Okay, I’m going to preface this review of Star Wars JEDI: Fallen Order with a conclusion on the game: it’s a fun and sometimes frustrating game to play. It’s good, which I know is kind of shocking when talking about an EA game. At the same time… it’s a game that is also safe and very unoriginal in nearly everything it does. Nothing about it’s design, gameplay, or even the story is going to qualify as unique or innovative.
That’s not always a bad thing in a game… sometimes just executing on the polish is enough. You can level a similar argument with the game Horizon: Zero Dawn (though the plot in that is certainly unique, as are the enemy designs), where the mechanics of the game are all lifted from other games and polished to a shine.
There will likely be light spoilers to the game itself in this review, a lot of snarky comments, and meandering sections talking about video games and comics. You know, the usual stuff for me. For the record, we purchased this copy of the game for the PS4; it was not provided by EA or anyone else.
A (kind of) Brief History of Star Wars games
There was a lot of fallout from the Disney purchase of Star Wars, like the move of the mess that was the Extended Universe (EU) to the Legends label, cancellation of a lot of in-progress projects that Lucasfilm had been working on… and, sadly, the shuttering and closure of Lucasarts, one of the greatest developers of all time. While Lucasart’s record with Star Wars is, let’s say, uneven, and there have always been 3rd party games in the franchise that have a similar track record. But they were working on some new
That all changed in 2013, when EA got an exclusive license just a few months after the Disney purchase. On its surface, that should have been great news… EA owns Bioware, which has made two of the best Star Wars games ever made (and an MMO in the same vein that… exists). Sadly, though, Bioware has not done anything with the license outside of the Old Republic team, and the games were given to DICE and Visceral instead. Existing games that were in the pipeline, like 1313 and a Boba Fett game that might have made the character not suck, were killed off suddenly as well.
Visceral, may it rest in peace, was a curious choice… their experience was with the Dead Space series, which started great and then was just destroyed by the poison touch of EA. Things didn’t work well for them, and the game never saw the light of day and Visceral was shuttered in 2017, adding to the pile of dead studios behind EA headquarters.
For Dice, it worked a bit better… at first. Their first entry, Battlefront, a reboot of a classic series, was… decent. It was actually really fun to play at first, but balance issues and a monetary system where a DLC pass that cost almost as much as the full game was needed to keep playing it after the first months. It was multiplayer only, with no single player, and as soon as the first DLC came out, the player base cratered for it. A sequel followed… and let’s just say it was a bantha poo show. I’ve talked about it before, because EA has the worst business practices and the scheme was so odious with Battlefront II that it brought government attention and talk of regulation. Sadly, that has died down, but it’s only a matter of time until someone, probably Activision at this point, screws up and it all flares up again.
EA, multiple-time winner of the “Worst Company in America” award, leaned pretty hard into pointing out things like “single player” and “no loot boxes” when they did the full reveal for the game at E3. Of course, they never said “no microtransactions” or anything like that, just no loot boxes, but as of launch time, nothing has been added. Of course, they have absolutely patched in stuff to a game after release so they can get great reviews at launch and then turn the game to garbage with monetization a few weeks later.
Given the hugely negative response to Star Wars Battlefront II, it’s not hyperbole to say that this game had to absolutely be good, if not great. EA hasn’t really made a great since Titanfall 2 (or maybe Battlefield One… they came out very close to one another). Honestly, the best game they’ve done since then was Mass Effect: Andromeda, and let that sink in for a moment. I actually like that game more than a lot of people did, but it most certainly had a lot of flaws.
The time has now come, the game has released, and for the first time in years we have a single player Star Wars game.
A Tale of Two Gameplays
Let me just lay down what will be a big part of this review… this game does basically nothing unique or new. The gameplay is all cribbed from other games, sometimes almost wholesale. The story is derived from other Star Wars and feels like it was thrown into a blender with generic Sci-Fi tropes. In the end, JEDI: Fallen Order is a game that plays it safe and never takes a risk, for better or for ill. Not saying that just honoring an old game is a bad thing
The game is set in a post-Order 66 empire, five years after the Jedi were wiped out and the Empire created, and we’re seeing the aftermath of it. Unfortunately, that’s where a huge chunk of the non-movie Disney stuff takes place. The whole of Rebels happens several years after this game, and Solo likely happens within a couple years of it as well.
The Kanan, Thrawn, and the volume 2 Darth Vader comics happen here as well (Thrawn is average, but the other two are incredible series and well worth your time). Several of the newer books happen here as well. Basically, Star Wars happens either in the years between Jedi and Force Awakens, or between Revenge of the Sith and a New Hope if it’s not one of the mainline movies. There were 19 years, in universe, between the rise of the Empire and the Battle of Yavin, but seemingly only about six different stories that just keep happening again and again.
That being said… one of the things that never sat well with me, and obviously has never sat well with people creating Star Wars stories, is how effective the Empire was at wiping out the Jedi. There were supposedly 10,000 Jedi when the Jedi Purge happened, and that number was down to 2 by the time of A New Hope. So it’s a lot of tricks of former Jedi, people who were never elevated above Padawan and took trials, or had walked away from the order to make the world more rich and varied.
That’s basically what you have in the story here, which focuses on our protagonist, Cal Kestis… he of red hair and no other really discernible traits. As a red head, it was kind of cool to see, but I assume they just lifted it from HZD (joking… kind of) so we could have two video games where red hair played a part. The story is all narrative driven and open world, so you have no options for customizations, and that’s honestly fine, if boring. Like I said above… they’re going safe.
If you’ve watched Rebels, and you should, it’s fantastic and available in full on Disney+, a lot of the story and characters here will feel familiar. The antagonist at the start, Second Sister, is one of the inquisitors that we saw throughout that series. Even the whole story of our Padawan at the end of the war (which is revealed early on in what is actually a very cool transition device between train and Star Destroyer while our young lad dozes off on a train) feels very much like what we saw with Kanan – who is honestly about the same age as Cal is, his story in Rebels just happens later.
A big mid-game reveal, the identity of the Second Sister, really isn’t all that much of a surprise. That being said, where I will give them plenty of credit here is that the main characters we see, and there are really only a small handful of them, are all fully formed, unique, and interesting.
This is a 3rd person platformer game that’s a fusion of Souls-Lite combat (parry and dodge play a big part), while the environmental interaction is very much ripped off from the Tomb Raider reboot and the Uncharted series. Your character’s connection to the force is somehow “damaged,” which is used to explain away why he can’t do certain things… which, okay, I guess. You could have just said “he was a Padawan and hadn’t done that stuff yet” but I suppose we’ll go with damage.
There are really two games you’re playing here, the platforming part and the combat part. They never really intersect, and how your powers work is distinct between them as well. In combat, your force use is strangely limited, where you have to do the very Jedi-like thing of attacking and killing enemies to build it back up. Outside of combat, you can use it forever, all day long, but once there’s an enemy involved you are going to get 3-4 uses of a force power, in total.
As I’ve said, the platforming is strongly inspired by Uncharted, Tomb Raider, or likely, both. The issue, though, is that the script is flipped on its head, and don’t know that the designers were prepared for that. If you haven’t played them, and you should, they’re fantastic, the Uncharted games are basically “what if Indiana Jones was a video game.” Except that they’re not wrapping the character around the worst archeologist to have ever lived; Nathan Drake is in it for the money as much as the history. The platforming and puzzles are the primary draw, while the combat is a secondary focus (Uncharted 2 is a great game with some terrible shooting mechanics).
Here, the combat is the primary focus of the Jedi… he’s fighting the comically tyrannical Empire (I miss the days of the TIE Fighter games, when it was a lot more shades of gray in the Empire), and he will murderlate all of the Stormtroopers he has to in order to rebuild the Jedi order. Oh, and kill a lot of local wildlife and fauna so he can regain stamina to murder more wildlife, fauna, and stormtroopers.
The problem is that the combat feels secondary, or maybe on even footing, with the platforming. Worse, the platforming can easily get into frustrating territory thanks to the less than precise controls in the game. You can only wall run on certain surfaces, despite things looking very runnable elsewhere, and only climb on certain things, even though my fat butt could climb up some of the surfaces you just jump up and down in front of. Before you get the full (but small) complement of force powers, you’re going to be dealing with gameplay sections that seem like they were designed around having more of them.
And sliding… so much sliding down slopes that have terrain that the most Star Warsy planets in a Galaxy far far away look side-eyed at. Take the video above as a great example, where you have a big long ice slide (one of probably hundreds of slides) where you have to jump to grab a rope, swing to a climbable surface, to eventually get to a platform to wall run across.
The jankiness of the controls made this one of the most difficult tasks ever. I had no way to know the first time where to aim, so I was going to fall. After I fell, I tried to aim, only to discover a geometry issue that slowed down my fall or through me off course. Once I managed to aim at the tiny rope and swing, I had to time the jump exactly to fly and grab the vines, then remember to hit L2 so I would hang on, and climb up. There’s a gameplay flaw here… the character is a Jedi, but I am not… and it’s okay to design around that and make him a bit more capable.
Here’s the thing that I learned later, once I’d gotten a couple more powers… if you have the pull power I could have just pulled the vine to me at any point and grabbed on, then swung over to the wall. Later on you get a double/high jump, and I could have easily made the wall. The whole thing feels designed for those powers in mind, but I didn’t have them yet so it just means I failed a frustrating number of times.
That’s part of the bigger issue here, in how unlocking things that feel like they should be fundamental to part of the Jedi are locked behind story progression points. Cal never feels like a Jedi for a good chunk of the story, because all he can do is swing a lightsaber and sense Force echoes. It’s not until he gets pull where it starts, and honestly not until you finally get that double jump where it just all snaps together.
Conversely, there are times when the design feels just spot on and amazing. It almost always happens when you have something that requires a face paced move that ends up with you in combat with Imperials. The mechanic for this was lifted from Respawn’s Titanfall 2, which I’m all for, because not enough people played that wonderful game, and it somehow feels right at home for a Jedi to be doing crazy back and forth running on walls.
The combat part is broken down into one part that’s amazing, and one part that makes you want to smash the controller. When you are fighting the Empire forces, Purge Troopers, or the occasional AT-ST, it feels just fantastic. I love these moment, and enjoy when the game gives a lot of them to me. The problem is that combat in the game is equal parts fighting the bucketheads and fighting local wildlife, animals, and other things which are all inexplicably hostile towards you.
At best, these are a nuisance, but most of the time they’re just frustrating. Our padawan seems to have as much problem with creatures as a certain bounty hunter will a couple of decades down the line, and I easily take more damage from them than I do from a company of Stormtroopers. Part of the issue is animation jank; there’s a three-swing animation to most lightsaber attacking, and frustratingly, the 3rd one more often than not just hits air. It happens with everything, but it’s at its worst with the animals.
More than that… a big part of your defense toolbox, parry, is worthless with animals. So you’re doing a lot of running and dodging. The dodge mechanic itself has problems like this, since how a lot of the animal attacks work mean you are dodging different directions than you would in other fights, and it frequently puts you out of range to do a follow up attack. Plus, with the bigger things, like spiders, the horned ram things, and similar creatures, force powers do basically nothing. Smaller stuff you can push or pull, but the larger and more dangerous stuff just ignore them.
I’m not going to claim to be the best gamer, by any stretch. I’m good at certain types of games, but Souls-like and platforming games have never been my strong suit. I like to button mash and will take a mix of stealth and overwhelming power… neither of which are an option in this game. At no point in time will you be able to really sneak up on a group of enemies and try to take one out… you might be able to knock one off a ledge, but Cal is a “run into the line of fire” kind of guy.
The controls in combat are imprecise, to say the least. When it’s just one or two enemies, it’s fine… assuming you aren’t going to be attacked by animation sync issues, but in larger groups you’re going to have to do a lot of cheesing to get things under control. Getting the jump slam was simply a godsend, because it could stagger enemies just long enough to set up a proper combo attack. Still, more often than not, it felt like as much a matter of luck as it was planning if my strategy was going to work.
This fits into a larger problem with pacing in the game in general; I get why some reviews have called the game boring or slow… after a tutorial intro into the platforming, you get into some breakneck action to give you the feel for combat, and then gets painfully slow again while you wind through the first “planet” you explore. Like I mentioned above, the lack of force powers hurts this game more than the story needs. The Force is treated like a muscle that needs exercise, and I guess that’s fine, but they could have been improving what we see as Cal gets used to being a Jedi again rather than just breaking all his skills.
It’s kind of disjointed… the whole intro is a contrived way of pointing out how much platforming you’re going to do… your character is working as a scrapper and an elevator goes out, so you’re there jumping, climbing, and doing simply absurd things that no human would be able to do. The basics of the platforming system are super-human, but at the same time, you can’t do things that seem like they would make sense for the same character.
I mean, your character was a Jedi, so it stands to reason he could do something, but all of it feels so contrived, especially since the jumping around was probably more conspicuous than what the character ultimately does to out himself to the Empire. The weird thing is that there’s another way they give you tutorial stuff in the game that makes way more sense: flashbacks to your time as a Padawan.
It would have made so much more sense to just give us a reason that the character flashed back to some of his training… the climbing, the running, the jumping. Instead of making us do all the pointless climbing through a Venator being sliced up (though, fair play, that scrap planet looks incredible), just do a little, have Cal fall and bang his head, then give us some flashback of him doing the same training with his master. Like they do later on. It would have been more concise and, honestly, more interesting.
The way the story plays out with Prauf doesn’t need any of that climbing or wandering… it’s just setting up forcing your character to use your force powers, which happens in a few seconds. It could have been a short burst, but instead, you’re doing probably 30 minutes of work going through the level, climbing, and not really doing anything that will have bearing once you’re done with the tutorial. Oh, and while I’m thinking of it, the mechanic of forcing us to hit a second key (L2 on the DualShock) to “climb” after we’ve jumped on to a surface, which if you don’t do within a second or so, makes you let go and fall to your doom, can die in the fires of a thousand Mustafars.
Somehow the Empire is tipped off, on planet, and has it narrowed down to a dozen or so people within the space of what seems like 30 minutes. It’s a weird “universe is small” moment that makes you wonder if Cal had overplayed his hand before and already attracted attention, or if the Inquisitors had some weird ability to just detect force sensitive people. We know there are plenty of Jedi in hiding all over the place, though many were former members of the order or padawans, and they have effectively stayed hidden.
The easiest way to hand-wave around this is that the Jedi Order is gone, and those who survived dropped the Jedi name… but Force Users are simply a part of the fabric of the universe and nothing will be able to wipe them out. Complete aside, but I’ve always thought that someone should do a comedy video about Jedi that are doing lawn care and sculpture post-Purge. Mostly as an excuse to see someone do hedge trimming with a lightsaber.
The plot after the intro planet is somewhat predictable, as I’ve mentioned, but that doesn’t mean that it’s bad. I think that Respawn did a very wise thing in inserting some familiar, but not front-and-center, faces. One particular character who would be active at this time isn’t even named until late in the game, and we never see Chewie or Han show up. Intead, we get characters like Saw (Rogue One, Rebels) and Tarfful (Clone Wars, RotS)… familiar to big fans but not the eye-rolling “everyone is connected to the main cast” we got with back in the EU days.
Using the Inquisitors as villains, in particular, was a great thread to grab for the. The game pulls on things established in Rebels and expanded on in the comics to great effect. Since “everything released is canon” now, the events of this game fit into the greater picture, and it was clear that care was done to blend stuff together. The same is with the MacGuffin you’re chasing down, a holocron… it was something that was already covered in the first season of the Clone Wars cartoon. Past that, the “example” one that’s shown in a cutscene, with Obi-Wan’s warning to all Jedi, was seen in Rebels (it very well may be the exact same audio).
That’s honestly what differentiates this game, which didn’t take risks or end up being overly creative with the story it was telling, from, say, a movie like Solo… which if you haven’t noticed from my comments every time I bring it up, I hated. The connections here are loose, but familiar enough that it feels like you’re seeing a new story that just fits into the larger universe. In much the same way that I thought Rogue One was great (CGI antics aside), this can be a one-shot game or bigger part without disrupting the mainline story.
In short, this story won’t blow you away, but it’s not going to bore you either, and that’s something that is unique in a Star Wars game.
The Technical Side
So, I played this on PlayStation 4. I don’t have a Pro… in fact, my system was a launch-day system that sometimes feels like it’s barely clinging to life. There are pretty regular framerate dips and slowdowns that plague the game. None of them were so bad as you’d want to quit, but it’s clear that Respawn was pushing past the limits of the platform more than once. That’s kind of curious, given that Titanfall 2, the last single player game they made, also came out this generation and was typically smooth as glass on my Xbox One, which is a less powerful system overall.
Loading times, in particular, are painful. They’ve hidden some of them using what I’ll call the “Mass Effect Elevator Method,” sometimes in a very literal sense. In a few cases, it works, like with the Hyperspace sequences to take you to a new planet… but that gets weird with the insistence of the pilot always demanding that you get in a cockpit seat in order to finish the jump.
That’s not all, though. There are obvious pauses when you transition from interior to exterior spaces, especially on the gorgeous world of Kashyyyk. Worse, should you die, you’re looking at a 30+ second loading screen after respawn (seriously, that video above is what happens every time). Given the name of the company behind developing this, you’d think they’d be better at, you know, handling respawns.
There are other bugs that have been well documented which, thankfully, I didn’t run into. It’s possible to explore, which it encourages you to do in order to scan things for that sweet experience and skill point hit… and get trapped because you lack a force power. There are also a few bugs where interacting as a cutscene starts will make the game unplayable and knock you out of the scene but make you unable to move or advance.
As great as this game looks, a lot of that look is kind of fake. When I was streaming these to Twitch in order to capture video, Ace happened to pop in and watch an early sequence where I was sliding down a slope with a lot of debris and clearly clipping through the environmental elements. You will frequently see walls and think “I can climb that” or hit a wall to climb and fall right through the edge.
But when you hit the right moments with the visuals, and you see the background capture and immense scale that feels just… so Star Wars… you want to stop and just take it in. My screenshots don’t do them justice a lot of the time. Sometimes… the game knows how it looks and will force the perspective, but other times, you’re just running past something and stop to take a look. It’s something that so rarely happens in games these days that it’s just nice to have something that looks great and unique.
One of the weird things that often lands poorly in this game, besides grabbing vines that is, is the music. It’s using a very Star Wars inspired score… and when it hits right, it feels great. But often, you have music coming in that feels disjointed from the stuff that’s going on around you. It takes cues from the movies, and you’ll here little bits of Yoda’s theme, the Imperial March, duel of the fates… and often they don’t seem like they belong where they are at. The sad effect of this is that you often just tune the music out, because it doesn’t match what is going on… and that’s unfortunate for anything Star Wars.
What all of this feels like is that the game was simply rushed out the door. Between the lack of polish from a studio that has been known for it, the weird bugs, and some of the design choices feeling a bit half baked, it seems like EA might have forced this out the door before it was quite ready. Speaking of which…
The EA Problem
My feelings on Electronic Arts aren’t exactly a secret, since I posted about them multiple times. They, famously and publicly, hate single-player games. They abuse and consume studios, frequently shuttering them after spoiling their games and IP. There are great game series, like Dead Space, Mass Effect, SimCity, Command & Conquer, Wing Commander… made by great studios like Origin, Westwood, Visceral, and Maxis, that are all gone because EA gotta EA.
It honestly feels like EA wants this game to fail. Have you seen a commercial or ad for it? I’m certain they are out there, but they’re not infecting every YouTube video I watch like Battlefront 2 did. They didn’t hold giant release events for the game, and it showed up on a Friday launching against a new Pokemon mainline RPG. There’s a single comic tie-in, which I didn’t know about… and I read Star Wars comics! EA has not mentioned much in the way of post-launch support or follow-ups, or even really patching some of the performance issues or bugs. And let’s not forget this quote/threat from EA back in April…
If Gamers Really Want Single-Player Games, They’ll Have To Buy ‘Jedi: Fallen Order’
Look, here’s the reality: multiplayer has never been the problem in Star Wars games. My two favorite Star Wars games, Galaxies and Jedi Knight 2, were entirely multiplayer or heavily included it. The problem is bad multiplayer, specifically the live service junk that is infecting gaming, being the only thing. EA doesn’t want to make single player games because they are hard to monetize (don’t tell Ubisoft that, because they add so much garbage to single player games to do just that), and they will keep telling is lies to try and justify making nothing but multiplayer games.
This game feels rushed and pushed out… but there’s more than a few people who seem to be pushing the idea that we are obligated to buy it because it’s single player. EA has an exclusive contract, but they hate bad press and being called out for being the slimy and evil corporate cesspool that they are. Their bad behavior hasn’t changed because they made one not-terrible and not-unethical game, but they certainly want us to think it has so they can try and shove down another Live Service loot box thing because “single player doesn’t sell.”
I have no idea what Respawn did as a studio to get this sort of mistreatment from Electronic Arts. Titanfall 2 was a fantastic game that EA buried in their schedule against a Call of Duty game and their own Battlefield One. Apex Legends, Respawns apparently good entry into the Battle Royale genre (I don’t care for them, so I have no frame of reference), came out of nowhere, and was ignored until it started making money, and then promptly shoved to the back when that money started to slow down.
I have no idea when the EA contract expires, but hopefully Disney can see the goodwill that is generated here and either force the issue with what people clearly want in a product (which is what Disney cares about), rather than EA sticking to making what people don’t want in order to sell gambling mechanics in games. Their effort is to get people buying merch and seeing movies and shows, and this is exactly the sort of thing that can get people interested in their stuff.
Here’s the ultimate problem on this game, and trying to come to a conclusion on it. Am I scoring it against other recent Star Wars games? If so, no contest, 5/5 best Star Wars game in recent memory. The problem here is that there’s basically no competition… almost every game is going to come up roses against Battlefront II and… the nothing else that’s been made in the previous decade.
But if I compare this to other games of the same generation, Star Wars aside… this game is going to be good at best. It’s not bad, not at all, but it’s not blow-you-away great. If you’ve played Dark Souls, Uncharted 2, the reboot Tomb Raider, or even Respawn’s Titanfall 2, then you have played this game. If you’ve watch Rebels, read the comics, or followed the books… you’ve seen this story with different names.
I had a lot of fun with the game… but a lot of the time that went into it was more a concept of design than having a really long game. Yes, you’re going to get 20-30 hours (or more) of gameplay out of it, but that’s fit around maybe 10 hours of story gameplay, 10 hours of exploration, and 10 hours of backtracking to get back out from wherever you were trying to reach on some planet.
When the game puts Jedi and the Empire on the screen, it scratches that Star Wars itch in a fundamentally satisfying way, but so much of the gameplay doesn’t have that. The start of Kashyyyk is probably one of the most amazingly designed Star Wars action scenes ever done, on par with other titles like Republic Commando or the original Battlefront for capturing the tense action of a large fight. But every time you’re just wandering, climbing, or killing some variation of a Womp Rat, the game just grinds to a frustrating halt.
This is a beautiful game that has a distinct Star Wars feel and scale, and so often you’re going to just stop and look at what you’re seeing. The opening world, seeing all the old ships that are just being broken down, sends a shiver up your spine when you see the scale of the war that toppled the Republic – a war that they ostensibly won.
If the game would have picked a focus, either into the platforming or the combat, it probably would have been a game of the year – or even all time great. You can see that in the structure of what’s there. It may not have done a lot original, but for the most part, it grabbed good ideas, but technical glitches and shifts to the pace hurts it in the long run.
All things considered, this is probably the best we can get out of an EA game at this point; this is easily the best game they’ve made since… Titanfall 2, honestly. It’s beautiful, if unoriginal, and I love what Respawn has done here. I wonder what they could have done with a bit more playtesting time or time to polish out some of the bigger glitches, but there’s certainly a lot to love and enjoy in it. Respawn has made a game I want to play, in spite of some pretty glaring flaws, and that’s something to be lauded.
That being said, the performance stuff, combined with the fact that there are some real spots where the design gets in the way, make it hard to rate this game incredibly high. It’s well above average, good to maybe border-line great… but harder to justify at a $60 price. It won’t have a lot of replay value outside of the most hardcore, and the completionist content isn’t especially useful outside of a couple of small cosmetic things. Great if you want them, but none are overly notable.
It was really hard to set the final score on this review. If I just look at the first couple of worlds, and how bad some of the platforming mechanics play before you have all of your abilities, this game is going to be a three at best. Given how slow it starts, and how heavily it leans into some rather frustrating platforming, I wouldn’t fault anyone at all for just giving up and quitting at that point and rating this accordingly.
But when it starts to come together, you get more, and you’re focusing more on fighting the Empire and other foes, it inches higher to a four. We don’t give fractional scores, so I’m going to give it a bit of a nod for EA making a game that was actually fun to play, and round up, calling this game a four out of five.