While EA’s Star Wars: Battlefront titles have kept sociable gamers relatively happy this generation, we’ve all been crying out for a decent single player Star Wars game for years now. The recent re-release of Jedi Outcast reminded us of how much fun it was to run around a virtual world with a lightsaber, slicing up NPCs and force pushing them off of ledges, but what we really wanted is a current-gen single-player game and that may have seemed unlikely with EA at the helm, what with their current ‘games as a live service’ business model.
But here we are just a week or two after Need For Speed Heat, looking at another EA game that has shipped in a state of completeness with no microtransaction filth stinking it up. You pay your money and you get a full game, with no lootbox nonsense. We’re not ready to praise EA for doing what they should have always done but we do appreciate the new strategy and in Jedi Fallen Order, what you get is a complete game and one where the story is given just as much emphasis as the gameplay.
It tells the story of Cal Kestis who was a young Jedi padawan during the Emperor’s purge, some point after Episode 3. He survived the cull that destroyed the Jedi Order and we find him as a young man working as a scrapper. This sets him up as a bit of an everyman kind of type. He keeps his head down, does his work and helps his friends and co-workers. His link to the Force is broken and he never finished his training but he’s young and athletic and so pretty much already has the agility and balance of a high level parkour practitioner.
The first chapter opens with him having to traverse the level using ropes, jumps and slides before his simple life is turned upside down by the appearance of the Second Sister, a Force-powered baddie who is hunting any remaining Jedis. One quick arse-kicking later and Cal’s licking his wounds and tasked with finding a Holocron, a small cube that has the names of all the potential young Jedis out there. This leads to lots of searching of various tombs, abandoned facilities and industrial areas on several planets as the game plays out across six chapters.
Along the way you’ll meet various interesting characters that you’ll team up with but the most important is BD-1, a very cute little droid that has several uses. Primarily it can dispense stim packs that heal you and it likes to scan basically everything you find, offering the information up as text if you want a huge chunk of additional lore to read through. However, BD-1 also gains new abilities as you go along and these generally help you to get to places. After a while BD-1 will be able to traverse up wires or hack doors and as Cal progresses, he’ll get access to new Force powers such as being able to push and pull objects, as well as the ubiquitous double-jump ability.
This all leads to lots and lots of backtracking as you go to areas that you couldn’t previously access in true Metroidvania style. If you want to just follow the main story, you’ll get 20 or so hours of game, but if you want to explore everything, there’s a lot more game here for you, especially once you’ve unlocked all the abilities. Unexplored areas are marked clearly on a map that BD-1 generates but as with the recent Doom remake, it’s one of those horrible 3D holo-maps that isn’t always easy to read, so exploring isn’t always all that enjoyable.
While finding your way around isn’t all that enjoyable, the way you get there is. Fallen Order has a very cinematic, flowing sense of movement to it. You’ll traverse vast distances by combining running, sliding, jumping, swinging and wall-running in a way that feels really satisfying. The controls are slick and the system is pretty forgiving so you do feel as if you’re moving in a deliberate but almost scripted way kind of like a mix of Assassin’s Creed and Sonic Adventure. The only downside is that it can all feel a bit too much like a game world with perfectly placed ropes and walls positioned in a way that only a Jedi could use. Quite how those lummox Stormtroopers get around is a mystery.
When you do run into those bastards, Cal’s lightsaber makes for some really satisfying combat. Sure, you’ve got the usual light and heavy attacks but the game places a big emphasis on blocking and parrying in a way that respectfully channels all of From Software’s recent work. This is something of a double-edged lightsaber though (hrmm!) because on the one hand people who aren’t Souls fans will enjoy the basic combat loads – you know, the running into a room full of Stormtroopers, slicing them up, deflecting laser blasts and turning everyone into sushi – but when you get into the boss battles, or indeed a fight with anyone who isn’t a basic enemy, then the Souls stuff kicks in which means you’ll have to rely a lot on dodging and parrying if you want to survive. Some battles in particular will break your spirit if you’re not that kind of gamer and we can imagine a lot of casual gamers picking this up because of the license.
The game does offer you a good selection of difficulty modes including a ‘Story Mode’ difficulty which makes the fights a lot easier so that you can just get on with the exploring and story but there isn’t a difficulty that really balances the basic enemies and the bosses. We did appreciate the options that are given but some user-customisation might have been welcome. Especially as EA tend to do a lot of that kind of thing in their sports games.
Of course, EA have absolutely nailed the look and feel of Star Wars here with some stunning visuals, excellent lighting and an authentic musical score and so fans of the series will be in their element but, as someone who likes the films but isn’t a super-fan, Fallen Order’s main problem is in the pacing. Imagine a good Star Wars film with some great set-pieces (and Fallen Order really does have some) and a great ending. Sounds good, right? Now make it 20+ hours long and in between all the good bits you have to navigate to the next screen which is probably in the woods or an abandoned building and you have to navigate using a map that is frankly a pain in the arse to look at. Now also imagine that every few hours you have to solve an incredibly tedious puzzle using switches, giant spheres and long cables. But without any real instructions oh and every once in a while a UFC heavyweight comes and beats you up.
That’s kind of what Fallen Order is like. You want to stick with it to get to all the really good stuff but you have to really dig deep to get through the bits in between. There was a giant sphere puzzle in Chapter 3 that literally made me want to uninstall the game and sell my PS4 and often I’d get to the end of a chapter and wrap it up for the night because each one is SOOOOOO LONG. However, I kind of blazed through the last couple of chapters because things were starting to get a bit more interesting.
In the end the tricky matter of Fallen Order‘s review score comes down to the kind of gamer you are. If you want a fun, linear action game but don’t like Star Wars, Souls-likes and a ton of Uncharted style exploration then this is pretty much a five.
If you’re that kind of person but enjoy the Star Wars thing and like lush visuals and brilliant setpieces then it’s more of a seven. And that’s where I’m at. I liked the game for what it was, I enjoyed the bits that were like Jedi Outcast and playing around with Force powers is always a lot of fun.
If you’re balls-deep in Star Wars films and know your way around Dark Souls and Bloodborne, then this is a potential game of the year contender. I’m still sure you’ll not absolutely resent some of the puzzles and that rubbish map but that won’t matter.
Ultimately, games are all about finding the sweet spot between doing things worth doing and seeing things that are worth seeing and Fallen Order does enough of both to make it a seriously good game. It’s one of the more impressive “triple-A” titles that we’ve seen this year and has enough cool moments to make it memorable but a large chunk of it seems to be figuring out where you are meant to go and solving insufferable puzzles and that’s a shame.. The combat is up there with the best Star Wars games though, the presentation is on point and the story is better than some reviews might have you believe so if you’re a Star Wars fan, this is a must-buy.
+ Great set pieces
+ Good characters and story
+ Slick movement
+ Good upgrading
+ Puzzles are a bit miserable and dull
+ Boss combat can kill the momentum of the game
+ Navigation can be a chore