It’s been a bumpy ride for Star Wars games over the past decade, with both previous Battlefront titles garnering mixed reviews and much controversy, as well as one of the last LucasArts games, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II, receiving mediocre critical reviews. Enter Respawn Entertainment, developers of Titanfall and Apex Legends, to save the day. So, is the Force strong with Respawn Entertainment, or is this one for the Dark Side? This is our review of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.
The Origins of a Jedi
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (JFO) is set after the events of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith wherein Chancellor Palpatine enacts Order 66, a directive for all clone troopers to kill the Jedi leaders. The resulting purge decimated the majority of Jedi across the galaxy and padawan Cal Kestis is one of the few remaining survivors. It’s not long before the young Jedi’s secret is discovered however, and he must escape with the aid of Cere, an ex-Jedi fighting against the Empire, and Greez, her contracted captain and pilot of the Mantis.
I felt like this opening mission on the planet Bracca introduced almost everything I needed to know. There were a couple of times where I was confused on where to go, but that’s only because I wasn’t familiar with how JFO conveys its platforming elements just yet. Narrow spaces can be squeezed through, steel bars can be shimmied, metal chain-link panels can be climbed on, and often I found white paint on ledges I could mantle on to. All of these mechanics are prevalent throughout the 15-hour long campaign. They were too prevalent in some areas – especially locations that had a lot of backtracking, like the Rancor planet Dathomir (which had an unfortunate lack of rancors).
After some combat training against some Storm Troopers, I managed to escape Bracca and began my journey on the secluded planet of Bogano, home of a long-dead race called the Zeffo. This is where I felt JFO really came into its own. On Bogano I met the droid BD-1 that became my traveling companion. This droid can be outfitted with several customizations throughout the main story, and often is the key to most Metroidvania-like platforming elements littered throughout the many planets, like zip-lining, splicing, and overcharging.
Cere (Debra Wilson) and Greez (Daniel Roebuck) don’t start off trusting Cal (Cameron Monaghan) wholeheartedly, and vice a versa; it’s built up as they all work together and learn more about each other. Why do I list the actors’ names alongside their characters? Because I feel that they did an amazing job making their characters believable so they deserve recognition. There were times when I was on Greez’s ship where I would just spend time listening to their banter. Through this, I learned more about my fellow crew - like how Greez has a gambling addiction, and how he’s more of a romantic than initial impressions may suggest. By the end of the story’s conclusion, I was disappointed that there wasn’t more to their individual stories. I felt like Cere’s story wrapped up adequately, but Greez could have had more time in the spotlight. His backstory even interrupted the campaign at one point, but I never felt any kind of closure by the end of it all.
Much like the lovable droid BB-8 in Episode VII, Cal’s droid companion, BD-1, steals the spotlight most. I think Respawn did an outstanding job in conveying BD-1’s personality even though it never talks (or at least, we’re never provided subtitles for what it does say). BD-1 starts off seeming like comic relief but has some of the most heart-warming scenes in JFO. It’s at these times he acts as a pillar of support to Cal during his lowest moments. I truly felt like my relationship with this little droid only grew over the course of my journey. This building of trust actually plays a pivotal role in one of the most epic scenes in Jedi: Fallen Order where I was able to find my own kyber crystal to build a lightsaber.
Additionally, I think that another crewmember’s story, one I picked up towards the latter half of the story, could have been expounded. I’m specifically not providing her name to avoid spoilers. Once she joined my crew, I earnestly believed that she and Cal would have a romantic relationship. Maybe I’m just inferring more than was let on, but I wish I could have seen more of her and Cal’s interactions with each other. She instantly became my favorite character in JFO because of her sarcastic wit that contradicted her dark and tortured past, and I think her unique powers could have been more involved with the overall story. Hopefully, this won’t be the last we see of her.
Learning the Force Within
One of the most satisfying aspects of any Star Wars game is the use of Force powers and JFO is most certainly no exception. Cal’s powers start off lackluster due to his shattered connection to the Force, but through exploring the many different planets he comes to remember a lot of his prior training as a padawan and re-learns his powers. These new skills are often are used as part of puzzle-solving as well as in combat.
I enjoyed the Force Slow ability that Cal starts off his adventure with. It felt a lot like Stasis from Dead Space, where it can be used to slow enemies, as well as in exploration and in puzzles such as stopping a spinning platform to navigate across. Even in boss encounters, it was invaluable in order to temporarily stop attacks or provide openings where I could get a quick hit in. I found myself using this power even during the final fight at the end.
In exploring planets, I came across sections that I couldn’t access and that I knew I needed a specific Force power. Luckily, BD-1’s holo-map function saved these points of interest so I could quickly reference which locations I could explore after learning new skills. Unfortunately, the holo-map did not save any discovered chests or secrets that I came across but couldn’t access yet. The map does section out different areas on a planet to show how many chests or secrets have been found, but I wish that I was able to set notes or mark points of interest for after I acquired these abilities.
Fighting as a Jedi
The combat in JFO starts out good and gets great but can become redundant when fighting fodder enemies. Combinations of quick-attacks, strong attacks, parrying, and dodging encompass about all the tools in Cal’s arsenal. At a couple points in the story, I learned new lightsaber techniques that helped expand this arsenal but overall weren’t enough to offset the monotony. For the most part, I could button-mash my way through most fights, save for the occasional boss. To be proficient, however, I had to learn the parry system and how to read my opponent’s attacks. I had to time my blocks until right before I would have been hit, opening up my enemy for a counter-attack. This system, in tandem with the stamina bar, makes combat feel like a simplified version of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice because of the emphasis put on parrying.
There were four difficulties to choose from when I started Cal’s adventure, so I opted for the ‘Jedi Knight’ one that was right above ‘Story Mode’. I think this difficulty provided the best equilibrium for retaining challenge without being overly unforgiving. The difference between modes determines the timing for parrying attacks, how much damage Cal takes, and how aggressive the enemy A.I. will act. There were a few instances that I considered turning down the difficulty in order to overcome bosses, but in the end, I was able to overcome them. The Jedi Knight difficulty has a pretty wide timing to parry, with significantly reduced incoming damage and enemy aggression. The ‘Jedi Master’ will be for players more familiar with melee action games such as the God of War or Batman: Arkham games, whereas the ‘Jedi Grand Master’ is for gluttons for punishment only.
At first, I felt like Cal was extremely weak. I wondered why he couldn’t perform most of the usual Force powers, such as Force Push and Force Pull. I believe that this was on purpose as part of a design to see Cal grow from a padawan to a Jedi, but, all the same, it took me a while to feel like Cal was really a part of the Jedi order and not just some Force-sensitive scrapper. After learning all of my powers however, I took delight in utilizing them in combat every opportunity I was able. Combinations like using Force Pull to grab a rocket mid-flight and then use Force Push to blast it into a group of Storm Troopers never lost its fun. Other times, I would just Force Pull troopers one-by-one and impale them onto my lightsaber. I decimated whole groups of commando-like troopers with this one method, as long as my Force power never ran out -- though there is an unlockable skill that allows Cal’s stim packs to fully recover his Force power on top of restoring his life, which can be used to keep these techniques going for long stretches.
To ensure that such tactics can’t be used indefinitely, there is a limit to how many stim packs you can carry, similar to how Estus flasks work in Dark Souls. Resting at the various meditation circles will restore these stim packs, while also respawning enemies back into the world. Cal starts off with only 2 stim packs, but while I was exploring, I ended with 9 of them. There is a fine balance between utilizing these stim packs in combat, however, since there were times when I used them to restore my Force power when I should have saved it for other encounters, resulting in more than a few of my deaths.
Exploring Planets with BD-1
With the Metroidvania-like abilities that I learned through the course of the story, one of the most interesting aspects of JFO was to go back to previously-visited planets and go treasure-hunting for chests and secrets. Chests can contain cosmetic items like different lightsaber parts, outfits for Cal, skins for BD-1, or paintjobs for the Mantis. Definitely the most interesting items were by far the lightsaber parts. I loved every time I found a new hilt or emitter to customize my lightsaber because it meant personalizing it just to my specifications to make it feel like it was my lightsaber. Even though it’s a small part of the overall game, I think the ability to individualize the lightsaber’s look makes this one of the most interesting features in JFO.
Cal’s cosmetic customizations are far less interesting, as I thought that his ponchos looked ridiculous. I preferred to keep his default vest on at all times rather than the silly rubber ponchos that he can change into. Likewise, although it was neat to change the Mantis’s paint job, there are so few opportunities to see it that I quit caring after the first few times. Some of BD-1’s skins do look cool however, so I would often change him to match my lightsaber.
The secrets in JFO range from finding Force essences to increase either Cal’s Force or Life bars, or Echos that Cal can read from objects that offer a glance into the past. These echoes were a fascinating method to portray story elements without being there to witness them. For example, on the planet Zeffo I found echoes that portrayed the events of the Storm Troopers coming in and evicting the citizens from their homes. I found a dead body of someone staying behind to stall the troopers so that his family to escape safely, and later on a bag that echoed the cries from his family as they left him to his doom. These echoes offer world-building in a way that really demonize the Empire. I appreciate the clear-cut “good guys versus bad guys,” story-telling, but I think some of these echoes beat you over the head with it.
An interesting facet that I discovered was when I ran into someone from one of these echoes. Just walking past, I overheard her talking to some other Rebel members that she had escaped Zeffo. I went over to listen to her story when I was given the prompt to talk to her. I was able to tell her I found her husband - who was the one that stayed behind - and was able to give her closure as to his fate. I thought this was an interesting touch, and it made me all the more curious about these echoes and how many other occurrences like this one there might be.
Some Final Thoughts…
Lastly, I have a few miscellaneous thoughts about JFO. I think the entire atmosphere in Jedi: Fallen Order feels uniquely Star Wars. From the music scores - which sound like they could have been taken right out of the movies themselves - to the planets’ environments, it made me feel like I was experiencing Star Wars in one of the most interactive and immersive ways possible. Every planet felt alien and beautiful, like the green, rocky terrain of Zeffo and the dark, swampy undergrowth of Dathomir. The only thing that felt out of place were, strangely enough, the Wookies on Kashyyyk.
Every character model for alien races looked well-made except for the Wookies. For some reason, the character models for the Wookies look like tangled spaghetti-monsters with big feet. I honestly thought there was something wrong with my game download because it was so jarring and disorienting to see them. It’s especially noticeable when I compared one Wookie that was standing next to Chieftain Tarfful himself, whose model is easily ten-times more detailed and vivid. It reminded me of how bad Chewbacca looked in EA’s first Battlefront back in 2015 compared to the much-improved version in Battlefront II. I’m curious as to why Respawn didn’t just borrow the same model for Tarfful and palette-swap them instead of creating such a horrific-looking Wookie.
Next, the skill tree in JFO is something that I initially did not like but grew to appreciate how it evolved throughout the story. As Cal learned new Force powers, so too would the skill tree expand. I like this slower progression because rather than focusing all my points into a particular tree - like combat-oriented skills only - it forced me to invest some points into my Life and Force trees to make sure Cal could keep up with the new enemies. Otherwise, I would have been lopsided into one tree and not able to utilize my powers as often or as effectively.
Finally, at a certain point you can unlock a different version of the lightsaber. I don’t want to spoil what exactly it is because even though it doesn’t have any relation to the story, I thought it was a cool ability regardless. Unfortunately, there was no pomp and circumstance in obtaining this new lightsaber. Instead, I felt like I unlocked it ridiculously early because I just happened to chance upon it. Very early on, I went back to the first planet I explored to navigate some paths previously unavailable to me, but with my new Force powers I was able to reach them. While this different version was very fun to utilize, it could have been a bigger moment in the story. Honestly, I was disappointed that there wasn’t any kind of story-related beats for this and it just feels like a missed opportunity.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed my time playing Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. The combat feels great, even though it can get repetitive, and the lightsaber gameplay is some of the best there has ever been in a Star Wars game. More could have been done with the side-stories of your companions, and the overall story could have been longer, but I still had a good time. Disappointingly, the ending was a let-down and I don’t feel like there was any payoff to the entire adventure, but they say it’s about the journey not the destination.
Respawn Entertainment has said they’re not going to be selling any loot boxes or DLC, but I really wish there was an expansion or some add-on stories that I could buy because I wasn’t ready for the story to end. As it stands, I don’t know if the 15 hours I’ve spent to beat JFO’s story would justify the cost of this game, but I do have more collectibles to discover and a brutally-challenging difficulty mode to finish for my second playthrough to offer more than twice that in total gameplay. There are so many aspects of Jedi: Fallen Order that I loved, and I hope we get to see more from Respawn in the future. For now, I think this is the Star Wars game I’ve been looking for.
FINAL SCORE: 9/10
- Customize your own Lightsaber!
- Great combat system
- Uniquely Star Wars’ Musical Score
- Wookies are sad spaghetti-monsters
- Disappointing conclusion to the story
- Woefully Short
Note: A PC copy of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order was provided by PR for review purposes. Images via Respawn.