Game preview: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is a lot better than you think

If you were disappointed by the unveiling of EA’s new Star Wars game there are some surprising secrets that should change your mind.

If you only watched the gameplay reveal trailer for Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order you probably came away pretty unimpressed by what seemed to be a very old-fashioned, very linear action game. Something that barely seemed any more evolved than The Force Unleashed on Xbox 360. But what if we told you it was actually a 3D Metroidvania with influences from both pre-reboot God Of War and Dark Souls? You’d probably say that if that was the case why was the unveil so boring and misleading? We can’t answer that, but we can assure you that the Force does seem to be with Fallen Order.

There’s actually a strange trend at E3 this year, of companies seeming to purposefully make their games look less interesting than they actually are. Marvel’s Avengers looked okay at Square Enix’s unveil event, but it was remarkably more impressive in the behind the scenes footage we saw later and will write a preview for shortly. But it was Fallen Order that was the most misleading, going from a game we’d already written off to one of our most anticipated games of the year.

The demo we played had two parts, the first being a wave-based mini-game that won’t necessarily be in the final release but which the developers at Respawn (makers of Titanfall and Apex Legends) have been using to test the combat system and act as an ad hoc tutorial. It was basically just an open space with castle-like like ramparts around the edges, but it was a good way to learn how to wield your lightsabre and make use of your various Jedi powers.

There’s one main lightsabre attack, plus a heavy overhead strike and a block, but you also have Force push and pull attacks that work on a recharging meter – as does the ability to throw your lightsabre like a boomerang and briefly freeze time (seemingly inspired by Kylo Ren’s freezing of a blaster bolt in The Force Awakens). These are all very easy to pull off, as you block incoming blaster bolts to fire them back at their sender, push stormtroopers off ledges, and dodge around the side of flametroopers while you freeze time.

It’s an enjoyable combat system with a great sense of impact and weight to your attacks, which is just what you’d expect given combat designer Jason de Heras worked on God Of War III and Ascension. The combat is fun but as we move through the waves we encounter increasingly tougher foes, including the new anti-Jedi stormtroopers, the surprisingly tough K-2SO model droids from Rogue One, probe droids, and even a AT-ST.

Or at least we were told an AT-ST was included, we never got that far as the combat got increasingly difficult towards the end and we had to give up for the purposes of time. But we took that very much as a positive, as it shows the game isn’t interested in patronising its audience, in some wrongheaded attempt to appeal to more casual gamers, but is actually a challenging, nuanced action game. Despite the nods to Dark Souls it’s nowhere near that hard but it does take real skill to get anywhere and that’s a very welcome revelation.

There was even better news once we started the game proper, most of which you would’ve seen in the gameplay reveal. It casts you as padawan Cal Kestis, who’s on the run following the Order 66 purge from Revenge Of The Sith. The game’s story is set somewhere between that and A New Hope, with Rogue One being referenced in multiple ways, not least by Forest Whitaker returning to voice his character Saw Gerrera. There’s also nods to the Rebels cartoon series, as the demo opens with Cal commandeering an early model AT-AT featured in the show.

This in turn leads to a wonderful nod to The Empire Strikes Back, as you discover two AT-AT drivers at their work and then take over to start blasting away at the Empire with their own weapons. You’re on the Wookie homeworld of Kashyyyk, which is filled with not only Imperial troops but giant-sized bugs and spiders. The demo we played is exactly what you can see in the videos but what interested us most was when de Heras started pointing out all the elements that weren’t obvious from just watching the footage.

Rather than the linear level design it initially appeared to have the game is a honest-to-goodness Metroidvania, with the ability to explore the levels however you want – as long as you or your droid has the prerequisite ability or item. Not only are the levels much larger and interactive than they first seem but you can also travel back to other planets you’ve previously visited in order to use new abilities there.

The droid, called BD-1, learns the ability to hack Imperial terminals during the demo but sitting down at a ‘mediation point’ you can also see Cal’s expansive skill tree. A mediation point is basically a bonfire from Dark Souls and is not only the only place you spend skill points but using it automatically respawns minor enemies. And as if that wasn’t enough for unexpected influences, you’ll also see Cal’s ship fill up with trinkets the more planets he visits, which was apparently inspired by Super Mario Odyssey.

There are still some things to be concerned about with Fallen Order, most obviously Cal seeming to be a rather bland lead. The graphics are also a bit patchy at this stage, with some very simplistic character models and facial animation, although we imagine that will be largely fixed by the time of release. The wind-up for the dodge move also seemed too long to be useful, but de Heras says that’s already been tagged as something to change.

As we’ve often lamented, 3D Metroidvania games are almost unknown in modern gaming, especially from a major publisher like EA. Why they never made it clear that that’s what the game is during the EA presentation we don’t know, but we can assure you that Fallen Order is considerably more interesting than it first appeared. Which is a surprise, to be sure, but a welcome one.

Formats: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC
Publisher: EA
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Release Date: 15th November 2019

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