Star Wars Jedi: Survivor review: a good Star Wars epic with a lot of collectibles
Use the Force to find that new customisable jacket
In my preview of Star Wars Jedi: Survivor I said it was a competent game that essentially offered Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, but more. Playing the full thing reveals I was correct, both for better and for worse, which is why you should never doubt me. Are we done here?
Oh alright. Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is a third-person action game where you play Cal Kestis in his second rip-roaring adventure across a localised part of the galaxy, fighting both the Empire and a very naughty little Sith, with a flanking attack from Cal's own regrets about getting people killed all the time. Crucially though, at least for the purposes of having fun, Cal has one of those hot glowsticks that goes *whummmmm* and cute robot friend BD-1 - but you will often be deploying both in the effort to get a new pair of trousers.
The theme of the day, as indicated by the title, is survival. What does it mean to survive? What does it mean to have a home? What does survival cost? Etc. The story itself is actually a good Star Wars epic, and has some moments that work very well to establish it as a sequel on its own terms - although I am prevented from telling you about almost all the best bits of it. Aforementioned Sith Dagan Gera has many survival-related grievances, notably his bestie cutting his arm off (diversity lose: the baddie in a Star War is once again a disabled man; diversity win: he's a hot lil twink who will inspire some truly disgusting fanart), and the cutscene where you first meet him is one of the best in the whole game.
In keeping with this theme, Cal and his pals are less nomadic this time. His old friend Greez has set up a bar in an Old West-ish dusty outpost town on a planet called Koboh, and you make frequent returns there as you collect more associates. There is a snail dressed in a diving suit and a suspect Scottish accent who stocks and cleans the giant aquarium. There is a pair of inversely-sized friends who set up a holo-gaming table in a side room. There is a robot DJ, and so on. A couple of these friends, like extremely huge man Bode or returning girlcrush Merrin, will come with you on some missions, largely to pull off some sweet team combat finishers, but you'll spend most of your time double-jumping around the place with only BD-1 for company.
There are not, as I had feared, a lot of maps, but the ones there are Swiss-cheese mazes that fold under and over themselves, with Soulslike shortcuts and Metroidvania bits that you have to come back to later. Many of these are impressive and beautiful, including windy desert vistas, exploded moons and dark swamps. The largest is Koboh, which is so big that it contains other sub-levels, notably the sticky Kinder toy that is said swamp and the giant crashed starship within it. There are many little secret caves and treacherous valleys to find and explore. I would argue too many.
I did say for better and for worse, and while a lot of the secret caves are cool, about as many of them are a sad little corner to half-heartedly jam a collectible in. Cal already has his grappling, wall-running, and Force push/pulls. As the game goes on you get the ability to dash in mid-air, dash through certain light gates, grapple to floating platforms, and Force raise and Force lower platforms and people (which is different to Force push and pull because screw you, game progression, that's why). Even BD-1 gets more than one way to open up blocked areas, to the point that sometimes traversal becomes overwhelming. And when you're going off the main story, it's basically just a means to finding new haircuts for Jedi-brand White Bread Loaf Cal. A statistically significant number of the people who turn up in the saloon on Koboh will take a different kind of collectible off you in exchange for more haircuts, or outfits, or colour swatches. Overall there are literally hundreds of things to collect, and I feel comfortable saying there are way more than any reasonable person needs.
Other expansions are welcome. The combat has been vastly embiggened, with Cal now having five lightsaber stances: single blade, double blade, dual blade, single blade and blaster, and crossguard. Each have slightly different abilities, and two are equippable at once. The idea isn't necessarily to become an expert at all of them, but good at the ones you like. I, for example, instantly hated the slow, heavy swings of the crossguard style, but loved the versatility of the blaster stance because I could shoot down any jetpack-bastards (and also it does this cool thing where you can target loads of enemies at once and shoot them like a kind of space-magic deadeye).
Jedi Survivor does making you feel cool very well, which is quite a Star Warsy thing to pull off. You can pull an enemy into his ally's blaster fire, yoink a shield off a Stormtooper and welly it into the droid behind him, and throw grenades - or other enemies - back where they came from. Units get progressively powerful, so you go from the one-hit-kill scrubs to mini-bosses or full set-piece fights where you need to block and parry to break the bad guy's defence meter (we're back in Soulslike territory, here). It's possible to reach a kind of flow state where you dodge, parry, block, swing, and take out all your enemies with the elegance and grace of a true Force-attuned Jedi Knight. It's also very easy to panic and flail and see the whole thing fall apart in front of your eyes as you're surrounded by a group of tricky security droids, or a squad of big chompy lizards in a cave. It's this that makes mastering the combat feel satisfying.
Combat is also, I think, where you can see the developers at Respawn having the most fun. One of the most frequent enemies you run into are the B-series battle droids, the B1s seen most famously in the prequel movies. The droids frequently get in protracted arguments or have conversations with themselves about how good they are; they also argue with the human Bedlam Raiders they work for, who are quite intense and have a kind of sado-masochistic quality to a lot of their combat barks. About one in every five Stormtroopers is unusually peppy, and will yell things about trying to get a promotion. It means that many of the fights you have in Jedi Survivor end up having quite a strong r/prequelmemes vibe, which I'm a fan of. You can also use the creatures on Koboh, able to charm them to attack your humanoid enemies, or just kite them into the group of troopers you're targeting (though the alien monsters are also plopped kind of annoyingly around a ginormous map, where a space clearly looked too empty and someone went "idk, they'll be quite high level now, just put two of the spitting triceratops lads in").
I long ago succumbed to Star Wars fatigue, but Jedi Survivor is good! It's fun! It's Star Wars! It doesn't make any huge swings, doesn't take interesting creative risks, but it's a big game from a big publisher based on a big IP. Safe and good, about 20 hours if you just rinse the story but upwards of 40 if you delve into every nook and cranny the desert temples, or everyone's favourite mega-city Coruscant, have to offer. Bingo, bango, you've got a game that's worth spending money on, probably.
The problem is that Jedi Survivor is such a big, game-y game that it keeps jangling keys in front of you that distract you from the Star Wars stuff, as if it doesn't think that Star Wars alone is enough to keep the army of toddlers in its audience playing. I haven't even mentioned all the optional stuff, which also includes Force-tear pocket universes where you just have a big fight in exchange for a skill point, bounty hunting, and collecting seeds for a rooftop garden. It's too much! Leave it!
I was on a mission-critical infiltration to save someone's life with nice giant Bode, and I kept running off like "I know man, just, yeah, no it is, it's very important... yeah, no, one second, I saw something shiny over here and I'm not going to replay this level for ages". That doesn't feel very Jedi Knight. My repeated calls for every game to be at least 40% smaller go unheeded. Still, it's very fun rolling a Stormtrooper over your back and pinning him to the floor with a lasersword, isn't it?
This review is based on a review build of the game provided by the publisher EA.