This article contains spoilers for Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.
When it comes to video games, it’s understandable that a lot of us have short attention spans. The general conversation tends to latch onto whichever new release is hot at the moment, discuss it in a whirlwind of opinions and emotions, and then quickly move on to whatever the next big thing might be. Because of this nonstop nature, it feels like some games just fall out of our public consciousness faster than they should, even when they sell millions of copies.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order released on Nov. 15, 2019, which was late enough in the year that it didn’t qualify for the 2019 Game Awards. Instead, it got a handful of nominations at last month’s 2020 show, although by then, a vast majority of the audience hadn’t even thought about the game for an entire calendar year. This was especially given the massive games we’ve seen since, like Final Fantasy VII Remake and The Last of Us Part II, not to mention a pair of brand new consoles.
But having recently revisited Respawn’s Star Wars adventure, I can’t help but feel like it was the exact thing folks had been wanting ever since EA got the rights to make Star Wars video games back in 2013 — a deep, sprawling, and story-driven game that didn’t rely on multiplayer for its legs. A return to the mid-2000s, when games like BioWare’s Knights of the Old Republic and Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy were considered some of the very best of their generation.
Disney famously acquired Lucasfilm in October 2012. That led to the shuttering of LucasArts and the cancellation of Star Wars 1313, which remains one of the most impressive and infamous demos of a game that never was. Seven months later in May 2013, EA acquired exclusive rights to make Star Wars video games. Since then, the history of those games has been interesting to say the least, filled with high-profile cancellations, studio closures, rocky launches, and some legitimate comeback stories. For a great, lengthy read on the subject that was written pre-Fallen Order, check out Daniel Friedman’s piece on Polygon centered on why it seems so tough to make a successful Star Wars game in this modern era.
But somehow, amidst all of that drama and turmoil both public and private, we got Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order from Respawn Entertainment. And while it was certainly not perfect, (What game is?) it represented what so many fans actually wanted from a modern Star Wars game. And in the time since its release, its story beats have gotten only more poignant, and its place in the Star Wars canon has been fleshed out even further thanks to shows like The Mandolorian.
First and foremost, Fallen Order works because of its great gameplay. The combat takes just enough of the rhythm and methodology that FromSoftware popularized with its Soulsborne games and adds a unique spin on it. Namely, instead of rolling around the combat arena like a madman, it’s better to stand your ground and patiently block and deflect attacks using your lightsaber, occasionally dipping into your Force powers to control the flow. Once I wrapped my head around this key difference, I was able to walk into any battle confidently, even the particularly tough boss encounters against other Force wielders. This became my favorite lightsaber combat since that of 2003’s Jedi Academy, probably even surpassing it.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order expertly combined this methodical combat with some really rewarding exploration, complete with some interesting side-stories. Given just how wonderfully realized each planet is and how great it feels to mess around with the game’s parkour traversal (thanks, Titanfall), it would be nice to see this expanded in the future and make collectables into more than just cosmetic upgrades. And while the meditation spots throughout the maps provided a nice break from the action, including a chance to upgrade your growing arsenal of abilities, the fact that they respawned all the Stormtroopers in the area didn’t really make a whole lot of sense. That said, nobody better lay a finger on BD-1, your robot companion who quickly joined the ranks of Star Wars droid pal royalty.
Standing alongside the gameplay, another core reason for Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order’s success is its great writing and performances that collectively tell an excellent story. It fits successfully into the ever-expanding Star Wars universe and feels complimentary to The Mandalorian and the entire slate of what is coming on Disney+. I loved seeing Order 66 from a new point of view and having it add yet another layer to that pivotal moment in the series’s history.
Likewise, having that tragic moment act as a schism for Cal, where the trauma of it all led to his having a sort of PTSD and suppressing his powers, works really well in the framework of the game. It took this idea of grief and wove it in with the Metroidvania re-accumulation of your abilities. As Cal grew as a person and reached situations that helped him come to terms with his past, he would remember the lessons he learned before Order 66 and, in turn, regain a power. It was just a smart way to include a familiar mechanical concept.
But Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order didn’t just stop at Order 66. It allowed us to explore planets and encounter creatures and sects that we’d only read about. It delivered the full Jedi journey, including traveling to Ilum, finding a Kyber crystal, and crafting your own lightsaber, which was a standout mission in my mind. And the decision for Cal to destroy the Holocron at the end is strengthened thanks to what we know about Star Wars Rebels, Ahsoka’s journey, and ultimately what we’re learning about in The Mandalorian.
To top it all off, the way it utilized Vader at the end felt like just the right amount of fan service without ever coming across as pandering. So many games have your protagonist eventually become the strongest being in the universe, but in this case, it was clear that no matter how much Cal had grown throughout his adventure, he was no match for Vader.
It’s easy for me to look at Fallen Order, both the things I love about the game and the things I’m not so fond of, and imagine how they could be learned from, refined, and built upon in a sequel, especially one that’s made for the new generation of consoles. The framework is all here — we have a great character, his story is on an exciting arc, and the core combat and exploration flow feel really good. I could see a sequel going to more urban, non-combat settings — think about exploring Jackson near the beginning of The Last of Us Part II, except it’s Mos Eisley. It would also be great to expand the small-but-loveable crew of the Mantis, as well as pack the ship with a group of ragtag misfits in the same way the movies always seem to do.
Given how it already sold over 10 million copies as of May 2020, there’s little doubt that Respawn is working on a follow-up to Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. It’s strange to me that EA hasn’t given the game some sort of additional story DLC, especially after it received a pretty hearty free update in May that included a bunch of different modes, challenges, and cosmetics. A new adventure in the universe would’ve kept the game in our collective minds much longer into 2020. That said, regardless of if we get a next-gen upgrade, story DLC, a smaller side adventure a la Spider-Man: Miles Morales, or a full-on sequel, the future’s looking bright for one of the premiere Star Wars games in recent memory.