us by Respawn Entertainment (Titan Fall,
Apex: Legends) and under the continually
controversial EA. Seeing how EA’s last two ventures in
the Star Wars franchise were the poorly received
Battlefront games, many worried Fallen Order would
fall victim to the same failure. EA is notorious for placing a larger emphasis on multiplayer, a generally slapped-together and insultingly short campaign (if one is even included), and mandating micro transactions. However, players were pleasantly surprised (shocked really) when it was revealed that the game would feature no multiplayer, no micro transactions, and a narrative-driven single-player experience. It was at this time fans narrowed their eyes suspiciously, wondering which closet the real EA was currently locked inside. Nonetheless, the news was received with overwhelming praise, and the hype for Fallen Order was on a steady rise. At the time of this review, the game currently sits at a solid 80% on Metacritic.com. But does it rise to the challenge of pleasing longtime fans?
Fallen Order’s plot takes place several years after the events of Revenge of the Sith. Cal Kestis (Cameron Monaghan), a padawan who narrowly escaped the
Jedi purge, is trying to lead a quiet and unassuming life as a salvage technician. But when an accident “forces” him (I couldn’t help it) to reveal himself, Cal finds himself on the run from the Empire and the ruthless Second Sister. The story wastes no time getting started—the triggering events that uproot Cal’s solitude happen a little quickly for my taste. The trailers gave the impression we might see some of Cal’s daily routine or interactions with his work buddies before having to begin his quest. I would’ve enjoyed a quieter opening that gave us a little more insight into who Cal is now before launching into a story about his past. However, that’s only a minor complaint that I haven’t heard from anyone else, so perhaps it’s a matter of personal taste.
The cast is rounded out with the mercenary duo Cere
and Greez, who come to Cal’s rescue and accompany
him across the galaxy. The pair make a good first
impression, and although Greez remains more or less
the same throughout, Cere provides a few
developments that make her a more than worthy
companion. She and Cal share moments that evoke a growing teacher/student relationship. They learn from and help each other in meaningful ways, filling voids that were left in both. But a hero’s journey wouldn’t be complete without a solid villain, and hot on their heels is the Sith inquisitor: the Second Sister. She makes herself immediately known with some grand evil moments. Unfortunately, we don’t see enough of her throughout the story to get that feeling of constant pressure. I was hoping our relationship with her would be like running from the Terminator; never feeling safe anywhere for fear of your own personal boogieman showing up. Despite her lack of presence, she’s a well-crafted and well-acted bad guy. One particular flashback sees a young Cal interacting with Clone Troopers. Knowing what is to come and the dreadful inevitability of it, this playful banter and faux comradery is especially unsettling. Overall, we follow Cal and his friends through a very well-done standalone story.
Now the cinematic experience is all well and good (as expected with AAA games in 2019), but the real draw of this title is the combat. The first thing on everyone’s mind when a new Jedi game is announced is dueling and how that will play out. Older fans were instantly teleported back to the years of Jedi Outcast and Jedi Academy, which featured lightsaber combat so precise and polished it’s still being modified and played sixteen years later. Fallen Order’s combat has been compared with Dark Souls due to the game’s major use of dodging and evading. As Cal is a Jedi, your only weapons are the lightsaber and various force powers. I was surprised (and at times royally frustrated) by the depth of the lightsaber’s functionality. The game’s difficulty can be adjusted at any time during gameplay, from “Story Mode” all the way up to “Jedi Grandmaster.” Blocking blaster bolts is automatic when a specific button is held down; however, reflecting the bolt back at the enemy requires more precise timing. This also lends itself to regular lightsaber combat, which requires the player to perfectly time their blocks in order to parry an incoming strike and stagger the opponent. Combine that mechanic with a variety of combos and special moves learned throughout the game and you arrive at a combat system that’s challenging, fair, and above all, extremely fun to play.
All too often other games will boast having deep and
diverse combat but quickly devolve into mundane
button mashers. Here, fighting must be approached
strategically. Players need to be mindful of other
enemies in the vicinity, as they will swarm en masse if
the difficulty is set high enough. As stated before, the
difficulty can be adjusted if a certain situation proves
too hard (or, again, frustrating), and I was certainly tempted at times to do exactly that. The major boss fights are challenging and will test one’s ability to successfully defend and make efficient use of various attacks. Duels with other force users are hyper kinetic and really pull the player into the moment. They’re every bit as exciting and geek inducing as we all hoped they would be. As someone who has some experience with fighting and sparring, I found this aspect of the game especially satisfying. Real fights are tough and nerve-wracking, so for the DEV’s to successfully recreate that experience in a simulation is very impressive.
Although the story and gameplay follow a linear path, Fallen Order is somewhat open for exploration. Cal and company traverse the galaxy in Greez’s ship: The Mantis. On board, players can choose several planets from the nav-computer to explore. A handy marker makes it easy to discern where they should go next to move the story along, but there is the freedom to return to previously visited planets. The environments are all extremely well designed; rich, complex, and beautiful. Veterans of Tomb Raider and Uncharted will find the platforming familiar and accessible. Puzzle solving is also laden throughout the game. These puzzles are never too difficult, though a few were deceptively simple. As new force powers and skills become available, players can explore areas that were once unavailable or unreachable. They can find lightsaber parts, clothing, and paint jobs for the Mantis and for Cal’s puppy-like droid, BD-1. Work benches can also be found throughout Cal’s journey to customize his lightsaber. While I didn’t find the customization lacking, neither was it impressive. It’s still miles above Jedi Academy’s supposed customization, which was just choosing from a list. Perhaps a few more tweaks to deepen the system just a little bit further would have made searching for these parts more worthwhile. As it is, players will still be able to create a fairly unique look for Cal that would be their own. All this exploration comes together very smoothly, even in the way the game transitions between locations. It was an incredibly cool moment when I chose a planet for the first time and watched through the windows of the ship as we took off, left the atmosphere, and entered hyperspace. So awesome!
Offering criticism against a game like this is a small
task, but it must be done. At times the controls can
be a little too involved, forcing the player to tap an
extra button to do something another game would
have happen automatically. Those same controls also
have a habit of leading Cal off a cliff or swinging in a
random direction. I have been told of other players experiencing glitches throughout, however I never encountered anything worse than a momentary freeze. There are a few characters introduced that I found to be superfluous to the overall plot since they disappear almost as suddenly as they came. I would also say the ending came a bit abruptly, perhaps even anti-climactic.
Fallen Order is not without some flaws. After all there hasn’t been a perfect game made since GoldenEye. However, I found this to be an extremely enjoyable experience. Players have had a somewhat abusive relationship with EA lately, so this game, with all its delivered promises, is a welcomed breath of fresh air. Cameron Monaghan turns in an impressive performance as Cal Kestis. Once you get past the obligatory Joker-now-playing-a-Jedi hilarity, you enjoy an effective balance of confidence and vulnerability in his character. I would very much like to see him return as Cal in a future game or even in a live-action show or movie. The character is strong enough to stand alongside cannon favorites, and I feel there is still room for him to grow. His little droid, BD-1, is instantly likable. He provides health, an environment map, and can hack open doors and chests. Forest Whittaker also makes a nice cameo as Saw Gerrera, along with a few other surprises fans will be very happy to see.
The small window of time between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope is a fascinating era, and Fallen Order makes good use of it. Its story is exciting, emotional, and intriguing enough to easily warrant a sequel. As of now, there are no plans for DLC or extra content of any kind. That, however, is something we are all very proud of Fallen Order for achieving. While its always understandable for someone to wait for prices to drop, I would still highly recommend purchasing this game at full price. Everyone who worked on this title should have their efforts rewarded, and we also need to send a message to EA that this is the content people have been asking for. Fallen Order is a great addition to the franchise, one with which The Force is definitely strong.