Force Souls

HIGH Force-pushing an obnoxious bounty hunter droid into a bottomless abyss.

LOW On-rails segments where steering is both necessary and pointlessly difficult.

WTF Did we really need zombies in this Star Wars game?

It was inevitable that Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order would feel like its features were ordered off a menu of popular games. The AAA branch of the industry is innately conservative, and this can only be compounded when the additional stakeholders of a licensed IP come into play.

Even within the constraints of tried-and-true approaches, however, one at least hopes to see play concepts implemented with a careful eye towards the core values of the licensed world. In that respect Fallen Order falters, although that’s not to say it’s a total disaster.

The cinematic action template familiarized by Uncharted is a reasonable backbone for a game like this, and Fallen Order is able to convincingly disguise its fundamental linearity with a few Metroidvania characteristics. Platforming has long been a staple of licensed IP, but at least in this case it’s well-suited to the protagonists. The Jedi, after all, are among the few heroes of film who can double-jump. However, the cinematic action genre fuses traversal and combat, and Fallen Order has mixed results adapting the style of From Software’s Souls games.

In the moment-to-moment flow of battle, the choice seems apt. Hero Cal Kestis and several of his adversaries are equipped with deadly lightsabers, so it makes sense to use a combat model focused on timely parries and evasions. Unfortunately, like so many Star Wars games, Fallen Order treats the lightsaber as a kind of glowy wiffle bat that deals only modest damage until the moment comes to unleash a brutal finisher, God of War style.

Of course, as a Jedi, Cal can also use an array of powers flowing from the mystical Force. This enables him to fling objects and enemies around, or slow them down so he can whittle at their lifebar freely. To prevent overuse, Fallen Order limits Cal’s Force — replacing the Souls stamina gauge. For most of the campaign the only way he can restore this power is by hurting his enemies, which is a curious mechanic for the fundamentally pacifist and merciful Jedi way.

Following this vicious interpretation of Force usage, Cal’s roster of powers doesn’t include the infamous mind trick, nor any method of getting past his enemies without hurting them. Cal can almost never choose mercy in his encounters with the Empire’s stormtroopers or Dathomir’s Zabraks, whom the game carefully humanizes with quotidian dialogue. No, he must slaughter them and the wildlife he encounters, almost all of which is maniacally aggressive.

Cal must seem a maniac too, as Fallen Order puts all its incentives on the side of attack. Because allies or non-aggressors don’t exist during gameplay sections, the basic concept of play favors Cal making pre-emptive assaults on everyone and everything he sees. Also, for no obvious reason, Fallen Order follows the Souls template by restoring all enemies to the world if Cal dies or rests at a save point, thus increasing the carnage.

Cal’s key abilities get unlocked by events within the game, but Fallen Order also offers an experience system that allows him to develop additional powers. This system rewards every kill, and offers extra benefits for seeking out and killing unique animals on every world. This again favors attacking, even when it’s unnecessary — a particularly foolish choice since the Fallen Order isn’t crying out for an experience system in the first place.

Worse, a more faithful way to develop Cal’s powers is already in the game, since he gains experience when he uses his powers to gather up scattered bits of lore, employing the Force for knowledge, as a Jedi does. Gaining experience exclusively in this way would have been the proper choice. As an added benefit, the necessary increase in the amount of lore available would have been preferable to Fallen Order’s vast array of disappointing loot chests containing paint jobs for someone else’s ship and hideous new designs for Cal’s ugly poncho.

The experience system and the legacy of Souls distorts this game in one other way. As is de rigeur for Souls-likes, death causes Cal to lose many of his experience points, which he must then reclaim. Fallen Order puts a needlessly self-defeating twist on this, however. Cal doesn’t just need to reach the point where he fell to reclaim his experience — he actually has to injure whatever killed him.

Yes, in extremely accurate Jedi fashion, Cal must use his aggressive feelings and take revenge.

In Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, former padawan Cal Kestis strives to rebuild the Jedi Order in the wake of the Empire’s rise. In the course of that quest, he and several other characters are tempted by the Dark Side. In the script, the characters pass this test. In the playable moments, however, Cal fails.

Cal’s adventure is a constant slaughter across several worlds. His powers are developed not through study, but through killing. His strength in the Force is renewed not by calm but by violence. Fallen Order rewards attack and aggression.

In a vacuum, there’s nothing wrong with these mechanics, but the central conceit of the game is that Cal is becoming a Jedi knight. A more innovative approach to combat and development might have succeeded in producing a game that actually spoke to that process. In taking the quick and easy route of recapitulating previously successful systems, however, Respawn committed itself to a different path. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order has a story about becoming a Jedi, but it’s really a game about being one of the Sith.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Respawn Entertainment and published by Electronic Arts.It is currently available on PC, PS4, and XBox ONE.This copy of the game was obtained via retail and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 20 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Please see the main review for complete ESRB, colorblind, control and subtitle information.

Sparky Clarkson
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