I have come to the conclusion in recent years that I have a love-hate relationship with the Star Wars franchise. It’s a series with some highs that even Cloud City can’t see and some lows that lie beneath even the Sarlacc’s pit. While the movies might be fairly split down the middle for me, I have largely thought of the games as cute little tie-ins. They rarely ever felt like they were adding anything substantial to the universe or even interesting gameplay.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed did some cool things with the force, but its non-canon story and repetition in the late game killed a lot of the enjoyment for me. The Force Unleashed almost feels like a rough prototype for Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order because it takes some of the things that were interesting about that game, mixes in an engaging story, and a ton of gameplay improvements and additions.
I have recently been able to afford a Series S so I have been catching up on the past five-ish years of gaming, and Fallen Order was at the top of my list. And I am so glad that it was because it might just be in my top five Star Wars adventures fo all time.
A Movie Worthy Narrative
Fallen Order focuses on padawan Cal Kestis who escaped Order 66 and has been living a second life as a scavenger on planet Bracca. It was all going pretty successfully until he was forced to call upon the Force to save a friend. The act was caught in 4K and allowed the Empire’s Inquisitors to hone in on his location. Cal must bid his new life goodbye and join forces with two other outcasts who are trying to round up Jedi so they can bring back the Jedi Order.
The outcasts are Greez, the captain of the Mantis, and Cere, who we later learn is a former Jedi Master. Cere informs Cal they have a lead on some potential Force users and takes him to Bogano so that he might be able to access a vault that an old colleague of hers was researching. During the adventures on the planet’s surface, he comes across a droid named BD-1 who joins Cal on his adventures. BD-1 is how you make a cute droid that is also functional. BB-8 feels limited and silly with its ball movement, while BD-1 has legs and clings to Cal when he isn’t scuttling along.
He isn’t just for looks either; BD-1 will be used for exposition as he records new environmental details and logs for Cal as he unlocks the memories that are under encryption from his late Master. You see a lot of elements like this where mechanics are interwoven with the story nicely. They aren’t just story elements or gameplay elements because Fallen Order almost always makes them one and the same, and that is how it should be done. It helps to give a sense of continuity within the game’s world and the player’s actions.
The biggest accomplishment of Fallen Order is its ability to feel like a true Star Wars adventure which is so rare even for Star Wars. Even when the credits roll, you won’t want your journey to end but that’s exactly what you want from a well delivered story and cast of characters.
Let the Force Guide You
The big selling point for the Force Unleashed was its emphasis on Force powers, and while Fallen Order doesn’t have quite as many all-powerful moves, it does have a nice foundation that allows it to use these powers creatively. For instance, force grab does more than just pull an enemy closer to Cal. Cal can pull them right up to his face and run his lightsaber through them, he can pull bridges down to help traversal, and he can even grab a vine to swing from that is just out of reach.
The versatility that Fallen Order brings to these powers is what helps to make the more interesting rather than having dozens of powers that are simply one-note. Fallen Order’s foundation allows for the powers to scale with Cal as he progresses through his journey and aids in the simple leveling system that the game incorporates. As Cal collects information, fights enemies, and finds collectibles, he will be rewarded with a few experience points, which he can later spend on new upgrades for either survival, combat, or the force.
The player has full control over what they would prefer to focus on first, and the immediate payoff of upgrades is very noticeable, so noticeable in fact that if you start a brand-new playthrough, you will notice just how much you grew throughout your previous journey because you will feel like you are picking up a lightsaber for the first time.
Lightsaber combat also feels refreshing as it isn’t merely a hack and slash but a more strategic parry/dodge system that is reminiscent of games like Dark Souls. There is a bit of a learning curve if you have never played those games, and with the inclusion of the force abilities, Fallen Order’s combat feels uniquely its own.
Nothing felt better than when I would swing into combat, pull a stormtrooper toward me, take him out, throw a rocket back at its sender, and slow down time in the general vicinity to take out all the rest. You can feel really powerful in this game when you begin to get the hang of the mechanics and earn a few powerups.
There are even boss battles in the form of legendary beasts and Sith, and they can actually be pretty challenging if it’s your first run-through. You will need to carefully observe your opponent to get a good understanding of their movements, and even then, you need to be prepared for them to change up their timing and attack order as the fight progresses. Whether it’s a beast or an Inquisitor, they won’t sit by and let you know their attacks perfectly for very long. They will learn and strike you down for getting cocky.
A Galaxy to Explore
I mentioned that Fallen Order’s combat formula felt similar to the foundation of Dark Souls, but the exploration is very Dark Souls lite. You have five planets to visit in the base game, and each one will become more open to you as you earn additional force abilities and knowledge. Planets are diverse; from the jungles of Kashyyk to the misty cliffs of Zeffo, there is a decent amount of variety in the scenery on each planet.
Intermixed with this are the Empire’s bases which look straight out of A New Hope. The locations here are stunning and really helped me feel like I was on my own Star Wars adventure. As you progress through a planet, you will slowly unlock elevators, ropes, bridges, and other traversal methods that unlock shortcuts that help to speed up any revisits to the planet at a later point. Fallen Order also incorporates a climbing mechanic that feels very similar to how Nathan Drake climbs in the Uncharted series and it works really well here.
If there is anything I wish that the game had done, it’s that it had made climbing more interesting in later stages, like incorporating combat or other diverse moments that would force us to be more mindful as we jumped. The climbing almost just happens on its own. I even intentionally jumped between two climbable slabs to see what would happen, and the game auto-corrected and made Cal jump to the correct location. This isn’t a problem, but it stands out when other aspects of the game give the player so much more control over their movements.
There are certain aspects of the game that can begin to feel formulaic, which is only emphasized because so many aspects of the game are so unique and well-executed. The big stand-out is when Cal needs to crawl through a space that is just big enough for him to climb through. The first few times this happens, you don’t think too much about it, but after the 70th time, you start to think how wild it is that this many small convenient passages are spread across the galaxy.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is one of the best Star Wars stories I have watched in decades, and it’s one of the best games I have played in a very long time. I hope that we are able to see more of Cal and his friends in the future and that Respawn can continue to work within the Star Wars universe with as much passion and creativity as they were able to do with this first entry 9.5/10