Saturday, September 25, 2021

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order Review

Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platforms: PC, XBO, PS4
Price: $40
Version Played: PC

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… OK, it was 2013 and EA's HQ is in California. Anyway, that was around the time when EA got "exclusive" rights to make games based on Star Wars (didn't stop Lego Star Wars). There were loot boxes, many canceled games, and even a studio closed. The deal hasn't been a complete disaster, though, because we got Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order out of it.

Fallen Order takes place 5 years after Revenge of the Sith and 9 years before the Star Wars Rebels animated series. You play as Cal Kestis, a young man who was only a Padawan when Order 66 was executed and the Clone Troopers turned on the Jedi. He and his shipmates are in search of a Holocron containing a list of Force sensitive kids, who they plan to train to rebuild the Jedi order. But of course, the Empire is also after the Holocron for different reasons.

Sounds like a good premise for a SW game during this time period, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. Cal Kestis is not an interesting character. He's neither as likeable as Luke Skywalker or as dislikeable as Anakin. He’s just kind of there. He comes off as generic when compared to other non-movie Jedi, like Ahsoka, Kanan, Ezra, and Grogu. His crew isn't any better. The only interesting characters in the game are the villains. The main villain, Trilla, really steals the show. She’s an Inquisitor. You might remember the Inquisitorius if you watched SW Rebels. They're Darth Vader's students. They're basically Sith, but can't be Siths because "Always two there are". Fallen Order feels more like a game about her story. The ending of the game is also incredibly anticlimactic and ruins what little good there was about the story. Even though the game is canon in the new Star Wars timeline, it ends up feeling irrelevant in the end.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is an action adventure game that combines elements of games like Metroid Prime, Uncharted, and Dark Souls. It has huge environments to explore, lots of platforming, challenging combat, and puzzles that put your Force powers to good use. You have 5 main planets to explore and you can freely travel between them after you unlock them in the story. Even though you have the freedom to explore whatever planet is available to you, there isn't much incentive to stray from the story's path. The game is very linear, story-driven, and straightforward. The story will always lead you to where you need to go and you will always have the abilities you need to get where you need to go. Like in a Metroid game, you will see things you can’t do anything with until you have the right power or item, but these things are never blocking your way to the destinations marked on your map. Fallen Order gives you the illusion of Metroid’s freedom, but it actually flows a lot more like an Uncharted game.
Uncharted is probably the first thing people will be reminded of when they start playing this game too, because the platforming here is straight out of Uncharted. Cal Kestis climbs, shimmies, and swings from ropes just like Naughty Dog’s tomb raider. Nathan Drake couldn't use the Force, though. Cal's Force powers can also be used while platforming to pull and grab onto ropes in midair, move platforms into place, and of course wall run because this is a Respawn game.
Exploration, platforming, and solving puzzles with Force powers is my favorite part of the game. The way Cal parkours is fun and exciting and you always find some treasure chest or thing to scan with your droid everywhere you go. Most of the things you find are cosmetics, but it's fun just getting there. I never really got stuck on a puzzle, but I thought they were very clever and they let me use the Force in creative ways, which I really liked. I feel like the game was designed so that nobody would ever get stuck. Even if you can’t figure out what to do, you can just get your droid to give you a hint.
Force powers are the Metroid suit upgrades of Fallen Order. There’s Force push, pull, slow, wall running, and a double jump. You find these powers around the world while exploring. Well, Cal doesn't just find Force Powers laying around. That would be dumb. Cal finds things that give him flashbacks of his Jedi training. This gives me flashbacks of Other M. Having Cal remember abilities when he could have used them earlier doesn’t work for me. You also find upgrades for your droid which allow it to hack computers, open chests, and use ziplines as well as a few items that give you new abilities, like that mouth piece that lets Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon breathe underwater in The Phantom Menace.
For whatever reason, this game has a huge talent tree full of lightsaber moves, defensive abilities, and talents to enhance your Force powers. You gain XP from fighting enemies and get a talent point to spend every time you level up. Frankly, I thought this felt kind of shoehorned in. Talent trees are usually about making choices that give a unique flavor to your playstyle, but the only choice you're making here is what to get first. You can almost fill out the entire tree by the end of the game without any sort of grinding, so why bother with a talent tree at all? They could have just given you a new skill with every level gained and it would have been pretty much the same thing.
There's a huge emphasis on combat in Fallen Order. This isn't exactly The Force Unleashed, though. The combat in this game has more in common with games like Dark Souls and Nioh. It's all about animation priority. All your lightsaber swings have long animations which you can't cancel out of, timing on dodges and parries is pretty tight, and enemies are relentless and come in packs. One little timing mistake could cost you. Use of Force powers is also very limited because your Force meter only has a few charges, it refills slowly, and both lightsaber moves and Force magic share the meter. You really have to put some thought into how to go about every battle.
The combat does feel sluggish by nature and it has a high learning curve, but it does a great job in making lightsaber battles feel like in the movies. You're not getting anything as flashy as Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon vs Darth Maul in this game, though. The combat feels much more grounded. It’s more like how Darth Vader and Luke fought. I really like it. Especially during boss battles with the Inquisitors, like Trilla. It feels rewarding when you get it right because there's a lot of room for error.
Fallen Order has to be the best looking Star Wars game ever made by default. It’s a beautiful looking game. The textures, smoke and fog effects, and the lighting really nail the look of a Star Wars movie. The cutscenes during battles between Trilla and Cal look especially great. All the planets look like authentic Star Wars worlds, and even the creatures you don't see in the movies look like they fit right in. All the lightsaber animations look spot on too. I did have a lot of framerate issues, though. Especially in large open areas and in Kashyyyk, which ran horribly at all times. Maybe the game is too much for my old graphics card to run at 1080p 60FPS. I ran the game capped at 45 FPS with a few effects turned off and that worked well enough.
The soundtrack is also really well done. It mostly uses original music, but it all sounds like Star Wars, which is something the TV shows don't always get right. The voice acting is also really good, even though the story is not.

Fallen Order is the best Star Wars game I've played since, I don’t know, The Old Republic MMO at launch? It’s been a while! I think the graphics look great, the soundtrack sounds like Star Wars, and the platforming, combat, puzzles, and exploration are all a lot of fun. I just wish the game was a little more Metroid and a bit less Uncharted. It's just such a streamlined, AAA, blockbuster game. It never lets you get lost or stuck. The ending also ruins anything good the story did and kills my desire to ever see Cal Kestis again. Hopefully Fallen Order 2 is about a cooler Jedi, like Ahsoka.