NEED TO KNOW
What is it? A third person action game set in the Star Wars universe.
Expect to pay: $60 / £55
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Reviewed on: GTX 970, 8GB RAM, Intel Core i5-4670K
Link: Official site
You are Cal Kestis, a bland-faced scrapper with too-clean hair and an inexplicable love for ponchos. You are also probably the deadliest person in the universe. Though you spend your days cutting crashed Star Destroyers open for parts, within your cloak you hide the true star of Jedi: Fallen Order—a blue lightsaber that you will use to strike down hundreds of stormtroopers across the course of the game.
If you concentrate on main story missions, this is about a 20-hour adventure set across a cluster of themed planets. There's a red one, a green one, an ice one, and so on—common videogame fair. The story is set between the prequel trilogy of films and Episode 4: A New Hope, after the Sith has enacted Order 66 and turned the Republic's clone army against the Jedi. Cal's mission, once he realises he should probably get off the junk planet and follow his destiny, is to seize a 'holocron' data cache that contains a grand list of every force-sensitive child in the galaxy. Agents of the dark side are after it too, of course, and so begins a breezy, entertaining third-person action adventure with a fantastic lightsaber.
It's one of the best weapons in fiction, and Respawn has done a great job of emulating the look and feel of the Jedi's signature weapon. It cracks to life when you press left on the D-pad. You can combo together light strikes by tapping the square/X button, and activate special attacks with the triangle/Y button. You hold left bumper to block incoming blaster fire and most enemy melee attacks. If you time your left bumper press well, you can parry enemies and send blaster fire hurtling right back at the trooper shooting you.
This is incredibly satisfying, and the lightsaber hums and sparks exactly as it should. The combat system bears a loose resemblance to Sekiro. Enemies have a health bar and a posture bar. If you break the posture bar with parries or a flurry of attacks, Cal finishes his foe with a particularly flashy lightsaber strike. Most Stormtroopers are trivial to deal with, as they should be, and meet their fate with a hilarious collection of barks that range from statements of extreme overconfidence to cries of terror. If you rack up Cal's bodycount, he's kind of a monster.
Elite troops offer a bit more challenge. You're being hunted across the galaxy by a Jedi-hunter called The Second Sister. She commands an elite cadre of troopers who will stand against your lightsaber with energy weapons. Skillful use of the lightsaber will still take them down, but you can also use a variety of force powers to freeze them in place, push them away, or pull them into range of your blade—particularly useful against flying Imperial drones. Of course there are points where you fight an enemy who also has a lightsaber. These boss fights aren't too taxing, but they look extremely flashy and the music is great. You also kill a ton of animals, from space rats to giant space spiders.
Your range of powers expands as the story grants you extra force abilities, but you can also level up Cal to unlock new attacks, or to modify existing force powers to, say, freeze a lot of enemies rather than one target. Here the game introduces a hint of Dark Souls. If you die you lose any skill points you have earned, but if you make it back and strike the enemy that killed you, you get them all back in a satisfying slow motion explosion.
Jedi: Fallen Order's influences are famous for being intense and difficult, but Fallen Order isn't a huge challenge, and nor does it particularly want to be. These systems are nowhere near as punishing as they are in their source games, but they do successfully convey the power fantasy of being an elite Jedi fighter in a world of blaster fire and blustering stormtroopers. I put the difficulty up for a while, and while the game gets harder, it isn't a satisfying and cathartic experience like Sekiro and Dark Souls can be.
It serves the fantasy, which if you're a Star Wars fan is likely enough reason to play the game. The Jedi experience is somewhat undermined by some of the contrived puzzles and paths of exploration, though not enough to completely break the experience for me. Each planet is essentially a massive tangled dungeon with a good mix of gorgeous exteriors and atmospheric Imperial bases. As you learn more powers, new routes and shortcuts open up on each level.
Challenging metroidvanias often test your memory by giving you a power and leaving you to find the unexplored route yourself. Here, again, Jedi: Fallen Order smooths over the experience for you. On your map passable doors are marked in green, impassable doors are marked in red, and unexplored areas are marked in yellow. This is another good decision—it's hard to feel like a cool Jedi if you keep getting completely lost.
The levels can be quite contrived at points. I started to feel a bit silly as I force-pushed giant gold balls into switches in an ancient Jedi temple. Cal mostly wall-runs, jumps, and swims his way through the maps, but sometimes—too often—you'll find yourself scooting down a massive bendy slide, which Cal rides like a surfer. There's a nice variety to traversal otherwise, however, and it's particularly fun to force-pull vines into your hands as you sail across yawning gaps.
It's a very old fashioned third person action game in many respects. The game segues smoothly between a jumping section, a fight, a wall-run, a puzzle, another fight. Fallen Order mixes up its interactions just enough to keep up a reassuring pace. It's also a self-contained single player game, which is a novelty in 2019. There are no loot boxes or microtransactions or games-as-service promotions. Customisation options are simply rewards for exploring. As you rummage around in boxes hidden on each planet, you can unlock new poncho colours, new spaceship paintjobs and—brilliantly for Star Wars fans—bits of lightsaber that you can use to customise your weapon.
Though it's derivative, it's good entertainment. The environments look fantastic, the story is decent, and you meet some interesting characters. There's a rebel who cut herself off from the force for mysterious reasons, there's a gruff and expressive captain with four arms—all the better for flying spaceships with. There's also a little robot called BD-1. He's kind of baby Wall-E who sits on your back and warbles. Tap up on the D-pad and he shoots a healing stim out of his head. BD-1 acts as Cal's foil for most of the adventure, and in spite of his bland appearance, I ended up liking Cal for his ongoing chats with his little robot pal. You can put level-up points into BD-1's abilities too. Some help you traverse, others let you attack enemies in new ways. It feels good to hack those evil-looking Imperial probe bots.
The story follows the typical beats you'd expect from a tale following the fortunes of an aspiring Jedi, but the game also manages to sneak in interesting parts of Star Wars' rich extended universe. On the moody planet, Dathomir, the force exists, but is used in very different ways.
Another treat for Star Wars fans, then, but I would recommend Fallen Order to anyone who enjoys moreish third person action games like Darksiders. The formula is similar, but it's a great way to deliver a fun space adventure with some silly puzzles and very satisfying lightsaber combat.
Unfortunately the game has some performance problems on PC. Some of my colleagues and I experienced quite serious stuttering, particularly when the game seemed to be loading in new areas. The problem was serious enough to break up the flow of an otherwise well-paced game, and mid-combat stutters got me killed in combat a few times. Though the framerate was otherwise smooth for me, others have been experiencing dips at points. Hopefully patches will come in future, but for now it's an unfortunate blemish on a decent game.
I still enjoyed myself, though. It's a good game that's definitely worth playing, which happens to be exactly the description of the 70s bracket in our review policy. It's a fun, straightforward holiday adventure. Clip a lightsaber to your belt and jump in. Oh and remember, if you see a stormtrooper stood suspiciously close to a cliff edge, force-push is your ally.