“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” feels like it could be used to describe the last time console jockeys were treated to a quality single-player experience in the Star Wars universe. With the exception of Iden Versio’s mini-campaign in Star Wars Battlefront 2, the seemingly never-ending LEGO spin-offs, and expansion packs to the Disney Infinity series, the most recent was the adventures of Starkiller back in The Force Unleashed II. For those of you keeping track at home, that means it’s been nearly a decade since a meaningful expansion to the canon made its way to the PlayStation platform. With that in mind, you can understand why there is so much hype behind Respawn’s forthcoming Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.
It’s important keep in mind with Fallen Order that this is the first interactive expansion to the Star Wars universe since Disney’s post-buyout retcon of the franchise’s extended cannon. Simply put, this is the first game that has received the narrative blessing of both the House of Mouse and LucasArts in the modern era. This is a BIG deal, and based off of what I saw last week, the team over at Respawn is not taking this responsibility lightly.
Whenever you get the opportunity to attend a preview event of this nature you encounter one of two possible experiences. On one side of the coin there are the demos that are finely-tuned vertical slices of the overall experience, that rarely reflect the overall level of polish found in the final project. These are designed to put their best foot forward, and usually show off some of the finest set-pieces that the game has to offer. Thankfully this was not what we were treated to when playing Fallen Order during our hands-on time. In this case, we were literally dropped down into the game world, at an early point in the campaign, and let loose to explore, no holds barred. We were playing the full-damn-game, and for better or worse, had the chance to see exactly what players will be treated to when the game hits store shelves on November 15th.
Covering the post-Revenge of the Sith storyline of Jedi Padawan Cal Kestis, players take the reins of a Force-wielding youngster who is not only trying to figure out who he is as a person, but also as a budding Jedi. Our hand-on time picked up shortly after a mission where it seems that Cal first discovers his droid companion BD-1. After completing this mission and returning to his vessel (which had been pre-completed for us, prior to the demo session) Cal was presented with a key decision that would dictate the progression of the campaign moving forward. We had the choice to follow-up leads on either the planets of Dathomir or Zeffo.
Choices Matter… Or Do They?
It was explicitly spelled out to those of us in the session that if we chose to explore Dathomir, we’d be sent down a far more challenging path than those that ventured to Zeffo. I mean, if your planet is best known as the home world of one Darth Maul, it’s fair to expect that it presents a bit more resistance than other, more garden-variety heavenly bodies. Game Director Stig Asmussen, previously of God of War III directorial fame, said this was very indicative of what players would be consistently encountering throughout the campaign. There would be periods where there branching paths presented themselves, and it would be entirely up to the player how they’d like to proceed.
Personally, I wasn’t interested in getting my entire demo session wrecked in the name of being a hard-ass, so I went down the Zeffo route. Anecdotally speaking with other attendees of the event, there were several folks that I spoke to that opted to visit Dathomir first, only to be greeted with a swift and definitive shit-kicking. It was at that point that most chose to re-board the ship and head back in Zeffo’s direction, with their Force-wielding tail between their legs.
I did find it interesting that the game didn’t really hold the player accountable for choosing the more difficult path, and allowed them to backtrack on their decision. This may have been something that was allowed specifically for this demo, but just to nit-pick for a moment, can it really be considered a difficult decision if the player has the chance to take one step off their ship, then nope the hell out and head back in the opposite direction? I would’ve expected more accountability if this was as big of a decision as Stig had made it out to be.
Regardless, none of that impacted me, because as I mentioned earlier, I shamelessly opted to take the path of least resistance and venture off towards Zeffo. Upon landing on the planet, the map unfolded in front of me, essentially beckoning to comb it’s every un-mapped corner and crevasse. What caught me somewhat off-guard was how critical the map is to the exploration gameplay. As you enter a new area, that section is added to the wireframe map. More importantly, this also shows every place where there are branching paths.
At least in the portion of Zeffo that we had the opportunity to play, there were plenty of locked doors that appeared initially. However, throughout the session, numerous of these seemingly blocked pathways could be unlocked by throwing a switch or removing an object from the opposite side of the obstruction. In most cases this didn’t reveal any sort of a secret payload, but rather, created shortcuts to ease the overall traversal of the world.
The reason why these shortcuts became so critical was because of the unforgiving nature of the combat. If you perish in battle, Cal is warped all the way back to the landing pad where he first touched down. It was far more brutal than I was expecting, hence why these shortcuts played such a pivotal role. There’s nothing worse than getting near the end of a very challenging sequence only to get blasted back to the very beginning.
If you had any intention of surviving long enough to make progress, it was also very important to pay attention to the meditation pads scattered throughout. While these locations could be used to respec your character’s skill trees, it was also the home of the ever-critical health packs. If you’d exhausted your supply of medical injections, there was always the option to acquire a fresh batch… for a price. In this case, a satchel packed with new regens and a full health bar would result in every enemy on the planet respawning. It was a tough choice to make, but when you neared demise as often as I did, the choice became far easier over time.
But in order to even make any headway exploring Zeffo, I first needed to understand how to best use Cal’s admittedly sparse Jedi skill-set. Once again, it’s important to drive home that this chunk of the gameplay was very early in the campaign. For this reason, we didn’t really get to see the full capabilities of a superpowered Force-wielder. Of course, this was somewhat disappointing, but it honestly made me that much more excited to see what Cal will be capable of later on in the campaign.
Early on in the demo we only had Cal’s ability to slow down time during combat, which was later augmented by a proper Force Push skill. The time-slowing powers came especially in handy during the combat sequences, which very much hinged on properly-timed button presses in order to take advantage of each adversary’s specific weakness. The standard attack button was complimented by a jump and dodge input, as well as using the bumper to control Cal’s defensive stance.
Why timing was such a key aspect of combat only became more readily apparent when in battle against numerous enemy units, simultaneously. While you could absolutely just hold the bumper down and continuously keep Cal in a perpetually defensive state, that would only protect you from attacks and do nothing for setting up his own offense. However, if you properly timed a defensive button press at the same time an attack would hit, this created a parry opportunity. After completing a counterattack, additional strikes could be comboed together, which would in-turn dispatch the over-aggressive adversary. Additionally, if you were being shot at by troopers with blasters, continuously holding down the defensive button would deflect the shot, only in some random direction, away from Cal. If you once again take the proper timing into account, this last second parry approach instead defects the blast back at the poor unsuspecting sucker who shot at you.
In the heat of combat, these basic building blocks already felt like they had enough depth to be gratifying, and this was with an extremely limited Jedi skillset to draw from. I can only begin to imagine what battles will look like when Cal has a full arsenal of abilities at his disposal. There was a fairly limited window to see where the Force-Push came into play, but for the sake of this demo it seemed to serve as more of a problem-solving mechanic than one of proper aggression.
Striking Similar Chords
What I was not prepared for when stepping into the world of Fallen Order was how much it reminded me of the Uncharted or Tomb Raider franchises. Sure, the game was supposed to be an adventure on an epic scale, but I wasn’t expecting gigantic environmental set-piece puzzles to be such a key aspect of the gameplay. Making full use of the aforementioned map is essential to the success of this mission. It was very important that the player, quite literally in this case, leave no stone unturned.
In order to uncover a mysterious object that we are unfortunately not allowed to speak about at this point, Cal must tackle a series of different rock-pushing challenges. This collection of smaller puzzles then melds into a much larger set of boulder-triggered conundrums. Though I am fully willing to admit that Zeffo’s sequence taking place in hidden temples may have biased my opinion on this a bit, it was hard to shake the Uncharted vibe throughout this portion of the stage. Oh, and did I mention that all the while you’re fending off attack from both the Imperial forces as well as other mystical units in charge of protecting the temple and its contents?
The balance between combat, traversal and environmental puzzles struck a chord with me. At least in what we had the chance to play, I felt like they hit that sweet spot somewhere between challenging and overwhelming, while still never throwing more at the player than they could handle. Now if I had chosen the proverbial “Door #2” at the beginning of the gameplay session and opted to visit Dathomir, that may not have been the case. But at least for my chosen path, I found all aspects of the game to be very gratifying and engrossing.
I straight up couldn’t wait to see what would happen next in the storyline. The same also goes for Cal’s companion characters that were unfortunately only briefly involved in what we had the opportunity to play. Though we aren’t supposed to go into the backstories of these narrative participants, for obvious spoiler reasons, the opportunity to flesh out the newly rebooted Star Wars canon is receiving a ton of attention. Rest assured that there are numerous meaty story segments for those like myself who love to nerd-out about the lore of this rapidly re-expanding universe. We were only given a brief glimpse of what’s to come and even with that, I was enthralled.
What shocked me the most about the entire experience of Fallen Order was how dense Zeffo felt. There was a little bit for everyone, whether they be action nuts, platforming fans, or puzzle-craving brainiacs. I attempted to explore what I though was every damn nook and cranny of that map, yet according to the completion percentage, only scratched the surface of what this single planet had to offer. There were numerous portions of the map that I couldn’t seem to reach, but it could be inferred that they housed additional secrets just waiting to be uncovered. Though this was somewhat skated around by members of the development team, I can only imagine countless additional exploration opportunities present themselves once Cal has a few more Force abilities under his belt. If you are completionist, god help your poor soul.
As a shameless Star Wars fanatic, I was thrilled to get the chance to go hands-on with the first genuine single-player game in ages. As a gamer, I was even more ecstatic to find that this was the kind of experience has the potential to appeal to folks outside of the franchise’s target demographic. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order has an opportunity to not only be a great Star Wars game, but genuinely one of the best releases of the entire fall. Let’s just hope that the Force continues to bless Respawn as the game launches on November 15th.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order previewed at an event held by EA. Travel and accommodations were provided.