“It’s like Dark Souls.” That was how Fallen Order was first introduced to me. I’ve heard the comparison made with other games, so I didn’t really react. Since diving into the game, there’s definitely truth to the statement, but it overlooks a lot of other games Fallen Order resembles.
This game is what happens when someone asks “what do people like in games?” and then puts all the answers into one game. There are elements of Fallen Order that are very Dark Souls. There are platforming, wall-scaling moments reminiscent of Uncharted. Metroid influences are everywhere in the level design and progression. Enemies light up when they are about to attack à la Batman. It has the additional story-through-collectables from, well, every modern game.
When a game innovates, future games will copy. It’s not a criticism as such; one game has a good idea and the copycat perfects or adds a twist to the idea. If you like a game mechanic, you are happy to see it in more games, if it’s done well. This game does a lot of very good copying, but not everything lands.
- Full play-through took about 20 hours, in two hour chunks over a 3 week period. Mostly late at night after getting the little one to bed and essay marking. I was never tired playing it but it was definitely a game I wound down with.
- I did a lot of extra exploration and returned to each world at least once. I thought I would try to get 100% at one point, but I gave up on finding every detail and optional mini boss towards the end. I’ve explained why below.
When Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order gets going, it soars. Combat is not only fun, it is continuously impressive. Lightsaber fights should by nature are mix of sheer spectacle and tight choreography, and this game nails that. In the beginning, you can block all blaster bolts by holding down the guard button; if you tap the button at the right moment, the bolt bounces back into your enemy. This never, ever, gets old.
You eventually learn heavy attacks, but the fact that they require Force to activate means that you can’t win fights by thrashing every opponent, and a stamina meter means that you have to duck and dive as well as parrying, which only adds to the kinetic energy of each encounter. When you start unlocking fighting techniques and hone your skills with the Force, you can really start to vary up the action.
The Dark-Souls-esque mechanic of this game that provides the most joy is the ‘reset’. When you sit at a checkpoint, you mark your progress, but you can also heal up, which regenerates all the enemies. Whilst this doesn’t really make any logical sense (and never has), what it means is that you replay any encounter you like. Want to try a different take-down? Reset. Did pushing that powerful enemy off the ledge seem a bit cheap? Take another pop at them.
There was one particular event, right near a checkpoint, where you see Stormtroopers harried by a monster. At some point, you have to get involved, either when the fighters have been whittled away, or you can somersault right into the thick of it. I think I reset that section at least 4 times, watching the monsters emerge each time, trying out different executions on everyone else involved.
Keeping spoilers minimal, one of my favourite ‘scenes’ from the game was when Cal, swimming through a swamp, witnesses a Tie Fighter crash into the back of an AT-AT (the big, four-legged bots). Sudden, tearing explosion and fire reflected in the swamp water, all great stuff, but its when you get inside that you see the damage, assault the surviving crew reeling from what’s happened, when you look down on the unfortunate line of troopers that were eviscerated when the fighter struck. The whole scene is visually impressive, but it highlights another strength of the game: compared to other Star Wars games/movies, this is a very ‘zoomed-in’, personal war against the empire.
BD-1 is the most adorable healing mechanic ever. As with all Star Wars adventures, a droid companion is required. What we get here is a lovable puppy of a robot that serves as our healer, a method of traversal, exposition deliverer and eventually a combat buff. I’m not sure how he doesn’t tear in half every time I use him as a zipline, or why they decided to have ‘memory loss’ as an issue effecting the droid and the protagonist, but he brings almost all the levity this game has to offer.
The spectacle of a Jedi battle is only as good as the visuals. This is definitely a pretty game. Sound design is excellent and I appreciate all the little quips when a trooper bops you on the head or sees you for the first time. The lighting effects are superb too, which really matters in a game where the central weapon perpetually glows.
Level design is creative, and the game does a great deal to try and make the travel between combat interesting. The Metroid aspect of the game is that the lack of a tool/skill inhibits progress. Some of these limitations are solved when the protagonist regains his memory, which is fine as contrivances go. Others are upgrades to BD-1, which for some reason have to happen on a specific workbench. This is also fine, but it had me wondering why Cal didn’t swing round to a planet selling droid parts and upgrade his mini friend from the outset.
Sometimes you just need a story to get you to the next set piece. There’s nothing wrong with the narrative in Fallen Order in that sense. There’s some interesting through-lines - walking the path and persevering, battling the lure of the dark side - but the delivery of the story is bland. Most exposition is done either by a jedi hologram explaining story advancements, or characters having a quiet dinner table chat. Everyone sounds a little bored of their own dialogue, or matter-of-fact at the very least. Even the villain left the scenery seriously under-chewed.
Every modern game has additional reading. Explore every nook and you find a text of some kind to read at your leisure. Much like the main story, I found very little compelling about any of these extra bits. It’s part of the reason I stopped trying to collect everything. Even Cal, using his ‘Pyschometry’ to sense the emotions and experiences of a ‘tragic event that happened nearby’, comments on each find with a lack of interest. “Someone had a very gruesome death here once.” he states flatly.
There’s also one Force power that I found underwhelming: the Force Jump. To put it bluntly, it’s a generic video game double-jump. A midair front flip that adds a few extra feet to your leap. The game establishes early that you can fall a long way and take no damage, which is a very Jedi thing to do, so I was expecting to unlock a decent spring into the air at some point. It’s surprisingly wimpy.
Then there’s the ending. No spoilers first of all. Let me just say that, whilst I’m sure lots of people enjoyed that ending, it did not land for me at all. The ‘cool thing’ that happens to end the game is painfully short and is out of the blue to the point where I felt bad for the main characters up until that point (“oh, I guess we weren’t cool enough to carry this story to the end then?”).
I did also find myself getting lost in the Dead-Space-like, holographic map sometimes. Some areas didn’t see to fully match the hazy cubes I saw, and the twisting, overlapping areas of the map required some patient study.
There’s also a character that joins the team towards the end of the game that has almost nothing to say and adds almost nothing to the story - perhaps she’s there for the sequel?
My main annoyance with the game is an odd one. It might not be something that irritated others, and that’s fine. Yet I found it silly and distracting.
There are way too many slides.
As I mentioned, a lot of thought was put into traversal. There’s wall climbing, zip wires, platform jumping, etc. It’s all well put together, spaces the combat out nicely, makes exploration interesting enough. It makes sense that there would be a way to descend quickly too, and a slippy slope made of slick mud, ice or fine sand does the trick... but there are so many. It made me feel like the creators stopped caring about building the world map at some point: oh, lets just have him slide to the next bit.
Every single world has slides. Some worlds have more. The ice planet has two that lead to the same place, and there’s lifts and walkways you can take instead of sliding. The worst ones are the slides that only appear for set pieces. Something attacks you, or the floor gives way and you follow an amazingly well-placed chute to the next location, like an oversized water-slide with death drops. Star Wars is never a thing to take seriously or apply logic too, but the number of times I was clumsily winding down a perfectly formed theme park attraction very quickly became distracting, pointless, and uninspired.
The games also buggy at times. I fell through the floor once, Cal went crazy if he hit a ledge at a certain angle, some enemies twitched manically during combat. But the main problem is though pesky slides.
This graph is going to look a bit weird. Not much in the games was ‘bad’, but there isn’t too much good either. When the game is in ‘fight mode’, it’s amazing. Some of the most satisfying action I’ve taken control off. I had no grace to my gameplay - I was definitely harnessing my inner Kylo-Ren, brute Forcing my way through enemies, Force-rag-dolling them with glee - but each encounter was immensely satisfying.
Everything else, the story, getting around the map, the collectables, are all just fine. Nothing really offends the gamer with its poor execution, the game looks and sounds authentic to Star Wars and it does a decent job with the borrowed ideas. My hope is that the story they were telling, the characters that were there, are all now going to be able to do something more interesting in the future...
...or alternatively, stand back and let Cal and the adorable BD-1 murder twice as many troopers, droids and big bugs.
Written by Rufus Scott.
Last Late Review: Subnautica