What does it mean to simply survive? This is a question that Star Wars Jedi: Survivor asks through almost every interaction. Is surviving enough? How does one cope with loss, trauma, failure? Jedi: Survivor picks this theme up from its excellent predecessor, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and expands on it, telling a beautifully emotional story along the way that feels right at home in the Star Wars universe.
Set five years after the events of Jedi: Fallen Order, Survivor picks up the story of Cal Kestis as he’s making himself enemy number one of the Empire. Carrying the weight of the entire Jedi Order on his shoulders, Cal is caught up fighting the Imperials as the galaxy continues to fall under their thrall.
His crewmates from the Stinger Mantis scattered around the galaxy, Cal fights as part of the resistance movement led by leader Saw Gerrera. Jedi: Survivor opens with Cal and his new crew pulling off a heist on the central planet of Coruscant, tasked with recovering some military intelligence that could help the Resistance fight the Empire more effectively. However, Cal and his companions, including newcomer Bode Akuna, hit a snag that sees Cal needing to flee in the Mantis itself. Alone with the ship damaged, Cal crashlands on the Outer Rim planet of Koboh, eager to fix up the Mantis and get back into the fight.
Cal and BD-1 make a discovery there that changes everything, one that has its roots in the High Republic days of the Jedi Order: Tanalorr. This hidden planet could be used as a refuge for those fleeing the Empire, as well as a place to re-establish the Jedi Order itself in Cal’s mind.
That throughline - the restoration of the Jedi - seems to eat away at Cal. And it’s something that Greez, the former captain of the Mantis and the new proprietor of Pyloon’s Saloon, reminds Cal of when convincing him to take a breather and just live his life. It’s a touching moment that I kept being reminded of throughout the nearly 25 hours it took me to complete the story and some of the side content.
All Roads Lead To Koboh
While Jedi: Fallen Order saw the Mantis as your main hub where you’d upgrade your lightsaber, take care of your plants, spend skill points and interact with the crew, Koboh plays that role here in Jedi: Survivor. The first moments spent on Koboh help set the tone of how different Survivor will be from its predecessor.
Jumping out of the damaged Mantis, I made my way to Rambler’s Reach, traversing the world through a mixture of Force and regular Parkour. Seriously, Cal’s upper body strength is legendary, up there with the likes of Nathan Drake as he clings to ceilings, cliffsides and more. It’s here where Survivor introduces one of the major factions Cal will face throughout Survivor: the Bedlam Raiders.
A group of mercenary raiders led by the Gen’Dai Warrior Rayvis, these raiders have taken hold of Koboh, subjugating parts of the planet and harassing the locals. Armed with their own mixture of polearm weapons as well as reprogrammed Separatists Droids from the Clone Wars, these are a constant nuisance throughout Koboh.
Central to Koboh is the settlement of Rambler’s Reach, a haven of sorts from the Bedlam Raiders. Inhabitants from around Koboh make their home here, all hoping to keep out of the ire of the Raiders themselves (as Koboh’s unofficial mayor Doma Dendra reminds Cal, you need to stick together to survive). At Rambler’s Reach, Cal can purchase cosmetic upgrades with trinkets found throughout the world, as well as use Greez’s Pyloon’s Saloon to rest up for the journey.
Koboh is an important planet to the plot as it’s here High Republic Jedis Santari Khri and Dagan Gera find out about Tanalorr, a mysterious place strong in the Force on the other side of a anomaly in space near the planet. This hidden planet becomes a driving force for Cal and his companions, as the idea of a refuge safe from the Empire changes everything for them.
Unlike the planets in Fallen Order, Koboh itself is huge and ready to explore. The central craggy valley of Rambler’s Reach is full of hidden secrets to find, and that just scratches the surface of what Jedi: Survivor has to offer.
Fallen Order was a decidedly linear affair. Sure, you could and would need to backtrack at spots in the story, but other than a few poncho skins and other meaningless cosmetics, there wasn’t a whole lot to backtrack for other than story.
Jedi: Survivor turns this on its head by opening up the world to be explored, and giving you a reason to do so. Side quests, called Rumors, dot the landscape, giving a reason to chat up the locals at Pyloon’s Saloon and around the rest of Koboh. One rumor might send you finding out what happened to a group of miners in a nearby Priorite Mine, or find a traveling musician and his DJ companion to recruit in the Koboh wilderness.
It would be tiresome exploring the same planet for much of the runtime of Survivor if Koboh itself wasn’t interesting, though. Despite the main plateau and valley looking like a dusty, craggy landscape that reminds me of a mountainous savannah, the landscape surrounding it is surprisingly varied. I especially enjoyed the swamp holding the large abandoned Luckrehulk from the Clone Wars, as I was always interested in seeing more of those ships growing up watching those movies.
Rambler’s Reach is also teeming with interesting characters to interact with, such as the troublesome, but well-meaning Turgle, or the awesome gunslinger Caij Vanda (rocket boots and all). Each of these characters has their own personalities and struggles on Koboh, and I honestly wanted to help the citizens of the Reach as they lived their lives alongside the constant danger from the Raiders.
Koboh, despite it being central to the journey, isn’t the only planet Cal’s journey takes him to, as the quests also bring him to the desert planet of Jedha, home to a faction of Anchorites that revere Force users. Additionally, I loved exploring the Shattered Moon of Koboh as well, fighting through the Imperials on Coruscant itself. It was like living out a Jedi fever dream fighting Stormtroopers in the hyper cyberpunk city-planet of Coruscant, and the developers have done an amazing job of realizing the look and feel of the planet in Survivor.
This was reinforced by the rumble on the PlayStation 5’s Dualsense controller, with ships passing overhead causing a slight vibration in my hands on Coruscant, or as the beast beneath the sands prowled too close to me while I tried to traverse Jedha.
Cal doesn’t just have his Force powers to help him get around this time as well. An ascension cable acts as a grappling hook, launching Cal to places unreachable before. And while running around Koboh or Jedha, Cal can use the local animals to his advantage, taking to the skies clutching the feet of a small Piasa bird or riding on the back of a large desert Spammel.
These improvements, along with the addition of fast travel to previously discovered meditation points, make moving around the open worlds of Jedha, Koboh and others so much easier and less time-consuming. It’s a great touch and welcome quality of life addition that makes playing Star Wars Jedi: Survivor much more enjoyable.
Jedi (Combat) Evolved
Cal hasn’t survived his encounters with the Empire simply because of luck or being able to Force jump out of the way. In his time since Fallen Order, Cal has transitioned from an unsure and untrained Padawan to a fully-fledged Jedi Knight. This transition is felt not just in the way Cal carries himself and the weight of the Jedi Order on his shoulders but through his combat and use of the Force itself.
The satisfying Dark Souls-inspired combat is improved here through more powerful Force powers and five new weapon stances, each offering a unique way to approach combat. From the deadly whirl of death that is the Double Bladed saber to the more defensive Cross Guard stance made popular by Kylo Ren, each stance offers a new and varied way to fight as Cal.
In a way, the various stances act as character classes in other Dark Souls-inspired combat games. Each stance has a very different feel, with the Dual Wield acting as a fast-moving, offensive glass cannon while the Cross Guard is so slow and defensive by comparison that it might as well have been a new character.
One of the strengths of these stances is you aren’t really locked into them for the whole game unlike a Soulslike class would have you. Instead, you can swap them at a workbench or meditation point, and since you can equip two stances at a time it does allow for some experimentation.
If you’re someone who prefers defense and range, stick with the Pistol and Cross Guard stances. If you want to be a flurry of attacks, acting as a purely offensive weapon of the Force, grab the Dual Wield and Double Bladed stances. There is also a training section at each meditation point, allowing for experimentation as well.
Personally, I found myself gravitating towards the Pistol’s unorthodox Epee-style of sword-wielding, keeping enemies at range with the Pistol and then lunging with strikes when I would reel them in close. I have loved Double Bladed lightsabers since Darth Maul’s first appearance in the Canon, and I found myself sticking with that stance ever since the first moments of Survivor.
Cal himself in combat felt more responsive than in Jedi: Fallen Order as well. This could simply be due to the more fluid animation work on the part of the developers, or a desire to really showcase Cal’s evolution as a Jedi - or both. Either way, despite technical issues that would bog down framerates in the PlayStation 5’s performance mode, combat mostly felt fluid, impactful and so, so much fun.
This dance of parries, counter attacks and more is addicting, and I would find myself constantly checking the handy, tactical guide in the in-game menu that gives tips and tricks on how to fight each enemy once I had encountered them. This incredible font of information really helped in some of the longer boss fights as well, as I would need the breather to strategize before jumping back in for more.
But Lightsaber duels are just one part of a Jedi’s arsenal. Force powers have been improved so much since Fallen Order. No longer are we stuck with just simple Push, Pull, and Slows. Cal has grown in the Force and his powers reflect this. Now Cal can use Jedi Mind Tricks to turn an enemy to his side, or use his control over a Force Push to affect not just one enemy by whole swathes of them.
Seriously, turning an enemy against his friends came in clutch in battles that could get overwhelming, such as one early fight that saw a massive Bilemaw shatter through the lines of Stormtroopers at my command. Of course, the Bilemaw eventually turned on me, but by then it was just the two of us.
I especially loved turning flamethrower Stormtroopers on each other. I really hate fighting those.
Combat would then become a complicated and satisfying dance of saber work and Force powers. Pulling groups of enemies in close with the Force, I would instantly tear through them with a whirl of my Double Bladed saber, living out a childhood dream to a degree. I would always pretend I was a Jedi master with a lightsaber like Maul’s, tearing through B1 Droids. Well, within the first few moments of Jedi: Survivor that had come true - and then some.
While it can easily turn into a button-mashing affair, Jedi: Survivor’s combat can still provide a challenge when enemies are stronger or come in waves. Patience, timing, and a lucky strike can make all the difference between moving on or starting at the last meditation point.
With each lightsaber stance and Force path having its own skill tree, there is a ton of customization on offer. Thankfully too you can respec if you want to try something new, though repeated respecs will cost skill points to do so.
Cal can also call upon his allies in certain fights, including the brash, but relatable gunslinging mercenary Bode Akuna, to help as well. Bode can rush in to knock an enemy down, throwing down a stun grenade in the process, while Nightsister Merrin makes a return from Fallen Order to help as well. While Fallen Order showed glimpses of this on Dathomir with Merrin helping Cal through some of the obstacles, eventually intervening in his fight with the fallen Jedi Malicos, a true buddy system is in place in Survivor.
However, disappointingly it’s sparingly used, only really on major story beats. I really wish there was an option to ask one of them to accompany you whenever, and this really felt like a missed opportunity by the developers for even greater character development along the way.
A new Perk system is in play as well, augmenting Cal’s abilities even further. Perks can oftentimes be a trade off, such as a Perk that slowly regains Force energy during combat for a smaller overall Force pool. But Perks can go a long way in helping overcome enemies. I found personally I loved Perks that dominated block meters in fights, giving me an advantage over enemies that could block and parry blows. Being able to do more block damage - and take more as well - helped especially in boss fights or against the Haxion Brood bounty hunters aiming to bring me into the Imperials.
I’ll be frank, though. The Perks felt like the least impactful addition to the Jedi: Survivor forumla, as I don’t think I changed them more than once in my entire playthrough. One of the shops in town sells Perks in exchange for one of the various collectible currencies found around Koboh, giving more options, but overall it felt like a forgettable addition on my end.
A Customizable Affair
Speaking of customization, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor takes the critique levied at Fallen Order to heart when it comes to cosmetic rewards. While both games need to be applauded for not including microtransactions of any kind to unlock gear or lightsaber hilts, the former title still was lacking in the customization department.
Survivor takes that criticism and rectifies it, turning the customization dial to eleven. Everything from Cal’s facial hair to the lenses on BD-1 can be changed based on items you either pick up or purchase from the various vendors.
I enjoyed tinkering with the look of my lightsaber, customizing everything from the pommel to level of polish on the metal adorning the blade’s body. I also appreciated that the various Kyber Crystal colors were unlocked from the start, letting me choose my beloved Purple saber blade and pick right up from where I left Cal in Fallen Order.
Personally, I didn’t interact much with the customization of Cal himself much - I really liked the original outfit Cal has in the marketing materials - but it’s great that it’s there for those who want to go wild and make their own version of Cal.
Not All Rosy, Though
Performance is an issue on both PlayStation and PC, unfortunately. Bugs and visual issues impacted my playthrough more than I can count, and it definitely had an impact on my enjoyment throughout my time in Survivor.
While I started out on PC, a massive audio sync bug was too much to overcome, and my playthrough ended up on the PlayStation 5. However, a patch coming should clear up the audio sync issues on PC, meaning hopefully, the retail copies sold will ship without that distraction.
Visually, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is beautiful, especially at 4K on PC. PlayStation 5 also looks great at times, though when using the console’s 1440p Performance mode, the resolution hit makes everything look soft and blurry, especially in fast motion.
Ghosting on characters is a massive issue as well in this mode, with one boss, in particular, leaving a smeary trail whenever he dashed around the arena. It reminded me of ghosting on FSR 2.0 on PC in games, and I’m hoping that future patches can clean this up to provide a better image to those who want the extra framerate.
While during the majority of my gameplay, I suffered from poor performance across pretty much every location, a Day Zero patch cleaned up some of this for me in the latter stages of the review period. It’s not perfect on PlayStation for sure, but even this feels night and day in spots that were crippling framerates before. Hopefully, Respawn can continue to improve this moving forward as well.
Cutscenes also suffered from some performance issues, despite the fact that whether you're using Performance mode or Quality mode, they are locked at 30fps on console. However, at times, the action-heavy cutscenes could struggle even below that, undercutting some of the tension in the process.
Don't Just Survive - Live
Throughout every encounter in Jedi: Survivor, the constant refrain of what it means to simply survive kept playing through my mind. Obsession with surviving, obsession with a mission - this seemed to consume Cal from the outset and was mirrored in the characters around him - especially the concern characters like Merrin and Greez showed the young Jedi Knight.
Every story beat reinforced this feeling that Cal was losing sight of what truly mattered in the Universe post-Order 66. The drive to avenge the Order and live up to the survivor’s guilt that eats away at him affects everyone of the companions along Cal’s journey.
An early interaction with Greez really solidified this for me, when he asks Cal what could happen in the Universe if he rested for just a few hours. Throughout the nearly 20-hours it took me to complete the story (I spent about 25 hours in the game overall), this was a constant refrain that Cal would struggle with, especially as it pertains to his relationship with his adopted family of friends.
The dynamic between Cal and Bode is especially scene-stealing. The two comrades in arms are like brothers, and Bode’s playful teasing of Cal (endearingly referring to him as “Scrapper” at times) reminded me of my relationship with my own brothers. Each time the two held the scene I found myself especially drawn to the screen, especially as I related so much to what Bode’s motivations are - making the world safe for his daughter.
It’s that relatability with its cast of characters - good and bad - that really make Star Wars Jedi: Survivor sing as a storytelling triumph. Cal’s own growth and struggles with the person he wants to be tore at my heartstrings throughout, while Greez’s own struggle with this question was such a joy to watch the Latero come to terms with. Cere’s calm, yet commanding demeanor, showed a ton of growth from the hesitant Jedi who was cut off from the Force when she was introduced in Fallen Order.
Each character comes to terms with the answer to this question in their own way which makes taking the time to truly take in the stories being told throughout Survivor so worth it in the end. The individual acting performances sell this a lot and I think Respawn hit the jackpot with who they chose to portray each character as well.
The constant emotional throughline of Survivor, the need to live and not simply survive is portrayed in so many different aspects of Star Wars Jedi: Survivor. It’s reflected in the society that springs up in Rambler’s Reach, from Bode’s drive to keep his daughter safe, to even the quest for refuge from the Empire. Each character faces this test, and the writers at Respawn did a masterful job telling their story. It’s one that firmly belongs alongside the various stories told in the Star Wars universe.
Despite performance issues throughout my gameplay, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor meaningfully improves on many of the gameplay issues from the previous title. From a more rewarding cosmetic system to side quests that give more meaning to exploring the beautifully rendered and realized worlds, it was a joy to explore the galaxy as Cal once more. Add on the much-improved combat system that fuels the Jedi fantasy beautifully and the touchingly emotional storytelling and Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is a triumph.
Full Disclosure: A copy of this game was provided by PR for the purposes of this review. While we played both the PC and PlayStation 5 versions, the main full playthrough was reviewed on PS5.