After watching a few seasons of The Mandalorian, I was in the Star Wars mood. But while Disney seems to be launching a new premium series like a stormtrooper that ineffectively blows up the protagonists, it will be several months before I get anything new. So with a big discount and a $ 10 coupon, I bought Jedi: Fallen Order on Stadia.
The game was released last year with slight praise, like “this is the best Star Wars game for a long time.” But next to games like the legendary Greed Exercise that was EA’s Battlefront II, it wasn’t exactly a high bar to cross. Still, I was craving a few lightsaber battles so I sat down and got to WHOOSHing.
A little longer …
Fallen Order does a lot of work to organically fit into the loose canon of the Star Wars universe. It opens a few years before A New Hope, where we see Jedi padawan and Order 66 survivor Cal Kestis lying low, working in an Imperial dump. When forced to use the Force to save his pal, the Empire sends a squad of Jedi hunters to investigate, and a small group of rebels save him from a discount (and female) Darth Vader.
On board the very cool Rebel ship, we meet Cere (pronounced “Seer”, as Star Wars doesn’t do subtlety), yet another Jedi survivor who has severed his connection with the Force. She pays the shipowner, a fuzzy four-armed and wise guy named Greez, to transport her around the galaxy in search of a USB stick full of information about Force-sensitive children. Once Cal gets his own Star Wars-branded droid, a little sonic robot parrot that hangs over his shoulder, our setup is complete: racing around a handful of planets, following a trail of breadcrumbs to beat it. ‘Empire up to the children’s list.
While it’s nothing groundbreaking, the story of Fallen Order is surprisingly good. Cal’s journey from a conscious, haunted young man to a full-fledged Jedi makes sense organically thanks to liberal backstory shards, which also unlock new traversal abilities. And I also found myself invested in Cere’s story: why would she cut herself off from the Force? The personal drama is much more compelling than the lore, which is about the graves of a lost civilization – more or less an excuse for sprawling level design.
They gave some seriousness to some very talented voice acting (Gotham’s Cameron Monaghan and Shameless Fame providing the voice and likeness of Cal) and some really good facial animation. I wouldn’t have expected it from developer Respawn, previously known for Call of Duty and Titanfall, but the faces are expressive and subtle, even when they’re not human. I was happy to see the villainous non-Vader take off her helmet, if only so that the actor’s performance was not wasted without a face to express.
That said, the story can’t help but end with a bit of depreciation, if only because it needs to fit in with the rest of the Star Wars universe. When you start a pre-New Hope story about “reviving the Jedi Order” it’s not a spoiler to say that in the end of the day, the status quo hasn’t changed much.
The highlight of the game for me is lightsaber combat. Fallen Order has often been compared to Dark Souls, which is fair, as saving your progress fills your health bar and resurrects all enemies. But the combat itself is much faster and smoother, with your magical laser sword providing both attack and defense to deflect melee attacks and blaster lightning.
Like Dark Souls and its modern contemporaries, you need to approach combat with caution and thoughtfulness – just stepping away from the different flavors and creatures of stormtrooper will quickly leave you as a Force ghost. Keeping, parrying, and choosing your moment to strike are all essentials, not to mention positioning and crowd control in the toughest fights.
While the number of enemies able to block or charm the Lightsaber is a fan’s belief, this cautious and deliberate approach to combat is engaging. This is more or less the opposite of the messy power fantasy seen in The Force Unleashed or Kyle Katarn’s “DOOM with a Lightsaber” outings in the Jedi Knight games. It’s as close as I’ve ever seen a game make you feel like a Jedi, practicing skills rather than just unleashing magic. Even Cal’s most powerful unlocked attacks are balanced with a limited pool of Strength (mostly stamina).
Oh, and since Dark Souls was raised: no, the game is nowhere near as difficult as this association implies. I struggled a bit with the final boss, and its flashing and you’ll miss timing forced me to a wired connection to compensate for Stadia’s generally invisible lag. But even newcomers to this type of fighting won’t be too intimidated with lower difficulty levels.
The twisty story allows you to explore some new planets alongside some familiar Star Wars locations, like Dathomir and Kashyyyk. And of course, a few recognizable faces from the movies appear. But the “planets” are in fact only “levels”. They are big, although they don’t appear that way at first, with a few branching and intersection paths structured by traversal methods.
As the game progresses you will open up new areas of the levels with new Strength abilities and digital upgrades for your droid. Suddenly getting access to places that were previously cut is thrilling … but going through half a level you’ve already seen isn’t, especially since you’ll rarely find anything useful in previously inaccessible corners. A new paint job for the ship or a new poncho for Cal is hardly worth exploring these levels.
And exploring was my least favorite part of the game, if only because its physics can be very temperamental. I often knew exactly what to do, but the game was loath to let me do it, as its Uncharted-style climbing and jumping set pieces require you to get it right. I wasted an hour on a little piece of a puzzle, and was annoyed enough when I gave up and searched for the answer on YouTube, to realize that I understood it right away and that the engine of the game was simply stingy.
Inconsistent jumping and climbing is a glitch overall, and you can get through these sections with a little patience. At the very least, they rarely play a role in combat, which allows the best functionality of the game to shine through in the dark parts.
At the time of writing, Jedi: Fallen Order is only $ 24 on Steam, Epic, and Stadiums, and you can often find the Xbox and PlayStation versions of the game at a discount as well. It’s also part of the EA Play and Xbox Game Pass subscription services, effectively making it free if you already pay for one.
While not a life-changing innovation for Alderaan, either in Star Wars storytelling or in the action-adventure game, Fallen Order is a solid adventure set in a familiar universe. And surprisingly, it’s free from the microtransaction nightmare you might expect from an EA Star Wars game. Aside from a few additional cosmetics and a feature creation in “Deluxe Edition”, the game won’t bother you with additional purchases.
Veteran gamers and souls alike might find it tame at lesser difficulties, and Metroid-style exploration is hampered by delicate physics. But Fallen Order easily has the best lightsaber fight of any Star Wars game, bar none. This alone is worth a look if you’re a fan of the franchise. And if you like games, you probably have something playing them. You can purchase Fallen Order for Xbox, PlayStation, Stadia, or PC through the Epic and Steam stores.