It’s been far, far too long since we’ve had a good single player Star Wars game, hasn’t it? Well, having now spent a few hours playing Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, I can quite comfortably say that it probably won’t be much longer until that wrong is made right. It puts a lightsaber in your hand once more, gives you the growing powers of a Padawan and sets you loose on an epic story that whisks you from planet to planet.
It would have been easy to follow in the straightforward, linear action game footsteps of many previous Star Wars games, but Respawn have forged a new path here, blending together numerous different influences and ideas along the way. Did you expect a Star Wars game to be a Metroidvania? How about a Souls-like? On a surface level it sounds like the genre mash-up of an indie hit, but it works quite remarkably well.
There’s a focus on exploration as you land on each new planet. You’re filling in the holomap as you go, with unexplored areas conveniently marked yellow, locked off areas in red and things you can interact with in green. It’s useful if you’re feeling a tad stuck, but I rarely felt the need while journeying across the planet of Zeffo. It flows nicely, mixing together weighty platforming, force puzzles and Stormtrooper combat.
If i have one real complaint, it’s that the jumping feels a bit too heavy, which is rather unexpected given the acrobatics that Jedi perform in the films. It can partly be explained by Cal’s backstory, having trained as a child with the Jedi Order, but leaving the Force behind him, only to be called back in and restore his Jedi skills from scratch. That’s why exploring Zeffo is hamstrung without the ability to Force Push.
The combat is as empowering as you’d expect for a force user like Cal, able to slice through waves of onrushing enemies quite easily, but there’s an underlying challenge to it as well. There’s more than a few Stormtroopers wielding shock batons for one thing, meaning that you have more melee enemies than you would have done a decade or two ago. You can either try to brute force your way through their defences, draining their stamina at the cost of your Force meter until you can deliver a final blow, or wait for them to attack, and dodge or parry to open the door to your counter. Meanwhile, for enemies with blasters, you can simply hold the block button and deflect any which way, or try to parry them back for a directed deflection, introducing more nuance and skill into the game.
There’s obviously more than just these two types of enemies, and trigger happy rocket troopers – who will happily blow up their buddies to try and get at you – heavy blaster troops, and even the local fauna all pose different challenges and require different tactics to deal with. It’s the Inquisitors that will be your most gruelling foes, as a battle later in the game against the Ninth Sister showed. Her attacks are powerful, she could easily counter Cal, and it was a struggle just to stay in the fight and inch her health bar down. I failed on my one attempt at the fight.
There’s the definite tone of Dark Souls throughout, rewarding a bit of caution and precision when going aggressive in the combat, and with the open world featuring meditation points. Kneeling down here allows Cal to spend any skill points and rest up to restore BD-1’s store of stim packs, but at the cost of all enemies in the area respawning. Nicely, you can use these more as save points, choosing not to rest and continuing on without a world reset. Die and it’s all reset anyway, tasking you with damaging the enemy that successfully offed you to get the XP since you last levelled up back.
Though it has many elements of a Souls-like, it doesn’t feel overbearing and is actually downright accessible. You can approach it more like a melee combat focussed Metroidvania, with plenty of little side areas locked off until you can come back with a new Force power in tow. For those that want more challenge, you can bump it up to Master and Grand Master difficulty, tightening the parry window, altering enemy behaviours and attacks, forcing you to adapt without simply bumping up the size of health bars.
Respawn have been given a lot of freedom in their collaboration with LucasArts to pick and choose elements from the Star Wars canon and even add to it. The Inquisitors are Dark Side force users that debuted in Star Wars Rebels, but the character of Second Sister is a new creation, and the planet of Zeffo likewise. This was once home to the Zeffonians, and Cal and the crew of their ship is here following a trail of clues toward something that could rebalance the Force.
They’re a motley bunch, with Cere a new mentor to Cal, as he reteaches and grows his own abilities. Greez on the other hand is a sassy diminutive alien with multiple arms – perfect for a ship pilot – and always there with a terrible pun up his sleeve.
Most charming by far, however, is BD-1 who rides around on Cal’s back until he needs him. His beeps and boops feel like they have real meaning to them, in part because they’ve been adorably subtitled – “Twee dee doo!” – but also as he jumps off to draw you over to point of interest to scan, or hops into crates to find the customisation parts that you can use to give Cal a poncho, new custom lightsaber parts, and more.
Cal’s powers slowly grow as he follows the trail of the story, leading him on Zeffo into a tomb of the ancient civilisation that once inhabited the planet, and with large scale Tomb Raider or Uncharted-esque environmental puzzles to solve, occasionally battling some ultra tough enemies. As you eventually earn the Force Push, it opens up a lot more doors for you back on the planet’s surface, quite literally as you can now blast them open! It also opens up new combat techniques, both in terms of letting you push Stormtroopers off rocky outcrops and deflect incoming missiles, but also adding more combat abilities and lightsaber moves to Cal’s skill tree for you to unlock.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order has come together incredibly well, with just a month before its 15th November launch. It has the license, it has the Jedi coming of age story, but it also sees Respawn blending together genres that are wholly unexpected from a universe with as broad an appeal as this. So sure, it’s a Metroidvania, it’s a Souls-like, but those genres fit seamlessly with the planet-hopping explorative story and lightsaber combat.