In 2012, after Disney acquired Lucasfilm — the maker of Star Wars — it decided to end in-house video game development that had gone on for two decades at LucasArts, founded by George Lucas himself. Less than a year later, it signed a decade-long partnership with gaming behemoth Electronic Arts — popularly known as EA — to make big-budget Star Wars games. On paper, this was exciting. But with Disney preparing a 2015 soft reboot of Star Wars on the big screen, EA rushed development of the first title — Star Wars: Battlefront — to meet the film’s release date. The single-player campaign was axed, and it ended up being online multiplayer-only, which naturally led to outcry from fans. EA rectified that mistake with the follow-up — Star Wars: Battlefront II — but its microtransactions controversy was the death of it. In response, EA promised a single-player-only title with no microtransactions, which brings us Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.
Released Friday for PC, PS4, and Xbox One, the latest Star Wars game takes players to a time shortly after the events of Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. The Republic has fallen, Anakin Skywalker is Darth Vader, and the Empire is on the rise. Naturally, it’s looking to get rid of its strongest enemies: the Jedi. Vader is hunting them across the galaxy, with help from the Inquisitors, a group of former Jedi who turned to the Dark Side. EA knew it had to win over fans, so on Jedi: Fallen Order, it thrusts gamers into the life of one of the few surviving Jedi — Cal Kestis (Cameron Monaghan). Cal is scratching a living on the junkyard planet of Bracca, trying to hide himself from the watchful eyes of the Empire. But that’s easier said than done, and after an accident forces him to use the Force — excuse the pun — Jedi hunter Second Sister (Elizabeth Grullon) arrives to take him out. Thankfully, Cal is rescued by friendly forces who had been tracking Imperial transmissions.
This kick starts the narrative of Jedi: Fallen Order, which ping pongs between six planets, including Wookiee homeworld Kashyyyk, kyber crystal central Ilum, Dark Side-heavy Dathomir, water-rich Zeffo, secluded grassy Bogano, and the aforementioned Bracca, the last three of which have either been created or are seen for the first time in the game. Along the way, it features cameos from the likes of Darth Vader (Scott Lawrence) and Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), a Rebel leader who was originally introduced in the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars and later made a live-action appearance in the standalone Star Wars anthology film, Rogue One. The primary participants are Cere Junda (Debra Wilson) and Greez Dritus (Daniel Roebuck), crew of the Mantis who rescued Cal, but they always drop out of the action by coming up with some excuse that keeps it a single-player game. Your only constant companion is a droid called BD-1, who merely communicates in beeps and boops.
And that’s far from the only concern with the story. For one, it’s too threadbare. The opening act features a mix of action, characters, and gameplay, but it’s not a fair representation of what’s to come in Jedi: Fallen Order. In each following mission, after an initial conversation with Cere — or someone else at times — sets up Cal’s primary objective, you’re essentially on your own. All interactions, until the end of said mission, are limited to voices over the radio. And there are virtually no cut-scenes that could help splice in more narrative. We can’t believe we’re advocating for more cut-scenes in a game, but this could have really done with more. Especially when all you’re doing is mowing through herds of faceless Stormtroopers, or a variety of animals that all look the same, have no personality, and aimlessly charge straight at you. There’s a reason all good stories feature memorable characters, and without them, the world of Jedi: Fallen Order feels rather empty.
What also makes the new Star Wars game feel empty is how the world seems to exist only for Cal’s purpose. For lack of a better word, it’s too game-y. Opponents and fauna are placed and / or spawn in ways that only makes sense because the player will pass through, and not because they would normally be there as part of their daily lives. Moreover, the Imperial forces seemingly wait for you to clear hurdles and arrive on their floor before they spawn. In the real world, they would see you making your way up and open fire. Opponents also do not radio their colleagues even when they are behind the next door or turn. And in one sublevel, Stormtroopers kept running from one end to the other because they simply hadn’t been designed to do anything else after taking down an animal. There are better ways to go about designing a game that feels like a living, breathing world, but Jedi: Fallen Order is either unaware or uncaring in that regard.
Elsewhere in the realm of gameplay, wielding a lightsaber as Cal is undoubtedly cool. The developer, Respawn Entertainment — best known for the multiplayer first-person shooter Titanfall series, and the free-to-play battle royale Apex Legends — has nailed the visual and aural feel, be it Cal pulling it off his waist and flicking it on, slicing an animal or a droid in half, or moving it to and fro to block incoming blaster bolts. But in wanting players to have fun, Jedi: Fallen Order makes Cal use it for everything, which in tun diminishes the fun. Because it’s not special anymore. Why won’t Cal take up any other weapon, be it a knife or a blaster, given there are advantages to such weapons in different combat scenarios? It’s clear that EA wanted to maximise the use of the lightsaber because it’s a lightsaber after all, but it turns into the equivalent of the Batmobile from Batman: Arkham Knight. Just because you can apply it, doesn’t mean you should.
As a Jedi, Cal is pretty competent from the beginning. Of course, as is the case for action-adventure titles that borrow elements from role-playing games, you learn new ways to manipulate the Force and earn skill points for your combat performance on Jedi: Fallen Order. The latter can be used to “upgrade” Cal in one of three ways: “Force”, “Lightsaber”, or “Survival”. “Force” defines how much you can push / slow down an enemy or object, “Lightsaber” grants you new forms of attack, and “Survival” dictates Cal’s health, which doesn’t automatically regenerate. That makes it more realistic and teaches you to better care for the life you’ve. But the rest of the game is nowhere as realistic, to add to a narrative that isn’t intriguing enough. Sure, Jedi: Fallen Order clears the low bar EA set for itself — not the first time one of its properties has done so — but with Star Wars movies going on a hiatus, maybe EA too can use that extra time to develop a game that truly sets fans loose in a galaxy far, far away.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order costs Rs. 3,499 on PC and PS4, and Rs. 3,500 on Xbox One. Gadgets 360 played Jedi: Fallen Order on an Xbox One X.