Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order sounds great on paper. Cal Kestis, a Jedi Padawan who survived Order 66, is on the run from the Empire, pursued by the Sith Inquisition. Soon after, he’s on a race to recover a valuable Jedi holocron and learn about an ancient civilization of Force users who predate the Jedi Order, accompanied by a former Jedi Knight as his mentor and a grumpy alien captain. The gameplay boasts being inspired by Dark Souls and Metroid Prime. With developer Respawn at the helm, well regarded for their campaign in Titanfall 2, this should be a masterpiece.
It should be, but it isn’t.
To its credit, Fallen Order has fantastic visuals, some of the best mo-cap animation I’ve ever seen, and an audioscape that dares to go beyond riffing John Williams’ best songs. If you’re purely seeking something that looks and sounds like Star Wars, then Fallen Order will interest you. Additionally, the puzzles are the game’s biggest highlight. As absurd as it is to waste the Force on shoving balls and blocks around, these moments feel the most organic. The only shame is that there’s less than a dozen of these puzzles across roughly 24 hours of content.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is more a Star Wars-ified Rise of the Tomb Raider than anything else. Platforming is initially novel but becomes boring before you’ve crossed the 10-hour mark. Plus, on any difficulty above Story, you lose health if you fail at a platforming sequence. Most of your time is going to be spent jumping around in circles to get to the next objective, and there is highly inconsistent collision detection leading to multiple deaths beyond your control. That means you will either burn through your health injectors or have to turn on Story difficulty whenever exploring the world. Either option is irritating, highlighting why Dark Souls didn’t constantly toss in Prince of Persia levels between its fights.
It’s not even that you learn about the world or that these elements are somehow dynamically influenced by your powers. Every platforming element is as linear as in an Uncharted game or worse. And in at least two cases, Cal won’t grab an obvious ledge because then you wouldn’t need a later movement ability to get to them. The artificial barriers are downright insulting to your intelligence. A good Souls game — hell, a good Metroidvania — respects the player’s skills and abilities, especially in exploration. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order doesn’t. You will play the way it decides and be happy with that.
Furthermore, Respawn spends too much of its runtime doing absolutely nothing interesting with Fallen Order’s combat. You unlock a fair suite of powers, including Force Slow, Push, and Pull, as well as a parrying system for duels. That’s in addition to a decent number of combat moves, but you’re not going to use most of them. Most encounters are easily solved by either abusing the basic Slow move to get in a free hit or later sending enemies flying off the surprising number of ledges you’ll come across. This is because most of your unique moves are limited by a Force meter that burns out in seconds, defeating the purpose of having the moves.
There are momentary highlights to combat. Finding a clever combination of powers like gripping and then throwing an opponent is pure joy. Deflecting enemy fire back feels great, especially while mid-platforming, though it also wipes out half an enemy squad before the encounter’s really begun. Of the game’s few boss fights, the much vaunted duels with the Sith Inquisitors are fun, if a tad repetitive. You get glimpses of a more creative experience, but for some reason Fallen Order seems terrified to let itself go and have fun. It’s the antithesis of The Force Unleashed, valuing realism over fun in a game about space wizards fighting over a magic box.
Speaking of which, Star Wars games are known for their story. Meanwhile, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is the epic tale of the most boring man in the entire Star Wars universe accomplishing nothing while getting told he’s just so darn great. Along the way, he explores a handful of planets, some boring, some interesting, and sometimes even fights the Empire when not being ambushed by a parade of wild animals.
The Second Sister, a Sith Inquisitor and antagonist with more charisma than the entire rest of the cast combined, vastly upstages Cal. Her arguments against the Jedi way and themes of overcoming trauma grant her compelling depth, whereas Cal barely questions the Jedi way and hardly emotes when confronting his past demons. Actor Cameron Monaghan has nothing to work with here. The rest of the cast isn’t given much to work with either. Your primary companions Cere and Greez are occasionally amusing but never truly grab you. There’s no heart, just stylish fan service to make you go, “Yeah, that’s definitely a Star Wars-y bit of dialogue.”
This inconsistent writing extends to several moments that either have no payoff or raise serious questions about if anyone considered the implication of certain scenarios. The handling of events on planet Dathomir in particular is so all over the map that I’m stunned it was approved in its current state. However, the most perplexing is the game’s opening 30 minutes, which escalates so rapidly it feels more like a cartoon than the grounded narrative it’s alleged to be. Like with everything else in Fallen Order, it’s so uneven that it pulls you without fail out of the best moments.
To say I didn’t enjoy the majority of my time with Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is an understatement. It breaks my heart because when it does inspire joy, it’s pure and genuine. I hate that you have to work against Fallen Order to find its best content. It’s not that it’s too challenging or complex; in terms of Souls-likes, it makes The Surge 2 look like Bloodborne. No, the problem is that despite every reason to push the envelope, Fallen Order has no ambition to be more than adequate, something we’re seeing more and more of from the new Expanded Universe. I realize everyone’s very excited because Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is pretty, but aesthetics don’t make a game. Respawn has done better than this.