Jedi: Fallen Order Preview
Suffice to say the force is remarkably strong with this one. I trust I’m not alone in proclaiming it, as my expectations were far exceeded upon playing Respawn Entertainment’s Jedi: Fallen Order. Based on the E3 2019 demo, I believed the claims of Metroidvania, Dark Souls, and Uncharted influences were a bunch of mumbo-jumbo. The crazy thing is, it’s true. The exploration, challenging combat, all of it. I have much to say about the mere sliver I played of the game, but I’ll begin with the declaration that Jedi: Fallen Order is the single-player Star Wars adventure we’ve been waiting for.
Fallen Order presents the tale of Cal Kestis, a former padawan who spent years in hiding following Order 66. In an attempt to save his friend, Cal exposes himself by using the force in the presence of the Empire. Now a known fugitive, he joins a scrapping crew and embarks on a valiant mission across the galaxy as he learns the ways of the force.
In Respawn We Trust
Respawn’s talent is ever-present, as the unity of satisfying gameplay progression and compelling narrative grips you like a force choke. While I’ve only experienced a couple of hours, I’m already invested in Cal’s history and mission. Cameron Monaghan (Shameless, Gotham) has seemingly given a stellar performance. His outgoing, courageous spirit reflects that of other famous protagonists like Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan, and his comradery with crew members Cere Junda and Greez Dritus is a lot of fun to experience. I can’t disclose much, but there’s tremendous depth to each of the characters I’ve encountered, and I can’t wait to witness their stories unfold.
Cal’s mission propels him across the galaxy in the Stinger Mantis, a ship equipped with a garden, meditation spot, and lightsaber crafting table (more on that later). Most notable is the ship’s holo map enabling you to select planets to visit. During my demo, I traveled to the snowy planet Zeffo in search of an ancient tomb housing secrets pertaining to the mission.
Planets are akin to Crystal Dynamic’s Tomb Raider series and Soulsborne games but include many elements that set them apart from the fold. All the features those comparisons suggest are present, including meditation spots allowing you to save your progress, replenish health, and invest in your skill tree, secret areas, shortcuts, collectibles, platforming, and puzzles. Unique to Fallen Order is the ability to manipulate your environment with the force. From slowing the propellers of a wind turbine to cross a valley to breaking through barriers with force push, there’s an abundance of areas with unique platforming sequences on Zeffo alone.
Exploring the planet reminds me of a Soulsborne world. The environment itself is a character, rich with new lore, creatures, and enemies to encounter, all of which are logged with bios in an encyclopedia you build throughout the game. Exploration is strongly encouraged, and I found it to be worthwhile as I was repeatedly rewarded for venturing off the beaten path. Some pathways are blocked until acquiring specific abilities or upgrades, giving reason to revisit planets for additional quests and discoveries.
Traditionally, I tend to detest puzzles in action games. I admire some from the Prince of Persia franchise, but most make me groan. The good news is this is Respawn, and if their games are anything, they’re incredibly fun to play. There are many puzzles in Fallen Order. I discovered a few on Zeffo, some optional, others mandatory. Fortunately, none detract from the pace of the game. They require you to use everything at your disposal to solve them, not unlike shrine puzzles in Breath of the Wild. I genuinely had a lot of fun conquering them and was handsomely rewarded in tackling the optional ones.
One of the most critical tools in Cal’s arsenal is his personal holo map of each planet. Similar to Doom 2016, the map’s presented three-dimensionally, providing you a clear sight of where you’re at, available doorways, pathways to explore, and your main objective. I believe there’s no better way to design an in-game map, especially when exploring worlds with great scope and depth.
Before getting my hands on the game, I’d hoped at the very least Fallen Order would feel divine to play. Respawn’s jump from FPS action to third-person adventure is mechanically seamless. Controlling Cal in traversal is as brilliantly smooth as running and gunning in Titanfall and Apex. You feel entirely in control while wall-running, leaping gaps, climbing, rope swinging, sliding, and using the force, and it’s especially gratifying when combining them all in a sequence.
Combat features that same satisfaction. At long last, I can confidently state we have a nuanced lightsaber combat experience in a Star Wars game. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had fun in games like Jedi Outcast, Force Unleashed, and even Revenge of the Sith, but Fallen Order is unequivocally the chosen one.
Quick attack, heavy attack, block, parry, force powers, dash, and dodge roll are your basic mechanics. Throughout Zeffo, I battled a variety of stormtroopers, creatures, and other enemies unique to the planet, all of which presented their own challenges. You can’t simply swing your lightsaber wildly and hope to prevail. Enemies are adept, and they’ll viciously retaliate. You possess a stamina bar that depletes while defending oncoming attacks and a force gauge that’s replenished by attacking. The parry mechanic is highly responsive and useful for quickly taking down enemies in large groups. Some attacks can’t be blocked, indicted by a red glow, prompting you to avoid them with a dash or dodge roll. While I only had slow and push at my disposal, force powers are great for mixing up the action, from pushing enemies off cliffs to slowing them when you’re overwhelmed.
You require a fair amount of stitching up after taking riot control batons and blaster rounds to the face. Your faithful droid, BD-1, stores your health stims. Tapping Up on the D-Pad heals you instantly, but your stock is limited. To restore them, you must rest at a meditation spot. However, doing so respawns every enemy you’ve killed. The Soulsborne and God of War inspirations are clear, and I love it. While you can unlock many combat abilities that add depth to the experience, the core mechanics aren’t quite as deep as a game like Sekiro. If you aren’t diligent, enemies can be brutal on the standard difficulty setting. Fortunately, Fallen Order features multiple difficulty options catering to those seeking an easy-going adventure and for others craving punishment.
Blast Them Storm Troopers
All of this being said, combat is an absolute blast. Deflecting blaster rounds back at Storm Troopers has never felt more satisfying as you manually block each shot. Swinging your lightsaber, clashing with enemy weapons, and defending attacks feels smooth and intense, and controller rumble enhances the sensation. Like many, I’m a bit disappointed by the lack of dismemberment. Chopping Storm Troopers to bits is absent, but it’s open season for planet creatures. You can slice Scazz in half and sever the horns of goats. Dealing damage overall isn’t quite as visceral as I’d hoped, but it doesn’t remotely hinder the fun of combat.
As stated by game director Stig Asmussen, “Fallen Order isn’t about being a Jedi, but becoming one.” Narrative and gameplay work beautifully in conjunction. Cal’s a padawan learning the ways of the force in his journey of becoming a Jedi master, so progression writes itself. Your skill tree is broken into three categories: Force, Lightsaber, and Survival. As you may expect, the force branch enhances your force abilities, lightsaber unlocks new skills and combos, and survival increases your overall health, stamina, and BD-1’s abilities. Skill points are earned through experience gained by discovering new areas and defeating enemies. As Cal’s confidence grows throughout the story, so does your’s as you learn new abilities and master the mechanics. It’s one of the aspects I loved about Titanfall 2’s campaign, an inexperienced but courageous protagonist overcoming the odds and becoming a warrior.
I’m an aesthetics junkie. I need to look good in video games. I’m the guy who’ll equip an inferior piece of gear in an RPG just because it looks cool. Thankfully, Cal’s appearance, lightsaber, BD-1, and the Mantis can all be customized and have no effect on gameplay. All customization materials are discovered within the planets you explore. You can alter Cal’s flight suit and poncho, and BD-1 and the Mantis’ paint jobs. I love those aspects, but let’s be honest, we’re all here for the lightsaber. You can alter every detail of it, including the color, emitter, switch, sleeve, and material on board the Mantis at your personal table, or at any workbench discovered on planets. Not only is Respawn presenting us with exceptional lightsaber combat, but enabling us to tweak the design of it to our heart’s content.
The Force is Stong
Fortunately, Respawn was able to continue avoiding the powerful but dreaded Frostbite Engine with the development of their third-person action-adventure title. Fallen Order was built in Unreal. I’ve sung its mechanical praises, and I harmonize it with admiration for its presentation. I played a chunk of the final build on a powerful PC. Lighting and physics particularly stand out, with impressive graphics and animations. It looks great and sounds even better. Heavy winds, the atmosphere, creatures, weapons, and your lightsaber all sound excellent and make for an immersive experience, not to mention the stellar score.
One of my favorite moments from the demo is the AT-ST boss fight concluding the main quest on Zeffo. It reminds me much of a Zelda boss, as you capitalize off of just learning the force push ability. It’s a small detail, but having the pilot crawl out of the downed walker and continue attacking me was just awesome. I’m confident it’s one of many cool details we can expect to encounter in the full game. I love Star Wars, I love video games, and from what I’ve played, Fallen Order is poised to be a glorious amalgamation of the two. I’m unabashedly stoked. For more on Jedi: Fallen Order, stay tuned to COGconnected as we have additional content on the way, including a video interview with developers.
***Travel, accommodations, and access to preview event provided by EA***