It's been a weird time for Star Wars fans when it comes to games. From the acquisition of Lucasfillm, to the exclusive publishing rights signed to EA – the rollercoaster of emotions that has resulted from the cancellation of Star Wars: 1313, the admittedly shallow Battlefront, the closure of Visceral Games – thus cancelling Amy Hennig's Uncharted-styled Star Wars game... sigh.
When EA speculated that "very few people" would play a Battlefront campaign, it was hard to imagine there ever being another single-player Star Wars game... but then Respawn Entertainment came along, recruited the director of God of War 3 and now here we are.
For a fan that spent countless
days months in Knights of the Old Republic, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, and their respective sequels, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order seemed like a holy grail that shouldn't exist in an age of multiplayer-driven development.
My biggest hesitation leading up to launch was hearing first impressions that compared gameplay to games like Dark Souls and Sekiro.
I am not – nor have I ever been – a Souls player. I'm sure that's going to open me up to a number of accusations and labels, but for someone that doesn't have the time or temperament to "get gud," I've always passed on that style of game in favour of more casual titles.
It's important to note that I've always had a great deal of respect for those kinds of games, where the only difficulty curve is your own ability to navigate the world and its combat. I'm certainly guilty of being lulled into a stupor of auto-saves, abundant health potions, and button-mashing power fantasies, and I've been more than OK with that.
As you can imagine, my eagerness for this game was spawned purely from the words 'Star Wars' and 'single player.' To be honest, I'm not sure whether I'd have picked this title up if it was sold to me as a Souls-like from any other franchise. That being said, I am so happy that I did. This is the perfect gateway drug for others like me, and I'm now an absolute convert.
Not only is Fallen Order a strong Souls-lite game, it's an invaluable entry into Star Wars canon that reads like a love-letter from developers that clearly put their heart and soul into the title.
Set in the time between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, the Jedi are but a scarce few in Fallen Order – hunted as traitors to the Empire, with many survivors suffering trauma and breaks in their connection to the Force. The story's main character is Cal Kestis; a padawan that witnessed the death of his master during the infamous events of Order 66.
While Cal starts the game in hiding as a scrapper on a battleship junkyard, he's quickly forced into the open when an inadvertent use of his powers to save a friend draws the attention of the Empire and its Inquisitorial squad. Lead by a force user known as the Second Sister, they pursue Cal across the galaxy in an attempt to capture or kill any remaining Jedi that may pose a threat to the Empire.
Naturally this has the opposite effect, and a once-defeated padawan sets out on the path to rekindle his connection to the Force and start a rebellion against those that... ya da ya da ya da - you've heard this part more than once before in a Star Wars plot.
While the familiar narrative beats ease us into the campy tone we expect from Star Wars, it's also to the detriment of the story's pacing and it's character arch.
Significant backstory for our character isn't revealed until well over halfway through the game, and for the life of me I can't understand why Fallen Order didn't open with it. Instead of experiencing Cal's most traumatic times straight away and beginning the game with a sense of loss, Fallen Order instead suffers through its first few hours with an incredibly banal and forgettable protagonist.
This being said, the flashback scene in which Cal's pivotal moment plays out is well handled and kicks the game up a gear in both pacing and narrative stakes.
Cal isn't taking on the Empire on his own either. Recruited by a crew of misfits, he's aided by a pilot with gambling debts, and a former-jedi master that has cut herself off from the Force... again, stop me if you've heard this one before.
Of course, Cal's crew serve solely to develop his character and drive the plot forward, making it easy to sum up their lack of depth as a simple homage by Respawn. Still, it certainly feels like a missed opportunity to add a richness and texture to a crew that could have done so much more than stay on the ship and await your return.
The one exception to this is your droid companion, BD-1 – a bipedal little fella that absolutely oozes with charm and character. I wouldn't be surprised if motion capture for BD was performed by someone's puppy, nor would I care in the slightest.
Whether BD is scanning fallen enemies and ancient runes for data entries, hacking panels to open doors, or providing you with much-needed health packs during combat – it's safe to say you'd be lost without his company while adventuring.
In addition to being adorable as all hell, and vital in a tough spot – the ongoing upgrades to BD-1 help provide a sense of progression throughout the game, and grant access to new areas on previously explored planets.
Coupling this with upgrade points to be spent on Force abilities as you progress, and your power fantasy becomes more and more real with every slain foe and area explored.
While Fallen Order does play fast and loose with what the Force is and how it should be used, its utilisation fits perfectly into an action game, making it easy enough to forget as you slash, push, flip, and throw.
It's impossible to talk about Fallen Order without discussing its combat. The first reaction for anyone given a lightsaber is to swing it with all the enthusiasm of a kid in a YouTube meme, but this game quickly trains you to fight those instincts. The sooner a player can break the habit of frenzied button mashing, the sooner they can start honing their combat craft.
Carefully timed strikes, dodges, and parries make all the difference between a defeated foe or your own depleted health bar, and the key to achieving the former is educating oneself on the attacks and maneuvers of Fallen Order's countless enemies. From each planet's predators, to the unending ranks of Imperial forces, there's a huge diversity of combatants to overcome as players hone their Force and lightsaber skills.
When it came to designing its combatants, Respawn made the wise decision of letting each enemy defend itself. The result is a constant level of engagement through any combat encounter, where players need to identify every attack and correctly counter in order to beat down defenses and land a damaging blow.
That isn't to say one can't slice and dice their way through the unaware sentry or Force-push the unwitting off a nearby ledge to conclude combat in a more succinct manner – there are still those lesser foes that feed into a sense of growing power. But by the time these moments become attainable, the true power fantasy of Fallen Order reveals itself. It's the same realisation of power many celebrate in Souls titles, where their character hasn't leveled up... they the player has instead.
For the uninitiated like myself, the initial learning curve is steep, and the grind is painful, but it's never unfair – there's never a failure that wasn't from my own wrong decisions or bad timing.
Like some Jedi teachings, the greatest lessons are found in these failures. In many cases I knew a certain boss fight was doomed well before the fatal blow was delivered, but I never wiped up the fight to get back to the start. Instead, I'd draw things out, seeking to learn new tells from my enemy, seeing if I could at least tip them to the next phase so I could further familiarise myself with their moves and abilities.
As such, these encounters quickly turned from a series of failures that ended with a successful attempt, to an encounter that took place over numerous spawns.
That being said, these encounters would have wrapped up a lot sooner if the load times weren't so... damn... long.
When it comes to world-building in the realm of Star Wars, storytellers are nearly drunk with options. There exists both a lush cornucopia of established planets, while creators are free to dream up new planets where needed. From MMOs to RPGs and everything in between, fans have been able to explore iconic worlds like Tattooine, Coruscant, Endor and more. Fallen Order treats players to both of these, with the story exploring an industrialised Kashyyyk, the ancient ruins of Bogano, and the mysteriously dark lands of Dathomir.
Traversal across each world meets a nice balance between linear and open-world, with numerous paths branching throughout each area. Some of these paths are laid out in front of you, while others are squirreled away to be unlocked as players progress through their skill tree. Even the most basic abilities can be trying when it comes to platforming through new terrain – and Fallen Order won't hold your hand as you stumble your way through it.
There's minimal waypoints, and very little explanation for how to gain access to many of the secrets each planet holds. If you can jump, then you can swing, and if you can swing, you can wall climb. Yes, that action-packed aspect from Respawn's flagship series Titanfall has been baked into the traversal system as well – because, ya know... the Force.
Put all these abilities together, and players can truly feel like their exploring the unknown as they delve deeper into ruins, forests, or caves. Who else has the ability to double jump, then wall run, followed by a leap to a rope that swings you to a grapple point, before double jumping again to your desired destination.
One of the few complaints that can be leveled at all of this is that many of the secrets unlocked through exploration are truly meaningless. A skin for BD-1 here, a new appearance for your ship there. Different switches, metals, emitters and colours can be unlocked for your lightsaber, but it's all but meaningless to customise an item that's no bigger than your hand and spends the majority of the game either swinging from your hip, or moving at speed through combat.
And don't get me started on the various ponchos that can be adorned by our Force-wielding hero. Yes... ponchos. Because nothing says outfit customisation like covering your torso with a blanket.
The aforementioned wall-running that came directly from Titanfall is clearly not the only inspiration drawn by Respawn during the studios development of Fallen Order. Alongside combat from the Souls series, there are enough comparisons to the Uncharted franchise to make you wonder whether Amy Hennig's cancelled Star Wars title was actually incorporated into Fallen Order.
From escaping a train as individual carriages were blown off the tracks by an Imperial ship, to sliding through tree trunks on Kashyyyk, there's an ongoing tone of mischievous adventure that makes you want for some Nathan Drake styled quips from time to time. But while the self-aware banter might be lacking, Fallen Order flies its camp flag proudly and is all the better for it.
Respawn cherry-picked elements from some of the most successful genres and combined them into a delicious gameplay gumbo that will leave you wanting more. The culmination of these elements makes for one of the best Star Wars experiences one can have – and not just in gaming.
Much of the fuss made about Fallen Order after its release has surrounded its distinct lack of microtransactions or paid DLC – something that's very out of character for EA. It remains to be seen whether this is a PR move designed to garner good will, or a new direction for the publisher. Either way, the result is a distinctly pristine and self-contained game that offers – dare I say it – a new hope for single player titles in an industry that is constantly pushing to get more bang for its buck.
Jedi: Fallen Order certainly feels like the first entry in a new Star Wars series, and I can't wait to see what's in store for the sequel.
+ Combat is always engaging and fulfilling
+ Story delivers new moments while keeping things familiar where they matter
- Loading times are painfully long
- Collectibles are a missed opportunity