Pretty much ever since EA won the exclusive rights to make console Star Wars games in 2013, the publisher has visibly struggled to figure out what exactly it should do with the Star Wars license. Some of EA’s developers, like the creators of the excellent Dead Space series at Visceral Games, were completely crushed under the pressure of trying to live up to Star Wars. DICE managed to release its two Battlefront games, the first of which was a solid (if barebones) multiplayer shooter that really nailed the feeling of being a nobody in a galactic war, while the latter and its forgettable single-player campaign were utterly overshadowed by in-game purchases so predatory that the backlash is still being felt in the game industry two years later. Finally, though, six years after getting the rights, EA has released Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, a game that really feels like the sort of thing it should’ve been releasing this whole time. It’s a shame that it also feels like it could’ve used a few more months in the oven.
You play as Cal, a former Jedi Padawan who has been in hiding for a few years since his master was killed during the Jedi Purge (a.k.a. Order 66, as seen in Revenge Of The Sith), who is portrayed in both voice and face by Cameron Monaghan from Shameless and Gotham. After using the Force to save a friend, Cal attracts the attention of the Empire’s Inquisitors, a squad of Force-using heavies specially trained to hunt and kill Jedi. This prompts him to whip out the lightsaber he carries around all the time (even though it’s definitive proof that he’s a Jedi) so he can go on a planet-hopping adventure to find a list of surviving Force-users before the Empire can.
Cal uses that lightsaber to fight off Stormtroopers and alien monsters in combat that is very loosely (yet very clearly) inspired by Dark Souls, with a fun timing mechanic to reflect blaster shots and an easy integration of Force powers. Speaking of, the game is also very clearly inspired by Metroid Prime, right down to the holographic map, and Cal’s gradual rediscovery of his old Force abilities allows him to open new pathways and solve new puzzles on planets he’s already explored. It’s not especially deep, but it is generally fun and the combat scratches a similar tactical swordplay itch as the Souls games. Fallen Order has a lot of strengths on its own merit (the story introduces interesting emotional stakes to the aftermath of the Jedi Purge and the way it uses recognizable Star Wars wreckage in its level design is very cool), but arguably its smartest move was to embrace some already-proven mechanics from other games.
Fallen Order comes from developer Respawn, and more than anything it proves that the studio is one of the top talents in the video game industry today. Before this, Respawn made Apex Legends and the Titanfall games, and it was founded by the original creators of Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Fallen Order is the team’s first third-person action game and its first game with any sort of dedicated melee component (all of those aforementioned games are first-person shooters). It’s a testament to how good Respawn is that a game completely unlike anything it has done before—beyond the fact that both Cal and the Titanfall pilots can wall-run—works as well as Fallen Order does. That being said, sometimes Fallen Order does not work.
Let’s be clear: Talking about technical issues in a video game is boring. There’s not much room for nuance, and it’s easy to dip into dramatic hyperbole that makes minor annoyances sound like game-breaking bugs. Fallen Order has a lot of minor annoyances, but very few of them feel game-breaking. In fact, the vast majority are the sort of hiccups that probably could’ve or would’ve been ironed out if the game had been granted a little more development time—we don’t know for sure, but it seems incredibly likely that EA and Disney politely requested that Fallen Order be on store shelves before Rise Of Skywalker hits theaters. The character models occasionally look awful on a base game console (as in, not a high-powered Xbox One X or PS4 Pro), and some enemies and bosses are prone to getting stuck in T-poses—which is when a character gets frozen in an unanimated neutral pose. There are some clipping issues with floors and walls from time to time, there’s noticeable texture pop-in (especially when swapping between Cal’s clothing options or when rushing into a new area), and the load times after dying can take even longer than when flying to a new planet or starting up the game for the first time.
The game also has some basic design issues, most clearly in a series of truly terrible slide sequences that the developers were clearly much more enamored with than they should’ve been. Clearly we’ve learned nothing since the Nintendo 64 days, or else someone at Respawn would’ve pointed out that sticking players on a fast-moving patch of ice and requiring precise maneuvering and jumping at complex angles is the worst. One planet in particular is littered with slides, but they’re also Fallen Order’s go-to way to get Cal between far-off zones on most of the planets you visit. They seem like a side-effect of Respawn’s relative inexperience in this kind of game, but that’s no excuse.
The bugs are ugly and the slides are a nightmare, but they don’t hold Fallen Order back as much they could have. Lightsaber combat is rarely as fun or interesting as it is in this game, and the plot hits some tragic notes that the bigger Star Wars stories tend to skip over—the Jedi Purge got a sorrowful montage in Revenge Of The Sith and the Rebels cartoon dealt with Jedi having to hide who they are, but this is one of the first times a mainstream piece of modern Star Wars canon has emphasized just how horrifying it was for the Good Guys to suddenly realize they had been totally played and that the Bad Guys had already won. It took a long time, but EA finally figured out how to put the Star Wars rights to good use.