Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order Review – A New Hope

By Sam Quirke,
Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order review

Star Wars is a space fantasy, and Star Wars products work best when they lean into its imaginative, flighty nature rather than trying to pin it down into a more rational shape for the realm of science fiction. Its stories rely on simple themes of love and hope pitted against the forces of darkness; even in their darkest moments, the best Star Wars stories know how to keep carrying the light. It's something that has, on occasion, been lost in Star Wars video games – especially in recent years, with games struggling to stay bright and cheerful in the clumsy grip of a publisher overly focused on its bottom line.

After the lively, bombastic campaign of Titanfall 2, Respawn seemed an obvious fit to try and finally do justice to the Star Wars brand in a story-driven game – though hope started to flicker when a large part of that studio set off on a microtransaction-heavy battle royale adventure, indefinitely delaying Titanfall 3 in the process. When review codes largely arrived late for Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, some of us feared the worst, that perhaps EA were trying to avoid some expected criticism. It's a pleasure to cast those doubts aside. Despite a couple of glaring shortcomings, Fallen Order manages to deliver a true, honest and joyful Star Wars experience – and a new hope for story-driven Star Wars games of the future.

Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order review

Our Jedi Fallen Order review is coming in a little later than we would like, due to a late arriving code, X019 and Black Friday. Apologies!

Our protagonist, Cal Kestis, takes a little getting used to. Voice and mo-cap actor Cameron Monaghan isn't at fault, delivering a touching performance all the way throughout the game. It's more that the story can't quite decide if he's going to be an angst-driven troublemaker or a mildly troubled, mostly hopeful Skywalker type in its first third. By the back third of the game, any concerns about which Star Wars stereotype Cal was going to slot into had faded as he finds his own personality. The same is ultimately true of his cast members – both the insufferably troubled Cere and the obvious comedic foil Greez eventually settle into a decent dynamic with Cal, leading to some touching moments in the ramp up to the big finale. If you're not feeling the vibe that Fallen Order's cast is putting out at the beginning of the game, we recommend that you persevere.

Any review of Jedi: Fallen Order is incomplete without sparing a sentence or two for BD-1, Cal's constant companion and the first true successor to R2-D2. What BD-1 lacks in R2's hilarious petulance, he makes up for in Wall-E style cuteness, conveying tidal waves of emotion in a few chirps and trembling motors. It never stops being a delight to watch the little biped tentatively clamber around on Cal's shoulder as the padawan squeezes into a tight corridor, or the devilish electronic chuckle as the bite-size droid gets up to some mischief with an enemy. It's only a shame that he doesn't get to shine enough in the gameplay, limited mostly to opening boxes and some all-too-brief opportunities to hack up some enemy droids.

Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order review

Gameplay in general is a little bit of a mixed bag which, luckily, the story and atmosphere manages to make up for. Respawn were clearly going for a light-RPG approach with metroidvania elements, and comparisons to Santa Monica Studios' God of War are impossible to avoid. Sadly those comparisons while playing can make Fallen Order's shortcomings a little sharper. There's a big traversal problem throughout the adventure. The maze-like worlds of Fallen Order are fun to explore, but the return journey back to the ship is an absolute chore – and it shouldn't be. Plenty of games of this type carefully corkscrew the level design so that a tricky journey out turns into a simple journey back, thanks to some well-placed shortcuts. Fallen Order's shortcuts are hard to see and rarely make enough of a difference – so be ready for a long walk home after every mission, or an interminable amount of time hanging about in elevators, Mass Effect style, only to realise that you've gone the wrong way.

Mind you, an elevator ride is preferable to the amount of slides, a surprising and unpleasantly excessive hack to get the player from one place to another. An unacceptable amount of every major location is a slip-and-slide, and it feels very cheap – especially since the control and the camera movement is typically pretty janky when Cal starts mud or glacier surfing. Various difficulties were played to test them all out, yet even on the hardest modes, the vast majority of player deaths came about from slipping over the edge of a mud slide into an abyss rather than through combat.

Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order review

Combat, thankfully, is excellent. There's always a worry that a developer won't understand how to balance Force powers and saber combat to be challenging yet still make you feel like a Jedi. Fallen Order takes its cues from the greats, allowing players to feel powerful only if they take time to read an enemy and pace themselves. A large range of difficulties helps players find their niche, and even the easiest mode doesn't totally wreck the combat; rather than turning enemies into tissue paper, the main buff just seems to be giving Cal more resistance to damage, giving less able players more time to adapt to tougher enemies. By giving those players time while not giving them a cheap kill, even the most troubled padawan can learn how to play like a Jedi over the course of their play through.

But where Fallen Order really, really understands Star Wars is in its audio-visual design – slides aside. Despite being set in some of the darkest moments in the Star Wars narrative, Fallen Order is full of colour and whimsy in its alien designs and its biodiversity, calling to mind the grizzled denizens of original trilogy far more than the overly cute and polished later entries. You spend a lot of the game really feeling like Luke going through his paces on Dagobah or being startled by a Wampa on Hoth. It's a true adventure, and it feels authentic. The sound and music design is perhaps the best part of the game – this is the closest any composer has gotten to the feel of John Williams' original work in 1977 without totally ripping it off, and it acts like a glue holding the whole experience together. When Gordy Haab and Stephen Barton's score does dare to conjure up a bar or two of Williams' classic themes, it feels well deserved. There's also that beautiful "whum" of a lightsaber, an elegant sound for a civilized age. Cal's saber doesn't just fire up with a canned sound effect; it thrums and crashes during combat, and it purrs with a slight crackle when holding it aloft as a torch. Fallen Order understands how to make a player feel like a Jedi, more so than most Star Wars games released in decades.

Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order review

The Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order achievement list is a little less inspiring, but it at least offers a range of ways to explore the game's mechnics. There's a lot of collectible hunting to do and specific kill types to grind, but there's a couple of fun hidden secrets in the mix as well. The most criminal requirement is to fill out all of BD-1's holomaps; it wouldn't be a problem if the levels were well designed for a revisit, but as things are you will spend a lot of time tearing your hair out trying to work out what you've missed, where it is and how on earth you are supposed to get back over there. It's all very achieveable – none of it is truly missable and none of it is tied to difficulty – but we'd recommend waiting for full guides to surface before getting too stressed about finding every secret.

Summary

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is a genuine new hope for Star Wars narrative gaming, after too long of a drought. Cal Kestis is a likeable protagonist, less dorky than Luke and less angsty than the prequels or the recent movies. His story is simple, hopeful and engaging, just like the original movies. It's a joy to traverse these new worlds that feel right at home in the Star Wars canon, teeming with life and secrets. Lightsaber combat is fluid, providing just enough challenge to entertain while letting players feel like a Jedi. Perfect music composition and top-tier sound design bring the whole thing together in a way that makes us excited for a sequel. There's some significant problems, for sure – especially in level design and signposting – but we're confident that the developers could easily evolve beyond these hiccups in the future. The Star Wars gaming universe is in pretty safe hands with Respawn – provided EA keep giving the studio enough opportunities.
4 / 5
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
Ethics
The reviewer spent around 30 hours exploring distant worlds and learning what it means to be a Jedi, earning 26 of the game's 39 achievements. The game was played across a standard Xbox One and an Xbox One X. A code was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.
Sam Quirke
Written by Sam Quirke
Sam has been a Newshound since 2016 and is now the Editor for both TrueAchievements and TrueTrophies. He loves gaming on all devices and in all genres. He remains a stubborn Assassin's Creed and Pokémon fan.