Tuesday, May 28, 2024

First Play Review - STAR WARS Jedi: Survivor [2023]

After EA games failed to truly capitalise on their custodianship of the STAR WARS licence, they were almost too greedy to realise that single-player games (with no microtransactions) were demanded by a starved player base and would be successful in the right hands. The success of STAR WARS Jedi: Fallen Order in 2019 proved to Respawn's overlords that EA had managed to make at least one good decision before their exclusive licence would expire in 2023. The announcement of a sequel - STAR WARS Jedi: Survivor, heralded a welcome continuation to a fantastic original game. However upon its release in April 2023, the reports of bugs and poor levels of optimisation especially on PC prevented me from daring to try it; certainly not for the cost of a new AAA game that now seems to have been abandoned by developer and publisher before fixing it for everyone. One year after release with eight patches and some tech savvy precautions combined with the game's release on the standard €5.99 a month EA Play subscription created the perfect opportunity to see if the negative reports held true for me.

I'm delighted to report that I had no issue running the entire game on ultra visual settings settings with no upscaling at about 75-85FPS on average. I did install the game onto the OS drive as opposed to my normal video-game drive as per Steam user recommendations and I kept the Ray Tracing setting off as every user that has tried to run the game with RT (even with an RTX4090 GPU) has failed. There was some stuttering and hitching but no more so than any other game in recent memory and any FPS drops  were infrequent enough to not consider them a bother and certainly nothing like the woeful performance I've observed on the initial YouTube videos for the title. A single crash at about hour 36 of a 40 hour play-through was the only significant hiccup to a game I did not think I'd be certifying as 99% flawless.

I'd encourage any potential Jedi: Survivor player to play the original to both get used to the game play format of platforming, puzzles and combat before taking things to the next level, and as the plot is also a direct continuation, players who have played the original will have a more emotional connection to the characters. With that said of course there is a "recap" cutscene that will play as you begin the game to set the main story beats and there are plenty of tutorials to relearn some old abilities as well as when you learn new ones, but this is clearly the middle part of a three-game trilogy (with the final game already greenlit) so it's best to experience it as it's intended - after Fallen Order.

While the opening narrative also serves as your 'tutorial' gently spoonfeeding you new powers and abilities as you progress, the Cal Kestis you're playing is a seasoned Jedi Knight and practitioner of an array of force powers that you enhance as you level up. You have your lightsaber and some tweaked force abilities from the original game and as one would expect from a sequel, a whole lot more to discover. These include but not limited to new lightsaber stances, force powers (with mind-trick now), gadgets and some interesting abilities for BD-1. The saber stances are particularity cool given that your lightsaber is pretty much the only weapon you use and can now use single, dual blades, saberstaff, crossguard (like Kylo Ren's saber) and one where you use a saber in one hand and a blaster in the other - so uncivilised! As with how to use and level your powers, the choice is ultimately yours.

The Jedi games are often  given the label "Soulslike", a moniker I disagree with as the Jedi games are not RPGs, have no inventory and little resource management and chiefly, unlike From Software's games you can turn down the difficulty from way-too-hard for me to 'story mode' allowing you to experience the game more cinematically. This means you to cut down enemies easier and more fluidly while preserving boss fights to last long enough as an on screen battle with a named/foreshadowed character  and presents a far more enjoyable experience to multiple tries as killing the same boss. I could have done normal difficulty as I did with the original, but I was aware that this game was about 25% longer and I was on an EA Play subscription time-limit. Survivor also evokes the Metroidvania moniker as once again  you need to return to previously explored areas with new abilities in order to progress. Honestly it's more like God of War than anything else I've played.

Death is inevitable however, even on easy mode because as with Fallen Order much of the traversal over the beautiful and diverse level environments is jumping, somersaulting, swinging and wall running high above or over an abyss of death beneath you. One wrong move and you fall, die and respawn instantly back at your last solid ground. The sheer verticality of the the level design evokes many an old LucasArts STAR WARS game and it's welcome here as well as creating a sense of awe and vastness. The acrobatics are not just for traversal though, they're also for a vast array of puzzles some which will need some elevated strategic thinking as well as using combinations of force powers, timing and gadgetry to overcome. The more difficult puzzles are hidden and rewards are useful but optional. The true reward is the satisfaction of accomplishment as you complete them.

There are three main groups in the game at you will come into conflict with, obviously The Galactic Empire is still hell-bent on eradicating the Jedi at the Emperor's command so they'll all be trying to kill you with more or less the same toys they tried to in Fallen Order. Natural wildlife can be friendly like the cute Bogling (which you can pet) or unfriendly like the unfriendly-sounding Bilemaw which will try to roll on you to flatten you (if it hadn't already killed you). The third group is the most interesting, the Bedlam Raiders are a criminal group that have spent some time repairing an entire army of all the various models of Battle Droids found in the husk of a crashed Trade Federation starship which had crashed during The Clone Wars. The raiders themselves are not much of a threat but the Battle Droids loyal to them are numerous and deadly unless you're paying attention.

The story picks up about 5 years after Fallen Order, so is set in 9BBY in STAR WARS reckoning, the same year as the Obi-Wan Disney+ show and about a year before the majority of events in Solo: A Star Wars Story. By now Cal's original crew/friends have left and he's taken up with a new crew sticking it to the Empire. A series of unfortunate events leave him and BD-1 stranded on the remote planet Kaboh where they uncover a secret of the Jedi Order from the time of the High Republic initiating a quest that will take them, with some old friends and new, on an even grander adventure than before.

Final Verdict: STAR WARS Jedi: Survivor is an incredible iteration on Jedi: Fallen Order and a worthy sequel with better visuals, puzzles, character customisation, open-world exploration and secrets with an expanded array of force powers, gadgets and fighting styles all to enjoy as you pursue a twisting, turning, shocking narrative that rewards your time. Hopefully the third and final part has a smoother launch than this.

Technicals: 40 hours playtime though Windows 11 with RTX4070Ti @ 3440x1440. 75-85FPS

Bugs: Some stuttering, not significant. One crash at hour 36. One stuck animation when a bounty-hunter 'tazers' your character (changing lightsaber stance releases the animation - thanks Reddit).

Availability: STAR WARS Jedi: Survivor is available from Steam or the EA Store €69.99. Due to the chronic performance issues documented by multiple sources, the inabily to use advertised features like Ray Tracing and the current "mixed" rating on Steam. I would strongly advise against rewarding the abandoning of needed continuous optimisation or patching efforts by EA/Respawn since January 2024 with a full price purchase for this or future games. The game is available through EA Play or XBox Game Pass, which is a far superior and safer value proposition. Reviewed copy played through a 30-Day EA Play subscription in April 2024 for €5.99.

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