Review – Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Jake Bourke ’22 / Emertainment Monthly Video Game Writer

To say Electronic Arts (EA) has been under scrutiny for the past several years would be an understatement, especially when it comes to the company’s treatment of the ​Star Wars​ franchise. After the development branch of LucasArts was shut down in the spring of 2013, it was revealed that EA gained exclusive rights to publish console and PC games based on ​Star Wars​. Considering the publisher’s reputation within the gaming community, this announcement was met with very mixed reception, which quickly turned sour with the release of their first title, ​Star Wars Battlefront, ​in 2015​. U​pon its debut, the game was heavily criticized for its lack of single player content, repetitive gameplay, and most of all, locking more content behind a $50 season pass. Controversies surrounding EA continued to escalate with the launch of their 2017 followup, ​Star Wars Battlefront II. ​Though the sequel had much more playable content, the backlash toward it was still significant due to EA’s handling of micro-transactions and its loot box system. The game’s progression system had been remarkably slowed down, which made buying upgrades and lootboxes with real world money seem like the only viable option. However, the controversy surrounding this decision attracted mainstream news outlets such as CNN, gained international attention, and even launched criminal investigations into whether or not EA’s lootboxes should be considered gambling.

With all this in mind, when EA announced their next Star Wars project in E3 2018, overall opinions were mixed. Some were cautiously optimistic, while others were already predicting the final product to be absolutely terrible. Unlike EA’s previous two games, which were multiplayer shooters, this new installment was going to be a single player action-adventure game with a heavy focus on melee combat​. ​The game’s title was revealed to be ​Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, set to be released for the Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC. The reveal seemed promising, but EA’s reputation as a company was enough to make plenty of people doubtful about the game’s quality.

Fast forward to the day of release, and to the surprise of many, the game was met with generally positive reception, with most major gaming outlets giving it an average score of 8/10. It wasn’t a critical darling by any means, but it was a big improvement when compared to Battlefront II’s lower 6/10 scores. Though there were a handful of negative reviews, as with any game, EA’s latest title did not anger the internet. Quite the opposite, actually. After two games in a row that were met with heaps of criticism upon launch, it is safe to say ​Jedi: Fallen Order​ exceeded many people’s expectations. Which begs the question: is it as good as people say? Did EA really redeem themselves in the eyes of the gaming community?

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away, ​Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order​ takes place five years after the end of ​Revenge of the Sith, a​nd fourteen years before the event of ​A New Hope.​ The Jedi Order, the longstanding guardians of peace and justice, have been wiped out by the newly founded Galactic Empire. Only a small handful of Jedi Knights remain in hiding, and their numbers continue to dwindle. The game’s story is centered around Cal Kestis (portrayed by Cameron Monaghan), a young Jedi Padawan who managed to survive the Jedi Purge. For the past five years, Cal has been living a nondescript life working as a scrapper on the planet Bracca. However, an accident leads to Cal getting discovered by the Empire, who sends two Inquisitors to eliminate the surviving Jedi. Adventure ensues to open a mystic Vault and retrieve a possible key to rebuilding the Jedi Order.

This premise isn’t anything groundbreaking, but that’s not to say it’s bad. Quite the opposite, in fact. It’s classic Star Wars and an absolute joy. It’s an action-packed underdog story about good versus evil; the light fighting against the dark. We follow the journey of a young boy becoming a powerful warrior. It’s everything fans love about the Star Wars saga, and is presented exceptionally well. The narrative is relatively well-paced with very little filler. Furthermore, it’s also a story that, in a way, harkens back to old school adventure games that were released for the fifth and sixth generation of consoles. You have an enemy to beat, and a mystical object to find, all culminating into an epic quest to save the galaxy. In a way, it’s comparable to classic games like ​Spyro: The Dragon o​r ​Super Mario 64. ​The story and gameplay segments transition into each other very smoothly, not once did the switch feel jarring or disorienting. You won’t be constantly interrupted by cutscenes unless it is absolutely necessary. More often than not, you can easily tell when a story sequence is going to happen, making the plot progression and character development feel very natural and fluid.

Whether it’s ​Knights of the Old Republic ​or​ The Force Unleashed, a​lmost every major Star Wars game has been centered around a fresh cast of characters separate from the films or TV, and ​Jedi: Fallen Order i​s no exception. For the most part, every character is well-developed with their own unique voice. Personally, one of my favorites is Cere Junda, who acts as Cal’s mentor throughout his journey. Much like Cal, she was once a Jedi Knight who survived the Purge. However, she hides an even darker past. It is these qualities that make her interesting and engaging, and there are a multitude of other characters with complexity and layers. Even the Stormtroopers you fight are given fun and intriguing personalities.

Sadly, not all characters are as well-developed as the rest of the cast. Probably the biggest offender is the game’s protagonist, Cal Kestis. I’m not necessarily saying Cal is a bad character. On the contrary, I found him very enjoyable. However, when compared to Cere, her partner Greez, and even the Inquisitors, Cal’s substance as a character feels lacking. For a large majority of the game’s first act, Cal is mostly a reactive character. Events aren’t moving because of his actions, instead he is reacting to situations and events that are outside of his control. He starts the game working as a scrapper who is very content living a quiet life. When he is discovered by the Empire, he is forced to flee. This leads him to getting rescued by Cere and Greez who then take him to a mysterious planet, sending him on a quest in which he barely has any knowledge. When you have a story that essentially utilizes the Hero’s Journey structure from Joseph Campell’s ​The Hero with a Thousand Faces, ​not having a proactive protagonist can be a serious detriment. Luckily, this negative did not detract from my overall experience. Cal grew into a very likeable character as the game progressed. I did not approve of the way he was handled in the first act, but once the story started to pick up, I found myself enjoying his character and his journey as someone relearning the ways of the Jedi. Though I made my issues with Cal seem significant, it wasn’t a “serious detriment.” This was due to the quality that, in my humble opinion, elevates this game into something special.

The gameplay of ​Jedi: Fallen Order​ is unlike anything we’ve in a Star Wars game. Not only is the combat fresh and exciting, but the level design is unprecedented for this franchise. It draws inspiration from multiple sources, but still manages to do its own thing. The end result is probably the most fun I’ve had with a game in a long time, though there are plenty of moments where the game will become a little frustrating.

I’m sure everyone on the internet is sick and tired of hearing this comparison being applied to literally everything, but ​Jedi: Fallen Order i​s very reminiscent of the ​Dark Souls​ franchise. Not in terms of difficulty (though the game can get challenging), but with how the game actually plays. In previous Star Wars games, such as ​The Force Unleashed, ​lightsaber combat was primarily based on offensive capabilities: How many Stormtroopers can you kill at once? In Jedi: Fallen Order,​ however, Stormtroopers are now more than just lightsaber fodder. There Is greater emphasis on defense, dexterity and strategy when Cal engages with an opponent. Instead of swinging your lightsaber and hoping for the best, you’ll instead stay on the defensive while analysing your enemy, mentally asking yourself a variety of questions in the process. How does the enemy move? How fast is it? How does it attack? Are there moments of weakness? How can I penetrate its defense? Will this Force power work against it? Every enemy has a different attack pattern and an exploitable weakness, but that doesn’t mean there is one formal method of taking them out. For example, you might simply block and parray their attacks with your lightsaber, or you use the Force to shove them over the edge of a cliff. ​Jedi: Fallen Order ​rewards players who are patient and observant, waiting for the opportune moment to strike. This makes it a game that’s incredibly satisfying to get good at, especially on higher difficulties. Overall, the lightsaber combat is weighty with an incredible sense of fluidity. Each attack feels really good to pull off, and the multitude of ways you can defeat an enemy allows for a wide variety of playstyles, from simply charging at them with your lightsaber, to taking advantage of the game’s excellent level design.

As previously stated, ​Jedi: Fallen Order ​has drawn inspiration from multiple other games. These influences extend beyond the “Dark Souls-esque combat. They are also seen in the way levels are laid out and constructed. Throughout the game, Cal will find himself exploring a handful of planets. You will be tackling story objectives in a rather linear fashion, but the actual worlds in which you will be exploring are open ended, and multiple pathways will be inaccessible until you unlock a certain ability. These might be Force powers Cal relearns throughout his journey, or upgrades he makes to his droid companion, BD-1. This design philosophy is straight out of ​Metroid Prime o​r ​Castlevania: Symphony of the Night​, having a large, interconnected world blocked off by obstacles you are unable to bypass until you get stronger. It’s incredibly satisfying to travel back to an already explored planet, only to discover you are now able to explore an entire sector of the level you couldn’t previously go to. Throughout the stage, there are several hidden areas that have storage crates containing a variety of cosmetic items. These items can range from parts you use to customize the look of your lightsaber, to alternative colors for Cal’s outfit. Also hidden throughout the stage are various objects that either Cal or BD-1 can interact with. Inspecting these points of interest will not only reward the player with short tidbits of lore, but also with experience points.

There is a lot to love about ​Jedi: Fallen Order.​ In my opinion, it’s probably the best Star Wars game we’ve received in a long time. The combat is exciting, the level design is superb, the story is fantastic, and the characters are extremely likeable. If you are a fan of Star Wars, this game will not disappoint you. However, I have yet to address ​Jedi: Fallen Order’s b​iggest and most frustrating flaw.

As I have long-since established, EA owns the rights to publish games based on Star Wars, and as I have also established, EA has a less-than-stellar reputation amongst the gaming community. I have mentioned their controversial business decisions involving lootboxes, but they are also notorious for sticking to their planned release date by any means necessary. For EA, a delay is unthinkable. Long story short, the development of ​Jedi: Fallen Order​ was rushed so it would be released in time for the Christmas season. Unfortunately, it really shows.

I said ​Jedi: Fallen Order w​as the best Star Wars game. It’s also the buggiest.

There were multiple instances throughout my playthrough where Cal briefly got stuck in the environment, whether it was in a jagged wall or an uneven floor. Cal would sometimes use Force push on a giant frog, only for it to shoot straight up into the air at a blinding speed. Cal would jump from a high ledge onto a platform made of breakable wooden boards, only to end up standing on air as the platform crumbled beneath him. There are also several moments where the game’s framerate will drop significantly to the point where it becomes difficult to actually play the game. Even though there were some updates and patches since its launch, there are still a wide variety of bugs in need of fixing. ​Jedi: Fallen Order ​is not a busted up, unplayable experience like some YouTubers make it out to be, but a AAA game being released by one of America’s largest video game publishers should possess a certain level of quality and it’s egregious to think EA would compromise quality for the sake of sticking to an opportunistic release date.

Despite the bugs and programming mishaps, ​Jedi: Fallen Order ​is still a fantastic game. There are a multitude of features I wanted to touch upon, but I’m sadly unable to. I don’t want to have this review feel bloated, after all. As previously stated, it’s one of the best Star Wars games in recent years. If you’re a fan of the Star Wars franchise, or just someone looking for a really good action-adventure game, you’ll find a lot to love about ​Jedi: Fallen Order.

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