Hands on with Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Hands on with Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Written by Eric Hauter on 10/17/2019 for PC   PS4   XBO  
More On: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

(Editor's Note: EA provided transportation to this event as well as lodging and food)

For a franchise as beloved as it is, Star Wars has something of a mixed track record. Though it is almost universally loved, it is an accepted fact that not every Star Wars film is created equal (though fan opinions on which films are “good” and which are “bad” vary wildly). And if there is one thing that the creators working in the Star Wars universe learn hard and fast, it is that fans will not put up with crap. Star Wars fans are a loudly opinionated bunch, and they will hand you your ass if they feel that your product is not up to par.

In the videogame space, Star Wars has an even lower hit rate than the films and television shows. There have been some bloody awful Star Wars videogames, and historically the franchise doesn’t carry nearly as much cache in the videogame market as it does in the film and television markets. In fact, it could be argued that EA’s last Star Wars outing was so off-kilter that the backlash unleashed in the wake of its release completely changed the landscape of gaming, how business is done and money is made, and what fans expect and will tolerate from a developer.

 

After a rather harsh course-correction at the hands of the severely riled-up gaming community, EA is again trying their hand at Star Wars, this time with renowned Titanfall and Apex Legends developer Respawn Entertainment handling the development duties. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is something of a throwback to the games of earlier generations: single player, offline, story-based and self-contained. In many ways, Jedi: Fallen Order is the game that Star Wars fans have been requesting for years.

We went hands on for about three hours with Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order at a recent event, and came away with the impression that the prickly Star Wars fan base (we count ourselves proudly among their number) will be pretty pleased. This is a game that understands Star Wars, and rather than attempting to wedge the square franchise into the round hole of monetization, Fallen Order instead focuses on delivering what fans want: story, characters, whizz-bang action set-pieces, and quality gameplay built around the strengths of the franchise.

Respawn was a natural fit for the development of a Star Wars game, and in many ways Jedi: Fallen Order feels like an extension of their previous work. Titanfall and Apex Legends fans will feel Respawn’s fingerprints all over this thing, from the prevalence of wall-running to the slick and engaging combat. But this is still Star Wars, and it is clear that Respawn did not simply slap new visuals on Titanfall II and call it a day. Jedi: Fallen Order feels lovingly crafted, from the unique (but lore-appropriate) designs of creatures and ships to the feel of your lightsaber flaring to life in an instant, cleaving through some local monstrosity that had the nerve to attack.

The portion of the game we played came from fairly early in the story. Cal - our young Jedi-in-training hero - has fallen in with a small crew, and is on a mission to find out…we don’t know…something important to the resurrection of the Jedi Order. Cere, a slightly older and more worldly woman, is clearly taking the role of Cal’s mentor, guiding him forward in his quest with counsel and suggestions. Greez Dritus, a portly alien pilot character, grumbles around about keeping his ship clean and delivers the group where they need to go.

We didn’t get to see how this team originally formed, but by the portion of the game I played, they communicate with an easy comradery, chatting on about their goals and destinations. The characters feel like Star Wars, meaning that they inhabit the fantastical world they occupy, while still feeling like people. No one in the most beloved Star Wars films is perfect; the characters have flaws. They hold grudges, betray each other, make bad jokes and execute on poor decisions. From the limited time we spent with them, the characters in Jedi Fallen Order fit right into canonical norms.

And the events that take place in Jedi: Fallen Order are most definitely canon. Several times at the event, we heard the producers of the game commenting on the responsibility of creating something that would live in Star Wars lore forever. This instigates an insane amount of curiosity as to how Jedi: Fallen Order will fit into the over-arching franchise storyline. While we know from the events of Star Wars: A New Hope that Cal will not necessarily be successful in rebuilding the Jedi Order, that doesn’t mean that his quest will end in tragedy.

There are enough pockets within the Star Wars universe that Cal could end up on the other side of the galaxy rebuilding Jedi temples with a gaggle of younglings, and Luke Skywalker et all would never know about it. Not enough of the storyline has been revealed to truly understand how this story fits in with the rest of Star Wars canon, but we were able to see that Jedi: Fallen Order does freely add to that canon, not simply sticking to well-tread characters and locations.

Our experience with Jedi: Fallen Order began on our team’s ship – The Stinger Mantis. While The Stinger Mantis is a new style ship not before seen in the franchise, the design fits right in with Star Wars. Cal and his team are deciding where to go next, and that choice is left to the player. Examining a small star map with a number of possible locations, we decide to go to Zeffo to pursue our…stuff we need. Interestingly, Zeffo is one of several available destinations at this point in the story, and the player is freely able to choose between them (though the folks at Respawn indicated that other choices might be too difficult with Cal’s current powerset in the build we were playing).

Zeffo is a new planet in Star Wars lore, a green world filled with waterfalls and ice flows. The Empire has taken up residence on Zeffo, having established a small base there. It is up to Cal (and the player) to enter this base, working his way past Empire defenses (and the local fauna) to enter a series of caverns hidden in Zeffo’s hills. Along the way, Cal will learn the motives of the Empire occupation, along with a lot of interesting local history.

At this point in the game, Cal has some simple force powers, but he is far from being a full-fledged Jedi. Armed with a lightsaber, Cal is able to reflect blaster bolts back at Stormtroopers – though not always with 100% accuracy. Cal has a force “freeze” move (triggered by the right bumper button) that can slow enemies down for a brief period (and can also freeze certain in-game objects, allowing for some minor puzzle solving).

Cal is also a champion dodger/roller, with the lightsaber combat relying heavily on Cal getting the heck away from whatever is trying to hit him. In fact, the skills that used while fighting with Cal were reminiscent of those developed playing an action title like Dauntless – heavy on reading your enemy and evading their attacks while looking for an opening. Battles are shorter, of course, but the combat felt similar Dauntless’ sword combat. There is some strategy involved, and button-mashing isn’t going to cut it.

When confronted with enemies, Cal can pull his lightsaber in an instant, and he is in command of some downright brutal takedown moves. Jedi: Fallen Order does not shy away from the damage a lightsaber can do, with Cal literally slicing some creature-type enemies clean in half. And while there aren’t any human decapitations, we did witness Cal execute some traditional Star Wars-style dismemberments. Hands are at a premium in the Star Wars universe.

Working through the Empire base will find players engaging in a nice mix of combat, platforming, and mild puzzle solving.  Cal usually sees Stormtrooper hanging out chatting in groups before they see him (their conversations are kinda priceless – big ups to the writing staff), so it’s easy to plan an approach. I found that taking out shooting baddies first was most effective, before cleaning up the more direct melee combat-oriented enemies. It should be noted that there is a wide variety of enemy-types, and some of the stormtrooper leaders are no joke. Fighting them one on one can be challenging in some circumstances, so we weren’t shy about running away now and then to kite bad guys over to us, letting us pick them off in smaller numbers.

Exploration is fun, and while planets are somewhat linear, there are enough split paths to allow for some secrets to be sprinkled about. Most secrets involve cosmetic customization changes, with Cal discovering new skins for his ship, his poncho, and his little droid buddy, BD-1. Other secrets involve Cal’s use of “Psychometry”, basically using the Force to feel an impression of past events that took place at a particular site. It is through Psychometry that Cal uncovers a lot of story details, eventually piecing together past events and using this info to complete quests.

In our playtime, Cal also discovered several components for lightsaber customization, which is accomplished at a station on board the ship. During our brief period on board, the only components we had available were a small widget that allowed us to convert our lightsaber blade to green (we immediately did so). It is unclear what effect more advanced lightsaber customizations will have on gameplay, and it is one of the features we are most excited about checking out when the game releases.

After working through the base, Cal descends into the tombs below Zeffo. Here, the gameplay takes a turn, focusing much more on platforming and puzzle solving than the more combat-oriented surface areas. In many ways, this part of Jedi New Order feels like Tomb Raider (but, you know, with the Force). Cal wanders about the tombs, solving puzzles and platforming around like a Jedi Nathan Drake. While some of the twists and turns in the caverns can be confusing, BD-1 supplies the player with a handy map, showing areas yet to be explored.

There were a few areas in the tombs that I was less fond of – primarily centering on Cal attempting to navigate some corridors that are filled with an overwhelming wind. While I didn’t mind the puzzle-solving aspects of trying to move objects about to affect the wind, I did not enjoy a few small areas where Cal had to attempt to make difficult jumps with the wind blowing him off-course. Falling removes a small amount of health from your total before resetting you at a jump to try again. I was low on health at this point – resulting in a cheap-feeling death after Cal plunged off of a pillar time and again.

Speaking of health and death, in general the HP/XP system in Jedi Fallen Order feels very well thought out and balanced. Cal starts each area with full health and two “stims”, which BD-1 administers on command. Once these stims are gone, it is up to Cal to find a meditation point (basically a save point), which are scattered about the environment. At these points, Cal can rest, effectively resetting his health and stims.

Interestingly, resting at meditation points also resets nearby enemies. I discovered this after a particularly difficult battle with a Tomb Guardian – a giant automaton resting in the tombs that attacks on site. Having failed to dodge fast enough, we were almost out of health at the end of the battle, so we decided to go cheese they system and rest before moving on. Jedi: Fallen Order was having none of it, simply resurrecting the enemy and forcing us to fight him again before progressing. At first we were irritated by this, before we realized that industrious players that don’t mind a bit of grind will be able to use this quirk in the game’s flow to take advantage of the game’s XP system and grind for skill points. Fighting the same set of enemies and repeatedly saving to reset them is a time-honored gaming tradition.

Skills that can be purchased with points range from special moves like an overhead strike to “improved stim”, which will restore additional health. Skill points also come into play with Jedi: Fallen Order’s unusual save system. Buying a skill with a point counts as a save. When you die Jedi: Fallen Order strips you of all of the XP earned since your last save, and sets you all the way back to the last meditation point used. At that point, you must work your way back through the world to where you died in order to “pick up” your lost XP. This Souls-lite system was unexpected, but works quite well under the circumstances.

In fact, almost everything in Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order works well. At this point, the game is highly polished, with nary a framerate drop or technical hiccup in sight. It seems as though every aspect of this game has been carefully considered to bring Star Wars fans an experience that will meet their expectations.

Fans should go into Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order with the knowledge that this team of creators is intent on bringing them something they will love, as opposed to something that will try to squeeze every dime from their wallets. EA and Respawn have done wonders here to restore the faith, and potential players should feel secure in giving them the benefit of the doubt. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is a fun and polished experience, with enough variety and depth to ensure hours of entertainment. We can’t wait to jump back onto the ship, grab our little droid buddy, and dig in for more.

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

Howdy.  My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a 45-year-old dad with four kids, ranging in age from 1 through 17.  During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs).  I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one.  I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.

My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then.  I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep.  Currently, I play on PS4, PSVR, PS Vita, 3DS, Wii U and a janky PC.  While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.

When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect.

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