System: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Stadia | Released: November 2019
Developer: Respawn Entertainment / EA | Reviewed On: PC
Just when you thought Electronic Arts were done with good single-player games they go and release one of the best single-player games of the year (2019); Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order™ - a third-person action/adventure set 5 years after Episode III (Revenge of The Sith), created by Respawn Entertainment.
It's been 5 years since the great cull of Jedi's from the galaxy but of course, some Jedi Knights have evaded the purge. You are one such Jedi (in-the-making) - Jedi Padawan Cal Kestis and are forced back onto the path to becoming a Jedi Knight (albeit indirectly) when you are discovered at a shipbreaking yard where you've been laying low. With the inquisitors hot on your trail you have no choice but to follow this new path, defeat the Second Sister and become what you were destined to be.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order™ finds itself deeply embedded in the main story arc of Star Wars (despite being parallel to) and utilises its major assets accordingly. It's Respawn's apparent ability to create a presence in this well-known universe that gives Fallen Order its self-justification and I can tell you now that it does all of us Star Wars fans a solid. Did we need another Star Wars related title? Probably not. Was the endeavour worth the hassle? Absolutely yes!
The visuals on this game, having played through on the highest graphical settings, are nothing short of mesmerising and sees you traversing various types of aesthetically pleasing terrain throughout the full game as you assume a diluted Indiana Jones / Tomb Raider type role. Underground, overground, mountains, caves, jungle overgrowth, you name it; it's notably varied and the visuals, in general, are strongly accentuated by exemplary ambient lighting.
What's notable is the amount of detail Respawn have actually delved into with the landscapes and they've cleverly utilised a slight haze to mask the extents of their level designs that gives the impression of distance and vast expansive panoramas. Without really looking and scrutinising, you wouldn't even notice this as the trick fulfils its purpose sufficiently. I certainly felt like the vistas were far-reaching.
The detail Respawn has injected into other areas is fairly similar in-depth although other physical assets like local flora are somewhat lacking in realism, but only a tad. Where plants do exist, the shadows and textures are all there and satisfying, but I feel like more time could have been put into things like verges, cliff walls and mounds of land. What's more, is that some floral assets such as some weird alien stalks are not traversable by the player despite appearing sparse. Aside from anything natural, the visuals are as you'd expect them to be; grease mottled gunmetal aesthetics with the appropriate textures to suit.
Where Avatars are concerned, they have done well at creating the effect of moving fabrics and implementing good quality textures. Now, I wouldn't go as far as to say that this is amazing, because it simply isn't. It's merely adequate. You might also think that Respawn has used another masking technique here, to hide the movement flaws of the avatar by placing a large tabard/poncho onto Cal, but I don't think this is the case. Regardless of this, I don't feel like the poncho moves as it would in real life either, although it's half-decent. Detailing of faces in-game is also a point of contention, especially when you encounter Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) and you realise how poor he actually appears. Lucky enough for Respawn that most of the avatars are wearing stormtrooper helmets ey? - having said this, during cutscenes, this issue seems to be lessened, as you would expect.
I actually loved the gameplay visuals in many ways. The way sparks emanate and move when you strike something with your lightsaber, and the corresponding heat scar where you've struck whether that be on an avatar or the environment. It's done especially well and in enough detail to enhance the experience for the player. Under the same subject wave, I can say that the way flames are presented in the game is poor in comparison - by that, I mean flames on the ground; The same cannot be said of fire from a flamethrower as this is masked with motion blur.
And finally, we reach the main downside for me with regards to the avatar visuals...hair. It's always going to be a graphical challenge for a developer to conquer the aesthetics and physics pertaining to hair, and Respawn has definitely fallen short of this goliath task. It's also a neverending battle for the gamer to hit that perfect balance between ultra sharp graphics and anti-aliasing. Perhaps it's unfair of me to judge this based on my own inability to strike that balance but the developer should close that gap as much as possible and I'm afraid that, in this case, it just wasn't executed well.
If you're like me then you are immediately drawn to the score behind a game upon playing it. It is, in my opinion, one of the most important aspects of a game which can make or break an experience, and has to be near enough perfectly matched to the story and environment(s). The two things, visual and aural, are supposed to work in harmony with one another, and Respawn's choice of composers (Stephen Barton, Gordy Haab) for Fallen Order was absolutely on the money, propelling them most of the way there to accomplishing this feat. The score is wonderfully spirited and subdued at the various points, and accurately paints the story of the game in the most appropriate way. Harbouring the classic Star Wars aura, it ebbs and flows between underdog Jedi and prevailing triumph and is, well, just great. Complimenting this are some brilliantly classic Star Wars sound effects in-game that are also on point.
The game is presented in the third person and it's quite obvious that inspiration for the combat system is gleaned from other titles, for example, Batman (the Arkham series). As such, the hitboxes leave something to be desired as it does in the aforementioned series, where close combat seems a little off the mark. Similarly, with only a limited number of actions or movements set in combat, it appears to highlight the shortfall of accurate strikes or foot placements. Now, this is in no way game-breaking although it does dull the combat experience for me. I prefer the fluidity of movement and combat sequences that are varied enough to be cinematic, and I feel like it just didn't hit the spot in this area. Another example of this would be Cal's apparent ineptness in grabbing ropes and vines in midair, but this is pretty much a moot point as you gain force abilities later on in the game, rendering this action more fluid and able - this appears to be deliberate, more on this later.
Smack bang in the face of this, though, is Respawn's inclusion of varied gameplay styles. They have almost seamlessly merged general combat with an 'Uncharted-style' format at various points in the game which creates the sense of live-action cinematography and ultimately, a palpable adventure. They do this so well and is almost forgiving of all other negatives in their gameplay.
The controls, to begin with, seem to be clunky and awkward, but as you work through the story you realise that this could be intentional. The gradual addition of force and saber abilities makes the experience more and more fluid and enjoyable as you progress and is synonymous with the arc of the storyline; you are on the path to becoming a Jedi, and as such, are learning your craft as you go from zero to hero. If this is the case then as a finished article, the game is brilliant in this way, but for gamers who are easily swayed by first impressions, I believe this may be an uninstall-worthy aspect. I'd highly advise anyone who is put off with the initial gameplay, to persevere with it; It's completely worth it.
The save system infrastructure is delivered as meditation points where you can save the game and upgrade your abilities (providing you have accumulated the skill points) at pre-determined locations that are few and far between which I found slightly annoying. I found that I would complete a fair chunk of the game without saving at one of these points and would have to redo the entire section if I died. Now, this is something that I think is meant to instil a challenging trait, but is more irritating than anything. I'm sure most gamers will agree that autosaves or quick in-game saves at any chosen point are the most satisfying and the most utilised so I was disappointed to be presented with this. A save at one of these meditation circles will also respawn all enemies in that area, so if you aren't looking to grind and upgrade it's recommended that you don't fully save - just enter and exit the save menu on one of these spots, which will save the game without enemy respawn.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is saturated with so many satisfying puzzles and is full to the brim with secrets that aren't always attainable on first glance. Some easter eggs are displayed in full view but require abilities gained later in the game to be able to reach them. This is an ingeniously devious move from Respawn and almost persuaded me to go back after completing the story...almost. I'm never one for 100% completion but this was enticing.
Like all Star Wars stories, it wouldn't be complete without a trusty droid companion and a quirky character to provide that light-hearted tinge to a dire situation. Fallen Order employs both of these in the form of BD1 (your adorable droid pal) and the pilot of the Mantis (your ship). This allows the game to fit perfectly into the universe and gives it that classic feel, which I loved to no end.
What can be said of the gameplay can also be said of the story; it's a gradual accumulation of detail. It becomes a journey and a fulfilling journey it was. An attachment to the characters is something that I think all directors want from the audience and in this case, Fallen Order yields just that. I was emotionally involved with the story on a few different levels and found myself enjoying it more and more as I played through.
As the story climaxes at the final scenes you are left astounded at the direction and extent in which it unfolds; It's an ultimate adventure and is beautiful in its direction. I wasn't expecting the game to be able to sit so well within a universe that is always under complete scrutiny when anyone touches it, but it does and is executed remarkably.
I know I've included many a spoiler in this review but I will leave you with one more image that will surely tickle the Star Wars fan within you and, hopefully, convince you to play the game: