The Force Goes Back To Sleep
HIGH Deflecting a blaster bolt back at the guy who fired it.
LOW Cal is the worst.
WTF An actor forgot what accent he was supposed to be doing.
For years, EA has been sitting on a potential goldmine with the Star Wars franchise, and until now all they’ve managed to do with it is get multiple governments involved in possibly regulating in-game gambling. So, despite any issues Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order might have, the fact that it even exists is progress in and of itself.
Granted, publishing a story-driven single-player game – with no microtransactions! – seems to have been the extent of the risk that EA was willing to take with Fallen Order. Borrowing liberally from Dark Souls when it’s not engaging in extravagant triple-A excess, developer Respawn’s strategy was to apply a familiar license to things that have dominated the mainstream space for years. Fallen Order is often pretty and occasionally enjoyable, but it is never once interesting.
That lack of ambition is most immediately apparent in its protagonist. We play as Cal Kestis, a Jedi who’s in hiding after the Empire begins exterminating his kind across the galaxy, and it’s fortunate that his predecessors are too dead to see their order live on in this slack-jawed loser. Respawn had the infinite possibilities of the Star Wars universe to work with, and “ginger Tom Holland” was what they came up with. Everything we do in Fallen Order is less cool because we’re doing it as this guy, and to those who complained that Star Wars was becoming too diverse and politically correct, congratulations – you got the snot-nosed dweeb you always wanted. I hope you’re thrilled.
Cal’s cover is blown at the start of the adventure, and he’s rescued by a crew of marginally-more-interesting characters including another former Jedi. She claims that her trainee was killed in the purge, and anyone even remotely familiar with Star Wars can probably figure out where that’s headed. Our mission is to find a device that can locate other individuals strong in the Force and potentially use it to rebuild Cal’s order while keeping it out of the hands of the Empire.
What follows is one of those unconfident third-person action titles that refuses to pick a genre and needlessly pads itself with things like box-pushing puzzles and on-rails climbing sections. There’s a sequence midway through in which Cal gets captured by people who have nothing to do with the central plot, and once he escapes, the episode is never mentioned again. It’s just there to give us a level that forces us to survive without our weapons, and that’s indicative of Fallen Order as a whole – it frantically hops around, scared we’ll get bored if it settles on just one thing.
At its core, Fallen Order openly channels the recent work of From Software, in both its combat and level design. There’s a stamina meter that only applies to blocking, and fighting focuses on wearing enemies down with precisely-timed parries. It’s more than a little reminiscent of Sekiro, and while that’s likely a coincidence, the timing is unfortunate and comparisons can’t be avoided. Sekiro’s fast, responsive mechanics are a tough act to follow, and Fallen Order‘s questionable hit boxes and laughable lock-on range just can’t compete.
Still, there’s something undeniably cool about wrecking shop with a lightsaber, and Fallen Order is at its best when we’re waging a one-man war against Imperial forces. Cutting through waves of useless Stormtroopers is satisfying as hell (and enhanced by their hilarious banter) while the Sith make for intimidating boss encounters. There’s also a wonderful mechanic in which a perfectly-timed parry can send a blaster bolt back at the soldier who fired it, and Fallen Order shines brightest in such moments that wallow in the sights and sounds that make this license special.
Fallen Order also has aspirations of being a Metroidvania, and the results are mixed since setting the campaign across multiple planets bogs the pacing considerably. I understand the temptation to show off as many nifty environments as possible, but with no fast travel system, the constant trips to and from Cal’s ship add wasted time to the campaign.
Also, actually navigating the levels can be a chore – they’re almost too intricate for their own good, and the 3D map (while appreciated) is difficult to parse. Worse still, Cal’s parkour platforming is floaty and imprecise, which is surprising since this is the studio that beautifully executed similar mechanics in the Titanfall series.
Those who take the time to thoroughly comb levels for secrets will be rewarded with new cosmetic options for the hilt of Cal’s lightsaber… but I mean, who cares? We can barely even see it while we’re playing. Take away that visual reward and Fallen Order‘s massive Metroidvania exploratory angle is barely worth engaging in.
Fallen Order was directed by Stig Asmussen (God of War III) and his love of elaborate set pieces rears its head here. Sometimes it works, like with the exciting train level at the start of the campaign, or a later segment in which we hijack an AT-AT. Other times, empty spectacle just gets in the way. For example, I was two-thirds of the way through a relatively standard boss battle against a giant dragon, and then he crawled away so we could finish the fight several thousand feet above the planet’s surface in a painfully scripted midair sequence that might as well have been a collection of quick-time events.
On top of all of that, Fallen Order is unstable on a technical level, showcasing frequent framerate issues at best, crashes at worst, and clipping and collision errors everywhere in between. It’s an unfortunate stain on the record of Respawn since their previous games haven’t needed much post-release maintenance.
While the plot attempts to portray one of the darkest periods of the Star Wars timeline, its relaxed pace rarely sells the urgency of the situation, and it’s hard to fear for Cal’s life when his perfect hairdo is never tousled. However, the last couple of hours finally convey the intensity of having the entire Empire on one’s trail. As padded as Fallen Order feels, at least it ends well, and it’s rare these days for such a high-profile game to conclude on its best note.
As underwhelmed as I was by Fallen Order, I hope that its inevitable success will encourage EA to do more with this franchise, since it makes a powerful case for the resonance of Star Wars — if this mediocre casserole of concepts yanked from superior titles didn’t have the license attached, I doubt anyone would be talking about it.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Respawn Entertainment and published by Electronic Arts.It is currently available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via paid download and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 18 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated Teen and contains Violence and Mild Language. It’s full of bloodless lightsaber violence perfectly in line with what’s seen in any Star Wars film.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialogue is subtitled, and sound cues play no vital role. It’s fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.
He was born and raised in Amish country and has yet to escape, despite a brief stint in Philadelphia, where he attended Temple University. He took a one-credit course there called "Career Opportunities for English Majors," which painted a bleak picture for prospective writers. Mike remains steadfast in his ongoing role as a video game critic, however, and has recently written for GamesRadar. Most of his work can be found on HonestGamers, where he has contributed over 200 reviews to date.
When not playing games or writing about them, Mike is a rabid indie music fan and ardent concertgoer. He doesn't read as much as he probably should, but his current favorite author is Alastair Reynolds.