Star Wars: Jedi Survivor is more Fallen Order, and that's okay
We've played four hours of it, and it's exactly the game you're expecting
There's a lot to be said for being consistent these days. After playing four hours of Star Wars Jedi: Survivor last week, I can tell you it is exactly what you probably already thought it would be: a competent, big-budget action-adventure sequel, well made by talented people, that isn't breaking the mould but expands upon the first game in the areas you liked best. If, like myself, you enjoyed Jedi: Fallen Order, this will probably be a solid follow-up for you. But if you were less well disposed towards that first game, you'd probably want to swap "consistent" for the word "predictable".
We return to poncho'd Jedi Knight Cal Kestis (although these days he's rocking a sleeveless vest) five years after the events of Jedi: Fallen Order. He's still gamely running missions for the Alliance against the Empire, but he feels older (he has a beard now) and has been through a lot (there is a shelf of items on his ship where you can press X to be wistful). In Jedi: Survivor, you're fighting both the Empire and some new and mysterious forces, including a group called the Bedlam Raiders who are staffed largely by combat droids and led by a large purple cyborg chap called Rayvis.
The preview build I played took place about an hour into the game, as Cal and his tiny robot bestie BD-1 crash land on an edge-of-the-galaxy outpost planet called Koboh. Koboh is populated by aliens and humans who talk like American Deep South ranchers, although the planet itself is sunny, rocky and with hardy, thin-leaved plants, giving an overall Mediterranean vibe. Rather than dodging the advances of lairy sunburned divorcees in good old Club Med, however, Koboh is full of angry, headbutting hens called Rawka, and bright yellow slug-moths that camoflage against the rocks, which I am reliably told are Shiverpedes. I particularly enjoyed the dustballs that are, in fact, raspberry-blue aliens you can throw, and which stick their tongues out at you.
But I digress. Here you are, stranded on Koboh, and in need of a spare part from your old pal Greez, who now runs the local dive bar. So you and BD-1 head over to find him. This necessitates exploring what is almost a prohibitively large map - because you'd expect the sequel's maps to be bigger, and so Koboh is, and it's studded with things to draw you from the beaten track. Huge skulls embedded in cliffs. Mysterious mines. Shimmering caves. There are Breath Of The Wild-adjacent Jedi Chamber challenge dungeons to find and complete. I didn't finish the level in my preview, and I saw other players exploring places I never found. There's no telling yet whether the rest of Survivor's worlds are as big as Koboh, but even if only a few of them are, you'll certainly have more than enough to do in them.
Cal finds Greez and the parts for his ship, but is soon (as you'd expect) drawn into a more involved Jedi-esque adventure involving an anomaly in the sky, and will evidently treat Rambler's Reach as home base for a while. You can even plant a little garden with seeds you collect - just outside this time rather than on your ship. As you'd expect, Cal almost immediately starts collecting newfound family, including Greez's robot bartender, the local stable-owner Mosey - you can tame and ride some creatures around the world now - and a large and motherly lizard-y alien called Doma, who is the de facto leader of Rambler's Reach. There is also a spindly-legged frog creature called Turgle, whose main job is comedy flailing - I am a fan of Turgle - and several characters I'm not allowed to mention (although for one of them, I've simply written the word "massive" down in my notes). Gathering more friends will improve Rambler's Reach with different shops and amenities. This includes a DJ crew for the bar.
All this makes Rambler's Reach a vague focal point of the map, around which you will find all the digressions and side quests to investigate. As well as wall-running, swinging and jumping, here are a lot of areas that require a shortcut or a new ability to access. I found, for example, a small droid whose ship was stuck in an oily pond, and it was clear that once I had upgraded my force powers, I could pull the sucker out. The general hugeness of the place is helped by improvements to the holomap, which now has clearer markings pointing you towards places you can go, places you haven't been, and places that you can't go to yet but will be able to at some point. Whenever I got stuck, it was usually the case that looking at the map held the answer and/or a triceratops with a big tummy that spat mud. I developed the noble Jedi art of running away quite often, because just like last time, when you die you respawn at your last meditation point, Soulslike-style, and lose all your XP - unless you kill what kills you.
This leads to probably the most noticeable change, and another expected one, because every sequel pushes the combat a bit, doesn't it? And in fairness, Survivor pushes it a lot. Single and dual-blade lighsabering both return, and dual wield is now its own thing. There are two further stances that we didn't get to try: a slower, cross-guard style a la Kylo "Flesh Wall" Ren, and dual-wielding a single-bladed lightsaber and a blaster, which looked like a lot of fun in a live video demonstration. As before, you level up your fighting abilities and unlock new moves, but five different stances - combined with Force powers, too - makes for a lot of new combat.
I still, honestly, favour the single blade, but dual-wielding does feel legitimately different - more chaotic, less defensive. I am not very good at chaining the combat together with elegance, especially when you take into account your Force confusions, and your Force pushes and Force pulls that move the enemy around the map like Moses parting a sea of limbs. There are lot of controls to remember, most of which do different things in the different stances, and it would take a more dedicated person than me to remember them all - though the aforementioned live demo did demonstrate that it can be done, with much windmilling and flying kicks and switching to a different stance on the fly.
I have to confess that the fights didn't excite me as much as being able to change my lightsaber's colour. You can, as you'd also expect, do more customisation in Survivor. As well as changing BD's basic colour, you can also change his parts (he's divided into, broadly, heads, shoulders, knees and... well, not toes, but you get it) with different variations you can find in chests around the open world. Similarly, you can now change Cal's hair, facial hair, and have more in-depth customisation with the clothes he wears, as well as the individual parts of hise saber. You can even change how weathered the thing is. I zoomed in to examine how much dirt was ingrained in the hilt.
But my most favouritest thing, above and beyond making Cal cut about an ancient and mysterious world while dressed like the kind of bearded hipster who's restoring a VW campervan, is that the Bedlam Raiders mean that there are B1 battle droids everywhere, and they are very funny. Their dialogue with each other, or even if you sit and watch a lone one long enough, is great. Sometimes, one will be strategically placed by a cliff so you can punt the lad right off it, allowing him to scream a silly line as they go, written expressly for that eventuality. They threaten you and then die instantly, and I'd like one as a pet. It has a powerful whiff of nostalgia for me, and though B1s are more associated with the prequels, here they embody the "C3-PO is doing something whimsical" musical sting from the original movies. The B1s are playful. I enjoy it. If only we could talk to the robots.
I'm okay with that. Star Wars is basically the only Disney property left that makes me feel something these days, and these games do recreate the things about Star Wars that I like - and in a better way than the recent trilogy of films. I'm willing to give it slack for being predictable because it's still fun. It's exactly what you're expecting, or possibly hoping for, depending on how you felt about Fallen Order. And "exactly what you expected" can include expecting something decent, rather than groundbreaking. Consistent.