Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order: The Kotaku Review

star wars jedi fallen order the kotaku review

There hasn’t been a better time to be a Star Wars fan. As this is being written, the ninth and final entry in the saga that began with George Lucas’ 1977 film Star Wars is one month away from release, concluding a story over forty years in the making. The Mandalorian, the first live-action Star Wars TV series, is two episodes into a promising first season. The animated series Star Wars: Resistance is in the middle of its final season. In the world of publishing, a steady stream of Star Wars books and comics hit shelves on a weekly basis.

From another perspective: It’s incredibly hard to not be a Star Wars fan in 2019. The franchise is almost suffocating in its conquest of mainstream popular culture. Just look at all that stuff! There’s a well-liked Star War for just about everyone. It’s a feat of dominance that barely needs to be performed by Disney, the corporate monolith that now owns Star Wars (and just about everything else).

It’s very strange, then, that the Disney era of Star Wars has largely been a failure in the world of video games. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, the new single-player game from Respawn Entertainment for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC, is here to right that ship. Fallen Order is the good Star Wars game that has emerged after a string of high-profile failures and aborted plans since publisher Electronic Arts acquired the licence to make Star Wars games in 2013.

That Fallen Order is a very straightforward and unremarkable, albeit pleasing, sci-fi adventure makes it feel slight after years of disappointing Battlefront revivals and tantalising cancelled projects. But the fact that it adopts, and mainstreams, one of the most idiosyncratic and influential schools of game design of the decade⁠—the third-person, exploration-based action of games like Dark Souls— feels radical. Taken as a whole, Jedi: Fallen Order brings a very familiar concept to the world of Star Wars video games: balance.


In Jedi: Fallen Order, you play as Cal Kestis, a Jedi Padawan in the era immediately following the events of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Sheev Palpatine has staged his coup of the Republic and become Emperor, and the Jedi are outlawed and hunted to the brink of extinction. Cal has somehow survived, and the game begins with him in the life in hiding he’s settled into for sometime: working as a scrapper in a shipbreaking yard, tearing down grounded spaceships for parts.

As a scrapper, Cal climbs walls and swings on ropes and leaps onto precarious ledges like a video game character would. But Cal can’t stay in hiding for long. Eventually, his Jedi secret gets out, and he goes on the run from Imperial forces sweeping the galaxy for the last remaining Jedi. As Cal explores the universe and battles his way past various baddies, he also picks up a group of misfit friends and a macguffin that might be the secret to restoring the shattered Jedi Order.

Fallen Order also has a heavy focus on exploration. You’ll travel from planet to planet and back again over the course of Cal’s journey, gaining new powers and abilities that open up new avenues for combat and traversal. Like Metroid and the games that it inspired, you’ll regularly come across areas that are unreachable, locked off until you acquire the power that effectively functions as a key. You’ll find shortcuts and secrets as you travel through labyrinthine planets, then backtrack through them again with your new powers, more swiftly than before. It’s satisfying.

It’s also an experience that’s full of things that want to kick your arse. There are giant alien bugs, arsehole alien rams, and alien feral hogs, all put on these force-forsaken planets purely to piss you off. There are also a wide variety of Imperial Stormtroopers, droids, and highly-trained Inquisitors around to test your mettle. It’s here, in combat, where Fallen Order’s biggest surprise lies: The game is modelled after FromSoftware action role-playing games like Dark Souls and Bloodborne.

I had heard this going into Fallen Order, but I didn’t quite believe it until I played the game. If you’ve played a FromSoft game, you’ll recognise that influence on Fallen Order—the way save points are places where you can meditate and choose to regain your health and replenish your stock of health recovery stims at the expense of respawning all defeated enemies. Or how enemies have stamina meters that must be depleted before Cal can land a frontal attack⁠—and how Cal has meters of his own. Or how each foe’s distinct attack patterns must be learned and respected, lest a simple wild ram charge tackle Cal within an inch of his life.

Fighting in Fallen Order is fun, although a little imprecise. On higher difficulties, nailing a proper chain of blocks, parries, and dodges while responding with a well-timed attack is incredibly satisfying. Something about the game’s combat, however, feels just a little off, like you’re using a socket wrench that’s a hair too big for the bolt you want to remove. The job will get done, but you might be annoyed by the amount of effort it takes. Then maybe you remember to use your Force powers, and that usually makes you feel better.

For players familiar with modern action games, I’d recommend playing on Jedi Master, the equivalent of hard mode. Fights will be tense and fraught, gradually getting easier as your arsenal of abilities grows—until, of course, the game throws an even more challenging foe at you. Most of the time, it feels fair, but sometimes the game will throw a mob of enemies at you that can trap you in a corner and clobber you to death in a way that feels cheap and frustrating.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

BACK OF THE BOX QUOTE

'What if Archie had the Force?'

TYPE OF GAME

Lightsaber dating sim.

LIKED

All the Star Wars stuff, great lightsaber fights, zero midi-chlorians.

DISLIKED

Lots of bugs, difficulty spikes, no Ewoks.

DEVELOPER

Respawn Entertainment

PLATFORMS

PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

RELEASE DATE

November 15, 2019

PLAYED

Finished the story in about 20 hours with some exploration on the side.

These sudden difficulty spikes would be less troublesome if the game didn’t feel so rough around the edges in other ways. I’m not someone who’s particularly hard on how a game looks and performs—if I can do what the game wants me to do and it doesn’t actively hurt my eyes to look at, I’m fine. Still, I couldn’t help but notice Fallen Order’s visual hiccups on consoles. Playing on a PlayStation 4 Pro, textures would pop in and disappear regularly, and at times enemies would appear out of nowhere, or take a moment before they assumed their scripted animations. The camera is occasionally ill-suited to the task of keeping up with the game’s intense combat. Every once in a while, the game will straight-up stop while you load into a new area, locking up for three seconds while everything loads.

Barring the occasional enemy goof, none of this really impedes the gameplay. Once you’re loaded into an area, you can run and jump and fight with few problems. The frame rate is generally stable and exploring the game is a pleasure. When all the textures load in properly, the worlds of Fallen Order look gorgeous. Some players might be disappointed that exploring doesn’t yield anything more than cosmetic rewards or cursory “lore” that really doesn’t tell you much you don’t already hear from other characters in-game. (Only two items you find in the world affect gameplay, extending your max health and Force.) I didn’t mind, though, and I found myself getting extremely invested in customising my lightsaber each time I found a new part.

It’s tempting to talk more about the Dark Souls influence on Fallen Order because it’s more novel than the other points of comparison, like Uncharted and Metroid, which have been frequent design touchpoints in the world of big-budget video games. But the actual experience of playing Fallen Order reveals that the Dark Souls influence is the one you can buy into as much or as little as you want. The game’s multiple difficulty modes give you the option to check out of combat almost completely, wielding your Jedi powers indiscriminately as an unstoppable space wizard. This is a perfectly viable way to play the game, not to mention a fun as hell one. After a decade of the Souls influence bleeding its way through video games, from indies like Hollow Knight to big-budget clones like Nioh or The Surge, Fallen Order presents an argument for a mainstream middle ground between the uncompromised vision of a game like Sekiro and the accessible challenge of God of War.


Like superheroes or Pokémon, Star Wars is a collection of stories primarily for children, but enjoyed by people of all ages and walks of life. They’re simple works that resonate on a primal level because they adhere to mythic structure and broad universal ideas like friendship, or a black-and-white sense of good and evil. They’re modern fairy tales, but they’re also fairy tales that radiate outward, referencing a richer world of work. George Lucas, the story goes, was influenced by Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa and the writer Joseph Campbell, with Star Wars being the result of his endeavours to make something like Flash Gordon but filtered through the kinds of movies he liked.

There are children who grew up watching Star Wars and who, as adults, sought out Kurosawa’s films. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order resonates on the same primal level that the very first Star Wars movie did, and in the best possible world, it may well encourage the people who play it to reach outward—to Metroid, to Sekiro or Bloodborne, to Hollow Knight or Hyper Light Drifter. Star Wars succeeded as a film because of the lessons it learned from movies that came before it. It’s no surprise, then, that this Star Wars game has attempted to do the video game equivalent. That’s an optimistic reading, one that has faith in video games’ penchant for iteration and refinement, taking radical ideas and whittling them down to something that improves the experience of playing games for everyone.

There’s another way to look at this, just like there’s another way to look at Star Wars fandom. It’s where the risk-averse nature of big-budget game development wins out, where the FromSoftware action game just becomes the next Metroid, another increasingly shopworn collection of video game ideas used over and over from franchise to franchise, a brilliant spark dulled to an ember by conservative publishers happy to let big-budget video games chase their own tail as long as they’re profitable.

That’s the fear, now that Respawn has given us a good Star Wars game. That the way Star Wars finally cracks video games in the Disney era is the same way Disney cracked other Star Wars entertainment: Taking what was once rare and special, and giving it to us over and over again until it’s mundane.


Comments

    There hasn’t been a better time to be a Star Wars fan

    Apart from 1977 - 1983.

      What, back when we had to wait THREE YEARS for a new movie, and there was only the comics for extended content?

      Depends what you're into, I suppose, but I'm really enjoying the diversity of media and different approaches, myself. Not everything nails the landing, but there's a lot of high-quality Star Wars out there these days, and that's a fine thing.

        there was only the comics for extended content?

        Someone seems to have forgotten a little movie called Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure (ok, it was 1984,but close enough) :P And what about the Christmas special? And that's not even taking into account non-canon material such as Mark Hammil's appearance as Luke Skywalker on that episode of The Muppet Show.

          We do not speak of the Holiday Special. It is an abomination.

          But I had forgotten the Muppet Show, which was indeed a fine piece of media.

          After 1983, yes, there were also the Droids and Ewoks cartoons and such like; the Ewok movie had a sequel ... dribs and drabs of new content and then the (now Legends) books in the 1990s. But '77 to '83 were lean times. Especially compared to now.

            Quality not quantity, my friend.

            3 movies that laid the foundation for everything that followed (most of it vastly inferior). Each of those 3 movies was a major event, it felt like the whole world was changing before your eyes each time. Now there's so much of it that I barely even notice when a new movie / game / book / show / whatever comes out. It's become just another piece of pop culture rather than the enormous, impossible-to-ignore monolith it used to be.

              Like I said; depends what you're into.

              (Also, given that the world is currently going bananas over [redacted] in the Mandalorian, I'd argue it's still pretty damned significant. YMMV)

      I dunno, im partial to 1990-1998 to behonest, what with X-Wing, Tie Fighter, X-wing vs Tie Fighter, Dark Forces, Rebel Assault 1&2, Super Starwars Series

    I want to love this game, but I'm having trouble doing so. My list of gripes so far, minor or otherwise.

    1. Meditating. Why make me push another button to refill my health? Just do it automatically when I meditate. I don't understand why I wouldn't want to replenish my health, even if it's close to full.

    2. Sliding sections. Why? Just why? They're not fun, they're not something I imagine a Jedi would do often. Mainly they're just annoying and some of them are a lot more difficult than they should be.

    3. Level design. If I need to get to a certain point on a map and I can't for the life of me figure out how to get there, and I end up going around in circles, then your level design needs work. And for gods sake, why can't I have a fast travel, if only to get me back to my ship?

    4. The visuals. To me, they're ok, but not great. And some of the character animations just look a bit janky. I expect a lot more from a current generation game.

    5. The story. I have no idea what I'm doing, or why I'm doing it. Just going with the flow :)

      While I agree with a few of your points, I have many times meditated without refilling my health. Simple reason is I wanted to save my progress, but didn’t want enemies Respawning, and I had close to full health.

        Oh right. Is that the difference? The enemies only respawn when you refill your health, if you just save then they don't respawn?

        Why do they respawn anyway? Now that I think about it, I'd make that point 6. Respawning enemies, makes no sense.

          The enemies respawn because it's a mechanic borrowed from games like Dark Souls, Bloodborne and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. In those games, when you use the equivalent of mediation (a bonfire or shrine, basically) you automatically heal and all enemies respawn.

          Story-wise, yeah, it makes no sense, its just a mechanic that tries to add further challenge to the game.

      In regards to meditation, it gives you the option to upgrade your skill tree or save that point as a checkpoint without respawning enemies. It's a balancing act.

      Agree with the sliding sections, I found they broke the immersion for me i.e. ice/mud would never form naturally in this manner. But I get why it was done for level design. Some of those jumps to ropes were very frustrating at times as well.

      Visuals are on par IMO to other recent release, certainly as good as it's comparison Sekiro. But I've been playing on PC. The story and his motivations are pretty clear to me, rebuilding the Jedi order.

      As with everyone else, I don't want to make everything respawn if I'm on a good run.
      And I must be the only person who is enjoying the sliding sections. I'm pretty sure I slid down one, caught an elevator back up and then slid it down again for fun. I disagree with your third point.
      I know what you mean by a level should make sense but I feel that some of the levels in this game are actively trying to imitate a labyrinth. With all the circles and opening shortcuts, it feels like the game wants me to get lost.
      The visuals are amazing. I may not play all of the latest games but the facial animations and background environments have amazed me.
      Lastly, the story seems to be made up of a bit of guilt and childhood nostalgia. You play a character who was going to be a Jedi and I imagine that anyone who was going to be wants to be but his chance got cut short. You meet up with someone who was a Jedi and they tell you that you're their only chance to fix everything so go and chase after mcguffin. I think his motivation is that after being a padawan and then pretending to be useless for so long, his getting the chance to be useful again.

        My enjoyment of the sliding sections increased exponentially when I took to yelling "WHEEEEEEEE!" as the animation played out. As a Jedi would.

        "Boing!" at the end if you have to jump is optional.

        I'd like to claim I slid repeatedly for the fun of it, but the truth is I couldn't navigate using that map, and went around in circles a lot.

    I absolutely loved Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. It's honestly the Star Wars game that I've always wanted to play.

    I played it on PC, running at 1080p resolution, mostly 60 FPS and was fortunate to play on max 'Epic' settings. I experienced little bugs (nothing game breaking) and completed the game on the default 'Jedi Knight' normal difficulty in 23 hours. I also used my PS4 controller as the game recommends that using a controller is the optimal experience.

    Here's my verdict:

    The Good:
    + Cool story that gets more interesting the deeper you go, rich in lore and an amazing ending;
    + Great performances from most of the characters / cast;
    + Challenging but fair combat inspired by Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice;
    + Mostly good graphics - some beautiful environments;
    + Amazing sound design and musical score;
    + Well planned and structured skill tree;
    + Good, reasonable overall length of a game;
    + BD-1.

    The Okay (can be perceived as Good or Bad):
    / Limited Force powers;
    / No fast travel;
    / Your lightsaber is your only weapon;
    / A lot of unlockables to discover, but it's mostly visual cosmetics such as colour palette swaps.

    The Bad:
    - While he is decently performed, protagonist Cal Kestis is probably the least interesting character in the game;
    - Some of the character models look awkward (especially the Wookiees on Kashyyyk);
    - Some of Cal's animations look unnatural and stiff;
    - Occasional frame rate drop;
    - Can't skip certain cut scenes (like landing on another planet);
    - The map system feels clunky, easy to get lost and tricky to navigate where to go next;
    - Minor details (e.g. lightsaber doesn't make cool sparks/scorch marks if it touches a wall, unless you're deliberately slashing your saber around).

    My score:
    9 out of 10.

    If you're into Star Wars, you've gotta play this. If you're into third person action/adventure games, then you might appreciate Jedi: Fallen Order.

    Last edited 20/11/19 11:53 am

    From everything I've heard the gameplay takes its cues much more from Sekiro than from any other FromSoft game which is a much riskier prospect than just another Dark Souls clone. Tuning a Dark Souls clone is difficult enough but Sekiro needs to be next to perfect or it just won't feel right - which may explain why the combat felt a little off in JFO.

    I still may get it - I've been eager for more of that style of combat and it might scratch that itch while I wait (in hope) for Sekiro DLC.

    I am really glad others are enjoying this, but if you’re not, don’t feel like your alone.

    It is bland, so samey it just loses all expression. What you do is boring, the worlds are uninteresting, the story??

    The controls are terribly clunky and unresponsive. This goes for both combat and general exploration.

    You never feel like a Jedi, mostly like a clutz who barley knows one end of his light saber from the other.

    The map is utter garbage, for a game with no fast travel and a Metroid like repetition of old areas, it just seem like a massive fail.

    Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order - about the same as eating a dried weetbix

      Yep. This is fair.

      I'm really struggling to keep playing it. It's just not that much fun.

    Is the game good enough to give EA credit for publishing it? Can't afford to buy it myself to find out.

      Its the best EA game I've played in years, and the best Prince of Persia/Soul Reaver game I've played in even longer. 100%ing each planet once I got all the powers was incredibly satisfying and the game looks and runs beautifully on my PC rig. (I've kind of gone off console games now) Its such a disconnect playing PC games with my PS4 controller and the force feedback working nicely.

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