For such a hotly-anticipated game set in such a fan-favourite franchise, Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order is surprisingly stripped of its own identity.
While the visuals, characters, set-drops and music are, undoubtedly, ripped straight from the Star Wars hivemind, the game-y parts of Jedi Fallen Order – the mechanics we play, the buttons we press, the way we progress and move around this extraordinary universe – are surprisingly nondescript. That's not to say Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order is bad – it really, really isn't – but rather than stand on its own feet, comfortable in its own skin and proud of its roots, it feels as though Respawn has very much stuck to the tried and tested here.
It's hard to fault the studio for a cautious approach, though. Our last Star Wars-flavoured title, Star Wars Battlefront 2, wasn't particularly well-received by fans or critics alike (and the less said about its loot boxes the better), so it's reasonable the studio might have looked to the celebrated games of its peers for inspiration.
You'll see the fingerprints of other franchises smudged all over Fallen Order – Uncharted, primarily, but there are echoes of Tomb Raider here, too, as well as Sony Santa Monica's astonishing remake God of War, and From's devilish Dark Souls series – and while its good to see Respawn push beyond the rigid shooter template of its predecessors, Fallen Order could've been even more adventurous.
A NEW HOPE
From the perspective of someone who doesn't really "do" Star Wars (yes, we know, and we're sorry, but deal with it), Fallen Order is an accessible take on a series that encompasses such a massive universe – literally and figuratively, in this case. While there was no doubt plenty of subtle references we missed due to our lack of franchise familiarity, it never felt at the expense of the experience. You don't have to have liked – or even seen – the most recent movie offerings to understand Cal's plight, nor will your experience be hampered by a lack of Star Wars trivia.
That said, Cal's journey – set five years after Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith's Order 66 saw Jedis persecuted and the Empire's dark deeds thrive – is adequate, if a little meh, and the story unravels organically enough to be suitably understandable for newbies without bogging down the uber-fans with oodles of exposition they already know.
Once a Padawan learning the ways of the Jedi, Cal is now working as a scrapper on the planet Bracca, his Jedi training a desperate secret right up until the day he betrays his own anonymity to save the life of his pal. Alerted to the event, an elite team of Jedi hunters – the Inquisitorius (who are freaking incredible, by the way, led by the terrifyingly magnificent Second Sister, easily one of the game's most intriguing characters) – come a-looking and bang: Cal's up and running.
RETURN OF THE JEDI
And when we say running, we mean that literally, by the way. This early sequence is a heart-pumping, action-heavy smorgasbord of combat and parkour as you try to get to grips with your burgeoning powers.
Never is the action more Uncharted-y than it is in this introductory section, training you to look up and around and not just barrel forward, executing bad guys as you run from corridor to corridor. Within ten minutes of booting it up, you'll be skating, climbing, plank-walking and leaping to and from vines as the masterful tutorial teaches you all you need to know about Fallen Order's plentiful platforming.
Sadly, Cal doesn't traverse as fluidly as Nathan Drake, which means sometimes you'll find yourself forgetting to hit L2 to get him to climb, or – worse – plummeting to your doom for missing a jump – a real pain given you lose XP, a little like Dark Souls, if you're pushed to the respawn screen. The combat, however, is deliciously satisfying, no doubt in part to the electrifying graphics and sound effects that cannot fail to immerse you.
That said, while satisfying, don't go into this thinking fighting is easy. While there are four difficulty levels (which can be adjusted at any time, too), combat requires a tactical approach due in part to your exhaustible Force meter. You'll need to parry and block, often and successfully, and experiment with your skills to learn how best to chain offensive and defensive moves together, particularly as your skill-set expands.
As you settle into the game proper, however, you'll be mesmerised by its gentle exploration, canny puzzle design, and tight, rewarding combat sequences. As you discover meditation points – used to manage your skill tree and replenish your Life and Force meters at the cost of respawning foes – and pick up new abilities, returning to planets already explored opens up whole new opportunities thanks to the secrets and items hidden in its Metroidvania-inspired level design. It's not always welcomed – one player's Metroidvania is another's backtracking, after all – but you're usually rewarded for going out of your way.
Cal's not the world's most exciting protagonist, mind. Though well-voiced and animated in a way that makes most combat encounters a delight, he is the archetypal Generic Good Guy that we've seen eleventy gazillion times before, falling on just the wrong side of interesting.
It's a pity, really, because almost everyone else – from his shipmates Cere and Greez to his ass-kicking foes, the Sisters – are pretty memorable. His lack of passion and charisma often had us wishing he could be tempted by The Dark Side… at least then he'd be a tad more interesting.
Star Wars wouldn't be Star Wars-ing properly without a loveable droid alongside for company, and Jedi Fallen Order is no exception. Here we meet BD-1, a R2-D2/BB8/Wall-E mash-up that trills and beeps and makes all the adorable noises we expect – no, demand – from our robotic comrades. He spends much of the game perched on Cal's shoulder, jumping in to alert you to nearby secrets, as well as managing your health and holographic map. He's a delight, and the game would've been considerably less enjoyable without him along for the ride.
Also? Can we talk about the spiders? There are spiders here; huge, hulking, disgusting spiders and they're everywhere. Have we not yet evolved as a medium to move past defaulting to spider enemies? We get that they don't bother everyone, but it would be awesome if you could toggle them on/off like a colourblind mode for those of us with clinical dread of the things. In fact, all of the fauna is a little derivative, and while we rarely need an excuse to break out the 'saber, it's chiefly the human enemies – Stormtroopers and the like – that are the most satisfying to take down.
STAR WARS JEDI: FALLEN ORDER VERDICT
If we had to pick a word to describe Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order it would be "safe". Beyond its stunning cinematography and emotive sound design, everything else is serviceable, yet perfunctory, without any truly innovative twists.
That said, safe isn't necessarily a bad thing, and thanks to its plentiful platforming and colourful supporting cast, this is nonetheless one of the best Star Wars games of this generation… if not quite as exciting as it perhaps could've been...