Many of us don’t want much thought from our warring among the stars. We merely want to spend a few days, brainlessly force-pushing stormtroopers into a bottomless pit. We want to be infantilsed and reassured by a cosy multi-million-dollar franchise. We want a kindly alien dockworker called Prouf to rock us to sleep in his big strong arms, and gurgle amusing words as shiny space trains rocket by. If that is you, star baby, seeking to clamber back into the Lucaswomb, then rest assured, Jedi: Fallen Order is the comforting amniotic sac of space drivel you’re after. It’s also basically “laser sword Sekiro” with four difficulty settings.
Right from the opening scene, you’re delivered that traditional Star Wars gut-bubbling. The main fellow, Cal Kestis (played here by Ron Weasley with a scar) works in a gargantuan ship-breaking yard full of greasy shipbits, junked fodderdroids, and surplus clone trooper helmets. It is the purest Star Wars technodrudge, right down to the Mongolian throat-singing blasting through Cal’s headphones. It doesn’t let up either: from screen wipes, to cute alien wildlife, to bounty-hunting jetpackers, the whole game’s a flavourful galactojaunt full of movie references and extended universe do-hickies, for better or for worse.
You’re not just a working man, of course. You’re a Jedi fugitive, lying low as a welder in this junkheap. But you’re soon rescued by a sad Jedi pal, and off you go on a spaceventure to find a secret list of children who are Force-sensitive. This is your attempt to secure the “next generation” of Jedi in the dark inter-trilogy period of purge and Imperial lockdown. But this wobbling quest for Archie the Jedi and friends is mostly an unthinking search for a MacGuffin that, on second thoughts, would be best left buried. A flimsy excuse to have a rollicking, third-person, Uncharted-style tour of exotic planets. At one point, a space witch (don’t ask) suggests maybe not finding this holo-list full of younglings, because it would puts these childrens’ lives at risk, right? Nobody listens to her.
That’s okay. I long ago stopped expecting sense from a billionaire mythology about magic Buddhists. I likewise stopped expecting decent character development, which is good, because Fallen Order delivers the bare minimum.
A lot of pre-release negativity about the game focused on man-sized slice of pan loaf Cal Kestis, an intergalactic millennial who at one point in this game uses the Force to sense that a closet visibly full of junk “was once used for storage space”. He’s not the best, this boy from the cover of Mad Magazine. But then again, if we’re honest, the Jedi have only ever been as characterful as their toys and tricks anyway, so he’s not too massive an outlier.
Speaking of those tricks, however, Cal hasn’t practised them for 5 years, and has forgotten much of his training. This, of course, gives him a great excuse to pick up more abilities as he “remembers” them, en route through jungles or asteroid prisons. A skill tree has you unlocking the ability to push baddies off ledges en masse, or throw your lightsaber at a distant stormtrooper, or pull in a Probe droid and launch it at a Sith inquisitor.
Often, your tricks are unlocked at set story moments, encouraging you to return to previous levels and explore unseen areas thanks to new abilities, like being able to heave down steel bridges with the Force, or climb up a tattered rock face with some toothy climbing gauntlets. If I was a heartless marketing vulture, I would force my rudderless peons to call it a “Starwarsvania” on all outgoing press releases. I would say things like “It is Uncharted 4 meets Sekiro meets the old Jedi Knight games, which I’ve been told were good.”
I compare Fallen Order to Sekiro because it has similar swordplay. You can parry, dodge and attack from above in the same way. There are meditation spots, and respawning enemies, and gorgeous vistas. An early gigantofrog miniboss killed me in two hits, and I lost all the XP in my skill meter. I had to go and hit the big froggy again to get my XP back (but I didn’t have to kill him: so I ran away).
I played through on Jedi Master difficulty, which sounds impressive but is really what the game recommends if you play a lot of this type of game. Was it much of a challenge? Aside from the amphibious murderking and a handful of other bosses, it doesn’t really have Sekiro’s merciless teeth. And I was often tempted to bust the difficulty down, not up, just for the prospect of slicing through stormtroopers like a hot lightsaber through bantha butter. Because sometimes you don’t want FromSoft-flavoured juri juice. You want juri-flavoured juri juice. You know what I mean?
Siri, what is juri juice?
But the best thing it drains out of FromSoft’s catalogue isn’t the fighting, it’s the megalevels. I realised this trotting through the second planet, which kept going and going, from snowy village to tunnels to imperial mine to ice cave to the tail end of a crashed supership in a frosty floodland. I found myself liking the game more and more for its ambitious sprawl and locked doors. Its blinking power boxes and red forcefields winking at me, as if to say: “you’ll be back, level scrounger.” At times the game is so enamoured with Dark Souls it features characters in cells laughing malignantly. At one point a creepy man in a dark robe shows up to deliver cryptic advice and a Soulsian laugh, which the subtitles knowingly describe as a “(Dry chuckle)”.
The big departure is that it gives you a map. Your pet droid BD-1 offers this up when he is not scanning murals and dead carnivores for bite-sized lore. This 3D holomap is helpfully marked with yellow bars to denote unexplored routes, and reddened doors to mark routes currently impassable. In a From game, this would ruin the magic. Here, I’m fine with it. BD-1 is dog, robot, hacker, cartographer and a massive nerd of the prequel trilogy. With his help, and some new powers, I returned to the first level of puddles, lizards, and cliffs. I killed the megafrog, and went rummaging through boxes for that god-damned yellow lightsaber crystal I couldn’t seem to find anywhere.
That’s the other big thing Fallen Order has going for it. It doesn’t match the lootiness of FromSoft’s runarounds. It has none of the itty-bitty RPG-ness, none of the same, endless pilfering of strange items, no unappetising pocket sweets, clunking boots, or sharp new gouging implements. Instead, its loot focuses on the cosmetic. What kind of lightsaber do you want? What colour would you like to paint your robot? What style of poncho would you wear, if you too were a walking illustration from a 1950s Coca-cola advert? All these skins, outfits, and lightsaber parts can be found in boxes throughout the levels, and I found these were the real driving force of the game. Not the Jedi eejits or the duels, but the tinkering of the “customise your lightsaber” screen.
Really, this screen is a shallow side-gig that appears throughout. There’s very little to change about your tiny stick of hot death. You can’t even see the thing during fights, making it a pointless vanity exercise. But fiddling with new emitters and handles of everyone’s favourite childhood dream toy turned out to be enough reason for me to scour whole planets for every scrap hidden behind fragile rocks. Cal’s story, upon closer inspection, is really a wee lad’s power fantasy about choosing a colour for his laser sword. It makes sense the game should offer you a screen with all the childish appeal of a Build-a-Bear Workshop.
I’ve been ignoring the other big flavour here, that of an Uncharted-esque, cinematic blockbuster. And that’s because so much of this is by now over-familiar. It has a real case of the “I reckon I could climb thats”. Rope-swinging is especially, uh, ropey, until a new force power makes it less annoying. The repeated trick of making you slide down long slopes so you may jump at the right moment loses some of its charm when the camera doesn’t track Cal fast enough. And at least one sequence with bouncy plants, muddy hills, and a pursuing spaceship, would not have been out-of-place in a 3D Sonic game. It’s taking absolutely no risks, is what I’m saying.
And this is Fallen Order’s flaw. It’s a competent mash-up, a platter of blue Star Wars goo with Sekiro garnish. Which also means it has no ideas of its own. It does nothing with the new formula: it just sands it down around the edges, and adds some welcome difficulty options. It does not add, however, anything to the existing template of expensive action adventure third-person ’em ups. And of course it does zero new things to Stars In Your Wars, with its comfortably polarised goodies and baddies, its hokey Force mumbo jumbo, and its half-hearted characterisation. But then I would say that. The only person I have ever identified with in Star Wars is the man who weeps when the Rancor dies.
Its saving virtue is that it is a right biggo, a thoughtless blast of blockbuster ‘splosions, a popcorn game, the grand kahuna you can point to when some bore starts burping on about how single player is dead (see also Metro Exodus, Red Dead Redemption 2, etc). Expensive stormers like this are the indulgent pop of our medium. It’s not here to innovate or make-u-think. It’s here to say “baby” twenty times to a well-worn chord. Fallen Order wants you to feel like a fighty, telepathic space priest, and for about 20 hours or so, it does that. Stick with it, and you might also find a cool, yellow lightsaber.