Entire generations have grown up feeling their pulse quicken at the sound of a lightsaber being unleashed. Within every one of us is the power fantasy of being a Padawan learner, mastering the ways of the force and ultimately becoming Jedi, our own lightsaber in hand. When Order 66 was set in motion by Emperor Palpatine, Jedi the universe over were extinguished in a coordinated attack that silenced the Force, almost forever. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order tells the story of Cal Kestis, a former Padawan who’s been hiding out on the planet of Bracca since Order 66. Having joined a scrapper crew and living in hiding, he pushed his Force sensitivity down, burying it. While out scrapping, his friend Prauf has an accident that forces young Kestis to intervene using his semi-dormant powers, revealing himself once again to the wider Force. Unfortunately, the Empire’s Inquisitors have also taken notice, sending the ruthless Second and Ninth Sisters to come and finish him off. Narrowly saved by two mysterious individuals, Cere Junda and Greez Dritus, the three now find themselves on the remote planet of Bogano, investigating an ancient vault that might contain the answers Cal will need to reawaken himself fully to the Force.
Recently I got to go hands-on with Respawn Entertainment’s collaboration with EA and LucasArts — Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. This microtransaction-free single player experience tells a story often heavily abbreviated in a short montage in the more common canon of the Star Wars universe — the story of an unfinished Padawan and their path to becoming something far more powerful. In short, it’s not about being a Jedi, it’s about becoming one. After four hours of unfettered access to the most current build of the game, I couldn’t be more excited about seeing exactly where Cal’s story takes him.
The Respawn team didn’t want to start us at the beginning, instead giving us a taste of the second chapter to ensure we had a better look at Cal’s progression and the game’s excellent approach to exploration. To that end, Respawn put together a quick little practice space to familiarize us with the controls. With nearly zero on-screen prompts, I was able to pick up and play almost immediately. While Stormtroopers pose no problem whatsoever, facing seven or eight of them will keep you on your toes, which is where Fallen Order really shines. While taking out the most basic Stormtrooper can be accomplished by simply mashing the attack buttons, facing Commanders and other specialized ranks like the Jedi-hunting Purge Troopers requires a more patient hand.
Combat in Fallen Order is delivered with light and heavy attacks, with the shoulder buttons, triggers, and other face buttons providing blocking, combinations, and force powers. Perfect blocks lets Cal unleash a fatal attack with his lightsaber that will end all but the most powerful and armored foes. “Thoughtful combat”, specifically patience, blocking at the right times, and delivering combinations of saber and force powers becomes important quickly. When you do take damage, your pal BD-1 can give you a flask to heal, but refilling BD-1’s supplies requires a quick stop at a meditation point. Doing so causes all enemies to respawn. If you are getting a Dark Souls or Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice vibe, you have the right picture, minus the extreme difficulty. Remaining highly approachable at normal levels, the game has difficulty settings to accommodate whatever level of pain you prefer.
As Cal is an “unfinished Padawan”, his connection to the living Force is, at best, rusty. As such, he starts with only one power — Force Slow. In another Souls connection, Cal’s progression is accomplished through gaining XP and then spending time in contemplative meditation. Whenever Cal finds a moment’s peace and a proper meditation point he can access the concentric circles that represent his wider connection with the Force. All of the powers you unlock via combat and gaining experience are combat focused. Powers that allow greater traversal and open new areas are only gained through progressing the storyline. While I didn’t come anywhere near unlocking even a quarter of them, it appears that there are nearly three dozen combat powers to gain, in addition to some untold amount of powers like push, pull, force speed, jump, and others to be discovered.
As this game is singleplayer, I’m going to use the lightest of touches describing the storyline. In the second chapter of the game, we were presented with the choice of two worlds to explore — Dathom and Zaffo homeworld. Opting for the latter (there are points of player agency at work — you’ll be zipping around the galaxy as you see fit on the Mantis, the ship that acts as a hub for the game), our task is to explore an ancient vault. During the first chapter, Cal found a friendly droid named BD-1 and uncovered his connection to the force, restoring his ability to wall run. Inside the vault, BD-1 protects a message containing where a holocron containing the list of known Force-sensitive children could be found. To access it, Cal must find the tombs of the three Zeffo Sages if he hopes to have any chance to rebuild the Jedi Order and restore balance to the universe, and within himself.
Making his way through some platforming elements to reach the ancient ruins of the Temple of the Zeffo Sages, Cal discovers a mysterious copper ball covered in runes and being surrounded by swirling rocks that seem to be protecting this space. Using his Force Slow power, Cal dashes through the debris field, stopping on a small metal plate revealing that this is some sort of ancient elevator leading downwards. When the elevator stops it becomes immediately clear that if Cal had unlocked Force Push, he would be able to roll the ball down through a channel into a resting place nearby. This is news he’ll have to store for later.
Exploring the Zaffo homeworld, Cal uncovers that the Empire is force-relocating the citizens of this planet in some sort of operation called “Project Auger”. Stealing artifacts and bringing them back to Coruscant seems to be their objective, but their true intentions are, at this point, unclear. Unfortunately for them, they also often find themselves having to deal with the local wildlife. When these two forces collide, it’s best to let them duke it out, wading in at the last moment to mop up whomever is left.
Opening the map in Fallen Order reveals another obvious inspiration for the game — Metroid Prime. BD-1 projects the map for Cal, showing him nearby platforms, alcoves, caves, and structures he has uncovered. As an improvement over the Metroid Prime series, it also designates objects and areas that Cal doesn’t have the right powers to access. By doing so, the game keeps the pace moving forward as you won’t spend your time backtracking to an area marked in red until you pick up a new power and the game then marks it green.
With another nod to Souls titles, when you eventually die you’ll lose all of the XP you’ve gained since committing your last skill point. The creature that slayed you will be marked with a special color so when you return to where you died you’ll be able to visually spot whatever killed you. Taking out whatever took you down also restores any XP you lost, as well as refilling your life and Force back to their maximum. Who said Jedi can’t enjoy a little revenge every once in a while?
As Cal continued to explore the Tomb of Eilram he eventually uncovers that these sages were the first of the Zeffo to establish a relationship with the inhabitants of Kashyyyk as they loved the Wookie homeworld’s lush greenery. Now, their remains are forever interred beneath the roots of a stone wroshyr tree. The game is filled to the brim with moments like this that provide a small amount of XP, but more importantly a deeper look at the Star Wars universe at large. It’s very clear that Respawn respects that they are creating worlds that will live forever in the canon of the Star Wars universe.
Eventually, through a sequence I will not ruin for you, Cal remembers his Padawan training, getting back in touch with his memory of learning Force Push. This newly remembered power provided the needed to shove the aforementioned copper balls around. It turns out that these orbs power the entire tomb. The puzzles I’ve gotten to see so far aren’t extremely difficult, but are certainly on par with the sorts of things you might see in another obvious inspiration — the most recent Tomb Raider titles.
Returning to his ship, Cal finds that the Empire has a little something to say about his recent efforts — an AT-ST stands between him and his hasty exit. Taking it out with a combination of laser deflection, force slow and push, and some fancy saber skills, Cal rejoins his crew on the Mantis, with the Wookie homeworld next to explore on the horizon.
I came away from my time with Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order absolutely blown away by what Respawn has built here. I could talk about the 100+ customizations, I could wax poetic about the incredible graphics and the RTX lighting on display, or I could simply detail all of the ways they brought Cal to life from his movements to the way he smooths out his hair after a difficult fight, but none of that is going to really show you just how much love went into this game. Combat feels impactful, the writing feels right for the universe, and there’s obviously a whole lot we’ve not gotten to experience yet waiting for us to discover. Fortunately, we won’t have to wait long — Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order ships on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 ships on November 15, 2019.