Thursday, January 9, 2020

Console Corner: Review of Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order

Cracking open Jedi Fallen Order, Respawn’s 2019 action-adventure title, is a highly enjoyable experience for any Star Wars fan looking for a single-player campaign that holds true to the motif of the original movies. The player quickly recognizes the game’s DNA: the blood of grandpa Dark Souls and grandma Tomb Raider flow in its veins, but it remains unequivocally a Star Wars experience with quality story that betters both The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi.

In Star Wars lore, Fallen Order occurs just after Revenge of the Sith, in particular Order 66 that wiped out all of the Jedi—well, all except the main character of Fallen Order. Cal Kestis is a young Jedi in hiding. His master killed as a result of Order 66, at the beginning of the game Cal finds himself in hiding on an Imperial world, earning money scrapping junk spaceships. But when an Imperial patrol accidentally uncovers his identity, the chase is on. Cal’s training still not fully complete, he falls in with a rogue cargo ship, and together with the crew try to achieve the next phase of his development, all while trying to stay one step ahead of the Empire—alive.

A strong mix of lightsaber combat and environmental puzzle solving, Fallen Order sees players doing a specific mix of things: exploring a handful of gorgeously designed planets, fighting through nests of alien creatures and Imperial soldiers, finding their way through cave tombs, jungles, and other exotic locales, developing Cal’s nascent Force skills, and ultimately trying to find a list of young Jedi hopefuls before the Empire does, in the hopes of rebuilding the Jedi Academy. Combat and level design heavily Dark Souls-based, lightsaber technique and understanding level layout are keys to progress, all the while the environmental puzzles, traversal, and pathfinding echo the three most recent Tomb Raider games, with a skill tree common to all allowing unlocking cooler and cooler skills.

Simple but subtly designed, Respawn have done an excellent job delivering a game that clicks with everything Star Wars while offering highly enjoyable, single-player gameplay. The storyline is both familiar yet constantly surprising (on par with Rogue One and Solo, and certainly better than The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi). Little bits of one-off gameplay, unexpected cut scenes, and exploring magnificent side spaces spice up the game loop, helping bind the pieces into a whole. In terms of combat, the loop continually gives the player new skills, skills which complement the story aspect of Cal’s development. Yes, gameplay has strong parallels to existing games, but in Fallen Order they have been implemented in a fashion that is more genuine than derivative. The parallels are clear, but it feels strongly Star Wars, not medieval fantastika or Indiana Jones. Building your lightsaber, fighting stormtroopers, learning new Jedi skills, taking down AT-STs, piloting Imperial vehicles (yes!), planetary exploration, and Sith lightsaber duels—it’s a fully immersive experience that gives players the feeling of being in the Star Wars world unlike any game to date. (The Star Wars IP needed this—even if it’s as the current generation of consoles are coming to a close.)

I don’t usually buy games on release day. The fear of game-destroying, or at least game-distracting bugs and glitches in 2019 is real as real is. Given the quality of Respawn’s 2016 Titanfall 2 release, as well as early reviews, I took a chance with Fallen Order, however. And it paid off--mostly. There was a Day One patch (measured in mb not gb), and overall the game played almost flawless. There were a few moments on Kashyyyk the game froze, and I worried it would crash, but after a few seconds, it picked back up. One time it did crash, and there were certainly moments that game textures popped in and out of view. But the gameplay loop and storyline were so strong, I forgave it. My bigger criticism would be levelled at enemy AI. In short, it was inconsistent. For the most part things happened naturally, with enemies coming aware of you and chasing you as would seem appropriate. But certainly at numerous points the enemies didn’t recognize you were standing in front of them, gave up the chase after a couple of seconds, or were moving and acting in strange ways unrelated to combat or guard duty. Again, nothing game breaking, but certainly immersion breaking.

Kudos to Respawn for finding truly “medium” difficulty. Fallen Order is not Dark Souls-esque difficult, nor is it a walk in the park. There is no spamming the attack button and walking away with the victory. Each encounter must be considered tactically, meaning positioning and parrying are just as important as thrust and jab. The difficulty level can be adjusted and XP can be recovered by getting one hit in on the enemy who killed you, which makes for a system that will challenge casual gamers while give hardcore gamers a little nut to chew over.

In the end, if you love Star Wars and are looking for a good quality, single-player action-adventure game with a solid storyline, gorgeously realized settings, nicely layered character development, and fun combat, Fallen Order delivers. Wonderfully walking the fence exactly between easy and difficult, possessing the sensawunda the space opera spectacle of Star Wars offers (exotic planets, alien creatures, laser pistols and lightsabers, etc.), having a sense of character progression that feels natural to both the player and the game, and offering a story Luke Skywalker would be proud of, this is a winner. At almost every moment I had chills: this looks and sounds like the Star Wars in my imagination. Best game of all time? No, the game still needs to be polished, but it certainly is one of the better 2019 releases.

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