It has been too long since a single-player focussed Star Wars game graced our devices and after so long, I would take anything. Luckily, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order isn’t table scraps.
You play as Cal Kestis, a Padawan in hiding. The Jedi Order is gone, destroyed by the Empire with terrible swiftness as Order 66 was acted out by Clone Troopers across the galaxy. Since then, the Empire’s war machine keeps churning, while an elite unit of Inquisitors hunts down any who might be Jedi or force-sensitive. Hiding in the scrapyards and working for a pittance, Cal is eventually discovered and forced to leave. This is how a trip among the stars begins, with a Padawan learning to accept his past and hopefully save enough Force-sensitive children to take the fight to the Empire.
Due to the trauma of the Purge, Cal’s connection to the Force is damaged. This allows Cal to rediscover old tricks and Force powers as he grows more confident and remembers his past, which turns the exploration of Fallen Order into a very Metroidvania game. Get ready to hop between planets as you find shortcuts, bypass previously impassable terrain and more as you gain access to new abilities and equipment. Thankfully you won’t have to remember everything, as BD-1 is there to guide you on your way. This little companion droid is, like many droids before it in the Star Wars franchise, the absolute show-stealer. This tiny bipedal droid is so full of emotion and chipper chattery that often I was more worried about BD than Cal when the situation got rough.
Even after many hours, watching Cal grab a Stormtroopers weapon arm and deliver a fatal blow doesn’t get old as it just feels so satisfying to land those killer hits.
The little bot will help you solve many environmental puzzles, offering up slicing abilities, moving along zip lines as well as giving you stimpacks when your health is low and mapping your progress. BD’s map marks paths you haven’t explored yet, locations with chests still to discover and obstacles in your way. Anything marked bright red means you don’t have the means to access that area yet, while places you can get to are a nice green colour. It really helps as you travel from planet to planet to see where you are, plan your route and work out where you need to explore more. Exploration nets information and XP, as well as new outfits, colours for BD-1 and your ship the Mantis as well as lightsaber elements. Rare chests and echoes, the Force equivalent of finding memory fragments, can increase your max health and Force bars, or the best one: more stims from BD before requiring a rest.
An elegant weapon
While Cal might not have all of his Force powers, he isn’t a slouch when it comes to using a lightsaber. However, the troops of the Empire know just how deadly the weapon can be and have trained hard to fight any stray Padawans they might discover. When facing any enemy with an electric weapon, it becomes a deadly dance. Blocking takes stamina and a well-timed parry will cause stamina to drop sharply, if not deplete outright. The same applies to your enemy though, so pretty the attack, parry well and then once their guard is down, sometimes a single blow is all that is required to finish an opponent off. Catching someone from behind or hitting when an enemy is vulnerable will also end the battle quickly as you slice them with your lightsaber. Just be careful of enemies with better armour, who can take a hit or two, as they will get their stamina back quickly, allowing them to continue their assault while blocking yours.
Cal might have a big health bar, but the damage enemies do will add up rather quickly, and getting swarmed can lead to a quick death. Death is a part of things though, and you will respawn at the last place you meditated, with all enemies respawning. Get back to the enemy that killed you and your first hit will restore your life and Force while giving back the XP that the enemy stole from you when they killed you. Getting revenge feels great, but be careful: while the bright brown on the enemy will help you find your target to get revenge, it also prevents you from seeing their unblockable attacks, because now the telltale red glow is hidden under the brown. While most enemies you can get a hit in quickly to stop the highlight, on some bosses it can be rather painful and I hope that a patch might change the way this behaves in future.
For the most part, the fighting and gameplay feel amazing. Learning how to parry, evade and when to press the attack is a small dance with every enemy, as just about any creature or foe you fight can make quick work of your health if you are careless. At the same time, many foes can be dispatched without taking a single hit, meaning you can save your health and healing for the real threats, or at least, the next threat that you need to learn the steps of the dance. The game keeps things fresh by having you fight a good variety of enemies, from Stormtroopers to alien bugs and spiders, to elite Purge Troopers and bounty hunters, each with their own bag of tricks and attacks to watch for. As you progress Cal doesn’t level up in the standard meaning of the word. While he does get more skill points to unlock new tricks or better use of his Force powers, you aren’t just getting more stats to make fights trivial. Some enemies become trivial over time thanks to clever power usage, but also because you learn how to counter them efficiently, rather than just out-levelling them. Even after many hours, watching Cal grab a Stormtroopers weapon arm and deliver a fatal blow doesn’t get old as it just feels so satisfying to land those killer hits.
Things start to come undone in the boss fights, sadly with too many fights devolving into a pattern of dodging, parrying and finally getting a sliver of health off before the enemy starts again. While it makes sense that big creatures and heavily armoured droids could take a few hits to get through the armour, fighting a lightsaber-wielding foe with no armour that can take multiple hits without flinching quickly robs the fantasy of its power.
While there were times I felt connected or interested in his plight, too often the extremely good-looking facial model just didn’t convey enough emotion to stick the landing.
In many of these fights, Cal feels slower, weaker and outmatched in every way, with enemies flourishing and using powerful attacks and clever, quick movements. In comparison, you feel like a plodding mess and the lightsaber vs lightsaber boss battles definitely were a low-point for me and I was grateful whenever a QTE meant I had a chance to get a good hit in.
The dimmest light in the room
Character-wise, Cal often feels like the least expressive and often least interesting character in any given room or cutscene. While this is true of many games, I feel that with a bit of work, Cal could have been a much more likeable character. While there were times I felt connected or interested in his plight, too often the extremely good-looking facial model just didn’t convey enough emotion to stick the landing. A similar thing happens in the game where Cal doesn’t really react to things. When a platform suddenly gives way under your feet, Cal barely reacts. Even when enemies hit you, more often you know there was a solid blow landing because the enemy makes a comment, not because of any sounds from Cal. Too often Cal fell silent, and a few reactions to damage, to falling or sliding towards death would have gone a long way in making the events on screen memorable.
Where things do stand out is the blooming friendship between BD-1 and Cal. The two are always chatting away about things and watching them grow closer was a definite highlight for me. I would often hit down on the d-pad just to see how my little friend was doing, which would get a beep or a trill and a little spin out of him. The quiet times with the crew of the Mantis are where the game’s story shines brightest, with Cere Junda being an absolute stand-out, thanks to Debra Wilson bringing an amazing performance to a complex, important character.
Many of my issues with the game are minor or possibly irrelevant to others. Some planets have graphical slowdown thanks to the plants and puddles on the base PS4 and I really wanted to do more with the lightsaber, like melt through a door or two. There are also a few enemies voiced by someone who voiced another character in the game, and while this is common, some of them were too noticeable. One point that sticks out is some of the traversal sections, where the game can’t decide if it is helping you or not. When sliding at high speed and having to jump over gaps or slide around tight corners, I found these sections to be the least predictable in the game. One time a jump would take me clear over something, while another time my character would plummet into a pit. Some close landings made Cal slide the wrong way to his death and while the game checkpoints these so they are quick to try again, they just felt clumsy at times, sometimes guiding your jump towards a rope, and other times just leaving you to jump well past.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is a reminder that there are so many stories just waiting to be told in the Star Wars universe, and I’m glad this one got told.