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‘Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order’ Hands-On

While Variety already ran an interview with “Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order” game director Stig Asmussen discussing the game’s inspirations, it’s goals, and how it all fits into Star Wars canon, today, Variety was given the opportunity to play “Fallen Order” for almost an hour. While “Fallen Order” is months away from release, in its current form, there’s a lot to like in what Asmussen and the Respawn team are building here.

This play time was divided into two, distinct sections. I was initially handed a controller and put through “Fallen Order’s” in-development combat arena, a wave-based series of survival scenarios that task young Jedi Cal with defeating an escalating set of enemies. While this is a part of “Fallen Order” likely to serve as value-added content who have completed its campaign, I found the experience invaluable. The trials are structured largely like a crash course gameplay tutorial — things start with the most basic, melee-armed Troopers in the Imperial military, who are easily dispatched by Cal’s lightsaber. Next, Stormtroopers with blasters are added, which taught me how to deflect and reflect blaster fire. Then those troop types are mixed, and more powerful versions are introduced, until finally, more than a dozen waves later, I was more or less capably taking on an AT-ST Walker in tight quarters.

I know that this isn’t how the game is going to work for most people, but as someone who likes character-driven combat games, it felt like exactly how I wanted to get started in “Fallen Order.” I get frustrated with training wheels, and instead of drip-feeding abilities, I got to play how I wanted and slowly find myself more and more tested.

I finished the trials, and while I’m not sure if this means I was good at the game or not, it did allow for me to pretty soundly manhandle my way through the second half of my demo time with “Fallen Order.” Developer Respawn has provided Cal with a pretty effective toolkit, and have managed to contextualize it all through the melee-based lightsaber combat. Even ranged engagements are within your ability to manage in a couple of different ways, whether through reflecting blaster fire — which feels both extremely intuitive and suitably badass — or throwing Cal’s lightsaber in a boomerang-like arc.

It seems like “Fallen Order’s” encounter dynamics will be structured in much the same way games like Devil May Cry or Ninja Gaiden would build them, in that early in the game, certain enemy types will functionally serve as bosses — but those enemies will, sooner rather than later, become part of the general menagerie of standard encounters Cal takes on in his adventures. Purge troopers are initially met on their own, but it’s not long before they become another part of the mobs you’ll face. Same for the security droid that ends the demo that Respawn showed off at EA Play over the weekend. By the time I was most of the way through the separate combat trials, I was fighting pairs of security droids along with pairs of Purge Troopers (which, I’ll admit, was a pain in the ass).

I had fun with what was on display at E3, but it does leave me with some questions, and some reservations. Dealing with the latter first, while “Fallen Order’s” combat controls map fairly predictably to character action expectations, I think the dodge mechanics are a little finicky at the moment. This might be in part because of the presence of Cal’s upgrade tree, which includes improvements to dodging that introduce the time-dilating countermove that featured so prominently in “Fallen Order’s” demos. My gut reaction is that this feels bad for the kind of combat that “Fallen Order” seems capable of — to bury core skills in the upgrade tree inherently diminishes the likelihood that it can be key to difficult encounters.

There are also some minor gameplay hiccups that suggest a game that is understandably still being polished and balanced. Fighting the AT-ST, there are multiple phases — where the Walker blasts out a wave of mines, where it fires guided rockets, and where its forward blaster batteries get put to use. The first two attacks can be reflected with the force push, which is great! But force abilities require stamina that depletes and can only be replenished through melee attacks (which restore a lot of stamina) or deflections (which seem to only restore a little). Swiping with a lightsaber at the AT-ST is … a bad idea, which turned that fight, for me, into an exercise in chipping away at it with reflections over time. Beating it felt great, but getting there was more than a little tedious.

The other issues I have relate to unanswered questions. Most importantly, at this time Respawn hasn’t committed to a target framerate for the game, and there’s even the possibility that higher framerates might be limited to specific platforms — which, I assume, means Xbox One X, PS4 Pro, and PC. This would be unfortunate, as I feel like “Fallen Order’s” combat really hinges on the 60fps performance that EA and Respawn are showcasing at E3.

We’ll have to wait to learn how this shakes out as the game gets closer to release. “Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order” releases on November 15.

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