Posted by William on May 4, 2020 at 12:07 AM CST
A long time ago in a convention center far, far away....

Admittedly, it was hard to have a lot of faith in Jedi: Fallen Order when it was officially announced at E3 2018. Respawn Entertainment CEO Vince Zampella sounded rather lifeless (well, it was E3) when he gave only small details of the then-upcoming title, set in-between the “dark times”; Episodes III & IV, shortly after the enactment of Order 66. No trailer, no gameplay, no release date, just the title and the promises that we would be wielding a lightsaber, and we'd "know more next year." Looking back, this was not the most exciting way to find out that we'd be getting a new Star Wars game.

The year 2019 came and with it much more information. At Celebration Chicago, the first trailer for the game dropped. It gave us more glimpses at a galaxy post-Clone Wars, new fancy-looking Purge Stormtroopers, and at the EA Play panel at E3 2019. The 15 minutes of gameplay footage made things look much more promising.

With The Mandalorian and The Rise of Skywalker due to drop in the final two months of 2019, Fallen Order sat proudly in-between as the release date of November 15th was revealed. The game also had a merchandise tie-in similar to Shadows of the Empire & The Force Unleashed. Hasbro made Black Series figures based on Cal Kestis, a Purge Stormtrooper (only attainable by preordering at GameStop,) and the game's antagonist, the Second Sister. Funko also released the same three characters in their signature POP bobblehead form. To cap it off, Microsoft joined in on the fun by releasing two bundles of the Xbox One X and S models with the game included! It was standard affair for a Star Wars game released post-2015, but hey, it was nice to see.

The day finally came. After work, I went straight to pick up my (Purge-trooper-included) copy from GameStop. After finishing up the painfully awaited second episode of The Mandalorian, my PS4 notified me that Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order was finally installed and ready to play.

The game takes place exactly five years after the conclusion of Revenge of the Sith. It's one of those stories wherein you don't have to understand all aspects of the lore to play it. Nor does it seem to have any significant impact on the events to come (which is unfortunate, but there's always the possibility of a sequel?) It's more akin to the Star Wars Story spinoff films, and that isn't a bad thing. It has all the themes that you'd come to expect in a standard Star Wars venture: friendship, teamwork, overcoming one's past, staving off the dark side, and standing up for what's right. The planets you visit, and the secrets you discover make the game feel more authentic to the rest of the saga. Gordy Haab and Stephen Barton's score gives a certain cinematic flare like other Star Wars games such as Dark Forces, the Jedi Knight titles, and The Force Unleashed games.

Of course, what good is a Star Wars game if you don't have a compelling protagonist? Cal Kestis's journey to complete his Jedi training as well as healing his damaged connection to the Force is a literal metaphor for the player's journey as he/she progresses throughout the game and gains more experience. Being a survivor of Order 66 and carrying the guilt of his master's demise has traumatized him, but it also develops him into a more robust character when, later on in the game, he sees past his guilt. Kestis is a shining example of Jedi throughout the majority of the Story, helping those in need where he can and overcoming many trials to fulfill his destiny.

The supporting characters are also great. Cere Junda makes for a compelling secondary protagonist as a former Knight who cut herself off from the Force after a tragedy caused her to tap into the Dark Side's power. Greez Dritus, the pilot that serves as the game's central hub, the Stinger Mantis, provides some comic respite during some of the game's darker moments and his stories while traveling from one planet to another are always entertaining to listen to. Of course, no ship is complete without a droid, and while the inquisitive BD-1 doesn't help much when it comes to the ship's maintenance, he serves as an accommodating companion while progressing throughout the game. Map progression, replenishing health, giving some tips if you're stuck on a specific puzzle, and finding secrets in the game's many cargo chests are just some of the things this little droid is capable of.

All of these characters are brimming with personality, and all are brilliantly voice acted. Throughout the journey, Kestis meets up with more memorable characters such as the Dathomirian Nightsister known as Merrin, Rebel extremist Saw Gerrera, & the Wookiee Chieftain Tarfful. He also confronts his past through the spectral form of his old master, Jaro Tapal, and faces off with the deadly Second Sister, the once-Jedi-turned-Inquisitor under the command of Lord Vader himself.

The level design is one of Fallen Order's biggest strengths as well as one of its drawbacks. There are few planets in the game, but they're filled to the brim with discoverable secrets, sprawling pathways, challenging but fair puzzles, and plenty of enemies to farm experience from. The platforming sections are fun and are even more exhilarating when you unlock the wall-running and double jump moves. When you visit a planet for the first time, you can only progress up to a certain point as some sections are locked away because you don't have a specific ability. It's a classic design choice that adds much replayability to the game, and once you've unlocked said ability, an entirely new section of the planet opens up with even more things to discover and explore. The game heavily encourages exploring, but unless you've played the game before, you aren't going to grab every single little thing the first OR second time, which leads to what I think is one of the game's negatives: the backtracking.

The planets are a lot of fun to explore. Still, having to come back to one because there were three or four secrets missed in the very lower levels of the planet can be frustrating. Trying to get back to the Mantis is exceptionally annoying, partly because there's an astonishing lack of shortcuts. Zeffo and Dathomir especially were absolute nightmares to navigate.

The game's saving system (scattered throughout the game in the form of meditation points) makes things less of a headache. By not only acting as a hub for upgrading Force powers, based on experience, but the player also regains health, bacta stims, and Force meter. The catch is it respawns any enemies you had defeated before entering, so hopefully, you'll be ready to fight as soon as you rise.

Speaking of "enemies you had defeated before entering," the combat system is a strength that has to be addressed. Of course, a Jedi's greatest ally second only to the Force is the lightsaber, and Fallen Order emphasizes that much. When you start the game, you'll have a single-bladed saber that will undoubtedly get the job done. It can block/deflect blaster bolts (assuming you have enough Force in your Force meter), and a well-timed block can parry a melee attack from a Purge trooper, Scout trooper, a KX-series security droid, or the deadly Inquisitors. However, depending on your choice to go to Dathomir early on or play through the Story further, you can upgrade to a double-bladed lightsaber. Completing the game with a single blade is entirely possible, but the double-blade will be your best friend against large groups of enemies or a barrage of Stormtrooper blaster fire. Play on late enough, and you can also separate both halves briefly for some powerful dual-wielding attacks. The lightsaber variety adds some spice to the combat, and it can make for some pretty sweet combos should you choose to utilize the full arsenal. Be mindful of your Force meter, though!

The boss and miniboss fights in Fallen Order is where you put your skills to the ultimate test. The difficulty only increases as you progress and unlock more abilities, so by the time you confront the more difficult bosses towards the endgame, you should be more than prepared. See, that's what I'd be writing if the difficulty levels on these bosses consistently & fairly increased for the entire journey. They didn't.

Now I don't know if it was because I sucked at the game, but the one-on-one fights seemed to act as a rollercoaster in difficulty. During my first playthrough, I was having trouble with Oggdo Bogdo, the giant frog you encounter on the first explorable planet, Bogano (and judging by the rest of the internet's reaction, I know I wasn't the only one.) It only got worse once I got to the dreaded Dathomir, which is unlocked as soon as you complete what needs to be done on Bogano the first time. The Rabid Jotaz, encountered early on this deadly planet, using a combination of quick melee attacks that were hard to telegraph, and the combination of the hordes of undead Nightsisters trying to eat my face didn't make things much more manageable. Once I got what I came for (the double saber), I hauled it back to the Mantis as quick as my controller would allow me.

Things seemed to be more lenient when encountering the AT-ST and the security droids on Zeffo. Running into the bounty hunters on that planet and having to fight in the Haxion Brood arena was where the dark side began to call because it was an entire gauntlet of all the creatures you had faced in the game up to that point, including everyone's favorite frog and the Rabid Jotaz. Despite this, I wanted to stay true and complete the game all the way through on Jedi Master difficulty. After going through many (very annoying) Scouts, Purge troopers, and stormtroopers with rocket launchers, I faced The Ninth Sister, which ended up being the most enjoyable boss in the game for me. Her bigger size made her a predictable target, and it was refreshing fighting another Inquisitor that wasn't the Second Sister.

The rogue Jedi Taron Malicos, who fought during the THIRD visit to Dathomir (imagine my rage at this point), was probably the worst boss in the game. Since he's a rotten duelist that likes to hurl unblockable chunks of the ground at you, and also use two separate lightsabers that make it near-impossible to predict his attack patterns. Nightsister Merrin has a change of heart and "assists" during this fight, although I use that term very loosely here because she's BARELY ANY HELP AT ALL! She's supposed to hold Malicos in place, so you can score some hits on him. Still, 90-95% of the time when she does that, you're already halfway across the arena zone because you were trying to dodge the rocks. By the time you get up and catch up to Malicos, he's already broken free of the hold!

Still, as bad as Malicos was, he PALES in comparison to the final fight of the game, which was…. Oggdo Bogdo! Just kidding, it was the Second Sister. For the fourth time. Now, throughout the journey, I was able to keep a level head. Still, when it came to the final fight with the fallen Trilla Suduri in the depths of Fortress Inquisitorius, I ultimately succumbed to the dark side, by lowering the difficulty to Story.

Cere's former apprentice throws everything she has at you in the hopes of turning you to Bantha fodder. A shockwave you have to double-jump over, a flashbang that impedes your vision, or a Force-grab that leads to her buying the rest of your health before a deathstroke. She also likes to summon a probe droid that you have to time your deflections back at while trying to dodge her at the same time, and if all of this didn't sound fun enough, she doesn't lower her guard at all and can reach you across the arena faster than you can say "karabast!" Oh, and when you die (which is bound to happen unless you are Force-sensitive in real life), her health completely replenishes. How delightful.

The last complaint I have for the game was something I had hoped to not have to complain about: the performance. As previously mentioned, I've been playing the game exclusively on the PS4 Pro, and it, unfortunately, seems that a lot of issues just didn't get ironed out before release. These include: stuttering and lag even with the game's "performance mode" (which limits the resolution to 1080p in exchange for a smooth 60 fps), T-posing enemies, constant game crashes, textures looking muddled, excruciatingly long loading screens, and, on multiple occasions, enemy A.I. would just get confused, and either run into walls or give up fighting me completely. The game wasn't completely unplayable because of these, but a major Star Wars title that's this buggy left a bit more to be desired.

Most of this retrospective has sounded mostly negative, so let's end on a positive note. The first two E.A./DICE-helmed Battlefront games, while both great in their own regards, hadn't put much emphasis on the thrill of being a Jedi Knight. All I wanted was a good, modern Star Wars game where you get to wield a lightsaber and use the Force. Despite my misgivings, Jedi: Fallen Order delivered what it set out to accomplish. It told a compelling story that kept me hooked and had *mostly* great gameplay to accompany it. Plus, the recent addition of Photo Mode has helped add two gigabytes worth of captures to my PS4's hard drive. Respawn has crafted a game worthy of standing with the most legendary Star Wars games of days past, and alongside Battlefront II's amazing comeback and the upcoming release of Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, the selection of Star Wars video games available right now are becoming very varied.
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