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Game Reviews

‘Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order’: The Force is Strong in this One

A new hope…

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Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is one of the more propulsive and joyous games released this year. The latest from Respawn Entertainment (the creators of Titanfall and Apex Legends) is sure to satisfy fans who have impatiently waited almost a decade for a single-player action-adventure Star Wars game, and one that is actually good. In fact, Fallen Order is better than good— it’s great and worthy of standing side by side with the best Star Wars games ever made. Save for an incredibly bland protagonist, Fallen Order delivers what any fan could hope for.  

We’ve been waiting a long time for a good single-player Star Wars game and thankfully Respawn has come through with a narrative-driven adventure that calls to mind the best of Uncharted, Tomb Raider, Dark Souls and even God of War while also embedding itself in official universe canon. If that isn’t enough, Jedi: Fallen Order drops you into Metroidvania style environments and features incredibly tough boss battles and a skill tree that lets you unlock tons of new abilities by accumulating experience and skill points. Jedi: Fallen Order is an ambitious game, to say the least. It features the fast-paced action the developers have become famous for and while the result isn’t groundbreaking (nor original), it’s a solid space opera spectacle with enough nostalgia to overpower even the most jaded gamer.

Star Wars: Jedi: Fallen Order Review

Order 66

The story takes place sometime between Star Wars: A New Hope and Episode III, when most of the Jedi Order are either dead or missing in action. You assume control of Cal Kestis, a promising young Padawan in the Republic who following the events of Order 66 (which resulted in the deaths of thousands of Jedi) was forced to abandon his training and seek a solitary life on the planet Bracca. In order to survive Darth Sidious’s purge of the Jedi Order, Cal removed himself from the Force, concealed his identity, and took on a job working for the Empire. Unfortunately for him, a squad of professional Jedi hunters led by Second Sister have tracked him down, leaving him with little choice but to fight back.

The Story is Canon

Fallen Order kicks off with a powerful and emotional sequence as Cal decides to risk his own life and try to save his friend. In doing so, Cal reveals himself to the Empire, setting in motion a cat-and-mouse chase that sees him team up with former Jedi Master Cere Junda and a Latero pilot named Greez Dritus. Armed with Jedi powers, a lightsaber and the trusty aid of BD1 (a droid designed to assist with exploration in remote and dangerous locations), Cal blasts his way through hyperspace discovering ancient tombs, freeing Wookie slaves, hijacking an AT-AT and basically fighting the Imperial Army.

Jedi: Fallen Order is a step forward for the franchise – an exhilarating ride, filled with exciting battles, non-stop action, soaring emotions, and performances that can be described as legitimately good, rather than just good, for a video game. It’s also a rousing introduction to new characters who will likely carry this world forward (I expect a sequel or two). There’s seriously a solid story here and one that adheres to the spirit and tone of the Star Wars universe. The supporting players, for example, are all great. Cal’s droid, BD-1, is particularly captivating, and the game does an admirable job of building up Cal’s friendship with the droid in both the cinematic cutscenes and in the actual gameplay.

Story-wise, BD-1 is crucial to the plot since the droid is entrusted to guide Cal on a dangerous mission assigned by Master Cordova who left behind a list of the missing Jedi children who he believes will one day restore the Jedi Order and defeat the evil Empire. Without BD, there is no adventure. With the help of the droid, however, Cal is able to travel to various planets and discover and unlock important messages and clues left behind by Cordova. Aside from guiding Cal across various planets, BD-1 also serves several support functions in gameplay. He can function as a zipline, hack certain droid enemies, unlock doors, project holographic maps and even provide Cal with “stims” that allow him to heal himself during combat— something you definitely need since a number of gameplay mechanics are lifted from the Soulsborne genre; in other words, the game can be hard.

Truth be told, the first few hours of Fallen Order are a bit generic as players are slowly introduced to the world, but it doesn’t take long before the game starts to shine thanks to the relationships Cal forms with his colleagues who he meets along the way. Jedi: Fallen Order is a story of rebellion and finding hope, but it’s also a story of friendship and braving adversity and the game really excels by investing in the interpersonal dynamics of its entire cast, and not just the good guys but the villains as well. BD-1 is without a doubt the scene-stealer as he certainly adds some much-needed levity to the journey, but every character serves an important role (big or small) in moving the story forward. Of the entire cast, I have to make mention of Actress Debra Wilson who does a superb job in her motion-capture performance as Cere, a warrior who is wounded and haunted by her past. She is the moral center and becomes Cal’s mentor as they desperately try and survive in a world that seems entirely devoid of any hope. As the plot unfolds, Cere relives her darkest moments and confronts the mistakes of her past. In these scenes, Debra Wilson shines so brightly, you’d be forgiven for thinking she deserves an Oscar.

Jedi: Fallen Order is a fun, polished space odyssey that embraces the appeal of the Star Wars universe.

Given that Respawn Entertainment worked closely with Lucasfilm, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Jedi: Fallen Order is officially part of the Star Wars lore. And despite operating in the shadow of the immensely popular series, it understands this and hardwires that understanding into its own DNA. And like the best Star Wars games, it borrows ideas from the films (and other reading material) while inserting flashbacks to flesh out the heroes and the conflict at hand. It certainly helps that the latest game in the canon explores new characters and new corners of the galaxy while remaining faithful to the core themes of the franchise and even if some of these storylines seem recycled from past stories, the new additions and the central mystery keeps the story engaging from start to finish. And while this story is much smaller in scale than the blockbuster movies, Jedi: Fallen Order raises the stakes in every chapter thanks to the omnipresent threat of the Inquisitors hunting Cal, who always seem like they’re one step away from closing in on the kill. And if you know anything about the future of the Star Wars universe, you know that Cal’s future isn’t looking too bright. All in all, the team at Respawn did an incredible job of exploring and expanding the universe of Star Wars, especially considering the dark time in which this story takes place.

Star Wars: Jedi: Fallen Order Cast

It’s clear when playing Fallen Order that the team was interested in creating a more nuanced, character-driven tale and in order to achieve that goal, they carefully crafted a story that weaves the player’s actions and interactions into Cal’s evolving journey. What we have here is a coming of age tale which sees Cal growing as a person while strengthening his relationship with the Force. Unfortunately, Cal Kestis is also somewhat of a dull protagonist. Sure, he has a tragic past (who doesn’t in this universe) but he’s also a blank slate, predictable and devoid of layers. Given that the story takes place after the Great Jedi Purge, you’d figure the writers could have used that trauma to create a far more complex character and inject Cal with a bit more life— a bit more personality— and/or a bit more fight; instead, he’s just a quiet, brooding loner. In the end, it feels like a missed opportunity, especially since actor Cameron Monaghan, who plays both the younger and older Cal, delivers the best performance he could with the writing he was given. It’s not a deal-breaker by any stretch of the imagination but Cal is surprisingly the only disappointing factor of the game.

Exploration

Jedi: Fallen Order’s best quality is exploration. What at first seems like a standard linear experience quickly reveals itself to be so much more. Levels are immense with plenty of shortcuts to unlock and puzzles to solve— and to help you navigate, Cal is given a handy 3D map that highlights which areas you can and cannot yet pass. Much of the game is spent exploring and it helps that each planet feels distinct and features various set pieces that liven up the proceedings. Although you do spend some time backtracking through these environments, it never becomes tedious as most areas are filled with tons of secrets such as new outfits for Cal to wear and additional stim canisters, which become valuable when facing off against a dangerous foe. As the level design quickly opens up, Cal gains new abilities that allow him to run along walls, jump higher and push and pull large objects that help him navigate through the treacherous ground.

Second Sister Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Jedi: Fallen Order Kicked My Ass

The combat in Fallen Order which has frequently been compared to Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is easily the biggest surprise. Fighting relies heavily on blocking and carefully timed parries and the decision to make combat more focused on defensive strategy heightens the spectacle as well as the flow and pacing of the game. Jedi: Fallen Order requires patience and relies less on mindlessly button spamming and more on strategic mastery. You have to look at your surroundings, understand your enemies and identify their strengths and weaknesses. It’s all about timing, and exchanging lightsaber blows during riveting boss encounters is incredibly satisfying. And it’s not just with the boss battles either; even encounters with regular stormtroopers and alien creatures take precision and care, each battle becoming a ballet of blocks and dodges as you patiently wait for an opening to attack so you can inflict more damage. Playing in the Jedi Master mode is tough and I do mean tough. Jedi Grandmaster seems downright impossible, at least for me. You’ll die. And then you’ll die again; rinse and repeat. And did I mention that when you do die, you lose whatever XP you’ve gathered toward skill points and have to return to defeat whoever killed you in order to reclaim it. Fans of the Dark Souls series will love it; for the rest of us, you can always dial down the difficulty setting because unlike those From Software games, you do have a choice over which difficulty you want to play. Whether you’re an action game veteran or a casual Star Wars fan, the game has four difficulty modes that should accommodate everyone. That said, if you’re familiar with action games, I highly recommend Jedi Master for your first run; Story Mode and Jedi Knight are too easy and don’t provide enough of a challenge.

Jedi: Fallen Order may not receive points for originality, but Fallen Order is still one of the most entertaining games of the year.

Jedi: Fallen Order feels like a direct response by EA to its fans who’ve been very vocal about their disappointment with the company’s previous Star Wars games. Or maybe EA was just trying to please Disney who has made it clear they have no issue in parting ways with collaborators who don’t deliver quality products. Whatever the case, EA was wise to hand over the license to Respawn Entertainment who’ve proven they have a real talent for making spectacular single-player action/adventure games. In spite of some minor performance issues, Fallen Order does exactly what it set out to do. Not only does it feel like a genuine Star Wars game but it pumps new energy and life into the franchise in a way that both resurrects old pleasures and points in promising new directions. Fallen Order is great. Not groundbreaking. But one of the very best games of 2019 and one of the best Star Wars games ever made.

Jedi: Fallen Order re-awoke my love of Star Wars video games and turned my inner fanboy into my outer fanboy. Here’s hoping they make a sequel.

Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast, I edit, and I design websites. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Goomba Stomp and the NXpress Nintendo Podcast. Former Editor-In-Chief of Sound On Sight, and host of several podcasts including the Game of Thrones and Walking Dead podcasts, as well as the Sound On Sight and Sordid Cinema shows. There is nothing I like more than basketball, travelling, and animals. You can find me online writing about anime, TV, movies, games and so much more.

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Game Reviews

‘Riverbond’ Review: Colorful Hack’n’Slash Chaos

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Sometimes a little bit of mindless smashing is just what people play video games for, and if some light sword-swinging, spear-stabbing, laser-shooting giant hand-slapping action that crumbles a destructible world into tiny blocks sounds like a pleasant way to spend a few hours, then Riverbond might just satisfy that urge. Though its short campaign can get a little repetitive by the end, colorful voxel levels and quirky characters generally make this rampaging romp a button-mashing good time, especially if you bring along a few friends.

Riverbond grass

There really isn’t much of a story here outside something about some mystical leaders being imprisoned by a knight, and Riverbond lets players choose from its eight levels in Mega Man fashion, so don’t go in expecting some sort of narrative thread. Instead, each land has its own mini-situation going on, whether that involves eradicating some hostile pig warriors or reading library books or freeing numerous rabbit villagers scattered about, the narrative motivation is pretty light here. That doesn’t mean that these stages don’t each have their various charms, however, as several punnily named NPCs will blurt out humorous bits of dialogue that work well as breezy pit stops between all the cubic carnage.

Developer Cococucumber has also wisely created plenty of visual variety for their fantastical world, as players will find their polygonal hero traversing the lush greenery of grassy plains, the wooden piers of a ship’s dockyard, the surrounding battlements of a medieval castle, and the craggy outcroppings of a snowy mountain, among other locations, each with a distinct theme. Many of the trees or bridges or crates or whatever else happens to be lying around are completely destructible, able to be razed to the ground with enough brute force. Occasionally the physics involved in these crumbling structures helps gain access to jewels or other loot, but this mechanic mostly just their for the visual appeal one gets from cascading blocks; Riverbond isn’t exactly deep in its design.

Riverbond boss

That shallowness also applies to the basic gameplay, which pretty much involves hacking or shooting enemies and environments to pieces, activating whatever task happens to be the main goal for each sub-stage, then moving on or scouring around a bit for treasure before finally arriving at a boss. Though there are plenty of different weapons to find, they generally fall into only a few categories: small swinging implements that allow for quick slashes, large swinging implements that are slow but deal heavier damage, spears that offer quick jabs, or guns that…shoot stuff. There are some variations among these in speed, power, and possible side effects (a gun that fired electricity is somewhat weak, but sticks to opponents and gives off an extra, devastating burst), but once an agreeable weapon is found, there is little reason to give it up outside experimentation.

Still, there is a rhythmic pleasure to be found in games like this when they are done right, and Riverbond mostly comes through with tight controls, hummable tunes, and twisting levels that do a good job of mixing in some verticality to mask the repetitiveness. It’s easy for up to four players to get in on the dungeon-crawling-like pixelated slaughter, and the amount of blocks exploding onscreen can make for some fun and frenzied fireworks, especially when whomping on one of the game’s giant bosses. A plethora of skins for the hero are also discoverable, with at least one or two tucked away in locations both obvious and less so around each sub-stage. These goofy characters exist purely for aesthetic reasons, but those who prefer wiping out legions of enemies dressed as Shovel Knight or a sentient watermelon slice will be able to fulfill that fantasy.

Riverbond bears

By the end, the repetitive fights and quests can make Rivebond feel a little same-y, but the experience wraps up quickly without dragging things out. This may disappoint players looking for a more involved adventure, but those who sometimes find relaxation by going on autopilot — especially with some buddies on the couch — will appreciate how well the block-smashing basics are done here.

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Game Reviews

‘Earthnight’ Review: Hit the Dragon Running

Between its lush visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, Earthnight never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

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Earthnight

In Earthnight, you do one thing: run. There’s not much more to do in this roguelike auto-runner but to dash across the backs of massive dragons to reach their heads and strike them down. This may be an extremely simple gameplay loop, but Earthnight pulls it off with such elegance and style. Between its lush comic book visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, it creates an experience that never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

Dragons have descended from space and are wreaking havoc upon humanity. No one is powerful enough to take them down – except for the two-player characters, Sydney and Stanley, of course. As the chosen ones to save the human race, they must board a spaceship and drop from the heavens while slaying as many dragons on your way down as they can. For every defeated creature, they’ll be rewarded with water – an extremely precious resource in the wake of the dragon apocalypse. This resource can be exchanged for upgrades that make the next run that much better.

This simple story forms the basis for a similarly basic, yet engaging gameplay loop. Each time you dive from your spaceship, you’ll see an assortment of dragons to land on. Once you make a landing, you’ll dash across its back and avoid the obstacles it throws at you before reaching its head, where you’ll strike the final blow. Earthnight is procedurally generated, so every time you leap down from your home base, there’s a different set of dragons to face, making each run feel unique. There are often special rewards for hunting specific breeds of dragon, so it’s always exciting to see the new set of creatures before you and hunt for the one you need at any given moment.

Earthnight is an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.”

Earthnight

Landing on the dragons is only the first step to slaying them. Entire hordes of monsters live on their backs, and in true auto-runner fashion, they’ll rush at you with reckless abandon from the very start. During the game’s first few runs, the onrush of enemies can feel overwhelming. Massive crowds of them will burst forth at once, and it can feel impossible to survive their onslaughts. However, this is where Earthnight begins to truly shine. The more dragons you slay, the more upgrade items become available, which are either given as rewards for slaying specific dragons or can be purchased with the water you’ve gained in each run. Many of these feel essentially vital for progression – some allow you to kill certain enemies just by touching them, whereas others can grant you an additional jump, both of which are much appreciated in the utter chaos of obstacles found on each dragon.

Procedural generation can often result in bland or repetitive level design, but it’s this item progression system that keeps Earthnight from ever feeling dry. It creates a constant sense of improvement: with more items in your arsenal after each new defeated dragon, you’ll be able to descend even further in the next run. This makes every level that much more exciting: with more power under your belt, there are greater possibilities for defeating enemies, stacking up combos, or climbing high above the dragons. It becomes an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.

Earthnight

At its very best, Earthnight feels like a rhythm game. With the perfect upgrades for each level, it becomes only natural to bounce off of enemies’ heads and soar through the heavens with an almost musical flow. The vibrant chiptune soundtrack certainly helps with this. Packed full of driving beats and memorable melodies with a mixture of chiptune and modern instrumentation, the music makes it easy to charge forward through whatever each level will throw your way.

That is not to say that Earthnight never feels too chaotic for its own good – rather, there are some points where its flood of enemies and obstacles can feel too random or overwhelming, to the point where it can be hard to keep track of your character or feel as if it’s impossible to avoid enemies. Sometimes the game can’t even keep up with itself, with the performance beginning to chug once enemies crowd the screen too much, at least in the Switch version. However, this is the exception, rather than the rule, and for the most part, simply making good use of its upgrades and reacting quickly to the challenges before you will serve you well in your dragon-slaying quest.

Earthnight

Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.”

It certainly helps that Earthnight is a visual treat as well. It adopts a striking comic book style, in which nearly every frame of animation is lovingly hand-drawn and loaded with detail. Sometimes these details feel a bit excessive – some characters are almost grotesquely detailed, with the faces of the bobble-headed protagonists sometimes seeming too elaborate for comfort. However, in general, it’s a gorgeous game, with its luscious backdrops of deep space and high sky, along with creative monsters and dragon designs that only get more outlandish and spectacular the farther down you soar.

Earthnight is a competent auto-runner that might not revolutionize its genre, but it makes up for this simplicity by elegantly executing its core gameplay loop so that it constantly changes yet remains endlessly addictive. Its excellent visual and audio presentation helps to make it all the more engrossing, while it strikes the perfect balance between randomized level design and permanent progression thanks to its items and upgrades system. At times it may get too chaotic for its own good, but all told, Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.

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Game Reviews

‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 5 Review – “Wolves”: A Worthy Send-off

The final episode of Life is Strange 2 may take a while to get going but it does offer a solid conclusion to the Diaz brothers’ journey.

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Life is Strange 2

Life is Strange 2 hasn’t made any bones about being a political game over the course of the last year. The 5th, and final episode, “Wolves”, doesn’t just continue with this message, it doubles down, and in a big way.

Set near the Arizona-Mexico border, “Wolves” follows the Diaz brothers on the final leg of their journey. Having escaped from the cult that held Daniel up as a messianic figure in the previous episode, Sean and Daniel are camping out in a sort of pop-up town filled with outsiders like themselves.

Life is Strange 2

The location provides Life is Strange 2 with its final breath of relaxation before the story enters its high tension endgame, and it’s a much needed reprieve. Unfortunately, it does seem to go on a bit longer than the player might like, and that makes things drag a smidge.

To give you some idea of how long you’ll be spending in the village, 4 of the 6 collectibles are found here. So, yes, this starting area is the main place you’ll be spending “Wolves” in. To be clear, the area isn’t bad per se. There’s a lot to see, a scavenger hunt to go on, and a few interesting characters to speak with, including a surprise cameo from the original game. The bummer of it all is that players will be feeling the time here more laboriously simply because there isn’t much of anything happening.

Life is Strange 2

In the 2nd or 3rd episode of this story it’s perfectly fine for an extended bit of down time. Episode 3, in particular, benefited greatly from allowing you to settle into the setting and get to know a diverse and likable new group of characters. However, by the 5th episode, players will be so eager to see how things are gonna settle up, they won’t be able to get out of this area fast enough.

On the upswing, once Sean and Daniel leave the village, the story moves at a pretty solid clip to the credits. As the key art and trailer for “Wolves” might suggest, the Diaz brothers do indeed challenge the border wall in the final leg of Life is Strange 2. Where things go from there, I won’t spoil, but rest assured that Daniel will absolutely go through the crisis as you’ve trained him to do.

By this I mean, you will see the final results of your choices throughout the game, and they’re pretty impressive. With 4 possible endings, and 3 possible variations on those endings, Life is Strange 2 can ultimately play out in a variety of ways. How yours plays out will, of course, depend on the choices you’ve made and how you’ve influenced your brother throughout your journey.

Either way, though, Life is Strange 2 closes off “Wolves” with an emotionally satisfying and generally fulfilling conclusion to your journey. It might be a necessary evil that the events can’t be intense the whole way through, being that this is not an action or combat-focused game, but the fact that things take so long to get going in the final episode is a bit of a problem.

Still, fans worried that Life is Strange 2 might fail to stick the landing can rest easy. “Wolves” might not be the best, or most satisfying, episode of the series but it does what it needs to do and it does it well, particularly in the back half.

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