Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, contrary to its title, isn’t about being a Jedi. According to game director Stig Asmussen, it’s about becoming a Jedi. “What is more Star Wars,” Asmussen asked a crowd of journalists gathered at a preview event in Anaheim, “than becoming a Jedi?” After more than three hours of hands on time with Fallen Order, aside from a few noticeable physics bugs and animation hiccups, it does feel like the maximum level of Star Wars a franchise fan could ask for (topped maybe only slightly by the Fuzzy Tauntaun and Blue Milk cocktails this EW reporter imbibed at the Galaxy’s Edge Cantina after the demo was over).
Like Anakin, Luke, and Rey before him, Fallen Order’s hero Cal Kestis (Cameron Monaghan) is a young Force-sensitive working to improve his skills and attain the level of a Jedi Master. In Cal’s case, this goal is complicated by the fact that he’s living in the immediate aftermath of Order 66, and everything he does makes him more of a target for the Jedi-hunting Empire and its Inquisitors. As it turns out, the noble pursuit of the Jedi arts is not only a surefire shortcut into the Star Wars galaxy canon but also a logically gamify-able undertaking that makes sense as the core of an action RPG.
As Cal thinks back on his Padawan training and strengthens his connection to the Force, new abilities become available to unlock in the game’s skill upgrade tree, ranging from basic defensive skills to advanced lightsaber techniques and augmentations to Force abilities like pushing, pulling, and slowing time.
In addition to Cal’s own abilities, upgrades are available to his essential Jedi gear: his lightsaber and his trusted droid, BD-1. Throughout the game environment, there are collectible materials that can be crafted into new lightsaber parts. I didn’t find a workbench to tinker with my weaponry during my demo time, but parts I found fell into pre-existing lightsaber styles including “Protection and Defense” and “Elemental Nature,” and it seems like a safe bet that parts in specific categories will impart related bonuses.
BD-1’s upgrades are more critical since they can open up new paths in the world. For example, certain doors and containers can only be unlocked after BD has had his slicing abilities improved.
Much of Fallen Order’s level design is based on this type of ability gating, which Asmussen has previously compared to classic franchises like Zelda and Metroid. As Cal and BD unlock new abilities, more of the world will be accessible to explore. One feature that makes this type of ability-locked progression much more enjoyable is the game’s map. As players explore an area, the map updates to show which exits to a room are accessible (marked with a green line), unexplored (yellow), or inaccessible (red). This cuts back drastically on the frustration of not knowing whether a puzzle is tough to solve or just downright unsolvable with Cal’s current gear.
In this specific demo, Force push was the focal ability. Exploring a temple on a new planet called Zeffo, I unlocked the secrets of using Force push and I was then able to use that ability to explore more of the planet by blasting away debris and moving around puzzle pieces.
But the Force isn’t just good for rolling big orbs around ancient temples. There are also some obvious combat applications. Some elements of Fallen Order’s combat mechanics, such as parries that damage guard stamina and checkpoints that heal Cal but also respawn enemies, feel inspired by this year’s pre-eminent action title, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. But for the most part, this game seems balanced for fights with multiple weaker enemies rather than constant 1v1 duels. Force powers and things like the ability to deflect lasers back at hapless stormtroopers with appropriately timed parries add plenty of Star Wars flare to what seems like a fairly solid combat experience.
Also, despite wearing some Dark Souls and Sekiro influence on its sleeve, Fallen Order is significantly easier to pick up than anything FromSoftware has put out lately, at least on the default difficulty setting. But that’s not to say there is no challenge to be found. In addition to the early game demo, attendees of this event got a chance to try out a boss battle from much later in the game. Despite having a stronger, upgraded Cal well on his way to Jedi mastery, the bulky and imposing Ninth Sister proved why the Inquisitors are a bunch who deserve to be feared.
It’s not clear yet how Cal got on the Inquisitorius’ radar, but his quest to collect an important object could potentially have some significant implications for the greater Star Wars lore. Following messages from a Jedi named Eno Cordova, Cal hops from planet to planet collecting clues and powers. In this demo, there were four planets available to visit – Zeffo, Dathomir, Kashyyyk, and another new planet called Bogano — and players could freely travel between them to tackle in whichever order they pleased, though Bogano was already complete in the demo build and attendees were warned that they may get more than they bargained for if they went straight to Dathomir. Generally, Asmussen says, the experience is meant to be fairly open, with gear gating keeping players from progressing in ways that would break the critical path of the story.
Cal is aided in his journey by Cere, a former Jedi, and Greez, a smart-mouthed alien pilot, who despite being new characters seem to fit right in with the Star Wars series’ tone. In fact, all of the voice acting and dialogue I’ve seen so far has been well executed, and Cal’s crew feels like an appropriate addition to the canon.
Hopefully, the rest of Fallen Order keeps up the level of world-building these first few hours display. The game already feels like it’s in much better shape technically than it was just a few months ago at E3, so fingers crossed that any remaining bugs are patched out quickly and all that’s left is that trademark Star Wars sense of adventure.
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