It's been almost impossible to avoid Star Wars for the past five years. Ever since its welcome return to the big screen with numbered entries and side stories, as well as the all-new TV show streaming on Disney+, the franchise has been breaking records and reaching new heights. Impressive indeed, but what happened to the video game adaptations? EA dropped the ball with two lacking Star Wars Battlefront releases and cancelled a myriad of other promising projects. Six years after securing the license, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is the publisher's first single-player, story-focused foray into the galaxy far, far away, but boy was it worth the wait. Respawn Entertainment's take on the series is one of the best Star Wars titles ever made.
There is nothing else quite like the exploits of the Skywalker family, but the adventures of Jedi-in-hiding Cal Kestis will feel a lot closer to home than you might think. Borrowing liberally from the likes of Dark Souls, Uncharted, and the entire Metroidvania genre, it's a game that manages to feel both safe and familiar while also daring in its approach to lore and referential material. Star Wars fans will feel right at home, but it's also an experience that makes sure not to leave behind those only just beginning to feel the force.
That's because of an impressively open-ended structure which allows you to choose where to head next. Fronted by the Stinger Mantis spaceship and its crew, five different planets can eventually be travelled between -- each featuring huge, sprawling environments that reveal more of their secrets as you accrue further force powers. Progress can be gated the first time you visit a location, entirely optional areas will be missed, and obscure pickups require a good amount of exploration to uncover. It gives off the impression that these are actual, believable locales rather than a series of linear hallways and streets that usher you to the next objective.
Learning various abilities opens up new pathways on the planets you've already frequented, rewarding investigative tendencies in the process. There's no greater feeling than opening up a completely new area rich with secrets after learning the likes of Force Push or Pull, although there's always some sort of threat ready to pounce once you drop your guard.
Whether it's the Galactic Empire's loyal troopers or a location's wildlife that's on your tail, it's here where the title emulates the mechanics of a From Software experience in a rather heavy fashion. Engaging in combat is what you'll spend much of your time doing in Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, but that's no bad thing when it's this enjoyable. Devoid of a stamina bar, you're free to almost mash lightsaber attacks and wail on enemies, but doing so will only get you so far. It's a set of mechanics that actually strays closer to Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice than anything else thanks to block meters which govern when you can and can't deal damage to a Stormtrooper.
Well-timed parries are a Jedi's best friend, but dodges and blocks get the job done too. Heavy attacks and force powers add depth to the mix thanks to some moves cancelling out enemy hits while a throw of the lightsaber can eliminate multiple foes at once. Seriously, Force Pulling a combatant towards you and then tossing them off the side of a cliff never gets old. It's never quite as tough as a Dark Souls, although some boss fights do prove to be serious tests. The further you ratchet up the difficulty, however, the more you'll need to focus on timing your offence and parries correctly.
It all makes for an incredibly enjoyable combat system that thrives when a bit of creativity is added into the mix. A flashy system of moves, counters, and abilities give reason to experiment beyond the standard attacks of a lightsaber, ensuring that you're never starved for originality. Adopt from From Software it may, but Cal Kestis and co do just enough to put their own spin on things.
Although, one mechanic the game does not attempt to iterate on is its use of Meditation points. The carbon copies of bonfires allow you to restore health, stock up on healing supplies, and respawn every enemy in the vicinity upon resting at one of them. Furthermore, they act as checkpoints upon death and offer the chance to purchase upgrades through the expenditure of skill points. You'll earn those through defeating enemies. Sounding familiar? Yes, this is one clear influence that seems a little too on the nose.
Another inspiration that might not be so obvious on the face of things can be found in the treasure-filled expeditions of Nathan Drake. Vertical traversal is key to reaching numerous objectives, but once you get the hang of things it becomes immediately obvious how much of Uncharted's feel and design has been lifted wholesale. Wall running is made to be a fun breeze while climbing is simple thanks to obvious ledges and crevices to hold onto. It feels good and natural, but you’re probably going to be reminded of the PlayStation franchise one too many times to offset any proper praise.
It could be argued that when it comes to gameplay, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order struggles to carve out its own identity. The experience does indeed borrow heavily from other successful titles, but it does just enough to differentiate itself in the areas that matters most. Combat feels unique and more than enjoyable enough for the game to consider the set of mechanics its own, while its open nature makes exploration an utter pleasure. The amount of possibilities a new force power opens up is endless, making for a return to each and every planet that is full of possibilities.
Better yet, a superb narrative connects them all together. Series newcomer Cal Kestis finds himself in over his head on a quest to rebuild the Jedi Order -- taking place just after the culmination of the prequel saga. Joined by the hugely entertaining BD-1 droid and ship crew mates Cere and Greez, the team must band together to locate a Holocron containing a list of force-sensitive children before it falls into the wrong hands.
It makes for a daring trip across the galaxy full of highs, packaging together some of the very best storytelling of 2019. Winding its way through setbacks, twists, and turns at a glorious pace, it's a narrative which consistently keeps you on your toes as one more thread weaves its way into the plot. Despite being restricted to simple beeps, BD-1 is a wonderfully charming character, while Greez comes into his own the further you progress and Cere has her own painful past to deal with. The adventurous crew of the Stinger Mantis spaceship is full of heart, but it's the connecting veins that really elevate their relationships and loyalties to a dramatic, incredible finale.
Although you don't need to be a franchise fanatic to understand the general gist of things, it certainly helps when it comes to the handful of callbacks and references. Star Wars fans will feel comfortable thanks to a narrative that understands its position within the universe -- introducing its own bits of lore here and there. Acting almost as a love letter to the prequels, it dabbles in the events of Order 66 and the ensuing aftermath, while referencing classic characters and acting as a bridge between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. As well as retaining the classic self-deprecating humour of its Stormtroopers, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order clearly comes from a place with a lot of love and respect for the source material.
It's this obvious passion which makes the game's technical setbacks all the more heartbreaking. It fails to offer a consistent, reliable 30 frames-per-second -- even on a PS4 Pro in performance mode. Meanwhile, minor bugs and glitches plague the experience with T-posing enemies and animals that'll float in midair. Stormtroopers can get stuck inside geometry, physics accidentally send Cal flying if a swinging tree branch isn't lined up correctly, and plenty of texture pop-in rears its ugly head across multiple planets. Ultimately, these are all smaller flaws -- the vast majority of which will surely be fixed in due course -- but the effect they had on our 20-hour playthrough was too significant for our liking.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is one of the very best games of 2019. Its engaging gameplay loops may have been lifted from other titles, but it's during combat where the game really shines with enjoyable lightsaber duels and numerous abilities that keep things fresh. Backed by a narrative that will bring delight to the Star Wars faithful, its wonderful main plot and referential nature makes the title an essential playthrough for anyone in tune with the force.