Star Wars as a franchise and a ‘brand’ embodies thoughtless ‘all-ages’, dung-slicked trash that has been avoidant of any of its consistently implied philosophical depth since roughly 1984. I was always more of a fairweather Star Trek fan who’d stray from vanilla science fiction quickly as a kid, never satisfied with George Lucas‘ clunky afterthought-ridden character designs, poorly written novelizations, and flat out unlikable heroes. I have no real affinity for the franchise on film, having seen each of the movies a handful of times and played a few of the notable PC, pinball and arcade games bearing the brand — Thus I held no particular excitement for this story-driven, ‘sequel gap’ filling, third person action game which was touted by outlets such as Game Informer as ‘Souls-like’ by design. Based upon more recent experiences with the revival of Battlefront, which was barely a game, it’d been a ‘never again’ scenario for me with Electronic Arts and Star Wars in tandem but the promise of some measure of exploration and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice inspired combat, I decided to try it. The misdirection from marketing and retailer-adjacent journalism was shaky ground to begin with, I should have known better; Was the messaging of “It’s kinda half-assed and broken but it’s Star Wars” not telling enough? Who didn’t doubt the early comparisons to Metroid: Prime? I’m not going to be entirely belligerent here, as there have been plenty of decent Star Wars video games put out over the years and I’ll concede this is not at all the worst but, after playing through it once I’ll have to conclude that Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is a shallow and unfinished skeleton of a game, period.
Overlooking a bad first impression is absolutely my jam when it comes to video games as I’ve found some of my odd B-tier favorites (such as Deus Ex: Human Revolution) when going back to games that don’t introduce themselves particularly well. The first Mass Effect game on PC has the weirdest lean to the characters motion, wobbly aiming on low level weapons, and you’re funneled into an eternity on the Citadel before you’ll have an ounce of fun in the RPG proper. Demon’s Souls is a brutal-assed beating for the uninitiated where trial and error make for a frustrating learning tool as you make your way towards the easiest boss in the game. I could go on for a thousand more words about how wrong I’ve been about solid games that started off kinda shit but unfortunately Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order isn’t just poorly designed from the outset, it is unfinished. It isn’t just bug-ridden, poorly play-tested, and devoid of ‘quality of life’ conveniences that’ve been in video games since the Playstation 2 era but it also features endless load times, poorly choreographed platforming, easily recreated crashes, inconsistent ‘on rails’ controls, pointless rewards for exploration, and a hilariously cliche and trope filled plotline. Alright, well I can look past all of that if the combat controls and character movement feel great I mean… I played all of the Prince of Persia and Tomb Raider games in full. Ah, they’re about that bad? Damn, I spent 59.99 USD on this game.
Sitting my tired ass down every evening playing through Fallen Order wasn’t such a brutal task at first. The opening scenes are intriguing for the motivational death that kicks things off and the ‘by the hair of your balls’ escape that follows. The main character (Cal Kestis) is voiced by and likened to Cameron Monaghan of Shameless and Gotham, a distinct and moderately sincere actor who does his best to push through the overly wordy Star Wars shtick as best he can. It isn’t his fault that the script is awful and they’ve allowed him zero personality beyond “Huh, interesting.” The supporting cast is slightly more successful in presence with seasoned pro Debra Wilson, best known for her years on Mad TV, playing Kestis’ would-be mentor Cere Junda. Wilson delivers the most effective performance and her character arc is easily the most interesting and most integral presence in the plot so, they’ve put the right role in the right hands. Why then, did they model her character like a distraught and slightly angry-eyed junkie fresh out of detox? Daniel Roebuck, who you’ll recognize from various TV and movie roles (or, L.A. Noire) does a great job voicing the four-armed 80’s tracksuit grandpa-lookin’ alien Greez Dritus despite his own character arc being forced, rushed, and inconsequential. Why am I detailing the main cast? These performances are really all this mess of a game has to redeem its core gameplay experience.
So, if Jedi: Fallen Order isn’t a Souls-like or Metroid-esque video game, what is it? The best answer is somewhere in the ballpark of the Prince of Persia expanding Sands of Time trilogy from the Playstation 2, Xbox, and Gamecube era of video games that’d released in the early 2000’s. A mix of moderate strings of platforming challenges, light puzzles, and largely automated and forgiving third person melee combat resembles Prince of Persia: Warrior Within most closely due to the need for backtracking on each of the six or so main multi-tiered levels that make up the main game. I know folks would like to look towards the recent reboot trilogy of Tomb Raider (or the similar God of War reboot a couple years back) but those game’s exploration features much more fleshed out and intentional level design and the available abilities outnumber those of Fallen Order by at least one exponent at game’s end. The depth of character customization comes with an inconsequential skill tree that expands your moveset needlessly and with less than powerful results. Otherwise, you’re able to customize the color of your clothes, the color of your robot, the color of your ship, and the color of your lightsaber and each within a limited color palette…. but only through collectibles. These collectible colors are the only reward for exploration beyond a handful of ‘stim pak’ upgrades that heal health on a fly. For the completionists out there this game will offer a few clever hidden secrets, none of them offering more than poncho colors to play with.
“You don’t get it, bruh. Star Wars has heart…” Right. The cute robot, the tales of recovery from brutal trauma shared between Cal and Cere each go a long way to communicate that core humanization that the gatekeepers for the franchise would sign off on. Their redemption is ridiculously unsatisfying, though, and it all ends with a completely pointless interjection by Darth Vader and a wholly unsatisfying intentional destruction of the McGuffin item they’re searching for as the key plot point. Cere saves Cal from certain death so that he can help them find the Holocron, a device that would lead their gang to other Force sensitive children who could potentially become Jedi. If you don’t know Star Wars lingo it really doesn’t matter, they’re just magic ninjas who can turn good or bad based on their moral choices. A great deal of Cal’s story is told within flashbacks to his training as a child and young man, this mirrors the basic story told of every Star Wars hero from Luke to whoever the woman is from the latest trilogy. If you’re into the world, you’ll find something to like. If you’re into video games, again, this isn’t a good one despite the rote successes of the storytelling.
Why am I sliding down another cliff? And worst of all, why can’t I control it very well? Controlling Cal is so loose looking that it might surprise some folks how little momentum the character builds when playing the game itself. This is where the comparisons to Sekiro‘s combat and movement come in because you similarly feel like a half-submerged water balloon until the pace of platforming and combat take a turn towards wall running, lining up strings of platforming challenges, and gaining traversal abilities that cut out some of the slow grunt work of running around. The introduction of BD-1 allows Respawn to use the oldest and most bland cliches, such as zip lines, to design levels that make little organic sense either as pre-existing civilizations or as Empire stomped colonies. This is justified for the sake of relic hunting, as the Empire seeks Jedi relics that would allow them to complete their space-Nazi genocide across the galaxy. There are plenty of organic worlds to explore sans Empire technology and most of them take cues from Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II in terms of funneling the player through semi-open worlds towards a minor boss encounter or story beat. The main difference? First, you have almost none of those great powers and second, you’re going to have to hoof it back to your ship with minor shortcuts along the way.
Well, since I don’t give a rats ass, I’d never heard of a trauma causing Force wielding Jedi to suppress their powers but at this point in Star Wars lore everyone had hidden their abilities for the sake of not being murdered. Great, so you’re going to play at least half of this game’s fairly short length with a weak Force Push, the ability to deflect attacks, a short Force Stun/Time Freeze power, and eventually they add a double jump. What else? Nothing else. These can each be upgraded through three sections of the skill tree, one deals with stats and HP, the other deals with Force powers, and the middle section add moves for the lightsaber (and double lightsaber). Because the combat system is never truly fleshed out nor are the levels ever designed to be large enough for the swishy maneuvers you’re given you’ll eventually resort to rushing enemies and mashing on the attack button. Force is primarily regenerated by successful hits and blocked hits with the lightsaber and this greatly reduces the use of Force powers throughout much of the game until encounters begin to ramp up, at that point you’ll have gotten a hang of the ridiculously fair parry, reflect, and dodge system and won’t bother with much of it beyond stronger force meter draining heavy attacks. All of this might suggest that you’re getting that ‘modern’ feeling level of difficulty sported by most third person action games since Dark Souls became moderately popular for its design choices but the actual difficulty comes more from fighting Cal‘s slow response time and not from the AI’s occasionally cheap bullshit. Within every one-on-one boss encounter in the game, of which there are maybe 3-4 significant ones, it was enough to just dodge to the right and attack patiently until you had enough Force power to do a combo attack. This made the double lightsaber my weapon of choice for its ability to whip through encounters faster and block projectiles easier.
Why is Forest Whitaker here, and why is he such an inconsequential asshole? Saw Gerrera, yes that is his real name, is a rebel leader from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story movie acted by Forest Whitaker and since I don’t know this character at all his inclusion in the otherwise most impressive espionage upon Kashyyyk felt pointless and unfinished. Much of the game’s side stories are told through audio logs, a lazy and very 2007 form of storytelling and apart from his 2-3 lines of dialogue during the initial liberation of Kashyyyk the rest of his reckless idiocy is detailed by folks who’d dropped out of his faction to help Cal reach his goal of talking to the Wookie leader. The ascent of the ‘tree of life’ on that planet is one of the best parts of the game and it is a shame that part of the game is the most inane section of the plot, and that is saying a lot. The only other great big “What the fuck?” came when Greez sells you out to debtors, forcing you to fight in an arena after being captured and then causes you to be stalked by random encounters for the rest of the game. His response? “Hey kid, sorry, I’ve changed. We’re family and I love you.” What in the actual fuck was that all about? Kill him and take his ship, wimp.
There isn’t much else to describe in detail that’d convey how unfinished Jedi: Fallen Order felt as I played through each level and attempted to find all of the secrets. The collectibles are disappointing, the map is often a bad approximation of the path forward, and backtracking to get those collectibles often leads to blocked doors that require different points of entry or re-running entire sections of the game and combing through each part for smaller secrets. I don’t mind this kind of thing, and I happily did it for hours with Shadow of the Tomb Raider last year but that game always communicated the way forward with ambient clues or allowed fast backtracking by way of convenient shortcuts and fast travelling. There was a point where I was deep in a tomb on Dathomir, unable to find a secret and couldn’t help but feel immense dread that I would have to come all the way back down there to finish 3% of the map for the sake of not finding one secret in that part of the level. Right there I gave up and went on to finish the story, of which there was roughly 3-4 hours left. Why can’t I fast travel between meditation points? Why is there texture pop-in throughout the entirety of the game, why aren’t there more upgrades? I’m a Jedi.
It’d start to feel petulant to complain any more than I already have at this point. My time with Fallen Order wasn’t wholly miserable, and it wasn’t all that frustrating even it was just beyond mediocre. Empty, popcorn, vapid, and incompetent but surely never a major frustration… A thoughtless and rushed game that was developed just to the point of running somewhat smoothly and meeting graphical standards for Lucasfilm and stamped with approval for the sake of landing before the next Star Wars film released. Maybe it was too ambitious for a studio who’d cut their teeth on some of these storytelling and platforming elements with the vastly overrated-in-hindsight Titanfall 2 but, I can’t help but think how great this game might have been with a truly clever level designer and a script that wasn’t so brutally aimed at the lowest common denominator. If you end up paying more than 15-20 USD for this game you’ve overpaid.
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