In my time with Star Wars Jedi: Survivor last week during a preview event in Los Angeles, one aspect I kept mentally coming back to was evolution. During the course of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, Jedi protagonist Cal Kestis was constantly being faced with his inner struggle, a struggle that he was suppressing ever since he witnessed his master killed during Order 66.
During the course of Fallen Order, Cal is coming to terms with his survival and re-attuning to the Force itself through his adventures. Now, in Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, Cal is a seasoned Jedi Knight, having struggled against the Empire ever since the events of Fallen Order. Set five years later, Cal felt like he had evolved ever since that time, becoming more powerful.
However, it wasn’t just Cal who has evolved and gotten better. Respawn seemingly listened to the mountains of feedback that came out of their first foray into the Star Wars universe and have meaningfully improved their formula for Jedi: Survivor.
During a preview event last week in Los Angeles, I had the chance to go hands-on with Star Wars Jedi: Survivor. In my three hours with the upcoming action-adventure sequel to one of the best Star Wars games made in recent memory, I found myself more and more impressed with what Respawn has done to improve on the Fallen Order formula, as well as make Cal a more powerful Jedi Knight, leaning aggressively into the Jedi fantasy that Survivor represents.
Much Needed Quality-of-life Improvements
Jedi: Fallen Order was a great game, though it had some major drawbacks. From maps that would require a ton of backtracking to rewards that usually only amounted to a new Poncho or skin for the Mantis itself, Jedi: Survivor improves in these areas.
Now you can fast travel in Survivor, making those long treks much, much shorter, allowing you to get right where you need to go if you don’t want to spend the time exploring. Additionally, Cal himself is able to have his overall appearance change based on pickups you find throughout the world. Now you can change his hairstyle, clothes, and even mix and match to your heart’s content.
Not only are cosmetics rewards for exploration, but skill points and new Perks can be found at the end of a quest or a particularly hard puzzle section. These were so much more meaningful to find than your standard hairstyle - and while the latter is a cool and meaningful addition, being able to make Cal more powerful through the sheer act of exploration meant a lot to someone like me who spends their time exploring every cranny if I am interested enough.
The Lightsaber building crafting screen is updated with a new look and feels more interactive now, with you swapping materials and parts in real-time. My favorite aspect was the lightsaber blade preview, changing the color and seeing its effect in real-time.
However, the biggest quality-of-life update in my mind has to be with the in-game map. I hated the one in Fallen Order as it was hard to read. I could never quite see where I had come from, while the various levels, doors and more were always feeling bit obscured on the map itself.
Now areas are clearly highlighted, and the map itself feels easier to read overall. Most appreciated is the highlight trail, not showing me the path to where I need to go, but instead showing the path I took to get to where I was. This went a long way in helping me orient myself while running through the canyons and crags of Koboh.
Koboh is a planet made entirely for Star Wars Jedi: Survivor. The windswept, craggy landscape reminded me of both the African Savannah as well as the various plateaus of Utah and Arizona all mixed as one.
What brought me to Koboh is a need to repair the Mantis, Cal’s ship. Crashing on Koboh, I set out to find the local settlement where I might be able to find the parts I need to get the Mantis spaceborne once again.
Early on while traveling through Koboh, the world design felt very similar to Fallen Order. Long corridors where Cal would parkour through obstacles and overcome some of the local denizens intent on making his day even worse.
Cal controls much like he did in Fallen Order, though it’s here where more of the quality-of-life changes rear their heads. While climbing in the first installment you needed to hold down the left trigger on the controller, now you don’t. It’s such a small change, but I can’t tell you how many times I feel in Fallen Order because I had to readjust my grip. It was honestly one of the more annoying aspects of Fallen Order itself.
Thankfully this also extends to wall running, where you no longer need to hold down the jump button to run along the wall. Instead, you just jump at a run and Call uses his innate Force abilities to keep himself going. Cal can now also run up the sides of walls and even do his best Knuckles impression by jumping back and forth between two walls to climb up long passageways.
Throughout all of this, I was in awe of the improved character animations on display as well. Jedi: Survivor’s animations for Cal just look more fluid, and smoother, as if Cal has more control over his own body. I guess five years is a long time to build up muscles and muscle memory.
Getting through the initial passages of Koboh, I was led into a large valley, and it was here another marked change from Fallen Order became apparent: the world is semi-open, allowing for exploration and going off the golden path.
While you could freely explore the worlds in Fallen Order, you couldn’t every really just pick a direction and go. However, in Star Wars: Jedi Survivor, the vast openness of the Southern Reach begs to be explored. Here I found enemies to fight - the Bedlam Raiders and their Separatists Droid allies - as well as a few surprises to uncover, including one massively hungry Rancor. While I didn’t have a ton of time to play the demo so I stuck ore to the story path myself, I can’t wait till the full game releases and I can just get lost finding every secret Koboh’s open terrain can offer up to me.
Rambler’s Reach, the large settlement in the area, also seems to play a big role in Cal’s journey. Upon meeting up with Greez, Cal’s pilot and companion from Fallen Order, Cal sets up a home base in the Pylon Saloon itself. Here he can rest and work from as a base of operations in the area, with Jedi: Survivor even suggesting he could even recruit NPCs to come back to Rambler’s Reach to assist in future endeavors. Rambler’s Reach houses a few vendors to get new customization options from as well.
I mentioned mentally that I kept coming back to this idea of evolution during my play through. It’s not just the game systems and UI where I felt the experience had evolved, but Cal himself felt like an evolution.
In Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, Cal was facing the trials and tribulations that come with surviving a traumatic event and coming to terms with that. However, Cal is the added benefit of being a Jedi on top of that, one where these inner struggles can be used to restore his connection to The Force while he finds peace with what happened.
Throughout the journey in Fallen Order, Cal felt like he was getting stronger, so much so that at the end of that experience he was no longer the timid, unsure Jedi Palawan, but a confident Jedi Knight. Five years later, Cal has had the chance to grow in those powers even more. As a result, right out of the gate, Cal feels more powerful than ever before.
One clear area where this is felt is through his use of Force Powers. Cal can push and pull things like before, but he also has the ability to use the good old Jedi mind trick to confuse enemies and creatures to fight on his side. I found this incredibly useful when seeing myself facing off with waves of Stormtroopers and I wanted the odds to be a bit more in my favor.
Cal’s manipulation of The Force around him also allows him to not just push a single enemy, but groups of enemies, clearing the way if need be to strike down a single target. Cal can also pull enemies closer together to take them out in a series of lightsaber strikes - especially effective when using the Dual Bladed saber stance.
I think my favorite was Cal’s new ability to slow time around himself, allowing me to fire off a combo on a large group of enemies or escape a particularly nasty swipe from an unfriendly Rancor. Throughout it all the animation work done by the team at Respawn shines through, each movement looking effortless and graceful. I was constantly awed by these animations, so much so that I actually died because I was paying more attention to the animation work than the saber work that needed doing.
Speaking of Lightsabers, Cal has different saber stances he can use during combat, each one with its own path in the new and improved skill trees Cal can upgrade at meditation spots. From the get-go, Cal can use three of the five saber stances available in Star Wars Jedi: Survivor: Single Blade, Double Bladed and the Dual Blade stance. Each one functions a little differently and has its own unique skill set.
Single and Double Blade function much the same as they did in Fallen Order, with the former being a more all-around stance for fighting, while Double Blade is best when taking on large groups of enemies. Dual Blade, though, takes this to the next level by splitting the lightsaber into two and letting Cal just go to town on enemies.
The trade-off of more offensive power and mobility is that Cal takes more damage while in Dual Blade stance. However, it’s also the only stance where you can cancel an animation to break off an attack. It’s a very technical stance that seemed to have a lot of nuance and depth to it - nuance and depth that would take more than just a few hours with the game to truly learn.
I found myself using this stance a lot, though, during my fights. One skill, where Cal reaches forward and slashes enemies with his saber and then leaps backward, putting some distance between the two became a staple opening move in combat. It would allow for some much-needed breathing room to either change tactics and swap to a new stance or go in with more reckless abandon and chop away at an enemy.
The stance felt reckless, yet I found I had to be surprisingly more purposeful with my attacks. Because I could guard or dodge cancel an attack, I would toy with some enemies, such as the Bedlam Raider’s droids or the raider’s themselves, fainting and then going in for the kill. The new Force Parry attack was one I never quite got the hang of, but when I did it was epic watching Cal just parry and go off on the unfortunate foe.
My favorite stance is still the Double-Bladed Lightsaber. I distinctly remember being in the theaters with my dad when Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was released and being absolutely blown away when, during the Duel of Fates, Darth Maul unveiled the lightsaber staff. Ever since then, I’ve always fantasized about wielding a double-bladed lightsaber. When I found out they were in Fallen Order, I immediately sought it out. And while the stance wasn’t great for every encounter, I felt awesome every time I pulled it out to wipe out a group of foes. It was literally living a childhood dream.
In Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, that stance feels expanded upon, with Cal’s mobility while using it feeling more precise. It’s still not great when you whiff because of the long wind-ups for each attack, but dealing with a crowd of Stormtroopers or Separatist Droids with a Cyclone attack or weaving my blade around Cal’s body as if the Force were merely an extension of his arm never got old.
At the end of our demo session, we were treated to a combat exhibition by one of the developers, showing off all of Cal’s stances in the process. While I didn’t have the chance to go hands-on with the Blaster or Crossguard stances, the exhibition showed them in action, and they were glorious. The Blaster Stance especially allowed Cal to deal with some of the longer-range targets, and while he could always deflect blaster bolts back at far-away enemies, the Blaster gave him the range he desperately needed in spots of Fallen Order.
One move saw Cal Force Lift every enemy in the arena in the air, locking onto them in a move that reminded me of Cole Cassidy’s ultimate in Overwatch, where Cal would lock onto multiple enemies during a slowdown, only to fire on each of them in rapid succession. The Cross Guard stance was slower, mirroring the look and combat style of Kylo Ren. The lightsaber itself is fitted with the energy cross-guard that is iconic to Kylo, and it has the shortest range of all the different stances. This is one where you’ll need to get spacing down perfectly and looks more focused on Cal’s defense than being an offensive juggernaut.
Jedi Puzzle Solver
The new semi-open nature of Koboh does not impinge upon the puzzle platforming that helped define Fallen Order. These segments are still there, and as I searched Koboh I stumbled upon caves and Jedi compounds which required a bit of puzzle-solving to get through to the next section. One of my favorites was in the Basalt Forest, a region near Rambler’s Reach that required me to force pull giant Basalt platforms out to parkour around to reach new areas. I also really enjoyed the Jedi complexes, which use Force Sensitive spheres that acted as power sources, creating pathways to the next area.
These complexes actually reminded me of the Shrines in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, where you would use the magnetism Link could wield to move massive blocks and globes around to solve puzzles. Cal did something similar with these spheres, using them in combination with other Force powers to solve the puzzle of these compounds, being met with a Skill Point or Perk as the prize.
The more tangible award for thee endeavors made them something I wanted to seek out, whereas in Fallen Order I would find myself not necessarily doing any extra exploration for a Poncho or BD-1 skin I might never use. These puzzles play into Cal’s main journey as well, as approaching new areas required more than just a straightforward approach. One such complex saw me needing to find a way to move about the world while staying clear of a poisonous miasma that covered parts of the ground. These parkour and puzzle locations made this a bit easier to traverse as I was already forced to think laterally here.
Surviving Till Launch
As I mentioned at the top of this preview, I kept mentally thinking of evolution. Cal has evolved from a wary and unrefined Palawan to a confident Jedi Knight who is coming into the fullness of his Force powers. At every turn I felt more and more powerful than before, augmented by the various skills I was slotting in the more robust and broken down skill tree. Perks made this even more pronounced as I was able to augment things such as blocking ability and more.
However, Respawn feels like it’s evolved meaningfully when going from the success of Jedi: Fallen Order to Jedi: Survivor. So many of the complaints from the first game are addressed in meaningful ways in the second, that even in this vertical slice I felt more rewarded at times than I did in all of Fallen Order. The upgrades to the holo map, traversal, and outrageously good animation work really highlight this in my opinion, and I can’t wait to dive into the full experience to see whether this all holds up over the course of the full story.
As my three hours of gameplay came to a close, I didn’t want to put the controller down. There’s so much that I experienced in those three hours that this article barely scratches the surface. I wanted to explore so much more of Koboh, learn more about the settlement at the heart of the planet, as well as solve even more Jedi puzzles. However, these will have to wait till Star Wars Jedi: Survivor launches later this month on April 28th.
Full disclosure: Travel and accommodation for the event was provided by Electronic Arts.