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Jedi Fallen Order - title

In a Nutshell

WHAT I LIKE

  • Original use of the Star Wars IP
  • Challenging but not overly-difficult
  • Fairly restrained use of spectacle
  • Playing stormtroopers and wildlife against each other
  • Map marks paths not taken
  • Landing and take-off animations
  • No need to grind
  • No intrusive micro-transactions!

WHAT I DON'T LIKE

  • Cheap hits
  • Frequent dropped or canceled inputs
  • Weak rewards for exploration
  • Swinging on ropes and sliding on ice
  • Long elevator rides
  • Long load times
  • Stiff animation transitions
  • No narrative justification for Dark Souls-inspired mechanics

Overall Impression : C
Doesn't do anything better than the games its aping from

Jedi Fallen Order - cover

Developer:
Respawn Entertainment

Publisher:
Electronic Arts

Platforms:
PC (via Steam),
PlayStation 4 < (via retail disc or PSN digital download),
XBox One (via retail disc or XBox Live digital download).
(< indicates platform I played for review)

MSRP: $60 USD

Original release date:
15 November 2019

Genre:
sci-fi action platformer

ESRB Rating: T (for Teen) for:
mild violence

Player(s):
single player

Official site:
www.ea.com/games/starwars/jedi-fallen-order

Jedi Fallen Order advertised itself as "Star Wars Dark Souls". In reality though, Fallen Order pulls its inspirations from a hodgepodge of popular gaming trends. Sure, it's borrows a lot from From Software's playbook, but there's also a lot of Uncharted / Prince of Persia, Tomb Raider, "Metroid-vania", Mass Effect, and even a little bit of Breath of the Wild in here too. In fact, I'd even say that it would be more apt to compare Jedi Fallen Order to Sekiro rather than to Dark Souls.

Fallen Order competently executes on all the concepts that it borrows from other games, but it doesn't really do much to separate itself (let alone elevate itself) from those other games, aside from applying the coat of Star Wars paint. The lightsaber play is good, but not nearly as clean as I'd like it to be. The platforming is mostly just an over-complicated way of getting from point A to point B. The RPG-elements are shallow. The puzzles aren't particularly taxing, and mostly just come down to whether or not you notice all the things in the chamber that you're supposed to interact with. And the narrative and characters are passable, but nothing to write home about.

Concepts are borrowed liberally from Dark Souls, Uncharted, Mass Effect, Breath of the Wild, and more.

Pick your poison

It's a good thing, then, that Fallen Order isn't nearly as demanding as Dark Souls or Sekiro. If it had been, then the lack of polish and creativity would have undoubtedly turned me off of the game entirely. And if those didn't kill the game for me, the long load times would. Remember how awful Bloodborne was at launch? Dying every few minutes, and then sitting through a minute or more of load times. Fallen Order is about that bad. But at least Bloodborne got a patch a few weeks after release that shortened the load times to a tolerable 30 seconds or less. I'm playing Fallen Order four months after release, and no such patch has been released for this game yet.

You know exactly what effects each
difficulty setting will have on the game.

Thankfully, the difficulty curve here is much more comfortable, and I'm not finding myself repeatedly dying nearly as often as I did in Bloodborne. And if I were, this game allows me to adjust the difficulty level mid-game if I get stuck -- which I did do on two occasions. The game is even kind enough to tell me what specific effects each difficulty setting has on the game. I kind of wish they had just allowed us to custom tweak each of the three difficulty sliders on our own to further customize our experience, but oh well. Something for the PC modders to do, I guess.

The hero, Cal, can take a handful of hits before dying, and checkpoints are liberally sprinkled throughout the maps. Very few enemies are huge damage sponges, and even the ones that are good at blocking attacks can usually have their health quickly depleted by side-stepping their attacks and hitting them once or twice in the back.

Most of the difficulty here is of the Doom variety. Respawn Entertainment mixes and matches different enemy types in order to make a given encounter more challenging. Each new enemy type will be introduced one at a time in the first few levels. Then, as you get to the third or fourth planet, the game will start mixing Purge Troopers in with satellite mobs of scout troopers. Then they'll add some ranged stormtroopers to the mix so that you have to dodge or deflect blasters as you're circle-strafing the purge troopers and scout troopers. Then they'll throw in some probe droid taking pot shots at you, and rushing you before exploding. And here and there, there will be some creatures that will jump out and swarm you. Sometimes, creatures will even just pop up out of the ground and get in a cheap hit or two.

The challenge comes from different combinations of enemies.

Enemy variety may be a bit lacking, and this will become most evident when late-game stages will just throw two or three copies of the harder creatures at you at once. You'll mostly be fighting different variations of Imperial stormtroopres, with the occasional probe droid or security droid thrown in for good measure. But each planet also has two or three distinct creatures, which helps to give a flavor to each level. The stormtroopers and creatures will even fight with each other. You can sometimes play them off against each other, and let them weaken or destroy each other before you go in to finish off the job. You won't get any experience for letting them kill each other, but it can be fun to watch, and allows the player to further tweak the desired difficulty of the experience.

The same creatures are re-used repeatedly within a level.

The only combinations that I had a lot of trouble with was any combination that included the stormtroopers with the bazookas. It's simple enough in isolation to use Force push to turn their rockets back towards them, but aiming and getting Cal to actually push the rocket instead of a nearby melee enemy was something that I never figured out how to pull off correctly. I took a lot of cheap rocket blasts, and was consistently frustrated by these situations. The giant spiders also gave me a lot of problems whenever they were paired with other enemies.

A lot of my early troubles came from having to break bad habits from Dark Souls and Sekiro -- specifically with regard to the block and parry. I'm used to Dark Souls and Sekiro, in which I can attack or heal while still holding the block button. In Fallen Order, I can't do that. If I don't let go of the block button in time, I miss my attack window, or an opportunity to heal. This has lead me to numerous cheap deaths in my early days with the game, and it took me a while to get used to it.

Rocket launchers gave me consistent problems throughout the game.

But even when I wasn't in the middle of combat, I've noticed that the game sometimes forgets to actually heal Cal when I push the button. I've had numerous instances in which I press the "heal" button, Cal plays his line of dialogue asking for BD to give him a stim, but he never actually gets the stim and doesn't heal. Because the audio cue played, I think he healed, but he didn't. This has lead to a lot of panic moments when I realize I'm in critical health, as well as a lot of cheap deaths because I get killed before another window to heal opens up.

The long wind-ups on unblockable attacks
caused me to dodge too early.

I also had a lot of trouble with dodge and parry timing. The long wind-ups after an enemy starts glowing red also consistently caught me off guard. I'm so used to dodging as soon as I perceive an incoming attack, but the glowing red, unblockable attacks in this game have such a long wind-up that I can dodge two or three times before the attacks actually lands. If I dodge too early, the enemy will just track to me and hit me anyway, and this was another source of a lot of cheap hits.

This problem gets even worse in the final boss fight. This fight takes place in a room with a lot of ambient red and orange light, which makes seeing the red glow really difficult. A couple of the boss' long-range attacks also look very similar, and I couldn't tell them apart for the life of me. This is probably why Sekiro smartly included a loud audio cue whenever an unblockable attack was incoming.

More generally, Fallen Order uses a lot of Uncharted-inspired context-sensitive actions, which doesn't gel very well with the demanding, Dark Souls-inspired action. It even actively interferes with the Uncharted-inspired platforming. This game will sometimes interrupt or cancel a use-initiated command in order to perform some context-sensitive action. You might jump to avoid an attack (or make an attack of your own), but if you're next to a wall-run surface, the game might decide to cancel your attack or double jump in order to perform the wall-run. For example, my attempts to access a secret area in Bogano's Subterranean Refuge was repeatedly foiled by the fact that the game would cancel my attempt to grab a rope, and cause me to start wall-running instead. As a general principle in game design, a game should never cancel a user-input in order to trigger a contextual action that was not initiated by user-input. This game does it quite freqently, which again leads to more cheap hits or platforming fails.

Accessing a secret in Bogano's Subterranean Refuge was repeatedly foiled
by the game canceling my attempt to grab a rope and wall-running instead.

Other than these issues, the game's difficulty was generally comfortable enough of the "Jedi Master" difficulty that I played. The generally easier difficulty does mean that enemy stamina was rarely relevant to me. I defeated almost every enemy by simply side-stepping their attacks, and rarely ever had to block or parry to deplete their stamina. Perhaps on the hardest difficulty, enemy HP is high enough that the game plays more like Sekiro. In any case, Jedi Fallen Order gave me a new appreciation for just how finely-tuned the combat in Sekiro is.

Stamina also doesn't play a factor in platforming at all. You won't run out of "grip gauge" and fall to your doom like in Shadow of the Colossus or Breath of the Wild. So the challenge of platforming is simply recognizing the intended path and having the requisite character ability. There are a few platforming bits later in the game that do force you to move quickly and optimize the path that you take, but it's the exception rather than the rule.

I do have to say that I appreciate that Respawn showed at least some degree of restraint with its spectacle action sequences. There's still a lot of them! But for the most part, you have to go through an entire level before getting to one. These levels are long and involved, and so those spectacle sequences feel more earned when they do happen. It isn't like Uncharted, where you do one platforming sequence or puzzle, then have a spectacle shoot-out.

Spectacles sequences feel earned after completing long, grueling levels.

Trinkets and baubles

The levels themselves are self-contained, long, spiraling paths full of shortcuts and paths that are blocked by skills or abilities that you don't have yet. You're often required to return to the ship after completing your objective on a planet, which gives you an opportunity to use your newly-received ability to open up paths that were blocked before.

All of the levels are huge, and take hours to play through.

Unfortunately, the first time through a level feels over long. It can easily take 2 or 3 hours to get through a single level, even with a minimal number of deaths. They are just that big and that complex! The size of the levels is put on full display when you are stuck standing around for a whole minute waiting for an elevator to take you to the other side of the level. The length of the levels puts me in a predicament whenever I play. I don't want to stop a play session in the middle of a level because I don't want to forget the layout or lose my flow, but I also don't always have three hours (or more) to dedicate to a single, unbroken play-session.

Shortcuts often take the form of long elevator rides.

Levels are windy and maze-like, and they twist around on themselves, with secret paths and shortcuts. It's as if Respawn Entertainment took the world design of Dark Souls and tried to compress it into every single level of this game. The sprawling nature of these levels (and the long elevator rides that serve as "shortcuts") give me a new appreciation for the brilliance of the level designers at From Software, who always do an excellent job of creating compact layouts with paths and shortcuts that feel functional and add to the allure and believability of a place. The windy paths and shortcuts of Fallen Order often feel more random or arbitrary.

The exploration also just doesn't feel worth it. There aren't fancy weapons or armors to collect (as in Dark Souls). Heck, even Sekiro had consumable items and Shinobi tools that made exploring off the beaten path feel like it might provide a worth-while reward. In Fallen Order, I didn't feel much motivation to even bother with it. Getting the occasional free skill point, stimpack, or boost to max health is worth a minor detour, but the overwhelming majority of the time, you're just getting alternate skins for your lightsaber, costume, droid, or spaceship. Unlike God of War, none of these (that I've found) have any in-game effects or provide any practical bonuses. By the third or fourth planet, the whole process was already starting to feel like game-padding busy work.

To compound the worthlessness of the exploration rewards, I never felt inclined to customize my lightsaber until much later in the game. Playing as Cal (instead of a custom-created character) took away my sense of ownership of him and his equipment. That lightsaber is Cal's lightsaber; not mine! It's a lightsaber that belonged to his master, and which has sentimental value to him. Who am I to tear it apart and rebuild it?

I never felt inclined to personalize Cal's lightsaber. It's his saber, with sentimental value to him. It's not mine.

It wasn't until much later in the game, when the saber is damaged and has to be rebuilt, that I ever bothered to personalize it. But even then, the cutscene has Cal combining parts from his first lightsaber with other parts from Cere's lightsaber, such that the weapon's appearance now mirrors Cal's own journey. Again, this establishes a degree of sentimental attachment to it that made me feel disinclined to modify it. But shortly after, Cal goes through a significant character growth moment that made me think "OK, maybe now it's time for him to have his own weapon.", so I finally threw out his old, sentimental Franken-saber and built my own (with a bright yellow blade).

The same was true of the Mantis and BD-1's skins. Who am I to change the paint job of BD-1's body, or of Greez's ship?

I can't get to this chest, but its location won't get
marked on the map to remind me it's there.

Sub-stellar cartography

The confusing level layouts don't make me eager to go back through the levels, especially later in the game, when I have to go out of my way to re-visit old locations because they are literally on a different planet, rather than being cleverly interconnected like a true Metroid-vania world. To make matters worse, the in-game map does not label the position of un-opened chests or other secrets that you may have walked by or seen off in the distance (but couldn't get to). It's a shame because the in-game map is otherwise excellent! Blocked paths are clearly labeled on the map and differentiated from unexplored paths. But if a chest is locked by a tool that you don't yet have, or it's sitting out in the open on a platform that you couldn't figure out how to get to, it won't be labeled on the map. If you do come back later in the game, you'll have to re-explore every nook and cranny of the level to find any such chests that you missed or couldn't open in the first visit. It's a real drag.

Even in the first-time run-through, it can be hard to tell which paths are the intended path to make progress, and which paths lead to optional content. This is further hindered by the frequency with which the game bugs out and won't let me jump or climb onto certain ledges. Given the proliferation of paths blocked off by abilities that I don't have yet, it seemed safe to assume that if I couldn't reach something after two or three attempts, that I was just meant to come back later after I'd unlocked a super-jump or something. But that isn't necessarily the case. In some cases, I had to keep trying because the jump that wasn't working was actually the critical path to finish the level.

Cal sometimes won't grab ledges or misses jumps that he should be able to make.

Little problems with un-polished content like this are littered throughout the game, and make it feel like it was a bit rushed and not fully play-tested. Many animations don't blend together properly. Textures and geometry sometimes fail to load in. There's also some iffy hit-boxes (especially for enemy grab attacks).

And oh my goodness! The swinging! Swinging on ropes and vines drives me nuts in this game! Tiny movements of the analog stick rotate Cal just enough to miss his jumps. Nothing in this game raises my blood pressure like the sight of two or more vines hanging over a chasm. Sometimes the backswing brings you close enough to a wall that the camera starts to pivot, which only makes it harder to maintain the right angle for the swing and jump. I rarely ever successfully executed a rope swing on the first try. The ice-sliding is almost as bad.

Swinging on vines or ropes is just the worst. The ice-sliding is almost as bad.

I like watching the environments approach and receed when landing or taking off from a planet. That's a nice touch. I wish the game had done more to imply the passage of time while in hyperspace so that the trips don't feel quite so instantaneous. Perhaps every lightspeed trip could have been broken up by a mandatory meditation to ensure that Cal is healed and leveled-up between each new expedition. I mean, you're probably going to want to meditate to heal and level-up anyway, so why not just do it automatically and help make the environment feel a bit more immersive while you're at it?

But then back to the un-original end of the spectrum: they copy-pasted the Dark Souls bonfire mechanic with no attempted explanation for how or why everything is respawning whenever Cal meditates. Dark Souls is so good, in part, because it does provide narrative and lore reasons for all of its gameplay mechanics. Almost nothing in Dark Souls is contrived for the sake of having a game, and that seems to be a point that other copycats from Nioh to Jedi Fallen Order seem to have completely missed.

Graded on a curve?

So yeah, I feel like most people are grading Jedi Fallen Order on a huge curve. It's a Star Wars game published by EA off the coat-tails of Battlefront II, that is a single-player, narrative and character-driven game with no micro-transactions. And for many reviewers, that seems to be worth a whole point out-of-ten all by itself. Yeah, I appreciate all that, but not enough to see through the game's obvious weaknesses, its lack of polish, and its lack of originality. It does everything just well enough to be "good" and I do recommend playing it, but I feel like it needed another few months of testing and fine-tuning.

Jedi Fallen Order is good, but might be a bit over-rated.

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