Thursday, June 24, 2021

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

 Cover art of Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order.jpg

Jedivania: Order of the Fallen

Ever since the videogame adaptation of E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial on the Atari 2600, licensed games have tended to be a mixed bag, and the (conditionally-)beloved Star Wars franchise was no stranger to gaming turkeys. There would, however, be a handful to escape the typical curse of licensed games, such as the Knights of the Old Republic duology, although Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm would render them and most other Star Wars Expanded Universe material non-canon. This gave rise to a new generation of Star Wars games part of the new canon, among them being Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, which takes inspiration from the Metroidvania subgenre and Soulsborne games.

Fallen Order occurs during the “dark times” between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope in the Star Wars chronology, with the Jedi order nearly exterminated thanks to Supreme Chancellor-turned-Galactic Emperor Sheev Palpatine’s execution of Order 66, a military directive that turned the eponymous human replicant soldiers of the Clone Wars against their Jedi commanders. Among the survivors is the young Jedi Cal Kestis, to teams up with the crew of the Mantis to seek a holocron containing the locations of all Force-sensitive younglings in the Galaxy, before the Empire discovers it and continues to thin out the fallen Jedi Order.

Among the main antagonists of Fallen Order are the Imperial Inquisitors, Force-sensitive hunters of the remaining Jedi, with several twists coming into play regarding who they once were before. The story excellently contributes to the canon Star Wars mythos, given some old and new worlds and faces, not to mention a few turns in the narrative, and a databank tracking most facets. It does some of the same issues as other media in the franchise, such as a few times when the Mantis faces the “problem” of getting past Imperial blockades that don’t seem to encompass entire worlds, and given the unskippable voiced dialogue, the plot somewhat feels forced down the player’s throat.

Fortunately, solid gameplay backs the experience, Cal armed with his trusty lightsaber, aesthetically customizable at workbenches, and serves as his main weapon against alien creatures and agents of the Empire. He eventually receives the capability to double-blade his lightsaber, but a single blade has its own advantages. Killing enemies grants experience that eventually accumulates into skill points the player can invest in a Force skill tree at meditation circles that can also fully restore his life, Force energy, and finite recovery stim uses whilst respawning dead enemies, in a nod to the Soulsborne series.

Mercifully, Fallen Order doesn’t bequeath the frustrations of that particular franchise, with difficulty being adjustable, the lowest setting allowing players to enjoy the story whilst breezing through the gameplay sequences. In a nod towards the Metroidvania subgenre, players can also collect fragments that can eventually increase Cal’s maximum life and Force energy, with the potential to increase his maximum number of recovery stims dispensed by his trusty droid companion BD-1, as well. He can also jump (eventually somersault in addition), use the Force to run along smooth walls, and Force-pull and push certain objects, necessary at times to advance exploration.

All in all, the game mechanics work well, given the superb recreation of two-dimensional Metroidvania gameplay in three dimensions, and while some have hailed the Soulsborne games as spiritual successors in the subgenre, Fallen Order, in my opinion, does it far better, especially considering the adjustable difficulty settings sure to pacify players of all skill levels, with additional accommodation to different styles of gameplay. The only real issue is the lack of a radar or minimap on the main gameplay screen, though the camera luckily isn’t finicky, and there isn’t much room for improvement.

As mentioned, Fallen Order does a nice job replicating Metroidvania gameplay in 3-D, and the presence of incredibly-helpful automaps aids tremendously in regards to exploration, with unexplored areas indicated in yellow, and secrets and shortcuts uncoverable noted in green. However, a minimap would have easily spared countless trips to the map screen, and there are some secrets difficult to uncover without use of a guide. Fast travel would have been welcome as well, given the sheer volume of certain areas, as would have been an in-game clock and skippable voiced dialogue. Control definitely isn’t horrid, but there are kinks the developers could have easily worked out.

The aurals are superb, with all characters having fitting voices with all-around solid performances for both the new and old characters, and the music contains great orchestration, along with expected sound effects such as the humming of lightsabers. There is a slight dearth of memorable music, but the audio aspect definitely helps Fallen Order more than hurts.

The game certainly looks the part, with a realistic visual style containing excellent polish, the character models containing great anatomy, the environments looking believable and having realistic color schemes, and lips moving in sync with voiced dialogue. There are some technical hiccups such as occasional blurry and pixilated texturing when scenery is close to the camera, along with some slight choppiness and slowdown, but otherwise, Fallen Order is a graphical treat.

Finally, playtime ranges somewhere from twelve to twenty-four hours, with plenty of extra content such as PlayStation Trophies, additional areas to explore, and a New Journey+ where players can retain items obtained from a prior playthrough. The absence of fast travel can add a bit of tedium to spending more time with the game, but there is definite lasting appeal.

In summation, the Force is definitely strong with Fallen Order, given its faithful three-dimensional take on the Metroidvania formula, with most of its aspects being all-around solid such as the general mechanics, control and exploration, superb contribution to the Star Wars canon, aural presentation, and graphics. There are a few issues such as the lack of fast travel within worlds, not to mention a few moments one can find difficult without a guide as well as some technical issues with the graphics, but the game is both sure to satisfy the most unpleasable Star Wars fan and scratch that Metroidvania itch, for fans of the subgenre.

This review is based on a playthrough of a copy purchased by the reviewer on Story Mode.

The Good:
+Great 3-D take on the Metroidvania formula.
+General good puzzles and control.
+Solid contribution to the Star Wars mythos.
+Superb sound.
+Nice visuals.
+Plenty reasons to come back for more.

The Bad:
-Fast travel would have been welcome.
-A few moments that are difficult without a guide.
-Some technical hiccups with the graphics.

The Bottom Line:
One of the best, if not the best, new canon Star Wars games.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 4
Game Mechanics: 9.5/10
Controls: 8.0/10
Story: 9.0/10
Music/Sound: 9.5/10
Graphics: 8.5/10
Lasting Appeal: 8.5/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 12-24 Hours

Overall: 9.0/10

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