As one of the most famous and iconic sci-fi stories ever told, George Lucas’s Star Wars is widely loved. Grandparents and parents have shared the films and books with their children to keep alive the story of Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the Dark Side and Luke Skywalker’s journey of hope in the face of evil, doom, and destruction at the hands of his father, Darth Vader. Now the film saga has nearly come full circle with Rey’s struggle to handle the pressure of following Luke’s teachings. Star Wars is one of a handful of stories to retain the same endless recognition between several generations.
Star Wars games, however, have notoriously struggled to live up to the brand. Considering the number of Star Wars titles released, only a few have cemented their place as fan-favorites, like the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic series, Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, and the original Star Wars: Battlefront games. When a new Star Wars game is announced, fans take a deep breath, raise their hands over their faces, and peek despairingly through their fingers unable to look away. All traces of hope that a new game will redeem previous failures fades with either over-powered, boring lightsaber combat (The Force Unleashed); poorly designed force-wielding mechanics as in Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy; and lackluster narrative designs like in Star Wars: Battlefront II (2017).
Now, at the twilight period of the Skywalker Saga, Respawn Entertainment and EA’s Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order has emerged to revolutionize Star Wars games.
Jedi: Fallen Order’s combat mechanics are engaging because they are challenging, requiring constant focus to time blocks and evasive maneuvers before following up with a barrage of striking power attacks. Each tactical decision feels important, and mistakes are punished by enemies pouncing to deliver serious damage. The result is that combat is thrilling and, when executed properly, as precise as bullseyeing Womp Rats in a T-16. Respawn allows players to engage in free-flow combat, but this is only really useful for general crowd control.
The real fun begins when free-flow is ditched for the more engaging and exciting target-locked system similar to that in The Surge and Dark Souls. The Surge has infamously ruthless combat whereby mistakes are punished severely; the same also applies to Jedi: Fallen Order but to a lesser degree. Minor errors such as mistiming a dodge or attack can result in losing half a health bar via a barrage of melee or ranged attacks. Moreover, Jedi: Fallen Order is also inspired by a feature similar to The Surge 2 whereby players need to visit the exact location of their death, but adds an extra requirement to strike the enemy that killed them to regain all experience accumulated before death.
The DNA of Dark Souls and Bloodborne is all over Jedi: Fallen Order’s combat. Players are encouraged to target one enemy at a time, and the majority of combat is performed via simple offensive combos and defensive blocks, which combine to produce a grounded experience. Aggressive hack-and-slash tactics, viable in The Force Unleashed, will result in a quick death and even the simplest enemies can prove to be tough if the player underestimates them. Boss fights can be frustratingly complex experiences that usually require several attempts to learn all of the opponents’ choreography to beat them. However, even with such knowledge, boss attacks are often choreographed in a way that makes learning their patterns difficult, resulting in one easily getting caught off guard and struck by a power attack. However, this bittersweet feature of constantly second-guessing only adds to the thrill of feeling like a true Jedi.
Force powers are equally intriguing because the physics behind them is different to the implementation in previous Star Wars games. The main reason why Respawn’s Force mechanics are so good is because they are incredibly similar to the benchmark set by Remedy Entertainment’s Control. Remedy built a new engine for Control that allowed players to manipulate the space around them, thus managing to offer better ‘force’ powers than any Star Wars game to date. Jedi: Fallen Order offers the same feeling of using power to manipulate the environment. Using the Force to push debris out of the way, manipulating metal structures into a bridge, slowing objects/enemies, and throwing an object over a long distance to hit a specific target feels purposeful and as carefully crafted as Control’s physics. Additionally, some enemies can be pulled towards Cal to be finished off with a swift lightsaber attack, but others are more adept at resisting the power of the Force. This is where Jedi: Fallen Order’s physics come into their own. Players can feel the weight of foes because small enemies have far less resistance, thus flying through the air, whereas larger ones will barely move. Furthermore, Purge Troopers have Force resistant armor and will use their weapon to dig into the ground, slowing themselves down and decreasing the effectiveness of Cal’s power.
Respawn also managed to stay faithful to the hidden formula within the Star Wars franchise in that it is all about the Droids. From the beginning, fans fell in love with the naïve Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa’s powerful leadership, and Han Solo and Chewbacca’s ‘bromance,’ but the most memorable character was R2-D2. George Lucas is a master at allowing side characters to enjoy as much significance as the leads without stealing their thunder. This is certainly true of R2-D2. Lucas explained that R2-D2 was the character retelling the story of Star Wars in Chris Taylor’s book, How Star Wars Conquered the Universe. Speaking to animation director Rob Coleman, Lucas said, “The entire story of Star Wars is actually being recounted to the keeper of the Journal of the Whills—remember that?—a hundred years after the events of Return of the Jedi by none other than R2-D2.”
Respawn has captured Lucas’s legendary vision to the letter, and Jedi: Fallen Order’s storyteller is BD-1. The seemingly innocuous droid serves predominantly as a cute companion with practical abilities like slicing locked crates and hacking droids. Protagonist Cal meets the droid early and soon realizes that BD-1 is key to his mission fulfilling his destiny to become a Jedi Knight. BD-1 drives the narrative and tells players the story of what happened after the Jedi Purge.
Respawn and EA have salvaged the reputation of Star Wars games by completely reinvigorating what it means to be a Jedi. Jedi: Fallen Order has redeemed and redefined how playing as a Jedi Knight should feel. The rich combination of Dark Souls-like tactical, challenging lightsaber combat, and Control-esque Force powers have produced one of the greatest Star Wars games of all time because it is inspired by a wide array of key influences outside of Star Wars.