It was until the end of 2019 when the Star Wars franchise was blessed with another game that truly deserves to be part of the Star Wars universe. The last good Star Wars game I played was Bioware’s Knights of the Old Republic – and that was 2004! There were a few others in between and I may have played some. None left a lasting impression though, or otherwise I might still remember bits and pieces of them. And what did players get in recent history? Battlefront is what comes to mind. Well, it may have the Star Wars branding and characters and weapons and sounds. But to me, Star Wars is about a science-fiction fantasy story, a fairy tale if you will. I am not interested in a multiplayer shooter when I think about a Star Wars game. I am interested in an adventure and an adventure is what you get with Jedi Fallen Order. Is it a good adventure? Well, that is what I am here to tell you about.
Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order is a story driven, 3rd person action adventure. You play as a young Jedi that is hiding on a scrap planet until one day the Empire arrives and turns his life upside down. From there you fight your way through imperial troops, wildlife, and some zombies. Kind of.
Although this is a linear game, the levels are not. They are laced with jump’n’run passages and complex architecture and require you to do more than just walk through doors and Jedi the crap out of everyone. It is very reminiscent of Tomb Raider games, only upped by a notch, to a point where I feel it is too much. What I mean by that is that, to me, the level design and architecture is complex for the sake of it, not because it makes for a believable world. The developers wanted to create a world where you as a player are required to constantly evaluate your surrounding and find the way. You can rarely just walk from corridor to corridor, open a few doors and climb some ladders. The levels are challenging and for my narrow mind this conflicts with the urge to move forward and learn more about the story. I want to progress at a nice pace and this complexity is clearly in the way. This is a very personal perception and I understand the appeal in this kind of design. Just be aware of that if you are interested in this game.
There are, however, a few elements that I feel are objectively annoying. Jedi Fallen Order is laced with quite a few jump and run passages where the margin for error is so incredibly small that you need to be almost perfect to master them. Many times, you do not even see where you are going until you are halfway there. This results in many deaths and a lot of frustration.
Speaking of frustration: as cool as the lightsaber battles are, the enemies are as challenging as the level design. If you do not get your timing right and learn your enemy’s movement patterns you are in for some pain. Unlike in other games and embarrassing superhero TV shows, a group of enemies does not just stand around and attack one after the other, like waiting in line until your number is called. Enemies surround you and attack simultaneously. Enemies also come in multiple varieties and close combat and range enemies attack you at the same time. The game requires you to be on guard constantly and be aware of your surroundings. If you are not careful, you might just fall off a cliff. This game does not protect you with an invisible barrier from slipping off the edge. You must do that yourself.
Another thing that differentiates this game from many others is the fact that there is no fast travel. If you are hours deep into a map and need to return your ship, then you must find your way back on your own. This is where thorough exploration can help you out by unlocking shortcuts, making it faster to get from A to B. The earlier you realize this, the better for you.
Exploration also helps you find more secrets and character improvements. The first come in crates and yield cosmetic upgrades in the form of colors for your light saber, your clothing, or your little robot. They change your appearance but not your stats. If you are like me and do not care a bit about this, then this part of exploration feels rather unnecessary and pointless. Character improvements can be obtained by finding secrets. These are special “echos” that Cal can sense, and they give you more life and more force. You will also find stims that replenish your health. This is the most important reward of exploration and something I totally messed up. At the end of my playthrough I had four such stims, and I have heard that you can get up to ten. This, of course, also feeds into the difficulty of the game. Unfortunately, the game does not tell you anything about this and so I assumed that was it. Guess I was wrong. It is required that you take your time and look at all places and even go back to planets and find those secrets that were inaccessible to you before, because Cal lacked the required Jedi powers to open the paths.
I think I have already established one thing: Jedi Fallen Order is challenging on all fronts. “Challenging” is not enough though. I would say this game is hard. Other game’s “Hard” mode is this game’s “Normal” difficulty. As a stark contrast, the “Easy” mode is laughably easy. But it is easy in a way that makes it almost boring. The difficulty does not only affect damage taken and dealt, but also modifies the behavior of your enemies. They are way, way, way more passive and attack only once the moon is up, the clock hits eleven and you perform a moonwalk on the spot. I think altering the damage and block timing would have been enough. So, either you choose “Boring” or “Hard” or “Harder” or “Masochist”.
Taking “Normal” as the baseline, when you combine that with the enemies surrounding you, you are in for a treat – if you like it difficult. It is required that you master your blocking and evade at the proper time and do not get greedy. It is paramount to be patient and stay on guard and on the move and thin out the enemy’s forces one by one until no one is left. There is no mindless dashing and slashing. That will only get you killed. Being trigger happy only works in “Boring” mode.
I noticed one thing that I find a bit unfair. In my opinion it is almost impossible to break an enemy’s attack pattern (talking close range here), but the enemy can do that to you. That is a rather huge disadvantage. Additionally, many of the human enemies are so fast that it is often almost impossible to get enough distance to inject yourself with a stim pack. This action takes a moment and you cannot dodge or roll while you do it. Either heal or evade. Cannot do both.
Story & Characters
Jedi Fallen Order has a limited set of characters and that is a good thing. You are not overwhelmed with too many names and faces to remember and this way the game is able to focus more on the existing ones. You have a pilot, a mentor, who was a former Jedi, a couple of arch nemesis and, the best of all, a little droid named BD-1. Where the other people in your band of Jedi friends are likeable enough, the relationship between Cal Kestis and his little droid is the absolute highlight. Imagine loving a dog and there you have it. This droid is so cute and incredibly loveable. Through constant interactions between Cal and BD-1 your hero really becomes a person you can identify with.
At first, I was a bit apprehensive if a young dude is the right choice. I was afraid that he was presented too cocky and self-confident. I know it is a cliché, and I try to always keep an open mind. But my fear was unfounded, and Cal Kestis is an incredibly good cast. The other two play their role nicely too and are opposite enough characters to make for a nice journey. Greez, the pilot, is probably the most “controversial” one and I did not really warm up to him too much. Through the part of the journey I came to dislike him less and less. Other players on Youtube have a different opinion and as is usually the case with character traits, it all depends on your personal preferences. Cere, the former Jedi, has a history and is more nuanced than Greez. She is alright, I guess. There is another crew member once you are near the end of your journey and I liked that character best. The others play their role nicely, but on a personal level I did not warm up to them at all. But that is okay. It does not take anything away from the setting and the story. After all, this is just my personal opinion.
Now that I am done with gameplay let us discuss how Jedi Fall Order presents itself to you. I must say, this game looks and feels and sounds like Star Wars. The graphics quality is not the most spectacular one, but it is on point and it just looks Star Wars. In my opinion, you must enable Chromatic Aberration, Film Grain and Motion Blur to get the best effect. Then it really looks like Star Wars. It is not only about the technology though. The art design is spot on as well. Everything just looks right. The different planets, the enemies, the ships, the imperial star fighters and structures, the blaster shots, lightsabers, everything.
On top of that, add the perfect sounds and music and voice acting. The soundtrack is incredible. Every time the music kicks in you immediately feel the Star Wars atmosphere. I cannot say enough good things about the whole thing. I really enjoyed the complete audio-visual experience. It was a blast. There is not much more to say other than it is amazing. This is a game that requires a decent audio setup to enjoy. An average set of small desktop speakers will not do the game any justice. You either need some powerful active monitors or a quality set of headphones to get the best experience. In some games it is enough to merely have some random speakers, so you hear something. This game is not in that group.
Overall, I am a bit torn. In general, I really want to like it badly. It has so many good things. On the one hand, now that I know how the game mechanics work and what awaits me, I would like to go back into this world and do it right this time. I would like to finish the game at least on “Normal”. I have played large portions this way, but for some difficult sections and most of the boss fights I had to drop down to “Easy”. But then I think about the annoying jump and run sequences and overly complex level design and start to hesitate. Or that the game is (gently) forcing you to explore and find secrets that give you absolutely nothing 90% of the time. Colors for my droid, how exciting. I can imagine adding some more defensive and offensive stats to the stuff you find so you can improve armor and attacks. Not a complete RPG system, mind you. Just something that makes it more interesting to find the crates.
The same goes for the skirmishes where you are attacked by a group of five to six enemies. I do not really want to spend minutes dancing around them because their blocking ability is so perfect, and they swarm you with amazing speed and determination. I am wired this way. It is inefficient and I do not like inefficient. It may also have to do with my skill or lack thereof. When in doubt, the problem is probably between keyboard and chair holding a controller.
But then there are the good things. Lightsaber fights are cool. The animations and finishers rock. Finishing off 10 Stormtroopers that are firing at the same time simply by blocking and redirecting their shots back at them is sooooo cool. You can even redirect rockets with a Force push and blow up whoever sent the rocket your way. Not to mention the many funny comments troopers utter during the skirmishes. For example, something along the lines of “I hit the Jedi! Why did I do this?”. Or, one of the stronger enemies after you have eliminated all his friends boast that “they were only holding him back”.
BD-1 is great. The visuals and sound are spot on. It feels so much like Star Wars that there is no way around liking it in one form or another. Not to mention the absolutely amazing ending with a very special special-guest.
At one time, tiny little spoiler, Cal has to rebuild his lightsaber and, in the process, he automatically learns a new skill that lets him split his light saber into two and perform a very powerful attack that way. This section is so energizing. Not only because your hero regains new hope. You see him wielding the two lightsabers and that immediately inspires enthusiasm in you as a player. Add to that the great and perfectly matching music, that you cannot await the first encounters where you can try out the new lightsabers. And you do not have to wait long, and boy were those fights fun. I cannot say why, but I mowed through large groups of Stormtroopers with ease – on “Normal”! It was so invigorating and rekindled the urge to continue.
The developers even put some thought into details like how to handle cut scenes after a death and respawn. They are skipped. How delightful. The game does not make you watch it all over again every time you go back and try to fight a boss. Just run back and try again. Neat.
Now, this is a long verdict without a verdict. Let me try and write a short one. The game is good. But you must understand what you are getting into. If some of my pain points are also your pain points, then you may want to think twice before buying. If you are someone who thrives in games like this, then go ahead and have fun. There is a lot to be had.