After a lackluster reboot of the Star Wars Battlefront and a widely-panned sequel (which ended up being a great game after a few years of updates), fans were fed up with EA’s handling of the Star Wars game license. However, Respawn’s Metroidvania, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order was a huge success and showed that a big-budget single-player title set in the franchise could still sell millions. So, it was no surprise when Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, a sequel set five years after the original, was announced.
A losing fight
At this point, it’s obvious this is the second game in a trilogy, and it’s very much the Empire Strikes Back to Fallen Order’s A New Hope. The five years since we last saw Jedi Knight Cal Kestis have been hard on him, and he’s had to face facts that, despite his efforts to curtail its expansion, the Empire is growing ever stronger.
We join Cal in Coruscant on a mission to obtain crucial information from a senator’s yacht. With him is a new crew. Cere, Greez, and Merrin have all left to follow their own paths, leaving only BD-1 as a familiar face.
Like in The Empire Strikes Back, the galactic stakes are lower in Survivor. There’s no Death Star or holocron that could dox force-sensitive children throughout the galaxy here. Instead, the story primarily focuses on Cal’s dilemma and the fate of two worlds, Koboh and Jedha.
Koboh is a forested frontier world, largely still wild. However, it harbors a hundred-year-old secret left behind by the High Republic, which might mean peace for the remaining Jedi in the galaxy. It’s the largest map and where you’ll spend much of your time during the game.
You’ll also explore Jedha, a desert planet where the esoteric Anchorite monks tend the last vestiges of Jedi knowledge. They’ve built a cult that seeks to attain enlightenment by academically studying the Force and are wholeheartedly dedicated to helping the survivors of the Purge.
You’ll visit several other locations during Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, but this journey is more intimate than we saw in Fallen Order. In contrast, Cal isn’t just scouring lonely, forgotten worlds for Zeffo ruins. These worlds are inhabited, and you’ll meet characters who you’ll grow to love and want to protect.
Even though most of the action takes place on two planets, that doesn’t mean this is a smaller game. On the contrary, these two maps are expansive, dwarfing Zeffo, the original game’s largest location. If anything, concentrating on Koboh and Jedha led to tighter environmental design and an even bigger emphasis on Metroidvania elements.
It’s incredibly satisfying to slowly uncover more and more of each map throughout the game. You’re unequipped to fully explore most areas you encounter your first time through, and you’ll take note of impassible forcefields or doors that won’t open. Once you finally get the ability to get past these, you’ll discover new branches leading to more areas that require further abilities.
Each map is like a spiderweb, with paths flowing into one another, and it’s only at the end of the game that you realize how interconnected the whole thing is. However, this isn’t for everyone. It requires a lot of backtracking and patience. You’ll revisit some places three or more times before you finally have everything it takes to explore them fully.
Some players might also find traversal frustrating in general. I consider myself an excellent navigator, but this is one of the few games I’ve played that had me scratching my head about how to move past certain points. Survivor features more verticality than Fallen Order, which can sometimes make things even more frustrating. Fortunately, the game is pretty forgiving if you take a tumble. However, unlike with the combat, there’s no easy mode for exploration.
Use the Force
Surprisingly, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor doesn’t strip Cal of all his powers at the beginning of the game. He starts off with the skills and equipment he had after Fallen Order and grows from there.
One of the big changes coming from the previous game is that there are now five lightsaber stances, two of which you can have equipped at a time. Carrying over from Fallen Order are the standard single-saber stance and the flashy Double-Bladed form made famous by Darth Maul.
The three new stances are more technical forms. First, there’s the fast and powerful Dual-Wield stance, which existed as a single move in the previous game. Cal also gains access to the Blaster Stance, which, as the name suggests, pairs a lightsaber and a blaster for long-range combat. Finally, the Crossguard Stance allows Cal to wield a lightsaber (more like a lightclaymore) that allows for slow but devastating hits.
The catch with the new stance system is that you can only equip two of them at a time. At first, I thought this was kind of dumb, but I found it forced me to stick with stances that complement my playstyle. I usually go with strength builds in Souls games, so choosing the Crossguard was a no-brainer for me. However, I’m also a sneaky little bow spammer, so I reserved the Blaster stance for when I felt cheeky.
Fortunately, you’re free to switch these out stances at every meditation circle, so you can stick with your two favorites for the whole game or constantly switch them out. However, since each stance has its own skill tree, which takes quite a few points to max out, I feel most players will go with the former.
A Jedi craves not this swag
One facet of the game that’s been majorly expanded in Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is the cosmetics. In Fallen Order, you could swap Cal’s poncho to another color and cut, change BD-1 and the Mantis’s colors, and choose from a limited selection of lightsaber parts and finishes. It was okay, but there was room for improvement.
Starting with Cal, in Survivor, you can change his hair and facial hair style and pick between jackets, shirts, and pants, all with different color options. Your lightsaber and blaster are also highly customizable, with many color palettes and parts available for you to discover. Also, this time around, you can choose your weapon’s condition, so it can either look pristine or like you found it in some ancient ruins.
BD-1 also gets a lot more customization options this time around. You don’t have to go with a premade color scheme for him, and he’s just as modifiable as Cal’s weaponry. You can change out his eyes, head, legs, body, and audio sensors, and he gets the same vast array of palette options.
Strangely, you can no longer change the color of the Mantis. It’s stuck with its default paint scheme throughout the game. That’s not a huge deal since you’ll be boarding it significantly less in Survivor than you did in Fallen Order. However, it struck me as odd that this option was removed when the other cosmetic choices were expanded.
Even though Cal’s performance doesn’t change with the cosmetics you pick, the wide variety allows you to fill in some of the five years between games with some headcanon. For a big chunk of the game, I played as “Dirtbag Cal” and rocked a mullet, goatee, muscle shirt, vest, and beat-up denim-looking pants with boots. I gave him a rusty, ramshackle lightsaber and pistol and imagined he’d turned a bit space redneck.
However, I will warn you that during a first playthrough, you might want to go with a more serious look for Cal. Your outfit carries over into cutscenes, and some poignant scenes came off a bit flat because I could only imagine Cal sighing out a “whatever” and putting a dip in.
A disturbance in the Force
Unfortunately, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is just as buggy as Fallen Order. In my playthrough, I experienced issues with collision, enemies vanishing from existence while I was fighting them, misfiring triggers, and a handful of crashes. I have to dock it a bit for all that, but none of the glitches really bothered me that much.
It’s a big game that gives you a lot of freedom of movement, which inevitably means you will find somewhere in the level collision you can fall through. I’d much rather be able to jump around and feel like a Jedi and risk losing 30 seconds or so of progress than it being like God of War, where a knee-high wall can defeat your powerful hero.
However, there is one new mechanic that caused me some frustration. In Fallen Order, you can rarely die from fall damage. Instead, if you fall into a bottomless pit or off a cliff, you pass through a kill zone and die no matter how high up you were.
Since Survivor has more verticality to its level design, the devs added deaths from falling. When you drop a certain distance, the screen will start to vignette, and you’ll die if you go too far. Double jumping and air dashing can somewhat negate this effect, but it’s inconsistent. Sometimes you’ll end up dying from a seemingly small fall and survive lengthy tumbles. The inconsistency can make it tough to navigate at times, especially when it seems like a jump is the right way to get through an area.
There were also graphical issues on the PS5. Pop-in and Level of Detail issues abounded. I will assume these problems can be patched because we saw similar behavior in Fallen Order on last-gen consoles.
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor review: The final verdict
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is a game that, despite a few launch bugs and inconsistent jumps, genuinely delivers an engaging experience for fans. The level design and personalization options for both combat and character appearances are definite highlights. It’s an adventure that lets you explore new corners of the Star Wars universe while building on the foundations laid by Fallen Order and tells another excellent tale of a galaxy far, far away.