A new hope for Star Wars games?
What is Jedi Fallen Order?
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is a standalone title within the Star Wars franchise, developed by Respawn Entertainment and published by Electronic Arts. The game was released in late 2019 for PC, Xbox One and Playstation 4.
The title goes back to the roots of Star Wars titles from the mid to late 90’s focussing more on an individual character to plot a narrative that fits within the Star Wars universe as a whole, whilst also focussing its attention on developing its own sub-plot, preventing it from getting bogged down with a massive scope or from over referencing other events from supporting media.
Centring on a Jedi Cal Kestis, this 3rd person action-adventure takes a bold step into an original story within a much-beloved era of the Star Wars franchise.
A dangerous and vast universe to enter.
What is Star Wars?
For those, who have somehow avoided the ever-pervasive marketing and influence of the Star Wars franchise, here is a recap. Originally the vision of George Lucas, Star Wars started as a trilogy of films. With the first, A New Hope releasing in 1977. This was to be the start of a classic set of films that would capture millions across the globe, becoming an icon within the science fiction genre and within the film and the entertainment industry as a whole.
There was always the hint of more depth to the universe that George Lucas had laid before audiences at this time and throughout the 80s and 90s many authors contributed to a vast collection of books collectively known as the “Expanded Universe”. As well as these, the 90s also saw the rise of Lucasarts within the gaming industry, with that, came many Star Wars titles, including the X-Wing franchise and the Dark Forces/Jedi Knight Series.
The story would be continued in 1999 with the release of the first instalment of the prequel trilogy, aiming to provide context and shed light on the events that came before the original classics. Initially, these films, due to being aimed at a different audience to those who had followed Star Wars for the preceding 25+ years, were met with mixed responses from audiences and fans. This meant that between 1999 and approximately 2008 there was a large shift within the fan base and the popularity of the franchise.
Starting just before 2010, Star Wars would see a revival amongst fans as more supporting media, such as the very well received Clone Wars animated series would provide additional context and emotional depth where some found the prequels lacking. Soon after, the franchise changed hands, being acquired by Disney in 2012, serving as a major change for the franchise, but not all change is for the better.
Legends, canon and all those in-between.
Up until the prequel trilogy was released there had always been a unified and directed narrative canon to the Star Wars universe. All books, comics and games ultimately went through Lucasarts and in many cases George Lucas himself for approval before being released. In many of these cases, changes would have to be made before release could be approved due to the direction of George Lucas and other senior producers. A notable example is in some of the books, focussing on a time period known as the “Yuuzhan Vong War”, an author had written in the death of certain key characters from the original trilogy, some of which were rejected and had to be amended before the book could come to print.
This meant the universe, from films through to books and games had a cohesive vision and despite minor discrepancies, all fit the same plot and timeline. This changed in the mid-2000s where an element of control seemed to be lost or overlooked, primarily within the franchise's games.
· 2002’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars
· 2005’s Star Wars: Battlefront 2
· 2008’s Star Wars: Force Unleashed
· 2010’s Star Wars: Force Unleashed 2
These are all examples of games released after the prequel trilogy which didn’t go through this approval process and so make large deviations from the accepted canon of the Star Wars universe, meaning what narrative they do have loses value when in the grand scheme of things, they could just as easily be discarded.
With Disney’s acquisition of the franchise in 2012, both a good and a bad thing happened to this process. Control was reapplied to all supplementary material, such as games and books, restoring the feeling of cohesion between all the various narrative devices. Simultaneously, Disney declared a clean slate and discarded all “Expanded Universe” material from Star Wars canon, renaming it “Legends”, leaving only the 6 films and the Clone Wars TV series standing and discarding almost 30 years’ worth of work and almost thirty thousand years of lore.
This move would sow discord and hatred amongst fans old and new and continues to be a fundamental rift within the franchises fan base to this day. Disney’s sequel trilogy of films, for example, have been almost universally denounced by a large majority of the fan base and much of the material building up to this trilogy as a result, regardless of its own merits is largely discounted due to the relation. This discord has reached such an extent that recent rumours suggest that discussions are currently taking place in Disney to set aside these newer films from the canon and return to the EU roots of the franchise.
It is worth noting that series such as Star Wars Rebels and more recently The Mandalorian have found a large degree of success, but key to this is the separation from the canon set out by the sequel trilogy.
All of this, to say, that being a part of and adding to the current Star Wars canon is a dangerous undertaking when it comes to games and the potential response from the fan base. Sticking within the confines of the original trilogy provides safety but ultimately limits direction and creativity, without venturing back into the realms of the now-defunct “Extended Universe”. The bastion and safe haven amongst all of this turmoil, ironically, is in the space around and immediately following the prequel trilogy. As mentioned previously, The Clone Wars animated series, as well as time and other supporting materials has led to this becoming one of the most beloved areas of canon among modern Star Wars fans, as a result, it remains one of the only safe places for creative exploration.
Attack of the loot boxes.
Since Disney’s acquisition, the Star Wars franchise has struggled to find its feet within the gaming industry. Most games produced such as the two Battlefront games, released in 2015 and 2017 respectively saw reasonable commercial success and decent response from popular game reviewers. However, the first title was heavily criticised for omitting any form of single-player content, instead entirely focussing on multiplayer gameplay. Whilst the second title learnt from this mistake it made new ones of its own and in an attempt to cash in on the multiplayer aspects of the game, aggressive loot box mechanics were implemented, causing negative press in popular news outlets, becoming the centrepiece for discussion on gambling within video games at the time and completely overshadowing the inclusion of any single-player gameplay.
This caused fans of Star Wars games to lose trust, primarily in the publisher EA, as titles had been getting progressively more multiplayer focussed in a franchise that had always thrived on their single-player content.
A narrative tied in with gameplay.
Cal Kestis and the rebirth of the Jedi.
The beginning of the game introduces players to Cal Kestis, a young Jedi who has been hiding from the Empire since “the purge”, an event that saw almost all of the Jedi eliminated from the galaxy. As a scrapper navigating the stripped hulk of an old warship, the player is introduced to the “basics” of movement within the game, which sees them running, climbing, swinging, sliding and hanging their way across varied terrain with long drops and large vistas. This instantly pulls on the heartstrings of Clone Wars fans, seeing their favourite ships and vehicles being stripped down and scrapped for use by the Empire.
The game gradually introduces the plot, in which Cal is forced out from hiding in a quest to try and rebuild the Jedi Order by finding a hidden list of potential Jedi to train. Alongside some companions, filling the roles of guides and conscience throughout the game, Cal also acquires a droid who will aid him on his way, providing additional abilities both in navigation, combat and discovery.
As you explore multiple planets and locations, the story develops from its initial grander plot to that of a more personal adventure, eventually diverting Cal from his original quest, transitioning to a story of self-discovery which whilst discarding much of the driving force behind the player's actions throughout the game, still feels rewarding and satisfying to experience.
As a narrative experience, the player is drawn into the events, reliving memories and learning of tragedies that have formed the characters of the game. A special force ability Cal has is to sense echoes of memory through physical objects in the world. This allows the game to explore the wider context of events surrounding the time period, seeing how the development of the empire and the fall of the Jedi have impacted the inhabitants of the galaxy, as well as exploring the lore of many of these locations, some new to the franchise and others have been around since the beginning.
This narrative does take one dangerous step in linking with Disney’s sequel trilogy which provides a good deal of context to the events of these later films and within the confines of the game is an intriguing and powerful look at the impact of the Empire within the story. This move, although risky was executed well and clearly established that the game's story fits in with the current Star Wars canon, setting it apart from its predecessors from the late 2000s.
Gameplay and combat mechanics.
This game seems to take inspiration from multiple titles when forming its combat and general gameplay. Enemies provide a substantial challenge and checkpoints come with a heavy risk/reward trade-off much like the “Souls” franchise. These checkpoints allow you to save your progress up to that point and restore your health as is traditional, however, these checkpoints also respawn all of the enemies across the map. This might not be a major problem with a linear map in which the player goes from A to B and never back again. However, the map design and mechanics of Fallen Order require the player to constantly retrace areas previously explored, meaning they will also be running into enemies previously defeated.
Combat itself feels smooth and rewarding, with Star Wars’ iconic lightsaber providing a great balance between dealing damage at close range whilst deflecting and in some cases reflecting long-range damage, a trait that is reinforced by the variety of enemies seen throughout the game. Varying from blaster toting Stormtroopers to staff-wielding Shock Troopers, as well as powerful creatures unique to each world and at points, bosses who themselves use lightsabers and force abilities. These enemies are well spaced throughout the game and provide unique challenges to each stage and environment. As the player gains abilities and skill they will have to continue to develop, combining all of these to defeat the ever-increasing difficulty of later game enemies.
The variety of combat actions available strikes a good balance between being unique to the title whilst giving clear nods to The Force Unleashed series as well as the Jedi Knight series from the late 90s.
Major abilities & flashbacks.
Major force abilities, including various forms of telekinesis, are linked with major narrative plot points within the game. They are introduced to the player seamlessly through the use of flashbacks, taking the player back to the training Cal received from his master before the purge and ultimately building up to the major trauma point in his life, which serves as one of the main catalysts for his actions throughout the game. These new abilities and their utility are clearly shown to the player whilst not raising questions of their absence in the game up to that point.
Everything is explained through the clever use of these flashbacks and these major abilities further add to the gameplay in drastic ways, opening entirely new ways to fight enemies as well as traverse sections of the maps. In some cases, this allows exploration of otherwise unavailable areas whilst in others, it makes re-exploring previously discovered areas, for the sake of collection and discovery, easier due to the availability of new shortcuts and paths.
Visuals and Audio
Jedi Fallen Order does a fantastic job at recreating the atmosphere of different planets and environments with its mixture of graphical detail, character and creature design and lighting. Exploring dark environments feels tense and sees the player use their lightsaber as a light source as they attempt to navigate certain sections of the map.
Each enemy looks and feels unique within their appearance and animations, creating a clear visual distinction between the different styles of combat each one might offer. Further to this, the motion capture used, in particular with the main protagonist Cal (played by Cameron Monaghan) was extremely well done, bringing movie quality acting to cut scenes and plot points within the game. This was done to such a standard that these characters wouldn’t feel out of place in one of Disney’s spin-off Star Wars TV series, such as The Mandalorian.
The sound effects, from the shots of blasters to the noise of lightsabers, is fitting and in tone with the franchise, providing new elements whilst maintaining nostalgia Star Wars fans would instantly recognise, as sounds made by weapons, vehicles and characters put you back in the theatre where they were first heard.
Fallen Order is able to set itself apart however is its original soundtrack, where it forms its own themes and unique take on the recognisable motifs of Star Wars music, first laid out by John Williams over 40 years ago. The orchestral pieces provide the traditional emotive and powerful backdrops the franchise is known for, whilst more contemporary music produced by “The Hu”, a Mongolian folk-rock band provides a more vivid and action-driven piece that feels like it could only have come from the Star Wars Universe.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order provides consistent, challenging and engaging gameplay throughout. With a strong focus on narrative and foregoing the additional scope and complications added by multiplayer elements, Respawn and EA are able to provide a story worthy of its own spinoff movie. Whilst allowing the player to interact and discover parts of the Star Wars Universe yet to be fully explored. These elements, mixed with its own graphical and musical identity put it amongst the top of Star Wars games released to date, well deserving of a 9/10 for the rich experience it provides.
This game serves as an all be it surprising, but welcome return to form for Star Wars games produced by EA, which in recent years with titles such as Star Wars Battlefront and Squadrons have fallen short of expectations for many fans and come under scrutiny for divisive monetization and a focus on multiplayer content as opposed to a solid single-player experience.