Review copy provided by EA. Reviewed on PC.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order reminds me of those Top 40 hit compilations you see advertised on TV. Featuring all of the year’s biggest hits on one disc! But this time they’re performed by a Star Wars themed cover band! They could have called it Now That’s What I Call 2010s Video Gaming—and that wouldn’t have been much longer than its already unwieldy name. And for some, its variety will be its greatest strength. But it can also be a weakness. It feels like a mashup. Here’s a bit of Sekiro, a touch of Uncharted, a dash of Tomb Raider. It doesn’t always mix that cocktail in exactly the right proportions. For all of its merits, and it has many, it can feel like less than the sum of its parts. Don’t get me wrong: this is a good game. But it had the potential to be a great one.
Star Wars is a series rooted in the films of Akira Kurosawa, whose depictions of feudal Japan’s factional struggles in The Hidden Fortress inspired Lucas to use that classic film as a template for the first Star Wars all the way back in 1977. So it feels appropriate that Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order borrows from another samurai epic, this year’s spectacular Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice by FromSoftware.
Combat is fast, frenetic and rewarding. Its stamina-based parry system creates a careful balance between risk and reward that asks players to resist the temptation to keep attacking in favor of a more defensive approach. The feeling of accomplishment when you break an enemy’s guard and swoop in for a killer final blow is fantastic, and these finishing strikes are intense and well-animated. But there’s an occasional sense that animations linger a split second longer than they should, and that hitboxes aren’t as precise as they could be.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order has plenty of enemy types, from the deadly Purge Troopers with their glowing dual blades, to oggdos, a breed of hideous triclops toads. The game’s six planets each have their own threats to deal with, and it’s satisfying to learn the position of a foe waiting to leap out from behind a column to surprise them with a deft swoop of protagonist Cal Kestis’ lightsaber. But the game doesn’t always take full advantage of its variety.
Some encounters simply dump a large number of the same enemies. Increasing the number of stormtroopers you have to face from five to ten doesn’t really make an encounter more exciting, just more tedious. Playing on the game’s second-hardest setting, Jedi Master, difficulty felt about right for this type of game. There are a few challenging moments, but veterans of the FromSoftware titles Fallen Order’s combat takes inspiration from will breeze through.
There’s a good variety of locales here. Clone Wars fans will love its depiction of Dathomir, whose sprawling but hostile mounds of red rock contrast with its gorgeous, ornate temples. These levels are sprawling and mostly well-designed, but it’s not perfect. Bogano is the first planet where Cal is free to explore, and while it hides many interesting secrets, the samey look of its branching paths can make navigation cumbersome. But there’s plenty of incentive to return to these planets throughout Fallen Order’s 20 to 30 hour runtime, as Cal unlocks new abilities, opening more paths and shortcuts.
While chest rewards are cosmetic, I didn’t mind, as customizing Cal’s lightsaber with the bits and bobs you find along the way can be a fun distraction. There’s a number of puzzle sections that are well-balanced and clever, and although the game sometimes pesters you to ask your droid for hints, the hand-holding fades in later puzzle areas. But the lack of fast travel really grates. There aren’t enough shortcuts in each area to alleviate the glut of backtracking, especially in its second half.
Exploration usually shines over the game’s more scripted moments. The big set pieces tend to feel derivative, which can blunt their impact. One early section feels ripped straight from Uncharted 2, but Fallen Order developer Respawn Entertainment haven’t quite mastered the Naughty Dog style. Part of what makes that studio such experts are the way they let the camera linger when others would cut away, and pile spectacle on top of spectacle until the sequences become unforgettable classics.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order has some great action moments, but it’s too manic, cutting from one thing to the next so quickly that it doesn’t have time to sink in. Luckily, it’s much less of an issue in the game’s final act, where it gains confidence and begins to more successfully fuse its influences into something that feels fresh. If every part of Fallen Order was as good as these last few hours, we would be looking at a potential classic.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order takes place in between the prequel trilogy and the original series. Players fill the shoes of Cal Kestis, a young Jedi apprentice hiding away from the Empire after the Great Jedi Purge crushed his dreams of moving from padawan to full-fledged Jedi Order acolyte. Suddenly discovered by the Imperial Inquisitor known as the Second Sister, Cal is rescued in the knick of time by two ragtag Republic leftovers.
Greez Dritus is the game’s charmingly gruff, warm-hearted pilot. Alongside him is Cere Junda, Cal’s guide on this new adventure. The Jedi Order has fallen (hints in the name) and Cere seeks a vault hiding a holocron with a list of force-sensitive children that could either rekindle the spark of the Jedi Order, or, in the Empire’s hands, crush it forever. But the emotional core of this story comes from discovering the truth of Cere’s mysterious past. She’s the reason why the game’s story works so well.
While many of the beats are predictable, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is centered around a strong cast of interesting characters. I don’t want to give away anything about the Second Sister, but she’s a great villain, at turns both sinister and sympathetic. Unfortunately, the great villain is not balanced by a similarly great protagonist, and Cal Kestis is one of Fallen Order’s weak points. His generic reluctant hero routine wears thin, and he feels more like a bystander rather than a leading man. Luckily, the game more than makes up for it with a stellar cast of new characters. And, before you ask: I will protect BD-1 with my life. Best droid.
Fallen Order’s most exceptional skill is its ability to immerse players in the world of Star Wars. It nails the atmosphere, and it does a great job of making players feel like they’re stepping into a lost Star Wars film. The score mixes familiar John Williams melodies with new work from Respawn veteran Stephen Burton and Battlefront 2’s Gordy Haab. Huge horn hits scream excitement, while moody strings and woodwinds swell tension and danger. Sound effects work is strong, but I did notice a small number of unusually mixed cues and audio glitches that impacted the timing of some scenes.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order isn’t the best looking game on the market. I started my playthrough on PS4 Pro, but was surprised by the low resolution and blurry textures. The jerky frame rate was giving me an actual headache, so I decided to restart the entire game on PC, and I’m so glad I did. This game really shines on a well-spec’d rig.
Character models are good, hair looks just right, and environmental details like foliage and ground textures are convincing. High caliber art design and details like the signature screen wipe will have series fans feeling right at home. But Respawn’s implementation of Unreal Engine 4 doesn’t quite stack up with its most impressive recent titles, like The Coalition’s near-wizardry with Gears 5 or Bend Studio’s open-world spectacle Days Gone.
There’s a feeling throughout that the game needed more time. It feels a bit too unpolished, like it was rushed out the door to meet a deadline. While there are some bugs that slightly hamper the experience, the frequent loading hitches and stutters, even while running off my high-speed NVMe SSD, were much more annoying. They remained regardless of what graphical settings I tried. And in my short time with PS4 Pro, the game just didn’t look or feel good. The jerky frame rate, low resolution, and blurrier textures made booting up the game on PC feel almost like a next-gen remaster.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order reminds me of the first entry in the Uncharted series. And I don’t just mean the superficial similarities. The third person perspective, the towering action set pieces. It’s deeper than that: both were bold, new directions for highly-regarded, experienced studios. And both Fallen Order and Drake’s Fortune feel like interesting first attempts that don’t quite live up to their mammoth ambition. For all of the delightful combat, fun puzzles, and great narrative moments, Fallen Order is still marred by derivative action, frustrating navigation, and technical issues that prevent it from taking its place alongside Jedi Outcast and Knights of the Old Republic as one of the all-time great Star Wars games.
But this is still an adventure worth taking, and an unqualified must-buy for Star Wars diehards. There’s endless potential here, and every possibility that Respawn can learn from their mistakes, further develop their undeniable talent and produce a sequel that elevates this concept in the same way Naughty Dog elevated Uncharted with its sequels. How fitting that the first good single-player Star Wars game in several years represents what the original George Lucas classic did back in 1977: a new hope.