“Nothing is like Star Wars.”
Those were the words that kicked off the Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order Preview event in Anaheim, California this week. The upcoming, single-player Star Wars game developed by EA studio Respawn is less than a month away, and it is the first single-player Star Wars game in over a decade. Respawn’s pitch for Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is to capture the quintessential Star Wars magic in a journey that takes you from an inexperienced Padawan all the way to a Jedi Master. After spending a few hours with the game, it’s clear that they’ve not only managed to capture that fabled magic, but also take it in new directions, in one of the most fluent and engaging Star Wars video games to date.
The game follows Cal Kestis, a former Padawan learner, in the aftermath of Order 66, as he struggles to survive and find his place in an increasingly hostile galaxy. The fallout from Order 66 is one of the most interesting moments in Star Wars, and being able to take control of a Jedi at the darkest and most hopeless part of their history is something that fans have wanted for ages. The early slice that I played started me off on a ship called the Stinger Mantis and introduced me to the crew which features Cere Junda, a former Jedi Knight turned freedom fighter, BD-1, Cal’s companion droid, and Greez, a smart-mouthed alien pilot. From there the game gave me the option to travel to one of two planets, the long-established Sith planet of Dathomir or the newly introduced planet of Zeffo. I chose Zeffo, an overgrown temple planet, full of twisting passages and ancient ruins.
Exploring Zeffo is a joy, and one of the best parts of the moment to moment action in Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is the amount of fluidity and truly impressive looking manoeuvres that you can pull off. From wall-running to skating down frozen sheets of ice at a breakneck pace, to using air pockets to launch yourself at hard to reach places or enemies, there’s a lot to wrap your head around. Consequently, mistiming jumps or steering off-kilter can and does lead to your character plunging to their death. This unforgiving nature, balanced with how great it feels to pull off manoeuvres, gives your in-game choices a real sense of impact and intensity, instead of frustration, and that balancing act is carried over into the combat.
Each of the different Stormtroopers, local creatures and ancient enemies can kill you if you’re not careful. Different enemies have different strengths and weaknesses that you need to learn in order to overcome them. The heavy trooper, for instance, uses a rocket launcher that can deal major damage, but its slow rate of fire makes it susceptible to time stop abilities, and the local wildlife attacks quickly but are easily killable if you notice them in time. That being said, the game also makes you feel powerful as a lightsaber wielder. Any Stormtrooper that you encounter will die from one strike, no matter how strong they are. More elite troopers still die from one hit, but they are harder to land a strike on which is where some of the difficulty comes in. Different trooper types such as Scout Troopers have larger health pools and take more hits to kill. Swinging your lightsaber around and hearing it, ‘whoosh,’ as it cleaves through your foes is immensely satisfying and there are Batman Arkham-style finishers that look and feel impressive.
The combat is built around a trinity of fighting techniques and they are Counters, Freezes, and Force Powers. With them, you can slow down time, deflect blaster bolts, push enemies away and more depending on the situation. They possess rock, paper, scissors characteristics, which require you to carefully choose not only how to engage an enemy or enemies, but also if it’s worth it. Therein lies the core of what makes Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order such a standout experience. In most situations, the game presents several different ways to traverse a given area and solve puzzles. The most striking example of this freedom occurred when I faced off against a Temple Guard in the bowels of Zeffo. The guard was powerful and managed to kill me a couple of times, without breaking much of a sweat. While I could have kept grinding and trying to figure out the enemy’s weakness, I was frustrated and just wanted to move past him. So instead of diving back into battle I looked around the area and managed to climb up a ledge that allowed me to bypass the guard altogether and move along with my primary objective. This freedom of choice is very much in line with my expectations of how a Jedi would deal with a similar situation, which further adds to the immersion. Later on, I learned a Force Power that made encounters with guards easier and I was able to go back and defeat the enemy which previously gave me trouble. Playing the game truly makes you feel like a Jedi who is learning and becoming better as they progress, which is a true testament to the quality of the game.
Cosmetics are present in Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, but thankfully they take on the form of in-level collectables, as opposed to paywall hidden perks. There are different skins for your character, droid, spaceship and even lightsaber. The lightsaber is easily the most exciting as you can change the colour, emitter, switch, sleeve and materials. Similarly to the other cosmetic unlockables, you find them around levels and you can customize your saber at a workshop located on your ship.
Accessibility wise, the game has four difficulty levels: Story Mode, Jedi Knight, Jedi Master and Jedi Grand Master. There is no autosave, but instead, meditation points which allow you to regain health and save your progress, but also bring back every enemy you’ve faced in a certain area, regardless of if you’ve defeated them or not. Unfortunately, if you do miss a save point it can mean running through a 10-minute stretch of gameplay all over again which is quite frustrating.
The frustrations I did face didn’t linger, however, and a significant reason is that the game is simply gorgeous. The world is fluid and I didn’t experience any slowdowns or bugs during my playtime. Enemies look distinct and the visuals combine smoothly with the sound design to create a cinematic worthy experience. The cutscenes are mostly well animated, with the characters looking like actual people, with the exception of Cere Junda whose eye proportions are distracting at times.
The last thing that we were shown in the preview was an encounter between Cal Kestis and the dual bladed lightsaber-wielding Ninth Sister. This fight took place on the planet Kashyyyk much farther in the game than the rest of the preview, and the lightsaber combat was noticeably more advanced, with more force powers and smaller parrying windows.
The early returns on Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order are promising and it appears that Respawn has hit it out of the park with their upcoming release. The exhilarating lightsaber combat paired with the staggering sense of immersion and unbridled freedom of exploration are more than enough to kick this title into hyperspace.