'Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order': Game Review

Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order - Courtesy of Respawn Entertainment - Publicity -H 2019
Courtesy of Respawn Entertainment
Space ponchos.

By far the best 'Star Wars' game we’ve been given in some time, even with a few bugs and repetitive design.

It's been nearly a decade since Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II, the last great third-person, single-player Star Wars adventure game. Most recent titles set in George Lucas' sprawling universe have been satisfied with offering solely multiplayer affairs, mobile-only games or a cry far, far away from what players were actually looking to play.

Enter Respawn Entertainment and EA’s Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. From its first glimpses, the game captured the hearts of the most casual of fans and diehards alike with its fluid, gorgeous animations, the promise of a gritty storyline and — yes, finally — a new single-player adventure. While Fallen Order is nowhere near the fantastic achievement that 2003's Knights of the Old Republic was, nor does it quite nail the mature yet playful undertones of Jedi Outcast, it is an exciting page torn out of the massive Star Wars storybook that thrills and delights — when it isn’t marred by bugs or confounding design decisions.

Fallen Order is a jaunty Souls-lite (a spinoff subgenre of game made offering a slightly less challenging form of gameplay made popular in FromSoftware's Dark Souls franchise) that somewhat messily combines acrobatics with third-person combat in a format that has more in common with modern Castlevania entries than a Souls game proper, though trace elements of the latter can be found within. 

Players take on the role of young Padawan Cal Kestis (Cameron Monaghan), one of the few remaining Jedi following the execution of the Emperor's Order 66. While working to salvage ships from the Clone Wars near a Sarlacc Pit, Cal's friend and co-worker nearly falls into the abyss. He opts to risk his life and potentially blow his cover as a Jedi by using the Force to spare his alien companion from certain death. Unfortunately, the action alerts a nearby Imperial droid, who then rats on Cal to the Empire. That sets a dangerous chain of events in motion: The Empire sends the terrifying Second Sister, an Inquisitor trained by Darth Vader himself, to eradicate Cal, and any remaining Jedi she might find. 

That's easier said than done, as Cal is able to narrowly escape the clutches of the Second Sister and her goons with the help of the mysterious Cere Junda (Debra Wilson), a former Jedi who has plans of her own to rebuild the Jedi Order (with Cal's help, of course). Alongside Cal and pilot Greez Dritus (Daniel Roebuck), Cere sets the trio off on a path that could ultimately lead to the rebirth of the Jedi as the trio hurtle through space on the Mantis, a knife-like starship, making a few important stops along the way.

The adventure spans several different planets, but the game first kicks things off on planet Bogano. A special holocron, or essentially a space-age storage device only accessible to Force users, is said to be hidden in a tomb there. Cere believes that by following in the footsteps of Jedi master Eno Cordova, the team can steal away this holocron, which contains a list of Force-sensitive children, to restore the Jedi Order to its former glory. That's where the game begins to open up, and where Cal meets his constant companion BD-1, an adorable little droid. 

BD-1 accompanies Cal and friends throughout the rest of the game. While Cal is an acrobatic young whipper-snapper, BD-1 offers technological assistance. He can overload panels, hack other droids, scan for items and, best of all, provide a color-coded 3D holomap to help Cal get around. Since the game consists entirely of exploration on foot, this turns out to be a massive boon. In short, BD-1 is not only absolutely adorable, but useful, too. 

Controlling Cal feels very much like playing an early God of War game, with slight refinements. He’s spry on his feet, and is often forced to slide down slippery paths, shimmy through tight spaces and jump from platform to platform to reach out-of-the-way locations. These movements are used — and used again ... and again — to the point where you’re shimmying, sliding or climbing every few minutes. It can wear thin on the nerves, but there’s nothing technically wrong with the mechanics, other than being indicative of occasionally unimaginative level design. 

As you make your way throughout the story, you’ll realize there are several different areas that you just can’t reach from the onset. Cal will have to earn experience points and level up to unlock new abilities if he wants to see everything there is in-game. This means you’ll need to do a lot of manual backtracking. There’s no fast travel, so you have to rely on BD-1’s holomap almost entirely. Luckily, it’s color-coded for your convenience, marking places you can go, places you can’t and everything in between. 

Cal won’t simply breeze through each planet and complete the trials found within, however. The entire Empire is after him. It’s a delight to engage in combat with Stormtroopers and Imperial enemies who crop up here and there, even if the game selectively allows you only to bifurcate and dismember non-humanoid foes. This is likely due to a more family-friendly appeal, this being Disney's Star Wars, but it just makes zero sense to go full force with a lightsaber at someone’s head and find that it’s still attached even though they forgot to parry. 

That’s what you’d better be doing a lot of, too. While combat isn’t overtly challenging at first, it can certainly ramp up quickly. Battles are very much a ballet of sidesteps, parrying, blocking and striking while the iron is hot. This isn’t a hack-and-slash fest and the game feels all the better for it. It's not always up to Cal to dispatch the Emperor's cronies, as the game presents a bit of a living ecosystem. A massive frog-like creature might jump out of a thicket and knock you off a ledge to your death, sure, but maybe it’ll do the same to a stormtrooper nearby. You never know when it might happen. 

There are ways to stay in the game, though. BD-1 is always around to heal Cal. Alternatively, after you exit combat and find a spot to meditate, you can save your game, level up and heal. Be careful, though, as in a very Souls-like campfire move, if you decide to heal, all enemies in the area will respawn as well. 

The game is also full of collectibles and offers many different ways to alter Cal's aesthetic, from his outfits to his weaponry. Customizing your lightsaber is about the only thing that feels satisfying, though. Cal’s looks can’t be changed except for his clothing, and just barely at that. Aside from a palette swap of Cal's original costume, there are only ponchos in varying colors to choose from. Seriously, out of all of the alien fashions in the universe — ponchos? It felt less like we were setting off on a perilous journey to restore the Jedi Order and more like Cal was continually trying on outfits from the thrift store. 

There were also several bugs during my playthrough on Xbox One. At several points throughout the game, Cal became stuck in a wall or a ledge where the only way to escape was to clip through obtrusion and jump into the abyss. Doing this several times will drain his health enough to force a respawn, which I was lucky enough to do. Since respawning takes you to a meditation circle, I was able to avoid a game-breaking glitch and start over. There aren’t multiple save slots, so if that trick hadn’t worked I would have been out of luck. The game is also plagued with other bugs, like the sound cutting out every 20 seconds the first time the game started up or assorted screen-flickering issues. Annoying, to say the least, but not enough to deter me from playing. 

Bug frustrations aside, Fallen Order looks fantastic (except for some emaciated and eerily tall Wookiees). Monaghan and Wilson's performances were particularly outstanding, as well, though I could have done without Greez’s constant beckoning to sit down when we were about to arrive on a planet. Also, here’s a question: Why was a particular Imperial saddled with a Russian accent? There is no Russia to hail from and this character certainly didn’t come from there. Color me stumped. 

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is a fun little romp filled with likable characters spiked with plenty of drama, enjoyable combat and a dark enough story that’s unfortunately littered with bugs. With that said, it’s by far the best Star Wars game we’ve been given in some time. With a few patches, and possibly refinements for a sequel, it could grow into a venerable series that does the Star Wars franchise right. As it stands, it’s still very much worth playing, bugs and all. 

This game was reviewed on Xbox One X.