I know I’m far from being alone when I say that Star Wars was a large part of my childhood. From the moment my older brother introduced me to A New Hope I was enthralled. Light and dark, good and evil, droids and lightsabers, what more could a kid want in a movie? My love for galaxies far, far away hasn’t diminished a bit throughout the years either, in fact lately I’ve been re-watching all of the movies (yes, even the prequels) in preparation for The Rise of Skywalker. The fantasy of becoming a Jedi has been dangled like a carrot in front of my face many times before in the form of video games – from the excellent Jedi Outcast series, to the pair of insane Force Unleashed titles, many games have attempted to give players the sensation of wielding the force, but none have succeeded as wildly as Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. With challenging and rewarding combat, crisp visuals and a score that would make John Williams proud, Fallen Order is easily one of the best singleplayer Star Wars games to date – correcting the course for the franchise in this medium.
This saber colour is only available to badarse motherf***ers
Fallen Order’s campaign is set in the years between Episodes III and IV. As the game’s title suggests, the Jedi Order has fallen into ruin following The Purge, a galaxy-wide extermination of the once great peacekeeping force. The few who survived the genocide live in exile, attempting to stay hidden from the eyes of the Empire. That is exactly where we find our protagonist, Cal Kestis. Working on the Imperial scrapyard planet of Bracca years after the purge, Cal has been laying low and working as a scrapper. Living a simple, unfulfilling life, Cal had so far managed to avoid exposure by not using his force abilities or brandishing his lightsaber. Of course it isn’t long before shit hits the fan and Inquisitors come knocking. Inquisitors, for those who haven’t watched Rebels, are a group of dark side force users that have been trained to hunt down and kill the remainder of the Jedi who are in hiding. With the Inquisition on the scene, Cal is forced to flee with a pair of strangers who arrive just in the nick of time to save him from being sliced in two.
Now I have simplified the game’s opening moments a fair bit in order to not spoil any significant plot points, but the brief time spent on Bracca is a wonderful indication of what to expect from the rest of the game. From the ambient sound of various, familiar starships rushing through the air, to the alien chatter that can be heard amongst fellow scrappers as you make your way through different wrecked ships, it is immediately evident that Fallen Order is a labour of love made by people who genuinely enjoy and understand Star Wars. Also apparent is just how liberally the game makes use of previously established lore. Straight from the outset you will see decommissioned Venator Cruisers and Separatist Control Ships that were in use during the Clone Wars, as well as a bunch of alien races from the series. You spend very little time on Bracca, save for half an hour of learning to jump, traverse the environment and the basics of combat, but this opening planet does wonders when it comes to setting the scene for the game.
Having escaped the clutches of the Inquisition, you are given some reprieve to be introduced to your saviours – Cere, a former Jedi who has renounced the force and Greez, a multi-limbed pilot and the owner of the ship you will be sailing through the galaxy aboard for the duration of the game, The Mantis. As a player you’ll be spending a significant amount of time with both of these characters, so it’s important that they are either interesting or entertaining, and although it admittedly took some time for me to warm up to them they both grow to be layered and charming. Cere’s foggy past and link to Cal’s own experiences creates an intriguing dynamic, whereas Greez provides some much needed levity to serious situations without being a one-note joke machine. If you don’t jive with them straight away I don’t blame you, but give it some time and I can guarantee you will grow very fond of them both.
Arriving at the first major planet of Bogano, you are told by Cere to explore a nearby Jedi vault that contains within it a relic that she and Greez have been pursuing. Bogano, like all planets that you visit during the campaign, is sprawling and dense and encourages exploration. Branching paths, items glowing in the distance and locked doors all tempt you into thoroughly looking around before heading to your objective. You won’t be able to explore everything on your first visit however, as Fallen Order takes the Metroidvania approach to exploration – blocking your path with obstacles that can only be passed using abilities unlocked later in the game, ensuring that you always have something to come back to. This choice in game design is a perfect fit for a Star Wars game and it had me hooked instantly as I found myself jotting down notes on where to come back to later in the game – it’s an old school method for an old school franchise.
In most Star Wars games in the past, if you had a lightsaber it meant you were close to invincible, able to wade through droves of enemies with ease. Fallen Order is far from that kind of game, instead it lends itself more towards the games developed by FromSoftware (Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Sekiro etc.), encouraging dodging, blocking and parrying. If you go ham, swinging your lightsaber around like it’s a pool noodle, you’ll quickly embarrass yourself as you’re bested by overgrown beetles. Blocking, learning your enemy’s attack pattern and striking when the time is right is essential.
Stormtroopers aren’t known for being very bright, but even encounters like this one can be deadly if you don’t practice patience
Parrying is equally important, as many enemies have a posture metre that is lowered by strikes and parries, eventually staggering them and giving you an opportunity to deal significant damage. Unblockable attacks pack a huge punch and must be dodged, luckily the enemy will glow red moments before they attempt any such move. Combat is difficult and hugely rewarding, with precision timing and patience required, particularly on the higher difficulties. Luckily there are meditation points scattered throughout each location you visit, offering a safe spot to rest, restore your health and force, and use skill points to unlock new abilities. Of course this doesn’t come without a price, as all enemies in the area will respawn if you choose to take a moment to heal.
This style of gameplay is not only in favour with the gaming community at the moment, but it also makes a great deal of sense contextually. Jedi are by nature very passive and are taught to be patient in all decisions, so it makes sense for combat to revolve around such a notion. Don’t be too disheartened if some three-eyed frog monster puts its boots into you and sends you back to your last meditation point though, as you will be able to return to your slayer and claim back any lost experience and health with a single blow, rewarding persistence. Speaking of three-eyed frogs, the enemy variety on show is quite impressive – from native beasties protecting their turf to various forms of stormtrooper, every enemy has their own attack set filled with strengths and weaknesses that you will have to learn if you want to best them. The variety is welcome, keeping things feeling fresh and giving each planet a distinct personality.
I have no idea what that is or if it’s friendly, but I do know that I want to pat it
Of course your lightsaber isn’t your only means of defence. Force abilities are also helpful both in and out of combat. Your main abilities boil down to a time freeze, push and pull. Though this might seem a little underwhelming, their implementation spices things up nicely. Force pushing a stormtrooper off of a ledge to then pull another towards you to meet the pointy end of your lightsaber is endlessly satisfying. The force also plays a large part in world traversal and puzzles, requiring you to push, pull and freeze objects in clever ways in order to progress. The game gives you a good indication of what you can and can’t interact with based on the abilities you have at the time, outlining interactable objects in blue and those you might need to come back to later in red. It’s a simple addition, but a helpful one that ensures you won’t be scratching your head over something that just isn’t possible yet.
Cere and Greez accompany you to each planet, of which there are six in total, but they stick to the confines of the Mantis as you explore, leaving you in need of a companion to wander around with. Enter the newest adorable droid: BD-1. BD is a clever little mech that is incredibly helpful in more ways than one. Firstly, he holds stim packs that can be requested at the press of a button, healing you in a pinch (and trust me you will be pinched, a lot). Aside from being a walking hospital, BD can hack terminals to unlock doors, be used as a zip-line tool, override enemy droids and much more. The little guy is vital during combat and exploration, making him more of a partner than a tool and I can promise you that he will endear himself to you before long. Move over R2 and BB-8, I have a new favourite droid companion.
Be Boop indeed buddy
Each of the game’s six planets have their own distinct look and feel – from Kashyyk’s lush, green forests filled with native flora and fauna to Dathomir’s red, hellish landscape that screams of anger and aggression. As you’ll be frequently revisiting each planet, it’s important that they are all worth coming back to, not just from a story perspective but from a gameplay and general interest level as well. I never grew tired of backtracking to previously visited locales as the explorable areas would grow with each subsequent trip. Kashyyk for instance seems rather small upon initial inspection, but once you have gained the ability to wall run and double jump it expands into a huge map filled with hidden paths and shortcuts. The maps themselves incentivise exploration enough, but hidden chests holding customisation options for your lightsaber, BD-1 and the Mantis ensure that you hunt around for every available secret.
It isn’t all Porgs and Ewoks though, as Fallen Order does have its faults, mainly with performance. Texture and model pop-ins and the occasional stuttering of framerate are the two biggest offenders here, bogging down what is otherwise a gorgeous game. I did also encounter the odd moment where the game would freeze temporarily to load, before picking back up again moments later. While we are on the topic of issues, the entire game is beautiful save for the Wookies, they are straight out of the PS2 era. These are all small, but irritating things and show that Fallen Order could definitely do with some more polish, but ultimately the technical issues I did run into didn’t take me out of the action for long and most I was able to brush off and continue having a blast.
Ahh Kashyyk. Beautiful, vibrant and home to some truly ugly-arse Wookies
I was cautiously optimistic coming into Fallen Order. I wanted so badly for it to be a return to glory for the Star Wars franchise in the singleplayer scene and boy is it ever. After the scrutiny that EA has faced over the last few years regarding the Star Wars licence, Fallen Order is just what the medical droid ordered. Purposeful and rewarding combat that makes you feel like a Jedi, mixed with Uncharted-esque platforming and puzzling is a recipe for an action game that not just fans of the franchise will love. Technical issues aside, Fallen Order is easily one of the best releases this year and, with the amount of exploring that is still yet to be done, I can safely say I will be playing this well into 2020 as well.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro // Review code supplied by publisher