Jedi: Fallen Order is the first “Jedi simulator” game released after a decade. And together with EA’s SW: Battlefront and Lego SW one of the very few new Star Wars-themed games released in the last ten years. With such a narrow selection, even a very bad game would probably be welcome by fans like a drop of muddy water after a long trek in a desert. Fortunately, J:FO is better than a drop of muddy water.
A Jedi Simulator… And A Little Super Mario
The premise of the game is simple. A single-player third-person action-adventure game with a few RPG elements and heavy focus on combat. Specifically, on lightsaber combat. Not surprising given that the protagonist is a Padawan survivor of Order 66. This, together with his “damaged” connection to the Force (KOTOR 2, anyone?), provides an excellent chance for the game to teach you skills from zero to full Jedi mastery.
“Jedi simulator” is the most fitting description for J:FO, and the authors clearly started from the premise that Jedi=first and foremost, a lightsaber. Lightsaber combat is what makes about 40% of the game, with other 40% spent by climbing, jumping and running along walls. Or that is at least how most players would feel after playing through the first few hours of the game. There is a strong “retro” feel in this, not the least because you are likely to end up spending some time being stuck on this and that ledge, wondering how are you supposed to get to the other side of a chasm.
Non-Linear? Or A Scenery To Take In
Everything is connected by a story, even though the game offers some nonlinear elements of approach. The player has the chance to explore and revisit former areas (as much as the story allows) and practice more lightsaber tricks on respawned enemies. Objectively however, there is little reason for that, just as little as there is for various customization options like changing the look of your lightsaber hilt or your poncho. J:FO could be considered open-world to a degree, but despite all the innovativeness of the combat, you are probably not going to spend hours devising new ways to cut stormtroopers and wildlife into pieces.
That is to say, you could very well take hours just wandering around and admiring the scenery. The game has beautiful visuals – sometimes all too beautiful that might make even PCs that are not entirely low-end prone to stutter (I haven’t had the chance to try the game on a console).
And not only are the visuals pretty, the game itself is very atmospheric. The scary scenes are scary. The scary enemies are scary. Other scenes and sceneries are either appropriately beautiful and gloomy, or beautiful and serene (a minority). The first mission that starts on a bleak scrapyard, with the main hero passing through the insides of a decommissioned Clone Wars ship, with its bottomless chasms full of echoes and rusting metal, made me wish (if not feel) that I was physically there. And that was even when nothing was happening yet.
Given that I got this far without elaborating on the story might give off the impression that the plot itself is not very relevant. To a degree, no, it isn’t. The story is kind of cool, or has some kind of cool elements. There are exiled Jedi masters, Inquisitors, the main character’s (and his master’s!) backstory that gets revealed in cutscenes and flashbacks throughout the game… But they are, in many ways, nothing new. It is the same Luke Skywalker/Ezra Bridger/Rey muster we have seen a million times, only in a new graphic coating.
But if J:FO is doing something well, it is echoing the familiar elements. You walk through a scene and feel like this is familiar. Random selection of moments from the top of my head, in no particular order: the whole scrapyard business (Rey’s first scene in TFA). An execution squad led by an evil armoured female (beginning of TFA). Slowing your fall by clutching to a hovering droid (Anakin in prequels). A hovertrain (Solo). Visions of scary infinite corridors (Luke in TESB/Rey).
And while the story may not be the most original, there is one thing it definitely is: epic. There are cool story scenes, but even you can experiment with how epically Cal defeats his opponents. The story opponents are epic too, especially the Sisters.
And I feel like I must emphasise this, since there is overall dearth of female villains in comparison to their male counterparts. J:FO provides an exception. The Second Sister is a perfectly done villain who makes the right impression on first sight. She is introduced as so obviously evil and scary, and one that does not leave you thinking “all right, just another boss to fight”. She is the type of villain that leaves you looking over your shoulder, rather like the alien in Alien: Isolation than most run-of-the-mill bosses. Her fellow Inquisitor, the Ninth Sister, has also a very clear personality and in the introduction, she also comes across as someone you don’t want to mess with. Plus, the creators deserve a bonus for handling the Ninth Sister as not particularly “traditionally feminine” villain.
A RPG Not Even In Name?
Should I mention some downsides, then? Aside from the relative unoriginality of the story, it is perhaps that the RPG content is not as strong. Unlike for example Jedi Academy, or even The Force Unleashed, the focus is not so much on mastering different Force powers and showing off with them. You get push, pull and slow and that’s it. Of the three parts of the skill tree, the chief part with “visible” impact is the lightsaber combat. This again underlines what I have said in the beginning. Lightsaber combat is everything.
But there, you can absolutely run wild, from parrying, rolling, deflecting, various types of slashing, to combos of pulling-and-stabbing or jumping-and-slicing, and whatever you come up with. The combat is well-designed and not just on the protagonist’s part, but also when it comes to the types of enemies and their attacks: some can block you, some can’t be parried, various creatures have different ways of fighting that you can read about in your personal datalog once you have encountered them.
J:FO is nothing more and nothing less than a Jedi combat simulator. It is exactly the type of game you want to pick up after you have finished watching a SW episode and feel like “oh, now I’d want to be a Jedi”. As a six-year-old, you may have grabbed a broom handle and ran into the woods, now you can pick up J:FO instead.
But it is chiefly about that kind of experience. If you wanted to explore what it really means to be a Jedi with all the moral choices and also Force abilities, you better pick up something else like SWTOR or KOTOR. Or even Jedi Academy or The Force Unleashed. J:FO is after all rather a linear, very pretty, very cinematic experience with lots of epic moments. But it is a piece strongly evocative of the Star Wars universe – and for that alone, it deserves a lot of credit. Just make sure you have really good hardware to be able to enjoy it properly.