There’s a lot riding on “Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.”
The upcoming title from EA and Respawn is the first major single-player “Star Wars” video game since 2008’s “The Force Unleashed,” and is one of the most anticipated games of 2019. After years of multiplayer adventures, could “Fallen Order” be the title that brings the gaming franchise to the narrative glory of the “Knights of the Old Republic” days?
Variety got to play roughly three hours of “Fallen Order” at a press event this week, stepping into the shoes of Jedi Padawan Cal Kestis in the time after “Episode III — Revenge of the Sith,” following a galaxy-wide purge of the Jedi Order by the Empire. See below some of the biggest takeaways from the hands-on experience.
A Wide-Open World
The gameplay offered to journalists at the “Fallen Order” event took place after the opening chapter, opening up two worlds to players: new area Zeffo and Dathomir, which should sound familiar to “Star Wars” fans. That represents much of what “Fallen Order” will be doing: mixing in already-established worlds in the “Star Wars” canon, like Wookiee planet Kashyyyk, with new areas and characters.
Press were advised against taking on Dathomir until getting the hang of their Jedi powers, so this journalist, knowing her limits, took on Zeffo. Cal is able to choose his next destination from his ship, the Mantis, and once he’s landed, you’re pretty much free to explore. The world exploration has been compared to “Uncharted” and “Tomb Raider” from the early demos, and it’s easy to see why: subtle cues and camera work lead Cal to viable paths, which are reached through climbing, jumping, puzzle-solving and slashing through enemies.
Cal’s Force powers come in handy not just in combat, but in getting around the world. They can be used, for example, to slow a large spinning fan, allowing Cal to get through, or to push a pile of rocks to unlock a new path. He’s also able to use the Force more passively to sprint along the sides of walls briefly, because who doesn’t want to show off some Jedi parkour? Players can also double back to previous worlds and paths as their Force powers develop — new Force abilities may be able to unlock previously inaccessible areas in sections of the map the player has already passed. If a puzzle seems particularly pesky, try coming back after some more exploration; it may be a lot easier to pass through after Cal has grown as a Jedi.
If the player ever isn’t sure where to go, the simple solution is to check the map. Along with marking the main objective Cal is currently pursuing, unexplored routes are highlighted in yellow, while paths that aren’t yet available to him are marked in red. It’s also good to check for save points, where Cal can rest and spend skill points (more on that later). While resting restores Cal’s health and Force energy, it also causes enemies to respawn. If you plan on heading back down a path where you’ve already laid waste to a number of Stormtroopers, then you might want to hold your save.
Cal’s trusty droid companion, BD-1, has an integral role in assisting the young Jedi through the galaxy. In addition to providing him with stimpacks for healing both in and out of combat, BD-1 can also scan slain enemies, revealing strategic information about them and messages in various languages around the galaxy. He can also reveal helpful hints if a player is stuck on a puzzle.
‘Becoming a Jedi’
At the press event, game director Stig Asmussen stressed that “Fallen Order” is all about “becoming a Jedi.” As Cal cuts down enemies and explores new worlds, he gains XP and levels up, getting skill points to invest into three different branches: Force, lightsaber and survival. The trees are pretty straightforward. The Force tree beefs up Cal’s abilities in that respect — for example, one of the early perks is allowing him to use the Force’s “slow” ability to affect enemies for a longer period of time. The lightsaber tree unlocks new combat options and buffs, and survival helps with Cal’s health and stamina, in particular.
Ever since the game’s reveal at E3 last year, there’s been talk of a “thoughtful” combat system. Developers have pointed to the “Dark Souls” series as an inspiration and it’s easy to see that influence, although the final project isn’t quite as punishing. Cal can attack with his lightsaber, follow up, use Force powers to do things like slow an enemy or push them backwards, and block and parry. Mastering that block mechanic quickly emerged as the key to success, and requires getting to know the timing of each type of Stormtrooper and their attacks. When a parry lands, it lands.
While “Fallen Order” is as accessible as one would expect a “Star Wars” game should be (and difficulty can be adjusted in settings), it is, of course, very skill-based. While it’s been previously stated by developers that there’s no real option for stealth combat, there’s still strategy involved. For example, it’s a lot harder to time a parry against a Stormtrooper when you have multiple enemies on you. In that case, it may be better to draw enemies away from each other (or using the “slow” Force mechanic) and take them out individually, all while eliminating range fighters by reflecting their lasers back to them using the block button.
Cal will be fighting much more than Stormtroopers, though, including the world’s various beasts and bosses. Learning each enemy, their abilities and patterns is essential, in addition to knowing Cal’s own powers. It all makes landing a victory that much more strategic — and rewarding when it happens. After a couple of hours, combat feels fluid while still keeping you on your toes.
Adding to the ‘Star Wars’ Universe
Cal’s main companions are Cere (voiced by Debra Wilson) and Greez (voiced by Daniel Roebuck), forming something of a motley crew. Greez, a Latero, serves as comedic relief in some of the early cutscenes. Cere, a former Jedi with a mysterious past, seems to be something of a mentor to Cal. Keep an eye out for Cere — early on, she looks like she could be one of the more interesting characters added to the “Star Wars” canon recently.
Then, of course, there’s Saw Gerrera, as played by Forest Whitaker in “Rogue One,” who helps guide Cal through the galaxy. As for Cal himself (voiced by Cameron Monaghan of “Shameless” and “Gotham” fame), he’s on the run from the Empire after his identity as one of the last Jedi was revealed. The Second Sister, an inquisitor trained by Darth Vader, stands as the most intimidating threat.
While too much of the plot can’t be revealed (or uncovered in only three hours), “Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order” already stands out among “Star Wars” games. By rewarding exploration and thoughtfulness in combat, “Fallen Order” seems challenging without being inapproachable.
“Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order” will be available for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on Nov. 15.