Respawn Entertainment, the makers of Titanfall and Apex Legends, Force jump their cinematic-action skills to a galaxy far, far away in Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.
Star Wars: Battlefront II may have had a recent redemption for its online component, but the short and predictable campaign was mostly forgettable. Because Lucasfilm is, understandably, protective of its Star Wars IP, every story, no matter the medium, now must pass the canon test in collaboration with Lucasfilm.
Thankfully, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is on track to pass this canon test with a booming 21-turbolaser broadside. Part of the appeal is the setting, with Fallen Order crammed in the lightly explored space between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope.
Speaking of hope, it appears it’s in short supply according to Respawn Entertainment’s lead level designer Jeff Magers. “There’s no rebellion. There’s no hope. There’s no light. There’s this totalitarian empire run by this crazy despot who’s in charge of everything. And the Jedi, who were the guardians of peace and justice across the galaxy, are now reviled as traitors and hunted down wherever they go. So you’re in a really bad, dark place.”
It’s not really the time to be a Jedi, as on-the-run Jedi and protagonist Cal Kestis knows all too well. This Padawan-of-interest is being hunted by ruthless Inquisitors eager to ensure Order 66 has a 100 per cent dead-Jedi success rate. This notion of Cal’s isolation is one that’s helped to inform the gameplay.
“It’s a really good setting for the kind of gameplay we wanted to do where you’re exploring on your own and being hunted,” says Magers. “It’s a dangerous time to be a Jedi, so it’s a good setting for us to have an inappropriate level of challenge to grow as a Jedi as you explore.”
Cal, despite his Jedi-in-training badge, seemingly has a nasty case of amnesia when it comes to his Force 101s like Force push, which conveniently means you’ll be unlocking them over the course of the game. “You’re learning to explore your different abilities at the same time as Cal is gaining new abilities,” says Magers. “So as you start to get a handle on the abilities that you acquire, you gain this mastery that parallels Cal’s journey.”
And mastery of these abilities is essential if you want to survive on higher difficulties. While there’s a gimme difficulty for younglings and those seeking story over stimulating ’sabers, there’s a satisfying sense of accomplishment for besting fights on one of the higher difficulties. Isolated, most enemies are Force fodder. United, they offer a Batman: Arkham-like challenge thanks to the interplay between enemy archetypes.
“Completionists will be tempted to return to planets with newfound abilities to unlock everything.”
Like Dark Souls, death acts as an unforgiving instructor. And when you die, the enemy that turned you into a Force ghost holds onto the XP you’ve collected towards your next ability point. You’ll respawn at a (hopefully) nearby save point, but you have to damage your past-life killer to get it all back. It’s worth beelining for them as there are other rewards.
“The system where you can reacquire your Force, health and XP really feeds into the exploration loop because, if you die to a creature, you want to get back to that creature,” says Magers. “You then become more familiar with the space as you’re re-traversing and re-engaging with the different encounters.”
As powerful as revenge is as a player motivator, even for a vengeance-shunning Jedi like Cal, the opportunity to better acquaint yourself with a level post-mortem tends to lead to discoveries that were previously unnoticed. Prioritise getting that XP back, for sure, but keep an eye out for things you may have missed.
Fallen Order rewards the curious trailblazer eager to find the many secrets outside of the main path. And completionists will be tempted to return to planets with newfound abilities to unlock everything, thanks to Respawn’s metroidvania design logic. Each of the planets we’ve experienced so far has a unique feel, with the promise of planet-specific wildlife threats.
“We’ve got a certain set of player abilities that we want to exploit on different planets,” says Magers. “Like we want this planet to be about Force push or something. We take that as a starting point and bring these elements into it that can kind of mimic your gameplay abilities.”
Zeffo, a new planet created in a collaboration between Respawn and Lucasfilm, was the Force push planet Magers mentioned, with the kind of tomb raiding that’d make Lara Croft feel flattered. Combat was sparse in the underground crypt, but environmental puzzling was at an all-time high, with some satisfying head-scratchers to crack to unlock all of the sepulchre’s secrets.
Really, though, Fallen Order is built around a foundation of combat. And you could build one hell of a palace on that foundation. Tight controls and an unlockable arsenal of new abilities combine for weighty lightsaber combat. Even though saber-on-saber fights aren’t happening all the time, Respawn has crafted combat encounters that still fulfil the power fantasy of swinging the sci-fi equivalent of a hot knife through the soft butter exteriors of armoured or fleshy foes.
If it’s not tough enough for you early on, you can always defy the main path and ship off to a planet meant to offer a challenge. “On Dathomir, the combat is very difficult for a beginner player,” says Magers. “You will grow and become a Jedi and become kind of strong enough with a different set of abilities to take on the Nightbrothers there. But if you go there right away, it’s pretty harsh and it feels difficult. It feels like, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t be here yet.’ And the characters are reinforcing that. That being said, we also hit certain ability gates that you cannot pass until you, on some other planet, perhaps get an ability that allows you to cross that gap. So we gate things both ways with softer suggestions and also, at the same time, sometimes hitting a harder gate that you can’t pass without a certain ability.”
After a couple of hours of play time, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order has left us eager to enlist for the full experience. If this already high bar is matched throughout the course of the full campaign, Respawn is on target for a Death Star-destroying hit.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order releases for PS4, Xbox One and PC on November 15.