Monday, November 13, 2023

Star Wars Jedi: Survivor Review

Developer: Respawn
Publisher: EA
Platforms: PS5, XBSX, PC
Price: $69.99
Version Played: PC

A long time ago, back in April 2023, right here on Earth, the sequel to Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, was released, and it really shouldn't have. It's been 6 months since this game came out and the PC version still feels like it's held together with duct tape. I've had crashes, plenty of bugs, and horrible performance. And this is after a bunch of patches. I shudder to think what this game was like on launch day.

My biggest problem with this game is the framerate. My PC is much more powerful than the recommended specs, yet I still can't get a solid 60 at 1080p, even with ray tracing and HDR turned off. I can't get a solid anything since there is no option to cap it, like in Fallen Order. I don't think it's just one thing, like the big open areas in Koboh, I saw the framerate tank in a lot of small areas, too. And to top it all off, the graphics options are all messed up. I couldn't switch resolution at one point, using windowed full screen is a huge hit on performance for some reason, and the DLSS quality option doesn't even work. The DLSS performance option actually lowered both the resolution and the framerate by at least half. That's the opposite of what it's supposed to do.
The actual game is pretty good, though. I think they addressed most of the issues I had with the first game. This game has bigger and more open areas, it's less linear, has more puzzles, and more NPCs to talk to. This one feels a lot more like an action adventure or action RPG than an Uncharted game, and I think that's definitely the right direction for the series.
At its core, Survivor still plays a lot like Fallen Order. You travel from planet to planet as the story progresses, acquire new abilities, and travel back to previous planets to access new areas with your new abilities. There's still a lot of combat, platforming, and exploration. The introduction of the planet Koboh really freshens things up, though. Koboh is the biggest planet and it acts as your home base throughout the game. It has a small village with shops, a stable for your mounts, and a cantina full of NPCs with quests and little stories to tell you. It even has a bathroom. Koboh has a large open area in the center and it connects to a bunch of other areas, which are structured a lot like the planets in Fallen Order, with that more linear, wrap-around back to the save point kind of level design. There's also a bunch of caves and enemy bases all over. I wouldn't say Koboh is quite “Open World” since a lot of it is locked behind story progression or abilities, but it’s certainly leaning more in that Zelda OOT-like direction. I probably spent 25% of my game time just running around Koboh while exploring, hunting down treasure chests, and doing sidequests. The planet Jedha has a similar structure, but it's much smaller, and there isn't nearly as much to do there.
I thought the first game could have really used more puzzles, and I guess I wasn't the only one because this game has a lot more puzzles. It’s not just the Force pulling doors open kind of stuff, either. There’s real puzzles here. A lot of which revolve around using your new gadgets. I think Cal is done with the blocked memories stuff, so Instead of having him remember more Jedi skills, you just get items and upgrades for BD-1. There's a grappling hook, an electric dart, and this thing that makes BD spray some kind of gunk everywhere, like FLUDD in Super Mario Sunshine. You can use this gunk to route weird purple electricity around to burn down these black vines that block a lot of doors in the game. Cal also gets a dash, which comes from an item and is not a Jedi skill. You can use this dash to go through barriers. Mostly while platforming. There's a lot of platforming, too. Maybe too much. I think it gets kind old halfway through the game.
There are also some new Zelda BOTW-like shrines called Meditation Chambers. They’re just little bite-sized dungeons that are all about puzzles, just like shrines. Some are part of the story, but most are optional. They’re fun and have good rewards, but there’s only 7 of them in the whole game. I would have liked these to have been a bigger part of the game, but I guess they had bigger things to worry about, like getting the game out the door.
But what this game is really about is combat. It might look the same at a glance, but there's been a lot of little tweaks that make it feel different. I think it actually gets a lot harder in this game. It's not necessarily slower, but it does feel like your combo, parry, and dodge timing is stricter, and enemies are much more aggressive. Cal’s lightsaber fighting styles are also a lot more focused. He’s not switching from double bladed to single or dual wielding for different attacks, for example.
There's also 2 new lightsaber fighting styles; the blaster and crossguard. Blaster uses a lightsaber in one hand and a blaster in the other, like some kind of Jedi pirate. You don't need to pick up ammo for the blaster, but you do have to hit enemies with the lightsaber to recharge it. It's kind of a weird mechanic, like something out of World of Warcraft, but I guess they still want you to be a Jedi and not a Mandalorian. Shooting the enemies you want to shoot requires a lot of messing around with the lock-on, which still sucks, so I wasn't a big fan of this style.
The crossguard basically treats the lightsaber like a giant broadsword. I guess it's inspired by Kylo Ren, but it's also like Baylan Skoll’s fighting style in Ahsoka. Big slow swords really aren't my thing, so I didn't use this a whole lot either.
Like I mentioned, the lock-on system is still terrible. The biggest problem is that it's on R3(RS), which is the worst button for it because you have to take your thumb off the attack (face) buttons to use it. You also activate your super ability by pressing L3(LS) and R3(RS) at the same time, so every time you do that, you lose your target. You could change it, but then you’d have to put something else on there, like your Force abilities, which would suck too. There's too many abilities and not enough buttons on the controller. The lock-on is also very finicky and sometimes changes targets on its own. I guess it's switching depending on who’s hitting you. There is some sort of auto aim going on when not locked on, but that does the same target switching thing and it doesn’t let you strafe around your target.
Something I thought was pretty cool, but not used enough is the AI companions. Someone from the Mantis crew usually tags along on story missions. They fight alongside you and can be used like a sort of extra ability. For example, Merrin tags along on Jedha and she can use her Nightsister magic to rewind time on certain parts of the environment, so she can clear caved in paths and stuff. Merrin will always tag along with you on Jedha, but you can't bring her with you while exploring anywhere else. You don't even get to choose whether or not you want someone to come with you. It would be cool if this feature was expanded on in the next game. Everyone wants to spend more time with Merrin, right?
I don't know if the story in this game was actually worse or if I’m just still mad at the first game’s ending. I don't think I can ever believe that whatever happy ending is promised for Cal is going to come true. He's just going to win the fight and flush the lottery ticket down the toilet, so to speak. Or destroy the Holocron. He spends the whole game fighting for something he doesn't seem to actually want. I also can never believe that anything that happens in these games will affect anything else in the Star Wars universe, even though this game is nothing but fallout from things that happened in Revenge of the Sith and the High Republic. I thought the big twists near the end of the game were pretty bad too. They were (poorly) explained eventually, but they just come off like they're there for shock value when they happen. At least they made Cere a lot more badass and Cal a little less lame than in the first game.
I think everything about the sound in this game is great. I love the soundtrack. It sounds like a Star Wars movie score, even though it's not just remixing the classic tunes, and the cantina songs give us an interesting look at what in-universe music sounds like. The voice acting is also really well done. I wasn't too fond of the Mantis crew after the first game, but their performances in this one make them hard not to like. Cal’s performance especially is much better than in the first game. All the sound effects are spot on, too.
There's a lot of good things about this game, but all the issues really bring it down. I could never be immersed in the game for too long before running into a bug, seeing the framerate drop by half, or having the game crash. I guess they just bit off more than they could chew. This game came out around 3 and a half years after Fallen Order, and here we are 6 months after release with a game that still doesn't feel like it's ready. Maybe it'll be awesome by the time the 3rd game comes out.