This being the galaxy far, far away post-Episode III, the Empire has a bit of a thing for murdering every Jedi it can find, so making his presence felt isn’t something our hero wants to do. What follows is: a thing that makes Cal reveal himself, a tragedy, an escape, and an adventure with far-reaching consequences. Safe to say it’s a very entertaining story, and a very Star Wars one. There are few surprises or risks, of course, but that’s not what people want in these things. We want lightsabers, treachery, light and dark dalliances, cameos, and Wookiees. Fallen Order provides all of this, along with the extra of BD-1 – a fantastic droid accomplice who, it’s fair to say, I want to be friends with.
Fallen Order’s a third-person action-adventure in a vein similar to Uncharted and plenty of others (more on that in a minute); you explore large, intertwined worlds, battle ludicrous amounts of hostile fauna, and generally have a decent time of it all. And you slide. A lot. You climb a bit less than you slide, while you swing on ropes a bit less than you climb. But good golly gosh, do you ever slide down a lot of hills – it really does bear repeating this much.
After you pass the jarring realisation that Fallen Order takes more than a few cues from, of all things, Dark Souls, things settle in, and the real fun begins. Being a Jedi, when done well, is great. You have magical powers, you’re great in fights against regular troops and beasties, and you’re good enough to take on things much more powerful than you, so long as you’re smart about it. All of this is present and accounted for here, though there is a small complaint (more on that also, in a minute). Force-pushing your way through walls is inherently satisfying, while the handling of your laser sword verges on an all-time great in the world of game mechanics. The satisfaction in deflecting incoming blaster fire with timed button presses borders on transcendental at times. It doesn’t last, sadly.
What really has been holding Fallen Order back for me, though, is that it draws from so many other games. It’s not that the Metroidvania setup works against Cal’s adventure – visiting and revisiting a selection of planets, being able to explore previously unreachable areas: that’s good. It’s fun. It makes you want to go back to places even before the story makes you go back there. It’s not that the Dark Souls elements play out wrong; it’s actually rather fitting that you have to meditate at set spots to save and that’s where you come back after respawning. It’s not that Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time’s wall-running was ever a bad feature, nor that the climbing and swinging from Uncharted is something another triple-A studio shouldn’t borrow for its own release. None of this is wrong.
But it’s not as integrated, flowing, or natural as it needs to be to rise above just being a series of borrowed elements from other games. It’s jarring: these aspects don’t blend into the background as you play – you feel each and every one of them, every time they come up, and you notice them. Fallen Order lacks that integration, and as such, these derived elements – as much as they work well taken in isolation – collectively stand out, like Greedo shooting first.
There’s also a bit of rot under the surface. A game that leans so heavily on tactical, thoughtful combat also needs to provide a smooth and gratifying experience. You need to avoid clunk. Sadly, Fallen Order does at times wail on you while you’re trapped in a corner, metaphorically and literally, as a result of some clunk. Cal can be slow to react to an input, say, or an enemy’s inability to be staggered before sticking the nut on you three times in a row can be… galling, I’ll go with. There’s a very clear line between the person with the pad flailing like an idiot and the game itself not actually playing particularly well, or fairly.
Finally, in the triumvirate of grumbles: it’s all a bit underbaked. Glitching textures, enemies not triggering when you enter an area, strange animations popping up – it all smacks of a game emerging a bit too soon.
There is a new Star Wars film out, so it’s pretty obvious that EA had a timetable to hit, but it seems that even with multiple years in development, Fallen Order still needed more time spent on it.
Rubbish, then? No, not at all. Fallen Order isn’t going to sit alongside the likes of Knights of the Old Republic and the Dark Forces series in the hall of greats. But it’s a solid, generally well-made adventure with enough going on to keep you ploughing and sliding through its couple-dozen hour story. The Force is… yeah, alright I guess, in this one.
When you’ve unlocked a few of Cal’s latent Force powers, it begins to settle into a rhythm: jog along, push that, pull that, run along that wall, and so on. Soon enough, you realise you’re playing and acting just as an actual Jedi, and it’s all happened so naturally.
Sometimes great; sometimes rough around the edges; usually fun.
Format: PS4 (tested) / PC / XBO
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Release: Out now