For jaded cynics of EA’s ten-year deal with Disney, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order might feel like the publisher’s last chance to do something great with Star Wars license. It’s a pretty poor yet common take we’re used to seeing from those still bitter over Battlefront’s loot box catastrophe, but with Respawn Entertainment on a hot streak thanks to Titanfall 2 and Apex Legends, there’s even more pressure there for Jedi: Fallen Order to deliver. Thankfully, it absolutely does just that.
Wedged between Episodes III and IV, Fallen Order explores the fallout of Order 66 and the purge of Jedi across the galaxy. As Cal Kestis, you are one of the few survivors, albeit one who is content keeping his head down, avoiding the Empire’s gaze. However, when the Inquisition come knocking, our ginger-haired, poncho-wearing ex-padawan is forced (heh) to come out of hiding.
Fallen Order weaves together two stories, unspooling the mysteries of an ancient alien race as Cal resumes his Jedi training from where he left off as a padawan. The cast of characters you meet along the way includes Cere and her gruff four-armed pilot, as well as a powerful Sith Inquisitor known only as The Second Sister. There are also one or two cameos Star Wars fans will appreciate, such as Saw Gerrera from Rogue One, and it’s impossible not to fall in love with Cal’s droid companion, BD-1.
Overall, Respawn has conjured up a strong albeit formulaic story yet one that digs much deeper into the franchise and has the license to create new layers to the lore instead of leaning too heavily on familiar touchstones. What works best here are the original characters and locations, all of which develop over time and feel like authentic strands of the Star Wars canon.
Sit down with Fallen Order for even a short span and you’ll find it impossible to describe it without making comparisons. Respawn has cherry picked the best ingredients for this succulent Star Wars stew, with Dark Souls by way of Sekiro and Tomb Raider bubbling to the top.
You feel it quite keenly in the combat, which is designed to be more deliberate and skillful than your typical hack n’ slash action game. One on one encounters will see Cal dodge, parry, and counter, while swinging his lightsaber and unleashing a small arsenal of force powers that you gradually unlock. You’ll easily take down your standard Stormtroopers and their variants, but coming up against bosses, Purge Troopers and other toughened enemies can test you.
There’s a rhythm to these fights, but it becomes less focused as more enemies are thrown into the mix. It can certainly get scrappy when several alien creatures are running amok, or when fighting shock baton troopers and having to try to deflect incoming blaster fire and force push rockets. It’s messier, but it’s still fun.
A few more Souls-like notes become more obvious if you fall in battle. You’re sent back to the last meditation point that you knelt at, all of the enemies are returned to the world (which resting will do as well), and the experience points you earned since last levelling up are being held hostage by the enemy that killed you. It’s surprising how deep that inspiration runs through the game, but it works and there’s a range of difficulty settings to still appeal to a broad set of gamers.
The real selling point is Fallen Order’s planetary exploration. Each world you visit is its own cleverly crafted russian doll with layers being peeled away as you unlock new traversal techniques and Jedi abilities – it’s no surprise that Metroidvania comparisons have been bandied about. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by just how big some of these environments are when they fully open up, designed in such a way that begs you to have a poke around, but kept light thanks to a map that highlights areas you have yet to explore, can now access or are currently blocked.
The rewards for doing so aren’t massively compelling – unless you’re an avid trophy hunter or want to dress Cal and BD-1 up in various colour schemes and outfits. Still, they’re fun to seek out and often involve some optional puzzle solving with plenty of unlockable lore entries, as well as components used to modify Cal’s lightsaber. You are given a helping hand by BD-1, who’s often chirping away when there’s something new to scan, hopping off Cal’s back to point something out, or dive into a crate to find unlockables for you.
Say what you will about EA’s broad use of the Frostbite engine, Star Wars Battlefront and its sequel are still an incredible sight to behold. Fallen Order doesn’t have quite the same level of visual pizazz, though it’s evident Respawn has crafted this game with an abundant passion and a keen eye for authenticity.