Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (Review)
Respawn Entertainment's first foray into the Star Wars universe with Jedi: Fallen Order is a mixed bag. Wonky combat, poor world design, and poor technical performance are held in place by a deep and interesting narrative, alongside some great audio work with voice acting and music. The inspirations drawn from Dark Souls, Uncharted, and Metroid are evident, all the while Fallen Order tries to draw out its own path, and carve out its own legacy.
Jedi: Fallen Order delivers a great original Star Wars story. It follows the journey of young Cal Kestis, the last surviving jedi after the events of Order 66 and the fall of the Jedi Order. Upon being discovered by Imperial Inquisitors and rescued by ex-jedi Cere and pilot Greez, Cal and his companions follow the path of Jedi Master Eno Cordova in order to find a list of force sensitive children across the galaxy. Cal's journey is a deep and emotional story of hope. Cal knows that he is the last remaining jedi, the odds stacked heavily against him, yet he perseveres in order to ensure the rebuilding of the Jedi Order.
Main and side characters are interesting, in a way that engrosses the player in not only Cal's story, but also the stories of the people he meets and befriends during his journey. Cere's dark backstory is one that keeps on unravelling as the game progresses, and plays directly into the hands of the main plot, further strengthening the player's interest in the game's characters.
Furthermore, conversations on the Mantis (the player's spaceship in game) provide interesting lore and information about the world and characters' pasts, similar to how scanning objects in the game's many planets can provide lore about the world. The Databank page in the game's menu screen provides tons of information about the larger universe, and is an interesting addition to the game, albeit one that I did not use.
With a Star Wars universe that can play host to so many different types of tales, Respawn's narrative effort finds the perfect balance, with light hearted comical dialogue, sprinkled amongst strong emotional and thought provoking moments. This narrative evolves nicely alongside Cal Kestis' personal journey of self growth, from a naive and inexperienced padawan, to a skilled Jedi that cares about the fate of the galaxy, and one that knows his responsibilities.
A game's narrative would succumb into the lower reaches of code without strong voice acting, and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order surprisingly delivers with excellent portrayal of these characters. Cameron Monaghan stars as Cal Kestis, with excellent dialogue delivery, especially towards the game's ending, with emotions running at an all time high. The others characters voice acting is no slouch either, as Respawn have managed to absolutely slam dunk a creative and original Star Wars story, alongside strong voice acting, to create a narrative that kept me invested until the very end.
Almost all of the game's more cinematic and thoughtful moments, along with action packed set pieces, are accompanied by a pulsing soundtrack, elevating the cinematography and storytelling, to a level where pride swells in the player's chest, as they get sucked into the world and into the body of a jedi fighting for good. The always recognisable Star Wars main theme is sparingly used, reserved for the most important of moments. Composers Stephen Barton and Gordy Haab have done an excellent job, creating pieces of music that pump emotion into the game's atmosphere.
Facial animations are inconsistent across the game's characters. Main protagonist Cal's face has incredible amount of detail and animation, that holds strong even in common dialogue outside of the main story. But on the other hand, some characters and most evidently Cere, have odd and weird animations like bulging eyes. While this does not impact storytelling to a great extent, wacky animations can be off-putting during serious and emotion cutscenes.
When running smoothly, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order can be really pretty. Lighting is crisp, with different environments all blending together to create gorgeous vistas. From the blue and metallic junkyards of Bracca, to the red tinted and inhospitable lands of Dathomir, lighting and assets help make each planets that you visit feel visually unique. Since there is a lot of backtracking with Fallen Order's metroidvania-esque design, the environments look good enough to not become an eyesore upon revisiting them.
Sadly, even almost 1 and a half years after launch, Fallen Order still has plenty of technical and graphical issues that repeatedly ruin enjoyment of the game. Textures that fail to load in, objects that pop in seconds after you enter an area, enemies that remain standing even after you have reduced their health bars to zero, and animation bugs with enemy movements are just some of the many bugs that I encountered during my playthrough. While funny and humorous at times, they can really hamper the flow of the game, particularly while interrupting the game's excellent storytelling in cutscenes when characters arrive late to the party.
Frame rate drops and game freezes are also common throughout the game, most frequently taking place in the heavily forested and dense Wookie homeland planet of Kashyyyk, probably due to the large number of assets in the area. The frame rate frequently drops during fights, especially ones with larger groups of enemies, and always while fighting Flametroopers, which can be quite problematic since they are always tricky to take down. Screen freezes also crop up during elevator rides or while transitioning from area or room, to another. This can grind the game to a complete halt for 5 to 10 seconds, as the game attempts to pick itself up and start running once again.
Gameplay is where the inspirations drawn from Dark Souls, Uncharted, and Metroid are most evident. Fallen Order's combat is reminiscent of the Dark Souls series, with a stamina meter that indicates when you can or can't block enemy attacks. This encourages an offensive playstyle, while the fact that enemies have a stagger meter, encourages parrying and discourages dodging, in an attempt to maintain a fast combat flow. The basics of combat are good, with light and heavy attacks, as well as the parry, block, and doge mechanics. Furthermore, force abilities like slowing down time, as well as a push and pull, make combat an orchestrated dance of skill and massive animation delays.
Parrying animations can take so long that instead of hitting L1 to parry right before the enemy's attack lands, you must parry as they begin to wind up their attack. All attacks, expect unblock-able ones that are indication by the enemy glowing red, can be blocked in Fallen Order as long as you have enough stamina remaining. But sometimes the game does not register this, creating moments where even blockable attacks can't be blocked, leading to the player's eventual death. This leads to an orchestrated dance where the player must read the flaws in the game and adapt accordingly in order to survive. Difficulty spikes are also present throughout the game, leading to instances where I would lower the difficulty in order to get past these obstacles and closer to the next story cutscene or moment, since it was the only thing I was truly invested in.
Meditation points serve as save points, as well as providing a safe haven where the player can spend skill points to gain upgrades across 3 main branches: Force, Lightsaber, and Survival. The game does a good job by not forcing the player to lock into a singular branch and instead allow them to flesh out Cal's skills across the 3 areas of gameplay. Resting at a meditation points refills Cal's health, healing, and force meters, as well as respawning all enemies, forcing the player to think about when to rest and when not to. This works surprisingly well in scripted set pieces, where if the player dies, they don't spawn back at their last meditation point, and instead at pre-determined checkpoints within the set pieces.
The placements of meditation spots can be rather inconsistent, with some being placed within perfect distance of each other, while others are stretched too far apart, making the journey between the them, one of constant fear. This forces players to leave exploration aside and make their way forward, since the only safe haven is the next meditation spot which is just past the current area. While eventually finding a meditation spot feels rewarding, the inconsistency leads to frustrating moments, where after fighting through waves of enemies and expecting a meditation spot, you are greeted with yet more enemies, that promptly kill you and send you backwards.
Over the top and dramatic set-pieces, as well as Fallen Order's emphasis on platforming, garner the game its resemblance to the Uncharted series. Set pieces are a frequent few throughout the main story, but they hold enough action to make each one enjoyable and something that the player looks forward to encountering. Jedi: Fallen Order makes use of new and creative platforming mechanics, that are a joy to use, but can sometimes be rather frustrating due to bad animations. The wide arsenal of movement and platforming mechanics such as double jumps, wall running, climbing, rope vines, mud and ice slides are used to build levels that allow for intricate backtracking and create shortcuts that can be unlocked upon revisiting planets and areas.
While the platforming is more interactive than something like Uncharted, it is nowhere as polished. Wonky animations can lead to the player jumping onto a rope vine, but the game not registering it, leading to the player not latching on. This can lead to annoying moments where a jump that looks and is incredibly easy to do, instead taking repeated attempts and a bit of luck to pull off. Losing small amounts of health upon falling into the gaps between platforms can slowly drastically reduce the size of your health bar, leaving you frustrated and fuming, as the game just doesn't respond do your actions. There are moments where the platforming feels fun and well executed, while in others, it can feel like filler and just an alternative to walking down a straight path.
Respawn's decision to give Fallen Order a metroidvania style backtracking system has only impacted the game in a negative way. Out of the 7 planets that Cal visits throughout his journey, the player returns to 4 of those for a second time during the game. This leads to the player having to backtrack through the early areas of each planet, in order to reach their objective. While shortcuts can be opened up with newfound abilities, majority of the time the player will have to pass through the exact same path that they took the first time. Since the enemies present are the exact same, backtracking quickly becomes boring and kind of a chore, and as the game's intriguing story progresses, walking through the same areas again and again, stands in the way of the getting to that next exciting and interesting story moment.
There is a lot of exploration in Fallen Order, but poor world design leads to players completely missing out on certain useful upgrades if they don't explore every nook and cranny of each planet. Stim canisters are Fallen Order's health refills, and you start the game off with 2 of them, with there being a maximum of 10 to find. Even after exploring each planet at 70% or more completion, I still finished the game with 2 stim canisters, not having found even a single one throughout my time playing the game. This shows how poor the design of Fallen Order's environments are, forcing the player to dig deep and dig extremely deep to find even the most necessary of upgrades, like an increase in healing items.
Saving the best for last, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order features one of the best companion characters to a main protagonist, and my personal favourite, a droid called BD-1. BD-1 is a constant across your journey, and adds flair to gameplay and narrative. The hilarious dialogues between Cal and BD-1 are a joy to listen to, and the writing is so good that I occasionally found myself chuckling at their interactions. Not just a gimmick, BD-1 is organically introduced from the game's plot, and his own backstory is revealed towards the latter half of the game. BD-1 also aids the player in combat and general gameplay, from being able to override machinery, to opening up shortcuts and passageways, to being able to hack into Imperial droids and use them to fight stormtroopers or whatever enemies the game throws the player's way. BD-1 is a beacon of love and care that the developers have put into Jedi: Fallen Order, and is certainly the character I will miss the most, and remember most fondly.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order from Respawn Entertainment is a symbol of what this talented studio can achieve in the singleplayer genre. The smooth gameplay loop is occasionally broken by wonky combat and platforming, that has you hitting the respawn button more often then not, but brilliant writing, an incredible score, and pitch perfect voice acting, all come together to create one of the strongest and most emotional narratives that I have witnessed in a videogame. For a franchise in decline, especially in the videogame scene, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is a return to form, a game with tons of charm, that is carried by an emotional, deep, and thrilling story, one that I won't be forgetting any time soon.
Name: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Platforms: PS4 (Reviews), Xbox One, PC, Stadia
Initial Release Date: 15th November 2019