Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Review - Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order [2019]


Not being a pessimist granted me some level of anticipation for this year's main Star Wars game - Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. First - it was to be a single-player game! This caught the attention of everyone due to the fact that Electronic Arts had done little with the Star Wars licence other than the Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO and multiplayer shooter Star Wars: Battlefront, and even damaged the franchise with Battlefront II's now infamous loot-box debacle which caught the attention of governments around the globe. Secondly, it would be a totally new game  - not following on from before or even prominently featuring known characters. It would be set much earlier in the "Dark Times" (post Revenge of the Sith) than Star Wars: Rebels. So the ingredients were there for some great storytelling of a Jedi on the run during the time of the Jedi Purges.

As much as I would have in the past for almost every LucasArts title, I was not about to drop a pre-order on this during the summer before a November release. While Respawn developers did create one of my favourite shooters Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare in 2007, and unlike Bioware did not yet suffer damage from EA meddling, EA had too much 'Dark-Side' energy built up not to warrant a period of observation after release - as well as a price drop - to determine if it was going to be worth it. Thankfully, it seemed like the results were favourable and Jedi: Fallen Order was going to be a success. EA confirmed that it was the fastest-selling digital launch for any Star Wars game within its first two weeks on sale and achieved a respectable score of 81 on Metacritic.

With a 15% sale before Xmas, I acquired the game and began an incredible 30 hour journey as a young Jedi Cal Kestis (Gotham's Cameron Monaghan) who encounters and teams up with Cere Junda (Wolfenstein and Call of Duty's Debra Wilson) her pilot Greez (Matlock's Daniel Roebuck) and Cal's trusty droid companion BD-1 (WALL·E's Ben Burtt). Together they embark on a noble quest to rebuild the Jedi order. As modern Star Wars games respect canon however, I knew it was highly unlikely to happen, but it's not about the ending, its about the journey and with a story created by Stig Asmussen (God of War III) Matt Michnovetz (Star Wars: Rebels) and the legendary RPG writer Chris Avellone himself, I was not disappointed.


The game slowly but surely instructs you, first in movement before introducing combat and force powers. The idea behind this is of course your control scheme is completely alien. Thankfully rather than leveraging the amnesia trope, here Cal has been hiding out on the planet Bracca scrapping old starships for raw materials, lying low and off the radar not using his powers - until the day he has to! Every so often sees Cal learning a new power like push or pull or ability like double jump and wall running, reconnecting with the force and further embracing his heritage. Thus as the player you are drip fed the new ability after a time you should be comfortable with all you have already learned.

The gameplay here seems to be a hodgepodge of other well known games. I've seen Tomb Raider, Uncharted, Assassin's Creed, Dark Souls and Sekiro mentioned for everything from the puzzles and parkour movement to the combat and resting areas with references to Metroidvania due to the need to often return to an already visited area after you've unlocked something or gained a new force ability or upgraded BD-1's abilities. In light of this, Jedi: Fallen Order won't seem very innovative with regards to games themselves, perhaps even derivative of the aforementioned and I'm under no delusion that this game would still be great if it wasn't Star Wars. I think the draw here however is the story, the sounds, sights and atmosphere. You are interacting with a world (worlds) in the aftermath of a great war. While The Empire is certainly in control, technological remnants of the Clone Wars are visible as are the remains of fallen Clone Troopers littering the landscape, grounding you in Star Wars lore.

Progress is steady and methodical. For every kill or new exploration discovery you gain a Databank (journal) entry for flavour and XP which eventually fills a bar netting you a skill point which you can spend on new survival, force or combat techniques to improve Cal's abilities as you progress. But don't wait too long before spending because if you're defeated in combat, you will lose the unspent points to your assailant and only by striking them again will you regain them, or instead you will need to retreat and gain XP elsewhere.

Honestly, the game is hard in my book. I eventually turned the difficulty down to easy mode because, hey - I'm old and I started getting a pain in my hand from the intensity of the lightsaber combat. There's no stealth approach, no mind-tricks or Obi-Wan style popping distractions like in many other Jedi-related games, the solution to every enemy encounter here is force push them off a ledge, parry baster bolts back to them or most often - slice them up with the lightsaber. Once you get used to it, it becomes second nature to jump feet first into EVERY situation and the pace of the game really only supports this mentality anyway so off you jump with reckless abandon.

Speaking of jumping, there's more jumping in this than Mario, and like him you'll fall a lot. Jedi Fallen Order's levels are very vertical in their design evoking the LucasArts levels of yesteryear. Falling damage isn't too punishing, which is good because you fall a lot. If there's a solid space that the player character can occupy, below you then it's likely you can just jump/fall down to it. However after a certain distance - or if there is just a void below you then you 'die' - but it's not the same as being defeated. If you fall you'll just immediately re-spawn a safe distance from same ledge you fell off. You will often mis-time a jump, or fail to catch a ledge or a rope or even go too far over the ledge while sliding down a ramp at speed - yes you will fall a lot.

I really enjoyed the puzzles in the game, and there are quite a few. Some require a single motion or moving something, while others require reflexes, mastery of the game controls and the realisation that physics rather than just colour or number exercises, are an acceptable way to approach puzzles in modern games. Some puzzles are a doozy and I'll admit that once I had to look up a solution to a puzzle and it was simply a matter of using not one, but two force powers on a platform - it had not occurred to me that the same geometry would have been differently affected by different powers (in my defence it was 3:30 AM and I took that as a signal to sleep).


Exploration is rewarded when you come across Force Echoes which allow Cal to experience a moment of the past using The Force gaining experience. Also you find treasure, which is only cosmetic and is found in storage containers. It will be one of a lightsaber custom part, a poncho design or a paint job for the ship or for BD-1. Some exploration reveals harder to find secret areas which reveal powerful Force Echoes which permanently increase your maximum Force energy pool or perhaps even more valuable - health canisters which increase the amount of total health boosts you can carry (Note: I got nine, but not the achievement which said I found them all!).

Graphically the game looks fantastic. I'm almost ashamed to say that this is my first Unreal Engine 4 game even though it's been in use since 2014. With all the enhancements Respawn had plugged into it, 4K frame-rate was a little below 40 so played at 1440p to maintain a solid 60FPS with full detail and it was worth it. Of particular note was the particle effects with rain and snow being very well modelled and combined with the realistic particle physics, it presented very realistic movement patterns. Reflective metal surfaces and flickering lights too seemed superior to those of the Frostbite engine which I had much more experience with. Also I was amazed at the quality of facial modelling and especially the lip syncing during NPC conversations. It seemed as good as any 3D animated TV or motion picture presentation today.

It would be remiss of me for not noting the multitude of enemy-types that you constantly kill during your quests. There are of course the indigenous denizens of each planet you visit, spider or crab like crawlies, slugs and rat like creatures are common as is the ability of many of the enemy types to range you or explode when they die - which 99% of the time is with a lightsaber melee attack so you have to be close - because of this you will get good at jumping and evading. The more common enemy however is The Empire and you'll be dispatching dozens of not hundreds of Stormtroopers, Scout Troopers and Purge Troopers (in their black armour) as well as Security Droids and Probe Droids with their distinctive electronic warbling that will have you looking about frantically to see where the bastards are!!

Speaking of sound, I've always felt like it must be an easy job to be the sound guy on a Star Wars project because the sounds of Star Wars themselves are so distinctive, you rarely need anything new. Many of Ben Burtt's original sound designs are here (or recreated here) but there is still a phenomenal array of sounds for the new locations, environments and enemies that Respawn did a fantastic job of adding. The voice talent as one expects with the involvement of Lucasfilm is top notch. In addition to the aforementioned actors we hear Tony Amendola (Stargate SG-1), Scott Laurance (Star Wars: Resistance) with Liam McIntyre (Spartacus) as Malicos and Forrest Whittiker as his Rogue One character Saw Gurerra. The music score is also noteworthy; Steven Barton (Call of Duty 4, Titanfall) and Gordy Haab (Halo Wars 2, Star Wars: Battlefront) blended their original music performed by the London Symphony Orchestra with established themes from John Williams to craft a powerful and evocative Star Wars score that is sure to make an impact on all who hear it.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order makes up for lost time in the continuation of video-game storytelling in the Star Wars universe which has been lacking for far too long. Whether 'Star Wars Jedi' continues as a franchise or if new single-player games can be green-lit and produced as well as this was then we can perhaps consider these "Dark Times" to be over. 

Side Note: I recommend playing in "Story Mode", especially first time out, as this makes it a more manageable cinematic experience. The enemies are weakened and less aggressive, the damage you take is less (falling damage is eliminated), and the parrying timing is more favourable to you. You can and will still be killed if you don't use all your abilities but unless you're solid at combat in Sekiro or Dark Souls you will likely break your mouse/controller in frustration at higher difficulty levels.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is available for the PC on Origin or Steam (Origin activated) for €59.99. Seasonal discounts have been observed on those platforms and on key vendors Green Man Gaming, Humble Bundle and Fanatical, resulting in prices from €49.99 to €52.99 approx.

1 comment:

Lieutenant General Creedon said...

I saw some confusion regarding "when" in the 'Dark Times' Fallen Order is set so I'll provide this:

BBY/ABY is the Star Wars reckoning system, meaning before, or after the Battle of Yavin.

19 BBY - Revenge of the Sith [Order 66]
14 BBY - Jedi: Fallen Order
10 BBY - Solo: A Star Wars Story [Majority of events(?)]
04 BBY - Rebels S1
01 BBY - Rebels S4
00 BBY - Rogue One/A New Hope