A long time ago, in a city far away, I used to continue playing through games I didn’t particularly enjoy. Perhaps out of resolve, or maybe out of the desire to pack on those pointless points on my GamerScore. I am glad that those days are over.
I set out wanting to like Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order; not just because it’s a new entry into the singleplayer space of Star Wars games, but also because the design is rather intriguing. Starting out, I began to notice how the map structure reminded me of other favorites of mine, like Metroid Prime and the Uncharted series. Perhaps referring to Metroid for the map structure alone and Uncharted for the traversal mechanics was a little rash… Maybe more like the Tomb Raider reboot series. Yeah, more like that.
In fact, that more I think of it, the more I am starting to see the parallels between the new Tomb Raider and Jedi: Fallen Order. Sandbox areas to explore, cordoned off with sections that can only be accessed after acquiring specific tools or skills, tons of platforming (including copious amounts of trial and error), combat that wavers between tight and clumsy, a smorgasbord of cosmetic items to play around with, and a story that allows the player to go back and explore previously visited areas. Granted, I’m sure similar parallels could be drawn to other games depending on how you word it, but damn it sure feels like Respawn Entertainment made Star Wars: Tomb Raider.
In A Setting Far, Far Away
I’ll be the first to admit that the setting is wonderfully awesome, taking place between the events of the 3rd and 4th episodes in the canon movie series. You play as a Jedi apprentice in hiding named Cal Kestis, who has found work breaking apart carcasses of old warships from the Clone Wars, until one day when the Empire gets word of a Jedi in the workers’ midst. I still don’t fully understand if it was Cal’s one slip-up that caused the Empire to hunt him down; if that’s the case, those Purge Stormtroopers have an impressive response time (after a little reading, I must have missed the Imperial Probe Droid that spotted Cal’s Force usage).
Rest assured that Cal is quickly rescued by a duo from the wild blue, who swoop in to spirit Cal off to take part in piecing the Jedi order back together. The course of Jedi: Fallen Order pits the player against challenges to unearth the path laid out by a long-passed Jedi, which allows Cal to regain his knowledge of the techniques he forgot in the time following his training by his master, Jaro Tapal. The rest of the game follows a new plotline that actually manages to avoid breaking any of the series canon.
Thankfully, the game doesn’t take you to the usual suspects of Star Wars settings, with the most recognizable world visited being the Wookie homeworld of Kashyyyk (I almost spelled that right… Why does it have three y’s?). Each area is a rather focused sandbox, with larger areas that can be explored, which are generally filled with a number of hidden items and collectibles to find.
Find All The Pretties
Speaking of collectibles, you can find all manners of cosmetic items to customize Cal’s lightsaber, BD-1’s paintjob, Cal’s clothes, and even the appearance of his companions’ ship. The latter is really neat, and it’s kinda cool to see the various designs that you can find, though I initially had serious misgivings when I saw the “Premium Content” tag associated with my preorder bonus items. Given the game’s apparent lack of microtransactions, I hope that the preorder bonus skins are at least unlockable for free, otherwise it’s a little crappy that players are locked out of specific cosmetics.
Furthermore, I find it a little odd that there’s such a heavy emphasis on the inclusion of a customizable lightsaber when none of the changes have a perceivable effect on gameplay at all. Sure, it’s neat to see the different configurations when you’re playing with the combinations of designs, but when you’re actually running around and fighting, you’re never going to see the lightsaber close enough to tell the difference. Given the apparent lack of photo mode (though they’ve previously said it will be included at some point), it isn’t like you can take close-ups in combat or while running around anyway, so it’s a bit of a missed opportunity in my opinion.
Slice And Dice
The lightsaber is a cool enough weapon without getting into the plethora of customization options anyway, and thankfully using it is just as nostalgic as I’d expect it to be. I honestly love running around and slicing thing up with Cal’s lightsaber, both because it makes the trademarked sound and looks so damn cool. However, considering the approach that Respawn took with the gameplay, I was hoping for tighter controls at the very least.
It’s obvious that they were drawing inspiration from “Soulsborne” games, but only in very specific cases. For instance, heavy emphasis is placed on evasion and parrying in combat in lieu of allowing Cal to soak up damage, and enemies respawn any time you stop at meditation circles (bonfires) to refill your health and stim canisters (estus flasks). It’s entirely possible to farm by resting at a bonfire that is close to enemies, which kinda breaks the immersion of the game, and Cal can “respawn” on death and collect any XP lost after killing the enemy that killed him.
That said, I may have been more keen to refine my combat techniques if the combat was tighter, but I found myself dying very easily after many times of just not dodging out of the way or not parrying an enemy’s attack, at just the right time. Melee weapon wielding enemies seem to also have an unlimited stamina bar at times, along with an extremely defensive posture, making most of my time spent in combat just hacking away at their stamina bar until they couldn’t take it anymore. In the end, I just turned the difficulty down to a more manageable level, because it was extremely tiresome trying to deal with the alternatingly precise and clumsy controls.
Then again, the ability to change the difficulty in the first place kinda takes the teeth out of the experience. Perhaps calling it a “Soulsborne-lite” game would be more accurate.
Maybe “Soulsborne” game lovers will fare better. Apparently this Jedi just needs to git gud. To me, it just feels like the game would’ve fared much better as a hack-and-slash game, rather than a methodical combat experience coupled with platforming elements. My feeling right now is that if the combat felt more controlled, like with “Soulsborne” games, I would enjoy it more. Instead, fighting just doesn’t feel fair, because you’re either going to find yourself cutting through enemies like a lightsaber through butter, or you’re going to get your face caved in by a giant toad repeatedly because you didn’t dodge quite far enough, even though you’re given no indication of how far you were supposed to get away, and when to do it.
Not to mention that enemies will often turn to meet you face to face while you’re dodging, making the act pointless in the end. You can choose to use the lock-on mechanic to make focusing on a single enemy easier, but I’ve found that the camera angle is so close that doing so in combat with multiple enemies is borderline suicide. At the very least, fighting Stormtroopers is fun, but dealing with the flora and fauna of the various worlds is nerve-wracking to say the least.
Additionally, I feel as if I need to address the environments and game structure, as the decision to go with a sandbox environment and a freeform approach to picking destinations was entirely unnecessary. The worlds themselves, while outright beautiful (yes, even Dathomir), feel disjointed and deliberately designed to function as platform challenges. Then again, the developers seem to pose the option to players to visit Dathomir immediately once the game opens up, only to make it seem clear that you’re definitely meant to go to Zeffo first since Dathomir is punishingly difficult early on.
I feel as if Jedi: Fallen Order would’ve benefited greatly from ditching the sandbox design to go with a more linear and focused experience, similar to the opening levels.
Honestly, I’m having a hard time with this diatribe, because on one hand I really wanted to enjoy Jedi: Fallen Order. On the other hand, I just couldn’t bring myself to keep playing it. It’s fun at times, as I’ve said before; playing as a Jedi will almost always be fun. However, while I love that there’s a new singleplayer only Star Wars game out here in the world (that isn’t infested with microtransactions), I wish they took a slightly different direction with it.
Take what I say with a grain of salt though, because I am not a game developer. I cannot say that enough. In the last few months, I’ve come to terms with the thought that I’m actually writing about creations that actual people put their time and effort into crafting. I know that there are dozens of hardworking folks at Respawn that took their vision and made it a reality, and I feel I should applaud that. To go even further, I didn’t hate playing Jedi: Fallen Order, but that doesn’t mean I want to keep playing it. After all is said and done, I don’t regret buying it and trying it out, because I did get some enjoyment from it. It’s just not what I was looking for.
My best advice is that if you plan on picking up Jedi: Fallen Order, think about the difficulty you would prefer to play on, then lower that difficulty level by one. Also, avoid Oggdo Bogdo until you’ve gotten a good handle on the combat.