Star Wars Jedi: Survivor review – keep on survivin’
A bigger sequel and journey for Cal Kestis, but is it better?
The Star Wars universe has splintered off into other avenues in recent years, from The Mandalorian to Andor, but for most fans, what remains most fundamentally exciting about the franchise is the epic lightsaber battles.
To that end, 2019’s Jedi: Fallen Order was made to fulfil the Jedi fantasy as a modern video game blockbuster like Uncharted and God of War, while also trying to appeal to the hardcore with a bit of Dark Souls and Sekiro in its combat. The result was mostly… fine.
Still, it was a hit and felt like it laid the foundations for Respawn to build on top of, so you might expect that Star Wars Jedi: Survivor would address most of its predecessor’s issues and make for a bigger and better sequel. But is the Force strong with this new title – or does it fall to the dark side?
Cal Me Maybe
Set five years after Fallen Order, Jedi: Survivor starts strong as we catch up with Cal Kestis sticking it to the Galactic Empire in its capital of Coruscant. If the young Jedi had been criticised as a rather bland protagonist the first time round, then age, as well as a new beard, make us warm to him more.
He’s also got pretty great company – not just in his trusty droid sidekick BD-1 or the found family he accrued by the end of the last game, but also in new allies such as mercenary Bode Akuna. Being Star Wars, you can also expect to meet many weird but wonderful alien inhabitants, and you’ll even be inviting some to join you at a saloon that gradually gets livelier.
Yet despite the strong opening, the pace also sags shortly after with a story that takes a while to come into focus. Although there’s a couple of familiar adversaries, there’s a less immediate and compelling threat like Fallen Order’s Inquisitors that really drives the story, and indeed it takes a while before it becomes apparent just what your goal in Jedi: Survivor is, besides running errands for other people.
Give it some patience however, and something interesting does emerge that takes us to another part of the galaxy. It’s an essential decision, because there’s only so much Cal can do against the Empire before it starts to rub up against the canon of the Rebel Alliance from the films. So it is somewhat refreshing that it explores ideas that just about take us out of the shadow of the Empire, even if it’s not likely to be remembered among Star Wars’ best stories.
Ways of the Force
No longer a Padawan, Cal still has a ways to go before becoming a true Jedi Knight. The good news is he still starts off with Jedi abilities learned in the last game, such as Force push and pull, while being able to switch saber stances such as single-blade or double-blade. Jedi: Survivor iterates by giving you more skills and stances you can learn over time.
Both skills and cosmetics are a way to make this Cal feel like your own Jedi, as you get to customise your lightsaber (on PS5, the DualSense also neatly glows in the same colour as what you pick) and mix and match stances. While that gives some agency over the kind of Jedi you want to play as, it also makes Cal a less well-defined Jedi compared to say Luke, Obi-Wan or Anakain. It will surely also raise a couple eyebrows that one of the new stances lets you use a blaster (so uncivilised!), while another is the great sword-like crossguard that’s synonymous with Kylo Ren in the more recent trilogy.
In any case, it still feels cool swinging a lightsaber around. Stormtroopers as well as battle droids with their hilariously voiced lines make for great fodder, though finishing animations have a tendency to trigger randomly. But as cool as the weapon is, combat never feels more than serviceable. It also doesn’t help that, certainly in the first half, Jedi: Survivor lacks some truly memorable boss fights. Indeed, we’d get through some encounters without a sweat and then be surprised when text comes up afterwards saying we had just defeated a boss.
Of course you’re free to amp things up to a much more unforgiving difficulty, or indeed slide it the other way, even slow down animations to easily parry or dodge attacks. But at its default setting, challenges lack a sense of tension and excitement, and it’s not until the latter half, where checkpoints become sparer or we’re getting outnumbered by some more brutish enemies that it starts to show some teeth.
The Hidden Path
While Jedi: Survivor boasts a total of six planets you’ll journey to, the reality is they vary in scope, with the bulk of the action actually taking place on the planet of Koboh. It’s not just a case of backtracking, as you’re usually travelling to a different area, from a lush forest to a base high up in the mountains. There’s an element of Metroid Prime to navigating this planet in its map design as well as gating certain sections, but there’s also a bit of a dated approach to it, noticeably in how often you’ll be squeezing through lots of gaps in walls and sliding down one-way routes.
There are admittedly some new fun ways to get around, such as riding animals or air-dashing, but they’re often quite limited in use. The way they unlock also doesn’t make a great deal of sense either. For instance, air-dashing also lets you pass through laser gates that you encounter early on except the way you learn it is that later on Cal gets a flashback about how he actually learned it from his mentor Cere a few years ago. Flashback as a device just about made sense in Fallen Order when the Padawan-in-hiding had suppressed his powers for many years, but this just feels arbitrary and a means to pad levels out.
That’s not to say all quests that take you off the critical path aren’t worthwhile. Besides talking to other characters who hint at rumours nearby, you can also take on bounties or use your Jedi skills to tackle puzzles in challenge rooms. But for every skill upgrade or perk you discover, there’s also a lot of random junk, most bizarrely chests that unlock new hairstyles and beards for Cal. Sure, this is a video game and we don’t need to take it too seriously, but it does smack of a sense of a developer coming up with excuses to justify making a bigger game that didn’t really need to be.
The bloated scope may have also led to the game coming out in a bit of a state on PC, although patches may have resolved many of the worst issues by the time you read this. Testing on PS5 we fortunately didn’t run into anything too egregious, although there was some noticeable screen tearing when playing in Performance mode, which also struggles to maintain a consistent frame rate during the busier and more open areas of the game.
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor verdict
To this day, 2016’s Titanfall 2’s single player campaign remains one of Respawn’s greatest achievements, managing to pack so much inventive mechanics and set pieces in a well-told story in just a few hours without an ounce of fat. We often wish the studio would be allowed to make a Star Wars campaign that could be just as tightly focused without having to succumb to the bloat and feature creep of so many modern blockbuster games in a bid to be all things to all players.
Yet despite its propensity for meandering, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor nonetheless does a commendable job of iterating on its predecessor and showing a different side of the galaxy beyond the yoke of the Empire, anchored by its likeable cast of characters. If its memorable moments can feel thinly spread across a long middle, for many Star Wars fans it’s almost the Jedi fantasy you’re looking for.
Like Jabba the Hutt it could do with losing some flab, but Survivor still delivers plenty of Jedi thrills
Well written characters and performances
Some new fun traversal abilities
Lightsabers still look and sound cool
Meandering story and bloated structure
Few memorable boss fights