The games revolving around the Star Wars lore have always been reputed to be a hit or miss, but have nevertheless tried to replicate the experience of being in the world of George Lucas’s space operatic world, from the numerous planets and its alien inhabitants to the militaristic struggles between the Rebels and the Empire. Far and few in-between are the games that actually dive into the deeper, open-ended canon of the Star Wars lore, much like Knights of the Old Republic. Most of its games have centered on the icons and characters that made the Star Wars legacy known. It makes this latest entry into the franchise, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order by Respawn, possibly one of the franchise’s best entries into Lucas’s sci-fi world.
Surviving Order 66
Fallen Order puts the players in the reins of Cal Kestis, a young Padawan in hiding as a scrapper in the junkyard planet Bracca. The game is set following the events of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Though most of the Jedi have been annihilated following the execution of Order 66, a number of Jedi and Padawans like Cal went in hiding while the Empire has continued to expand their influence and territory. After a manhunt initiated by the Inquisitorius, led by the Second Sister, Cal is rescued by the Mantis Crew composed of former Jedi knight Cere Junda and Greez Dritus. Still with the Inquisitors hot on their tail, Cal Kestis goes on the journey to reconnect with the Force and complete his Jedi training. Along the way, Junda convinced Cal to join them in restoring the Jedi Order by retrieving a Jedi Holocron bearing a list of Force-sensitive children still alive in the galaxy.
The game’s setting shows exactly how a post-Order 66 world would be, a bleak galaxy under the grasp of the Empire’s tyrannical rule. But it also sets up the perfect moment where heroes can rise up against a common enemy. This is how Cal’s journey develops from a life lived in fear to a rise to power as a budding Jedi Knight. Fallen Order also poses itself as a welcome interpretation of the Star Wars world outside of the Skywalker Saga with its vast open worlds, countless flora and fauna, and memorable new characters.
The lore surrounding Fallen Order is a bit more nuanced compared to the other Star Wars games of the current generation thanks to the journeys Cal makes in the world at large. However, the overall plot of the game feels a bit lacking and too forced at the beginning. Cere and Greez do provide guidance to Cal in his newfound journey but the early moments of the game felt more of a fetch quest for the story’s Macguffin. The first couple of planets will feel like trudging through the game with a forced and overly simplistic approach that makes exploration a bit boring and tiresome. Fortunately, the game does pick up during the later parts as Cal’s bond with the Mantis crew deepens, especially with Cere Junda. This is where Fallen Order shines as a legitimate addition to the Star Wars canon: more than just ultimately embarking on a quest to take down the Empire, the deepening interpersonal relationships and filial bond between everyone in the Mantis becomes the core of the story until its end.
A Show of Force
Jedi: Fallen Order is unlike its action-adventure predecessors. The game does not heavily focus on combat, and does not even throw random waves of enemies along Cal’s way just to break lull moments. Fallen Order attempts to balance exploration and combat through different the different worlds Cal drops in. Map exploration is integral to uncovering the secrets and story behind the game. Littered around the planets are different points of interest, like items, hidden boss battles, interactive points containing bits of lore, and even fun cosmetic upgrades.
Worlds are vast and impressively detailed. With every visit, it shows how Respawn paid attention to the planets’ designs and preserves how the canon originally perceives it. Planets like Kashyyyk and Dathomir will immediately be recognizable to most fans. The Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk has been a common setting for previous Star Wars games, but Fallen Order successfully makes exploring the planet still unique even for veteran Star Wars players. Even Dathomir’s familiar look and feel from the Clone Wars will feel a sense of nostalgia and curiosity exploring its rocky caverns.
Here’s where Fallen Order begins to have its similarities to From Software’s games like Dark Souls and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Exploring the areas requires a bit of backtracking between worlds. Puzzles and locked doors often open up shortcuts and access to the deeper parts of each planet. The vast maps will often be left with unexplored or inaccessible areas in its first runs until such a time that a Jedi skill or a key item would be obtained. Meanwhile, the maps have defined areas where a set of monsters or enemies are stationed. Unfortunately, planet-hopping would sometimes feel like a chore, especially when retracing Cal’s step to unlock other parts of the map. Having to run around lengthy parts of the map and kill the same waves of enemies with every visit is a common, frustrating side effect of Soulsborne-like games such as Fallen Order.
To Answer Power with Power
While exploring and backtracking will take up most of the game time in Fallen Order, combat has not been largely ignored. In fact, it’s safe to say it takes pointers from Dark Souls and Sekiro too. It’s hard not to make comparisons, especially with Sekiro, with the combat style that Cal employs. While Soulsborne games often employ hit-and-run tactics through copious amounts of well-timed dodge movements, Fallen Order requires the player to be conservative with rolling and instead focus the timings on parries and counterattacks. This is especially evident with the presence of a Block Meter in place of the Soulsborne-style Stamina Meter. Though dodges are welcome, there’s a palpable moment of delay before Cal recovers from it, leaving him vulnerable for a quick attack from enemies, which makes the move more of a last resort like breaking away from an unblockable attack or sidestepping to reposition Cal. Further, the Block Meter shows Cal’s limit in shrugging off enemy offense, and is often easily depleted if the player is not careful. The resulting effect is always a stunned Cal and often his untimely demise. Likewise, wearing away at a target’s block meter can also spell a momentary stun for them. Meanwhile, the game is set up that well-timed parries are rewarded greatly, often with high damage counterattacks or instant kill opportunities. But its main difference with Sekiro’s parry feature is its ineffectiveness when button-spammed, a well-known tactic that allows the player to trigger the parry without having to wait and time the landing attack. Respawn took notes and left short delays in between parries to eliminate the move’s rapid successive use. Fallen Order forces the player to rely on careful observation and right timings rather than cheesy tactics to win battles. It certainly increases the challenge, especially when encountering multiple enemies, but can also be tiring and stressful when trudging along backtracked worlds.
It’s not a Star Wars game without Force powers too. Expectations should be tempered though. Fallen Order is a far cry from predecessors like Star Wars: The Force Unleashed with its opulence in Force usage. The game’s Force powers ties in with how Cal attempts to reconnect himself with the Force. Given that his connection is somehow strained and requires a bit of training and meditation, Fallen Order’s skill system is put in place to serve as Cal’s method of improving and strengthening his Force usage. Fallen Order succeeds in giving the players an in-depth look at how a Padawan training to be a Jedi Knight is done through its skills and training. It’s realistically palpable and fits well with how the story progresses. Trudging through the game won’t require players to learn all the skills, though. Most of the passive are incremental upgrades to Cal’s combat prowess, and depending on the player’s combat style, would only need a few paths to learn apart from the required Force powers.
Cal’s ensemble of Force powers are nothing like the Jedi and Sith icons we know. None of the insane powers, like Force Lightning or the Jedi Mind Trick, is seen in the game. Instead, Cal’s skill tree is filled with practical combat maneuvers and basic Force powers, like Slow and Force Push/Pull. Most other skills are passive and improve his movements like lightsaber handling, blocking, and evading. Combined with the combat scenes encountered in the game, Cal becomes a formidable Jedi with his eclectic mix of parries, counterattacks, and Force usage. More importantly, Fallen Order highlights Force usage as an integral part of Cal’s combat with a number of opportunities, like pulling/pushing enemies out of the way, plunging targets into ravines, or throwing explosive drones toward a mob to name a few. There’s a natural feel to Cal’s moves when taking advantage of the parries and Force powers in combination, which, not only gives the player agency to make full use of the game’s environment, but also reflects how Cal progresses in the story as a Jedi.
Still picking up from Soulsborne games is Fallen Order’s concept of death. For every death, the screen boldly displays “RESPAWN” as its own callback to the developers. Upon death, all exp and progress can be retrieved from the monster or enemy that last killed Cal. Meditation points serve as the player’s respite from battles, but just like Soulsborne games, it also respawns every enemy in the map. It restores Cal to full health, and recharges his health stims, and like Soulsborne games, it serves as a double-edged sword. This is one of the more frustrating features of Fallen Order (and of other Soulsborne games): respawning enemies put a hamper on map progression, while also serving as a means to character progression. It’s up to the player to balance out this feature, which thankfully, is a bit more forgiving in Fallen Order in terms of game difficulty.
Rebuilding the Order
Another thing notable with Fallen Order is the caliber of actors in mocap. Cal Kestis is being portrayed by Cameron Monaghan (Jerome Valeska in Gotham), while Cere Junda is mocapped and voiced by Debra Wilson. Unfortunately, Cameron’s portrayal of Cal Kestis sometimes comes off as stiff and lifeless, especially during tense moments. He has laudable moments though, especially with his wit and smug humor as he interacts with most of the characters in-game. Debra Wilson’s Cere Junda outshines everyone with a certain aura of vibrance and wisdom fit for a former Jedi Knight serving as Cal’s mentor throughout the game. Plus, many of the characters in Fallen Order show a degree of complexity based on the story’s development. Without spoiling anything, even the Second Sister, who serves as one of the game’s primary antagonists, is nuanced beyond its expected Sith influence.
Perhaps the showstopper of the game is Cal’s personal droid, BD-1 (short for Buddy Droid). BD-1 shines in Fallen Order with the many functions it’s been given. The buddy droid serves as a break from the story’s bleak monotony with moments of comedic interactions with the rest of the Mantis crew, especially Greez. More than that, the droid also serves as the player’s interface for items, map, and environment scanning and hacking, making it an indispensable part of Fallen Order. With the latter, BD-1 scans monsters to populate a bestiary compendium. And it’s not just filled with lore or images of the monsters, but also includes hints on additional strategies in battling said monsters. Even the map is integrated into BD-1 as a holographic projection, which is still usably detailed with various easy to understand markers.
Overall, Fallen Order looks and feels impressively like a part of the Star Wars universe. Worlds are detailed, and maps don’t look overtly linear in its exploration. There are a lot of secrets and bits of lore to uncover, and areas to backtrack and unlock, which gives the player a lot of time to spend in game. Monsters and enemies, just like the Soulsborne games, each have their distinct AI and movesets for the player to observe and counter against. Environments are highly interactive, with breakable or scaleable areas. Perhaps, the only gripe in this game is how severely underpowered the lightsaber is when it comes to carving off objects. The lightsaber is canonically powerful enough to cleave through the thickest of obstructions, but Fallen Order obviously downplays this, which makes Cal unable to simply slash his way through everything. Obviously, there has to be limitations in place, just like with other Star Wars games, but having to wield a watered-down lightsaber sometimes takes the fun out of a Jedi power fantasy.
Rise, Jedi Knight
Fallen Order falls squarely in a place where both Star Wars and the current gaming landscape in general is lacking: a worthy single-player experience. It’s been so long since we’ve had an action-packed, Jedi power fantasy game like Fallen Order. While Star Wars Battlefront may have whet the appetite of fans with large-scale battles between the Empire and the Rebels, Fallen Order takes up the mantle as one that extends the current Star Wars canon beyond the movies. Respawn certainly lifted a number of features from Soulsborne games and distilled it to fit the experience of Jedi Knight action with finesse. This eclectic mix of lore-heavy plot, likeable characters, and challenging gameplay certainly puts Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order in the seat of must-haves for any Star Wars fan.