Respawn Entertainment may just be my favourite developer of the current generation. Arguably, Titanfall 2 is the most complete and balanced shooter that exists to date, and what they managed to achieve with Apex Legends is nothing short of a miracle in a genre that was already so heavily occupied by two specific battle royale games. However, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is quite possibly one of the developer’s most ambitious projects. It perhaps didn’t do Respawn any favours that the amount of pressure to deliver a high-quality Star Wars game was like none other. After all, Battlefront 2 was heavily criticized (although not necessary due to the developers) and fans of the franchise are generally a demanding bunch. However, Respawn has delivered a game that not only feeds our desperate need for Star Wars content, but also helps send a message that there is still a market for single player games. Jedi: Fallen Order ultimately combines all the punishing aspects of Dark Souls with the creativity of Tomb Raider or Uncharted.
For those who have seen the Star Wars movies but do not know much else about its universe, you’ll be glad to know that J:FO is based between the events of Episode 3 (the birth of Vader) and Episode 4. The Jedi are practically extinct and those who are still able to use the force, are cutting ties with it. Palpatine and Vader have wiped out the Jedi Order, although somehow Cal Kestis (Gotham’s Cameron Monaghan) and Cere Junda have managed to escape the clutches of the New Order.
Characterization is not the game’s strongest suit. Cal is a nice guy who doesn’t really show much emotion. He is essentially, a typical Jedi who doesn’t have any personal motive to go after Order 66. None of his family died a vicious death, nor does he seem to be tempted by the dark side. Considering the high stakes, Cal seems extremely relaxed throughout the game. That BD-1 droid clearly keeps the guy sane! Cere, Cal’s mentor, is a slightly more interesting character, however is largely due to the fact that she has a deeper back story that is often central to the story. Even the main villain, the Second Sister, is more interesting than Cal. Having said that, every time I encountered I, I wanted to cry only because I just wanted to avoid having to fight her. Giving the antagonist some personality and reason for her insanity is perhaps the best move that the writers of the game made.
The superstar of the entire game however is BD-1, Cal’s best friend and droid. He’s a tiny bot that sits on top of Cal’s shoulders when he’s too lazy to walk. You can’t help but love the little thing; it’s cute, extremely useful in hacking and even helps you with clues during puzzle sequences. Whenever there is something around you that could require your attention, he will automatically jump off your back and go towards it, immediately signalling to you that there is something to interact with. The implementation of that system is perfect. Even his lights whilst he’s on your shoulder are a helpful reminder of your health status.
If anyone had to make a Tomb Raider game set in the Star Wars universe, this would literally be it. After all, you’re required early on to travel from planet to planet, raiding ancient tombs! The challenge is getting there, since it’s never a straight road. Whoever came up with the level designs probably needs to be admitted into a mental institute. They are horrendously intricate and they all require incredible amounts of focus. As you continue your journey, you often unlock new abilities to help you with the next part of the challenge. However, you’ll often remember an area from before that you couldn’t access, that you’re now intrigued to go back to. Exploration is a huge part of J:FO, perhaps the biggest. Every single planet has its own charm and its own style of puzzle. Some require you to activate and deactivate huge magnets, whilst others require you to be extremely precise with the timing of your actions as you’re sliding down a huge ice ramp whilst dodging limb-chopping motors.
Initially, every single planet will seem relatively small. In reality, when you finish a mission and go back to your ship, you’ll realise that you may have only uncovered 20% of the planet’s hidden secrets! There are a lot of abilities you need to unlock in order to access areas of a planet. If you’re a completionist, you’ll want to go back to all of these at some point. Each planet also has its own set of threats. Some might have more creepy crawlies and large animals that will creep up from under the ground, whilst others will be riddled with stormtroopers firing rocket launcher rounds at you. Those guys are complete scumbags. I’m one of those gamers who just wants to enjoy the story, however it is almost impossible to stay focused. Despite BD-1’s minimap directing you one way, if I saw a special door in a completely different location, I’d have to check it out. Trying to find hidden force boosts became an obsession of mine. Sometimes, you may even find better treasure in the form of health or force canisters (finding enough will help you boost your max health or force). Often, you’ll know if something juicy is hidden away since it will be guarded by a monster.
I also love that J:FO contains very minimal information on the screen at any one point. When you’re playing the game, 90% of the screen is your environment. You have your health bar at the bottom, but there is no mini-map plastered in a corner. You can bring up the mini-map whenever you want, but you can’t view it whilst travelling. Playing the game on a 55” 4K TV is simply breath-taking. As far as the actual gameplay goes, there is nothing truly unique about J:FO. Respawn has taken elements from Titanfall and Apex Legends to allow Cal to carry out wall-running, ziplining and climbing. The movement is extremely smooth and there is nothing more satisfying than chaining a bunch of these together. I also love the respawning – if you fall to your death, you will literally respawn from where you left off just before, although you will lose some health. If you completely lose your health, you respawn to the last meditation point. What makes J:FO different to Uncharted or Tomb Raider is your ability to use the force to break walls down, pull ropes towards you and even slow down time. All these abilities are unlocked over time however, so you don’t get them right away. Of course, you also have your lightsaber.
Action is by far the most satisfying, but also the most difficult aspect of the gameplay. The whole appeal of J:FO is that you can finally play as a Jedi, using the force and a proper lightsaber. Respawn delivers on this promise, but they don’t make it easy to wield one. You need to be able to parry, dodge, block and attack at the right time. When you have five stormtroopers all blasting lasers at you, you cannot block or parry them all. When you also have monsters simultaneously chipping away at you, your character becomes very vulnerable and will end up losing health quickly. If you miss a parry, you’ll often leave yourself open to being hurt. No matter who you’re fighting, every single enemy can deal damage to you if you don’t pay attention. There is no fodder to help you boost your force or skill meter. There is a skill where whilst running, you automatically deflect lasers. In areas where there are many enemies, I often found myself running around in a circle just to automatically parry the lasers back at the stormtroopers! Most enemies also have an unblockable attack (they start glowing red). In those situations, you cannot block – you simply have to dodge it or perhaps counter it with a force move. The enemy variety is plentiful and each planet will provide its own set of challenges.
Your journey across the planets will also have you opening plenty of chests. These chests will provide new parts for your lightsaber. This is an extremely welcome addition to the game. You can customize the look of your weapon – everything from the colour of light to the material it is made from. These changes are purely cosmetic. They don’t affect gameplay, but it’s great that you can even change the look of your lightsaber to suit your preferences.
A page taken straight out of the Dark Souls playbook is how the saving works. Throughout a level, you’ll encounter meditation points. These are the points you can save the game, but also where you can upgrade your skills (assuming you have points) or even rest. Resting will replenish your health and BD-1’s stim canisters. However, the catch is that if you rest, all of the enemies will also respawn! You therefore have to often decide whether you feel you can continue to the next meditation point without dying, or whether it’s best to rest and let the enemies (including those directly around the meditation point) respawn. It is truly an unforgiving system, but one that provides a fantastic challenge to the single player experience. If you’re killed by an enemy, whatever XP you since the last meditation point goes to the killer. You have to kill that creature/person in order to reclaim it!
Using the force also has consequences. You have a force meter, and every time you use it against an enemy, it depletes. It replenishes by killing enemies or just by harming them, but the meter drains so quickly that you cannot keep using it to push your opponents off cliffs. You’ll end up using it in extreme circumstances when you’re in trouble. Later in the campaign you will have a higher force meter, however the enemies will also get tougher. The skill tree is exactly what you’d expect in a standard RPG. It has a close resemblance to the ability tree system in Assassins Creed. There are three branches; one for force, one for combat and the final for health. You will earn skill points rapidly, however as the campaign progresses and you unlock new core abilities, additional skills become available to you as well. Therefore, it is wise to save your skill points for some of the later skills that you’ll be able to unlock.
The entire campaign will last you approximately 20 hours if you’re completing it at a steady pace, and perhaps 30 if you’re really focusing on the hidden areas. Fortunately, the finale consists of a tough and epic boss battle that makes the entire campaign worthwhile. As things stand, there is no multiplayer and I don’t believe there are any plans to introduce it. You’ll need to continue playing Battlefront 2 for your multiplayer fix, which is probably the right approach for EA.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order exceeded all my expectations. I expected great gameplay since Respawn was driving, however the narrative was promising, most of the characters had enough depth for me to focus whilst watching the cutscenes and most importantly, the entire journey was pleasantly challenging. If you choose not to follow online tutorials, you may even spend an hour alone trying to figure out a puzzle. For an inexperienced developer (in this particular field) to achieve that level of creativity is staggering. At this point, I am far from finding all the hidden items on every planet. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is exactly the game that fans of the franchise would have been waiting for. If Respawn doesn’t win any major awards for their accomplishments not just for this game, but for its contribution to gaming in 2019, then the awards are rigged. In the single player category, Jedi: Fallen Order could very well be a contender for game of the year.