The follow-up to 2019’s excellent Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is nearly upon us, following a brief delay to give developer Respawn Entertainment extra time to polish things up. We were invited by publisher EA to a hidden venue in Hollywood, California to get nearly four hours of hands-on time with Star Wars Jedi: Survivor to see what Cal Kestis and crew have been up to since their latest epic adventure, and it’s shaping up to be a worth sequel to its critically-acclaimed predecessor.
Trouble finds Cal, yet again
The portion of the game we went hands-on with began about an hour into the campaign, no doubt to avoid spoiling exactly how things all start. Cal Kestis has been on the move for around five years since the conclusion of Fallen Order, and he and his reliable and inquisitive droid companion BD-1 have crash-landed on a backwoods planet known as Koboh while attempting to visit Cal’s old friend Greez Dritus.
It doesn’t take long before the local drama finds Cal, of course – a local gang known as the Bedlam Raiders is terrorizing locals, including prospectors who go to great lengths to try and harvest the planet’s natural minerals and ancient ruins. Cal, being a Jedi, naturally wants to help, and quickly crosses paths with the gang’s leader, an imposing Gen’Dai named Rayvis. This sets up what will no doubt be a lengthy sequence of encounters and battles between the two.
While we can’t go too deep into the story here, some things have changed while others have stayed the same. Cal’s repertoire of moves has been expanded upon, as he now has five different stances. The Dual Wield stance seen in the first game has been fully realized, while he also has access to a crossguard stance as seen used by Kylo Ren. Finally, one stance even allows the use of a blaster, which, while perhaps a bit uncivilized compared to a lightsaber, does have its uses.
From Story Mode to Grandmaster
There are five levels of difficulty to choose from, which can be freely switched at any time. A new Jedi Padawan mode sits between the absolute non-challenge that is Story Mode and the more average Jedi Knight level, to give players an occasional challenge without throwing insurmountable foes at them. Certain boss fights can be particularly tough, so being able to change the difficulty on the fly will no doubt help some players who don’t want to spend the extra time repeating a fight over and over. The Souls-like meditation circles are back in Jedi: Survivor, which allow you to manage skills, change stance loadouts, fast travel to other meditation circles, and heal. That last option does completely fill up Cal’s health and force bars, along with restoring BD-1’s stimpaks for healing in the field, but it also respawns all enemies.
Combat in Jedi: Survivor is melee-focused. While Cal is a Jedi and can wield the Force with ease, ultimately his use of those powers is limited by a Force meter and is used as an assist to get the upper hand against his enemies as he slices them up with his trusty lightsaber. After our hands-on time with the game, we were treated to a live demonstration by a member of the combat design team of just what was possible with mastery of the various mechanics available to the player. Think taking out groups of Stormtroopers in one fell swoop, or juggling enemies with a combination of Force moves, and even an occasional hit from a blaster. It’ll probably take several hours for any player to rise to that level of competence, but it all looked so smoothly animated you couldn’t help but be impressed with the options on display.
Like your own personal Star Wars movie
The production values in Jedi: Survivor are world-class. Whether it’s the incredibly detailed world, characters, weapons, or ships, the whole game plays, feels, and sounds like you’ve been transported into the world of Star Wars. Cinematics are fully rendered in-engine, and feature classic wipes between cuts, and plenty of tension between enemies in true sci-fi Western form. The world feels lived-in with other beings busy doing their own thing, and of course natural predators to either avoid or fight for potential experience.
In an interview with the team, Jason Harris, Design Director for Gameplay and Combat mentioned that Disney and Lucasfilm continued giving Respawn Entertainment essentially free license to create whatever they wanted to in order to flesh out their vision. Not to say they didn’t check in, of course, just that at this point their track record has earned a certain amount of trust with the intellectual property holders. He gave special mention to the teams involved in turning concept art into fully-realized, digital versions that perfectly reflected the intentions of the designers. The careful attention given to even background objects is easy to see throughout the experience.
As for performance, while the build we played was on a beefy PC, it should roughly represent what we will see when the game launches on the PS5. Respawn is leaving the previous generation of consoles behind, something we will no doubt see more of now that supplies of the current generation are more stable. This has many benefits, chief among them being quick loading times. There is a seamless transition between the game world and entering training areas, or respawning after a death. We did notice some stuttering in some of the game’s wider areas, but perhaps this will be buffed out by the time the game launches on April 28, or at least with a patch on or around launch.
Previous experience not necessary
From what we could tell, while it’s not necessary to have played The Fallen Order before you start up Survivor, it will help because there are a lot of references to the earlier game mentioned in passing between Cal and other characters. Otherwise, though, Cal is simply trying to fix his ship, the Mantis, and along the way discovers ancient Jedi ruins and an anomalous planet called Tanalorr that seems to be the key to Cal’s journey. So, it seems the story will be able to stand on its own, while offering plenty of callbacks and hidden references to the first game, and perhaps the novel that followed, for those who enjoy that sort of thing.
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor appears to continue telling Cal Kestis’s story in a most exciting fashion. Two additional fully-fleshed-out fighting stances ensure more variety in combat, and the fact that Cal retains his powers from the previous adventure means combat gets intense pretty early on. There is plenty of challenge to be found, and if this hands-on is any indication, Respawn Entertainment hasn’t fixed what isn’t broken and is seemingly giving us an improved version of what made The Fallen Order so appealing in the first place. Get ready to continue Cal Kestis’ journey when it launches on the PS5, Xbox Series, and PC platforms on April 28, 2023.