Even though a riveting, single-player Star Wars game is an experience people have been yearning for in recent years, it was difficult at the start to get excited about Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Cal Kestis, the protagonist in Fallen Order, was a newcomer to the saga and would have to earn his stripes as a memorable character, and, on top of that, the idea of mowing people down as an overpowered Jedi didn't seem particularly appealing or rewarding. But, as more was revealed about the game, including its influences from other series and how players would have to essentially rebuild him, the game became immensely more attractive. After playing it through to the end, those updated expectations held up, as Fallen Order proved to be a tremendously entertaining and a sometimes challenging game that's a welcome shift from Electronic Arts' past endeavors, though whether or not it's a meaningful Star Wars story will rest solely on the individual's familiarity with the franchise.
Respawn Entertainment's Star Wars game takes care of the first concern about playing as a boringly unstoppable Jedi from the start. Cal's not really a Jedi in the beginning, at least not officially. He's a former Padawan who never got to finish his training because of Order 66, and the trauma which accompanied those events left his connection to the Force fractured. Sure, you've got a lightsaber and the unique power to slow down time with the Force, which are both rare tools in a post-Jedi Order world, but the rest of your Force powers remain locked until you progress in the story and overcome your fears. It may sound like a tropey way to acquire abilities — and in some ways, both in and out of Star Wars, it is — but it's an avenue of progression that makes sense in Fallen Order.
Some of those inspirations and comparisons mentioned previously likened Fallen Order to games like Legend of Zelda games, 2018's God of War, Metroidvania titles, and even FromSoftware's Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. After spending even a few hours with Fallen Order, you'll find all of those are apt. Throughout your interplanetary travels, facilitated by new characters like Cere, Greez, and the ship called the "Stinger Mantis," you're constantly finding obstacles you can't get through simply because you don't have the needed Force power yet.
This leads to a back-and-forth style of exploration where you progress a bit into the story and then return to old places to see what you weren't able to get to before. The main story, from beginning to end, felt shorter than expected, though the extra exploration between the main missions makes it hard to put an exact time on it how long you'll spend in the main chapters themselves. It's up to the player how quickly they want to burn through the story and explore later.
Much of this bonus exploration involves filling out your logs about the planets and their inhabitants while collecting customizations for your lightsaber and skins for Cal, the Mantis, and your droid companion, BD-1. Probably one in every five cosmetic discoveries is worth using, particularly because you don't ever really get to see your lightsaber parts because the weapon is always in motion, but the appeal of opening chests and the question of what might be around the next corner is enough to fuel exploration without making it seem like filler content. Not all planets are equal here, though — you'll find out quickly that some of them are much bigger headaches to navigate than others, particularly because there's no fast-travel system. Fallen Order also finds itself stuck in a familiar endgame hole where, if you do too much exploring during the normal playthrough, there's not a lot for you to revisit after completing the campaign. There are some interesting surprises and more fights to be found, but without having a fast-travel system, hiking across a planet to open that door you missed eons ago just doesn't seem worth it.
Where Fallen Order really proves itself is in its many cinematic moments of combat where you're battling everything from mundane Stormtroopers to creatures previously unknown and tougher enemies like the Purge Troopers and the recurring Second Sister. You'll quite literally live and die by your ability to parry if you play on one of the more challenging difficulties. This review was done on "Jedi Master," which is the second-hardest difficulty level, and thwarting the more aggressive enemies with well-timed parries, counterattacks, and executions led to satisfying ends to tense fights. These moments only improve as the game goes on and you unlock abilities through acquiring skills.
By the end of the game, you'll be using the Force and BD-1 to conquer everything around you. Fallen Order does an excellent job of realizing this Jedi fantasy after making players feel like they earned it by pushing them towards cinematic playstyles. If a powerful enemy uses a certain move and adjusts their combat style, it makes you feel like you should do the same to show them they're not the only one who has tricks. Nobody's instructing you to do so, but it simply feels right in a "What would a Jedi do?" situation. You can obviously approach the combat however you want, but Fallen Order gives players the tools to roleplay as much or as little as they want to.
Fallen Order's story is a Star Wars tale through and through with drama and personal triumphs galore, so it that sense, it totally succeeds in being an engaging Star Wars game. The place Fallen Order finds itself in within the larger Star Wars timeline does limit the narrative's potential though. Taking place after Order 66 but before the events of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Fallen Order has a lot of history behind and ahead of it. This means that, while you'll likely get invested in the plights of Cal and his companions who are all new characters, it's nearly impossible for such a story to pluck any strings you may already have attached to the grander parts of the Star Wars saga. There's no changing what happens before and after this game, which means that quests like rebuilding the Jedi Order and other monumental tasks ring a bit hollow right from the start. You'll try, and likely will succeed, at being invested in the new characters' stories, but with so many shadows of other Star Wars favorites looming over them, they'll constantly be compared to other characters regardless of how familiar you are with Star Wars and may not always live up to their predecessors.
From the technical side of things, there's really not much to complain about, at least from the experience a PlayStation 4 Pro offered. Textures that loaded slowly or a spinning loading symbol when progressing to a new area were the extent of any concerns with the game, but the game never crashed. There were some slow-down moments during times of heavy combat in an open world when there was a lot to show, but they were miniscule in comparison to the amount of time you'll spend exploring without issue.
With the skillful, dynamic gameplay and the lukewarm story in the Star Wars timeline taken into consideration, the question of how this game holds up becomes a two-part query: is it a good game, and is it a good Star Wars game? The answer to the first question is an easy one. Heavy on adventure and cinematic style, Fallen Order is absolutely a game worth anyone's time if you've got even an inkling of interest in Star Wars. You won't feel left behind, thanks to the new characters, if you're less familiar with Star Wars, and those who know the fandom inside and out will pick up on clever nods and filled-in blanks. You could remove the Star Wars wrappings and it'd still be a fantastic experience which could be construed as both a positive and a negative. So many Star Wars experiences are based off prior exposure now that it'd be nearly impossible for one person to have the same experience with this story as another, but even if you knock the story, everything else about the game is solid and worth your time.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order releases for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC platforms on November 15th. A review code was provided by the publisher and was used on a PlayStation 4 Pro.