After watching a couple of seasons of The Mandalorian, I was in a Star Wars mood. But although Disney seems to be flinging out new premium series like a stormtrooper ineffectually blasting at protagonists, it’ll be many months before I would get anything new. so with a deep discount and a $10 coupon, I picked up Jedi: Fallen Order on Stadia.
The game came out last year to mild praise, along the lines of “it’s the best Star Wars game in a long time.” But next to games like the legendary exercise in greed that was EA’s Battlefront II, that wasn’t exactly a high bar to clear. Still, I was itching for a few lightsaber battles, so I sat down and got to WHOOSHing.
A Slightly Longer Time Ago…
Fallen Order does a lot of work to fit organically in the loose canon of the Star Wars universe. It opens up a few years before A New Hope, where we see Jedi padawan and Order 66 survivor Cal Kestis laying low, working in an Imperial junkyard. When he’s forced to use the Force to save his buddy, the Empire sends a squad of Jedi hunters to investigate, and a small band of rebels rescues him from a discount (and female) Darth Vader.
Aboard the very cool-looking rebel ship, we meet Cere (pronounced “Seer,” because Star Wars doesn’t do subtlety), yet another Jedi survivor who’s broken off her connection with the Force. She’s paying the ship’s owner, a wise-cracking, four-armed fuzzy guy named Greez, to ferry her around the galaxy in search of a USB drive full of info on Force-sensitive children. Once Cal gets his very own Star Wars-brand Droid, a beepy little robot parrot that hangs out on his shoulder, our setup is complete: race around a handful of planets, following a trail of breadcrumbs to beat the Empire to the list of kids.
While it’s not anything groundbreaking, Fallen Order‘s story is surprisingly good. Cal’s journey from self-conscious, haunted young man to full-on Jedi makes sense organically thanks to liberal sprinkles of backstory, which also open up new traversal abilities. And I found myself invested in Cere’s history, too: why would she cut herself off from the Force? The personal drama is a lot more compelling than the lore, which is all about the tombs of a lost civilization—more or less an excuse for sprawling level design.
They characters given gravitas by some very talented voice acting (Cameron Monaghan of Gotham and Shameless fame provides Cal’s voice and likeness) and some really great facial animation. I wouldn’t have expected it from developer Respawn, previously known for Call of Duty and Titanfall, but the faces are expressive and subtle, even when they’re not human. I was happy to see the not-Vader villain take off her helmet, if only so the actor’s performance wasn’t wasted without a face to express.
That said, the story can’t help but end on a bit of a downer, if only because it has to fit in with the rest of the Star Wars universe. When you start out on a pre-New Hope story talking about “reviving the Jedi Order,” it’s no spoiler to say that by the end of things, the status quo hasn’t changed very much.
Strike Me Down
The highlight of the game for me is the lightsaber combat. Fallen Order has frequently been compared to Dark Souls, which is fair, since saving your progress refills your health bar and resurrects all the enemies. But the combat itself is much faster and more fluid, with you magic laser sword providing both offense and defense to deflect melee attacks and blaster bolts.
Like Dark Souls and its modern contemporaries, you have to approach combat with caution and thought: just swinging away at the various stormtrooper flavors and creatures will quickly leave you as a Force ghost. Guarding, parrying, and picking your moment to strike are all essential elements, to say nothing of positioning and crowd control in the tougher fights.
Though the number of enemies that can block or tank lightsaber hits strains belief from a fan perspective, this careful and deliberate approach to combat is engaging. It’s more or less the opposite of the unhinged power fantasy seen in The Force Unleashed, or Kyle Katarn’s “DOOM with a Lightsaber” outings in the Jedi Knight games. It’s as close as I’ve ever seen a game come to making you feel like a Jedi, exercising skill rather than just unleashing magic. Even Cal’s more powerful unlocked attacks are balanced with a limited pool of Force (basically stamina).
Oh, and since Dark Souls has been brought up: no, the game’s nowhere near as difficult as that association implies. I had a bit of trouble on the final boss, and its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it timing forced me onto a wired connection to make up for Stadia’s usually-invisible lag. But even newcommers to this kind of combat won’t be too intimidated on lower difficulty settings.
The meandering story lets you explore a few new planets alongside some familiar Star Wars locales, like Dathomir and Kashyyyk. And naturally, a few recognizable faces from the movies pop up. But “planets” are basically just “levels.” They’re big, though they don’t appear that way at first, with a few branching and intersecting paths given structure by traversal methods.
As the game progresses you’ll open up new areas of the levels with new Force abilities and digital upgrades to your droid. Suddenly gaining access to the places that were previously cut off is exciting … but trudging through the half of a level you’ve already seen isn’t, especially since you’ll rarely find anything useful in previously inaccessible nooks and crannies. A new paint job for the ship or a new poncho for Cal are hardly worth exploring these levels.
And the exploration was my least-favorite part of the game, if only because its physics can be very cantankerous. I often knew exactly what I needed to do, but the game was loathe to let me do it, because its Uncharted-style climbing and jumping set pieces demand that you do things juuuuuust right. I lost an hour to one tiny piece of a puzzle, and was pretty annoyed when I gave up and searched YouTube for the answer, only to realize I had figured it out right away and the game’s engine was merely being stingy.
The inconsistent jumping and climbing is a minor quibble overall, and you can get through these sections with a bit of patience. At the very least, they rarely play a part in the combat, allowing the game’s best feature to shine through the dim parts.
Give it a Try
At the time of writing, Jedi: Fallen Order is just $24 on Steam, Epic, and Stadia, and you can frequently find the Xbox and PlayStation versions of the game discounted, too. It’s also on the EA Play and Xbox Game Pass subscription services, making it effectively free if you’re already paying for one.
While it’s not an Alderaan-shattering innovation in either Star Wars storytelling or in action-adventure gameplay, Fallen Order is a solid romp through a familiar universe. And surprisingly, it’s free of the microtransaction nightmare you might expect from an EA Star Wars game. Aside from a few extra cosmetics and a making of featurette in the “Deluxe Edition,” the game won’t pester you for any additional purchases.
Veteran Soulslike gamers might find it tame at lower difficulties, and the Metroid-style exploration is hampered by fiddly physics. But Fallen Order has easily the best lightsaber combat of any Star Wars game, bar none. That alone is worth a look-see if you’re a fan of the franchise. And if you’re into gaming, you probably have something that plays it. You can buy Fallen Order for Xbox, PlayStation, Stadia, or PC through the Epic and Steam stores.