HEAT VISION

'Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order' Is a "Real David vs. Goliath Story," Says Game Director

EA and Respawn Entertainment hosted a hands-on session of the upcoming title, and Stig Asmussen hinted at what to expect from the latest story from a galaxy far, far away.
Courtesy of Respawn Entertainment
EA and Respawn Entertainment hosted a hands-on session of the upcoming title, and Stig Asmussen hinted at what to expect from the latest story from a galaxy far, far away.

Becoming a Jedi is a common dream shared by many a Star Wars fan, but the price for such power is steep.

The majority of Jedi that have been explored in the Mahabharatian tomes of Star Wars media either met violent ends or lived extraordinarily fraught existences, from paternal power struggles that would make ancient Greek playwrights proud to tragic, dangerous lives of exile — and sometimes both.

In EA and Respawn Entertainment's upcoming Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order, the weight and demands of becoming a lightsaber-wielding master of the Force is the main focus, examined through the story of Cal Kestis (Cameron Monaghan) a Padawan fleeing the Empire's sinister inquisitors following Emperor Palpatine's Order 66 forced the remaining living Jedi into hiding across the galaxy.

"One of the things that's unique is our time period," game director Stig Asmussen tells The Hollywood Reporter. "Cal's being hunted. He's been cast as essentially a witch and people aren't pulling any punches. We want the player to be on edge, to feel like they need to fight back. It's a real David versus Goliath story."

Respawn and EA hosted a hands-on demo of the upcoming game this week in Anaheim, allowing invited media to play through a section of the game. Aboard the Mantis, a ship with knife-sharp wings, Cal encounters Greez Dritus, a small green alien with male-pattern baldness and a put-upon "I don't know about all this" nature voiced by Daniel Roebuck, and Cere Junda, a Jedi knight living in exile with intimate knowledge of just how dangerous and evil the inquisitors (and its sinister Sisters) truly are, voiced by Debra Wilson.

"Star Wars often jumps around between multiple characters. From the get-go, we knew we wanted to tell a story about this Padawan who has been basically targeted as an enemy of the state, and we're going to keep that story with the player the whole time," says Asmussen.

"Cameron really just had this laconic, man of few words, but 'when he talked you listen to him' quality that we really responded to," he says of casting Monaghan in the role. "Once we finally got onto the performance-capture stage, he was a sincere student of the script and really understands the world and the conflict he's trying to overcome. Because of that, he was able to bring something new that we didn't know we were going to get. He completely nailed it."

After a short scene in the ship's hull, Cal and his droid companion, BD-1, head over to a nearby holomap, and the player is given the opportunity to choose the next destination. Cal is given the choice between Zeffo, a new creation dreamed up by Respawn, or Dathomir, a canon celestial body introduced in the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Fans will recognize the latter as a pretty messed-up place. Asmussen warns the crowd against traveling there. Most listen, some do not. Hushed profanities abound from those not wise enough to heed the words of caution.

On Zeffo, a challenge still awaits, but the low-leveled Cal is much more prepared to meet it. Fallen Order's worlds are laid out in a Metroidvania style (a subgenre of action adventure games in which players explore a map and, in doing so, open up previously inaccessible areas), with Cal and BD-1 exploring branching paths and hidden areas to discover upgrades, puzzles, new enemies and essential plot points as they move along. What's immediately evident is how large the map itself is (during a nearly three-hour playthrough I uncovered roughly 30 percent of what Zeffo had to offer).

How big is the game? Asmussen won't get specific, instead opting for a one-word reply: "Big."

As in the earlier demo shown behind closed doors at this year's E3 convention, the combat controls in Fallen Order are impressively deep. The variety of different enemies Cal encounters is great, from various ranks of stormtroopers to increasingly sinister local fauna to titanic guardians of an ancient tomb who look like they should be battling Marvel's Thor. Each enemy class requires a certain set of moves, dodges and parries to take down. Some are simple: deflect a laser back at some woefully unequipped stormtrooper. Others are harder: an AT-ST with a full arsenal of explosives.

Luckily, Cal's abilities and equipment can be upgraded, giving him access to increased powers that help him take down stronger enemies. He's also not alone. BD-1 is no escort companion. The droid, which Asmussen refers to as a "bird dog," is a steadfast companion, providing hints, useful information and even light in the dark places of the world (or worlds, as it were).

Puzzles are a big part of the experience as well, and Zelda fans will recognize a familiar formula of venturing deep into a "dungeon," encountering dangerous foes and solving an elaborate physics-based riddle to open up the next branching area using a newfound ability. Challenging but not frustrating, Respawn walks a fine line with Zeffo's ruins and presents an engaging experience that outshines even the stellar combat.

"You can expect to see more of that in the game," says Asmussen of the puzzles.

"There's tons of inspiration from a lot of different sources. My background is the God of War series, and some of the pillars that we had in that game were combat, exploration and puzzles, and it wouldn't really make sense to go away from what your experience is," he says. "It also is a great way to experience a Jedi, to go to an old temple. It just really worked with this game really well."

Being a demo, of course, the time with Cal was brief, but Respawn also showed off a segment from much later in the game. Facing off against a towering inquisitor known as the Ninth Sister, Cal has his work cut out for him, a true test of his budding Jedi prowess. The boss fight is lengthy and plays out in various segments intercut with cinematic moments that reveal plot details and show off sweeping, impressive feats of lightsaber ballet.

Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order launches Nov. 15 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC.

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