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Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order review - shoots for the moon, lands among the stars

Even if its core components are owed to other games, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order finds a reason for their inclusion and stops just short of greatness.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is game that is many things to different people. You can reductively call it Star Wars Uncharted; you do a fair bit of climbing on the side of buildings looking for a ledge to hold onto as you plan your next jump.

It’s Star Wars Souls, with tactical combat that requires careful blocking, dodging and occasionally parrying to get the most of. Perhaps it’s even Star Wars Raider, with its own self-contained puzzle areas that are literally ancient tombs.

Where it’s easy to view Fallen Order as an unoriginal mishmash of ideas, I instead see it as a successful attempt at marrying distinct systems from other games and presenting them in a coherent way.

Fallen Order’s story follows Cal Kestis, a Jedi-in-training forced into hiding as a young boy at the collapse of the Galactic Republic and the ensuing purge of the Jedi. The game’s entire story is motivated by events that occur in the prequel trilogy, but a cursory look at that era’s biggest moments is enough to get you on board with the premise.

One of the narrative’s strongest elements is that it doesn’t rely on iconic characters, or any major events beyond Order 66. Star Wars heroes like Obi-Wan are briefly shown or mentioned, without the usual reverence Star Wars fiction tends to bring to their appearances. There’s one exception to that towards the very end of the game, but it was unexpected, short and incredibly well-executed, but ultimately doesn't matter to the general story.

After hooking up with a former Jedi (Cere) who blocked herself off from the Force, a loveable and high-strung ship captain (Greez), and an incredibly adorable little droid (BD-1), the four go on an adventure that would see them use Greez's ship to travel to different planets chasing, well, McGuffins. With the exception of one late arrival, each of the four characters are given time to grow and evolve before the credits roll. BD-1, a droid who only speaks in bleeps and boops, is, for my money, this year’s best new character.

I have to give special attention to his voice direction - and my god, every little animation he plays – both of which build up his character as an inquisitive, brave little robot. Respawn just has a thing for creating cordial robots. I will forever cherish this journey just as I do with Titanfall 2’s BT-7274.

The general setup of visiting the remnants of an ancient civilisation to obtain items or power intended to deal with a modern problem, only to find said civilisation had issues of its own, is familiar and ends up having little bearing on the narrative. The main force propelling me forward wasn't so much the need to get the things, as it was to spend more time with these incredibly well-realised characters and visit alien planets.

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You control where the ship goes, which opens up the game in wonderful ways. Taking inspiration from Metroid and Souls, many areas on these planets will only be accessible after obtaining certain Force powers. Dangling ropes require a pull, cracked walls require a push to crumble, and so on.

This means you’ll be travelling back and forth between the different planets even as more of them become accessible. The game certainly isn’t shy about sending you to one planet for a single mission, and off to another for the next, but you don’t always need to follow the quest marker if you don’t want to.

I visited Dathomir first, a mid-to-endgame planet. Got an important item just by exploring, before realising that most pathways are blocked, and that enemies are very tough. Clearly, I was in the wrong place at that point, but I managed to get something out of it. This very item is available at a different point through normal story progression, so it’s great to see Respawn offer players the freedom to obtain it so early.

As more areas of the different planets open up, zones become a complicated mess of shortcuts and multi-level structures. It’s not as elegant as you might find in FromSoftware’s work, which is what makes the map – available to you at any point – such a lifesaver.

The map makes it simple to plot a course, know which pathways are accessible and which aren’t. They’re even colour-coded so you know if the ones blocked off require an item or if they need to be accessed from the opposite end. It’s a more complicated version of Resident Evil 2 Remake’s map, and alleviates some of the frustrations players will have with navigating these enormous levels late-game. A fast travel system would take care of all problems entirely, but one doesn’t exist here. If you miss a shortcut, you could spend minutes trekking it across a massive area just to get back to your ship and watch a cutscene.

In your adventures, you’ll be mainly be attacked by three enemy factions. The wildlife: the most frustrating to fight because they’re often in groups, and have harder-to-read attacks. Then there are Stormtroopers, many of whom die in a single strike, though others more equipped to fight in melee will pose a bigger challenge. Neither of these are as demanding as the Purge Troopers, however - units specifically trained to hunt Jedi.

Those not only offer the biggest challenge, they’re mostly armed with melee weapons, so understanding their attack patterns and responding in kind is more manageable.

The best new character in 2019.

Fallen Order occasionally tries to ramp up the difficulty by mixing the three together, and it can get infuriating trying to work your way through these sort of combat puzzles, which are often more tedious than they are difficult.

You’re going to parry the basic trooper’s bolts back at them, killing them in one hit. You’ll watch for the melee trooper’s very obvious tells to also get rid of them very quickly, and you’ll use whatever Force powers you might have to push some off a cliff or slow down the rest so you can better control the crowd. After all is said and done, you’ll be left with one or two Purge Troopers, only then can you have your duel and hopefully walk away victorious.

I understand that these sort of encounters exist to allow players to live out the power fantasy, but on the two hardest difficulties (I finished it on Master), you’re not given enough leeway for that. You need to approach it as you would a Souls fight because you have different considerations than someone playing The Force Unleashed 2019.

A better way to handle that would have been to leave fodder enemies to the lower difficulty, and declutter the encounters for the higher ones. I would love to have spent much of my time duelling Purge Troopers, but now I have to get stun-locked for taking too many consecutive blaster shots.

Fallen Order’s combat borrows from Souls and Sekiro, but evidently sets its own rules. You don’t have a stamina meter, so you can wail on an enemy essentially forever, although most enemies can block.

You and your enemies all have a block meter, which drains the more hits are blocked. After it depletes, you'll need to disengage until it recharges, or go on the offensive. It’s a simple enough setup that also allows for quick-stepping and full-on rolling, leaving you many avenues to escape danger. Where it falters is the execution.

Enemy attacks track you a little too well, and can sometimes catch you through your roll or dodge. When this happens enough times, you’ll begin defaulting to just holding the block button and waiting it out. This is certainly viable, but it’s boring. The trick is instead in learning which attacks to roll through and which to block, which would make sense for a boss fight, but some consistency is required when fighting regular enemies.

Another problem is how the game handles parrying, which you can do if you time it right. Parrying an attack in most action games is a major moment in a fight. There’s often a loud sound cue and visual effects that trigger when you pull one off. Your opponents’ guard will, too, be left open for a brief moment as a result of the parry.

Fallen Order has a different, clunkier approach. The time it takes to get into the blocking stance is unnecessarily long, and you can’t cancel into a parry. This caused my parries to fail, even if I was confident I have the timing right. By the same token, enemies don’t really care about your parries, save for bottom-of-the-rung troopers. They’ll often continue their combo unabated and you’ll stand there taking damage wondering why your parries aren’t working.

Over time, I realised that the animation simply isn’t fast enough to keep up with enemy attacks, so I got into a routine of parrying one or two and blocking the rest. The game signals unblockables with a clear red glow, but I found that regular long combos can be even more deadly. In fact, it was often easier to interrupt these perilous attacks with a Force push and use that window to attack.

These little inconsistencies add up, and could’ve soured me on the game if Force powers and some of the more elaborate Lightsaber moves didn’t hook me.

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Which brings us back around to execution. The different shortcomings in traversal that lead to perfectly safe jumps failing for no good reason, the limited field of view when sliding that causes you to misjudge leaps, and the aforementioned combat could all – at the game’s worst moments – lead to frustration. Respawn clearly needed more time to brush off some of those edges, and it may get there eventually - but right now, lack of polish is holding Fallen Order back. These imperfections weren’t enough to knock down my enjoyment, and I’ve certainly ran into far fewer technical issues compared to players on consoles, but they will for many. But Fallen Order is a confident, focused game whose individual pieces try, even if they don’t always win.

The action may not be as exhilarating as the games Fallen Order is inspired by, its controls may not be as delicate, or its difficulty exacting – but Respawn dares; shooting for something worthy of being mentioned alongside those hallowed inspirations.

And yes, it doesn't always get there in this one, but damn If I can’t help but respect the effort. Fallen Order is a game whose worst moments are serviceable, and best moments are memorable. It’s worth experiencing by Star Wars fans hungry for an original story that doesn’t settle for trite, and action game players looking for a decent - albeit flawed – combat.

Version tested: PC.

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