Much like the years following the fall of the Jedi Order, Star Wars fans experienced their own dark time, devoid of quality gaming adventures, with nothing more than a pair of online multiplayer titles to quell their galactic wanderlust. Akin to a certain orphan from Tatooine bringing hope to the galaxy with some well-placed proton torpedos, Respawn Entertainment brought peace to lovers of single-player Star Wars games with the release of 2019’s Jedi: Fallen Order. Respawn has returned to the galaxy far, far away with Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, building upon a solid foundation to eclipse the original in every measurable way.
The low-hanging fruit tempts me to compare Survivor to the first direct Star Wars sequel and best film in the series, but I will attempt to ignore the allure of the dark side and forge my own path. May the Force be with me.
Survivor picks up five years after the events of Fallen Order, with protagonist Cal Kestis having spent that time fighting a guerrilla war against the Empire as a member of a radical rebel sect. Somewhat hardened by years of fighting against a ruthless and relentless dictatorship, we find Cal working alongside a new band of misfits, separated from the familiar team formed during the first game. Opening on Coruscant, it’s made immediately apparent that the Survivor’s story won’t be all sunshine and rancors, with the former home of the Galactic Republic having been transformed into the new capital planet for the Empire and the familiar Jedi temple now adorned with imperial insignias.
Exploring a Luckehulk droid ship was a rush that this Clone Wars fan was very happy to experience
Despite trailers for the game lightly hinting at higher concepts, I was fully expecting Survivor’s story to play it somewhat safe, as the first game did. I was surprised and delighted when the roughly 20 hours I spent with Survivor were filled with a wonderful mix of familiar Star Wars trappings and more contemporary aspects drawn from more recent additions to the canon. Following his exploits at Coruscant, Cal seeks out a friendly, four-armed face in Greez, who has opened his very own saloon on Koboh. This alien watering hole quickly becomes your makeshift base, complete with vendors, a rooftop garden and a pretty sweet fish tank, taking over the Mantis’ roles from Fallen Order.
Within the Koboh system lies an eye-catching abyss, not too dissimilar to the one found near Kessel that a scruffy-looking nerf herder navigated in less than 12 parsecs. This seemingly innocuous oddity is at the centre of Survivor’s plot, as Cal uncovers a long-forgotten plan set in motion hundreds of years ago by Jedi from the High Republic era. The ensuing hours are spent learning about hidden planets, chasing long-forgotten relics and fighting back against a misguided villain that’s the hero of their own story.
Cal, his friends and the wider galaxy have all experienced immense hardship by the time the game begins, and Survivor’s core narrative doesn’t shy away from exploring these darker concepts; themes of loss, doubt and broken faith are at the forefront of our young Jedi’s journey. I’ve been purposefully vague when describing any story beats because it’s worth going in as blind as possible and experiencing it yourself. For those who have read the novels that explore the High Republic, there will be names, references and themes that will reward you, but most of it will likely be new to even the most ardent fan, which is just as exciting. Combining the old with the new, the game also takes bold, original steps into Star Wars canon that feels fresh and new.
The Koboh Abyss may be dangerous, but it sure is beautiful
I wouldn’t say that the narrative is perfect, in fact the plot treads water for some time at the halfway point, as you backtrack and hunt MacGuffins, but it quickly becomes worth pushing through as the closing hours of the game ramp up in unexpected and entertaining ways. Just as I felt like my time with Survivor was ending, the finish line was pulled back, revealing a final act that dodged the predictable to provide a far more satisfying closer. The bleaker tone and higher stakes had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish, similar to the feeling I had when I first watched Empire St….oop, I almost slipped up there.
Koboh is more than the centre of Survivor’s plot, and it’s also the closest thing to a home that Cal has had since the purge. Returning to the varied Outer Rim planet on the regular, you’ll see the outpost grow and thrive as characters you meet during your journey arrive to seek shelter from the Empire and grab a drink while doing so. Outside of Pyloon’s Saloon, Koboh is also the largest planet you’ll explore, packed to the gills with secrets to uncover, hidden bosses to fight, and collectables to collect. While the general concept of open, connected areas was present in Fallen Order, the planets you explore in Survivor are larger, more varied and begging to be revisited, Metroidvania-style, when you unlock new abilities.
The increased size of these terrestrial spheres isn’t daunting, however, thanks largely to the traversal options you have at your disposal. Making repeated exploration far easier, Survivor introduces fast travelling between meditation points, allowing you to seek out secrets without painful backtracking. Outside fast travel, Cal can save his feet by taming and riding several alien creatures, from bipedal space chickens to a bat with a penchant for flying into air jets. These mounts can be called in the open areas and make hoofing it far quicker and easier. Many also allow Cal to reach otherwise inaccessible heights, adding another layer to exploration.
This is Turgle. I love Turgle.
The galaxy is a fairly hostile place, with the Empire still at large and a long-dormant threat reappearing. Luckily, Cal is far from a youngling and can more than hold his own in a fight. While the Soulslike combat of Fallen Order was solid, it was incredibly basic compared to what we have here. Cal already has access to a single saber and a double-bladed variant as the game opens, but throughout the game, an additional three stances are introduced, each with their own fighting style, abilities and skill tree. Joining the white bread single saber and the crowd-controlling double blade is a dual-wielding stance that uses a flurry of quick strikes to wear down the enemy’s stamina, a blaster and saber combo that gives Cal extended range, and a cross guard saber that is effectively a space claymore that favours defence and slow, heavy-hitting offence.
Two of the five stances can be equipped at a time, with the option to swap them at meditation points and crafting tables. Introduced sporadically throughout the story, these additional stances deepen combat in exciting ways as you slowly find your play style and invest in the skill tree of your choice. Each stance feels unique and valuable, and, while I did favour the blaster and dual-wielding options, I frequently chopped and changed my approach depending on the threat I was facing. This freshens up even the most basic encounters and allows you to strategise in a way that wasn’t present in the original.
While many smooth and impressive animations are a sight to behold, these stances aren’t just for show. The enemy variety makes switching between the fighting styles necessary, especially where the game’s devastating bosses are concerned. Expanding the selection of dark-side-wielding foes and blaster baddies alike, Survivor features a number of enemy factions, each with their own roster of enemy types within. All of the Imperial Forces from Fallen Order are still pursuing Cal, now accompanied by even more menacing adversaries like the droid Dark Troopers. Doing the bidding of Gen’Dai badarse Rayvis, The Bedlum Raiders are another core group that our Jedi friend comes to blows with, with their ranks wielding electro staves and blasters while commanding reconditioned Separatist droids from the Clone Wars (all voiced by the excellent Matthew Wood). When you mix in the exotic and dangerous fauna from each planet, the list of enemies becomes longer than a Padawan’s braid, and just as nasty. Constantly evolving and introducing new enemy types and variants, I didn’t feel like I had seen everything the game offered until I watched the credits roll.
Messing around with my own orange lightsaber never got old
While the Force is often associated with flinging clankers off high platforms and pulling Stormtroopers in close for a chat with your lightsaber, a Jedi’s abilities are used for far more than combat. Cal begins the game with the ability to double jump and wall run, which are holdovers from the first game, but his acrobatic repertoire expands gradually until he’s as limber and agile as Twazzi the bounty hunter. Unlocking a grappling hook very early in the piece, it becomes evident that Cal’s platforming will be given just as much love as the overhauled stances. Towards the latter stages of the game, I was wall running, grappling, dashing in mid-air and passing through ray shields back-to-back-to-back with barely a thought. These abilities chain together seamlessly during some unbelievably bombastic set pieces that elicited a genuine shout from me as Merrin and Cal weaved in and out of danger. Never feeling dull for more than a second, the platforming segments were closer to an engaging puzzle than a necessary annoyance.
On the visual side of things, the beauty of every planet absolutely floored me as I stepped out of the Mantis and began to explore. The unnerving underbelly of Coruscant, the rocky terrain of Koboh and the stunning shiny interiors of Imperial bases are all meticulously detailed and gorgeously rendered. This is accompanied by the brilliant audio of humming lightsabers, uncivilised blasters and animalistic calls of local creatures. While I was thoroughly impressed by the game’s presentation, I did run into a few technical troubles that will hopefully be quashed by the time you get your hands on it. Some choppy framerates and a few crashes did get in my way, but it did little to quell my excitement.
The action set pieces scattered throughout the story are really something else
Respawn could’ve easily pushed out a safe sequel that retreads the same familiar ground, with some bells and whistles attached to put a smile on hardcore fans’ faces. Instead, the team has taken all of the promising aspects from Fallen Order and improved upon every one of them to provide a truly incredible action-adventure title in the galaxy far, far away. Just as Cal grew from an unsure Padawan to a powerful Jedi Knight, Survivor’s deliberate combat, excellent platforming and enthralling narrative have ensured that it achieves the rank of master. A darker, more mature outing, Star Wars Jedi Survivor truly is the video game equivalent to The Empire Strikes Back. Damn it, I got so close.
Reviewed on PS5 // Review code supplied by publisher
- Respawn Entertainment
- PS5 / Xbox Series X|S / PC
- April 28, 2023