Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order Preview - A New Approach to Lightsaber Combat

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As we sat down to play Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order at a hands-on preview event, it was clear that developer Respawn Entertainment does not want to hide away from the game’s inspirations. One “cheat sheet” explains how the game’s meditation spots work, which function very similar to bonfires in Dark Souls, and another explains how the map guides players in a way similar to Metroid, highlighting inaccessible areas in red. To say that Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order borrows from some other popular games in the character action genre would be putting it mildly, but the use of the Star Wars license elevates the game beyond its contemporaries. And after over 3 hours playing the game it was hard not to want to go back for more.

The basics of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order revolve around deliberate combat encounters and Uncharted-esque platforming and puzzle-solving. Players will enter a space occupied by several enemies and find the best approach to eliminating all of them without taking too much damage. Melee-based enemies can be blocked, parried, or even stealth attacked, while ranged enemies pepper in their own fire. As a result, combat becomes a delicate balancing act between keeping the more direct threats at bay, while deflecting blaster fire to take out the lesser threats.

Although Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order’s combat system focuses on the lightsaber and force powers, Respawn emphasized that protagonist Cal Kestis is a Jedi in training. Players are not given the keys to the Ferrari right out of the gate; they must hone Cal by acquiring new powers, skills, and other upgrades. Because of this, the idea of slicing and dicing through enemies is not possible in Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, at least in the portion we played. Rather, players must carefully juggle a group of enemies by blocking one attack, parrying another, and taking opportunities to strike as they come.

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Because the combat requires patience and timing, there are going to be questions about how Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order compares to Dark Souls, or Souls-like games. From what we played, it doesn't seem like the game will be as brutally challenging, but there are options to increase the difficulty starting with a Story Mode and ending at Jedi Grandmaster. But because of the number of enemies on-screen during combat, the comparisons don’t seem as apt.

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The biggest takeaway in terms of the combat, though, is that Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order gives players a great sense of the capabilities of a Jedi, even one in training. Being able to face three or four melee-based enemies, while several ranged are attacking from the back, and survive without a single hit truly exemplifies what makes Jedi masters so cool. Then throw in an arsenal of force powers that will grow and get stronger as players progress, and the combat becomes truly Star Wars. Going from slowing one enemy, to pushing another, to parrying a third and then slicing through each in quick succession is a very empowering feeling.

Where the game does borrow from the likes of Dark Souls is in its gameplay loop. At certain points throughout each level, players will find a meditation spot, where they can spend Skill Points (earned by filling an XP bar) on upgrades, rest to recharge their stim canisters (for healing), and heal any accumulated damage. These meditation points also reset any of the enemies on the path before and ahead of the player, like bonfires. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order even borrows that trick of taking away XP when players die to an enemy and then forcing them to kill that enemy to reclaim what was lost.

But really the comparisons begin and end there. Challenge is certainly present in Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, but it doesn’t feel like Dark Souls. Rather, the game presents a challenge similar to the Batman: Arkham games. Encounters feel overwhelming at a glance but once players understand their tools they will make it look effortless. The game's goal is to take an idea seen in other art forms - in this case, the strength and power of a Jedi wielding a lightsaber - and translate that into an interactive experience.

Alongside the lightsaber combat, the section we played included a lot of platforming and puzzle-solving. The game smartly uses a combination of force powers and basic climbing to deliver some really interesting puzzles. Games like Uncharted came to mind when going through one particular sequence because of the scale of the area and the requisite “aha” moments that occurred while solving the larger puzzle. Handholds and pathways were just obvious enough that we never got lost, but the puzzle had some elements that needed some thought.

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Our hands-on experience did include story elements, but it’s not worth spoiling those with the game so close to release. What is worth saying is that the character of Cal is compelling enough to drive the adventure forward and the side characters have unique personalities and backstories as well. The writing is strong and the performances carry the necessary weight. If Respawn can keep that up throughout the whole journey, then even those who opt for the game’s Story Mode difficulty will be satisfied with their Star Wars experience.

The best compliment that can be paid towards Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order following three hours of hands-on time is that it left us wanting more. Combat was challenging, but it was just starting to get into a level where new powers opened up new opportunities. Similarly, the story was going to some places that I’m eager to see through in the finished product.

There’s no question that what Respawn has put forth is impressive, with satisfying combat, fun puzzles, and some strong writing. As the first new entry in the Star Wars video game canon in a long time, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order has a lot of excitement surrounding it, and after playing that excitement has only built.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order releases November 15, 2019 for PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided hotel accommodations for the preview event.

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