Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is the ultimate meta triumph for Respawn and narrative based single player gaming. Whereas once EA execs claimed they were no longer profitable, this latest trip to a galaxy far, far away proves they can absolutely succeed
It is with the greatest pleasure (and a not insignificant sigh of relief) that Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order should turn out to be such an unequivocal success in almost every way. Despite the alarmingly impressive pedigree of Respawn (a team that has now delivered four games this gen with 80+ Metacritic scores), they have still had to navigate the murky waters of their parent company's recent PR nightmares. EA's "Jackson Pollock" spotted record has seen controversial takes on established IP, tragic studio closures, and microtransactions aplenty leaving a bad taste with rapidly evaporating good will.
But here we are, sitting on the other side of a 15-20 hour single player Star Wars game. Fallen Order is a delightful mashup of Mass Effect and Uncharted, which has managed to, despite the odds, throw itself into the mix as one of the best titles of 2019. You'll slice and dice your way across the galaxy as Cal Kestis, in an attempt to restore the Jedi order following the disastrous ramifications of Order 66.
One of the most surprising aspects of the game is the palpable sense of freedom; Fallen Order isn't pretending to be an open world title, but there's a number of opportunities to stray from the largely linear level design. You might come across a Tomb Raider style optional puzzle, or an enemy that you're simply not equipped to deal with just yet (as we found out the hard way by travelling to Dathomir way too early). Being able to dictate your destination and the amount of time you spend smelling the roses evoked feelings of Commander Sheppard and the Normandy, which, as far as we're concerned, is only a good thing.
You don't start the game with a full suite of tricks. Spending skill points, and unlocking abilities, happens organically through gameplay and narrative, with childhood training flashbacks woven into the story that act as tutorials. We reviewed the game on Xbox One X, and the controller mapping, which could have been a hot mess given the depth of the combat mechanics, is extremely intuitive. You'll quickly fall into a comfortable rhythm, juggling your various abilities depending on whatever you're facing.
Enemies are tough and varied, particularly if you decide to up the difficulty a notch or two. There's a sprinkling of Dark Souls here, with timing your dodges, reading unblockable attacks, executing parries, and combining your force-given skills all playing a part in getting through each encounter. The meditation mechanic (where you can regain health and save the game at specific checkpoints) respawns all enemies in your immediate vicinity, ensuring you're never too far from the fight. Although this initially felt a tad irritating, it makes sense given the backtracking and optional pathways, and guarantees plenty of opportunity to strut your stuff.
Fortunately, the story offers up plenty of meat on the bone, with much appreciated nods to deeper Star Wars lore and some fun cameos (Fallen Order is considered canon with the wider universe). Cal is a fairly uninteresting protagonist at first glance, but once BD-1, your droid companion, and your crew come into play, things quickly improve. The script is tight, with more cinematic set piece moments than the initial E3 gameplay demo implied.
Honestly, the only area when Fallen Order has in any sense underwhelmed is presentation and polish. Graphically, it's a looker, but the frame rate is desperately unstable, especially when playing on high end console hardware that offers "performance" options. It struggles to deliver a consistent experience. Thankfully, this occurs more during exploration than combat, but it's noticeable, and something where Respawn could have done with another couple months of optimisation. It will likely be patched before too long, but it's worth noting.
There's also a not insignificant number of animation and physics glitches that, while amusing in context of each moment, are symptomatic of this being a hugely ambitious title with a lot of moving parts. Again, it's likely that an update or two will smooth out these teething troubles, but as of right now, they are very much a part of the game.
Despite a couple of issues, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is for the most part a cinematic and satisfying third person adventure that expands the Star Wars universe in interesting ways, and a confident effort from a team that is clearly firing on all cylinders. The future is bright for single player narrative efforts, and we can't wait to see what's next.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is available now, for PS4, Xbox One, and PC.