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I've been a fan of Star Wars games for almost as long as I can remember. I remember the thrill of piloting an X-wing as an aerial ace in Rogue Squadron. I remember hunting down the forgotten and the damned as Jango Fett in Star Wars: Bounty Hunter. I remember the shock of unearthing the true identity of Darth Revan in Knights Of The Old Republic. All these moments and games, I consider classic Star Wars adventures. Not just for the way the stories are told, but because of the agency given to players in telling them.
Don't get me wrong, there have been a lot of Star Wars stinkers mixed in with the diamonds (Kinect Star Wars, anyone?) in a trend that seems to have been on a worrying uptick in momentum for the last few years. Since EA took sole distribution rights for Star Wars games, fans have not been happy. There have been cries to boycott the franchise as long as the publisher, in their eyes, proceeds to nickel and dime their way through the wallets of people who just want to experience the kinds of stories we all remember so fondly.
Now I don't want to alarm you guys, but that might be about to change.
At a recent event in Los Angeles, EA flew us out to play the latest offering in the interstellar saga, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. A game being produced by developers Respawn Entertainment (see Titanfall and Apex Legends) as a single-player, narrative driven, combat focused title attuned to delivering exactly what fans have been asking for.
The story in brief, sees a post-Order 66 universe with Jedi-in-hiding Cal Kestis attempting to rekindle his connection to the force, and rebuild the Jedi Order right under the nose of the Empire. All while being tracked down by deadly Sith Inquisitors. At present that's pretty much all we know about Cal's quest, but it's the potential this invokes that has me really, truly excited.
Having played 2 or 3 hours of the game, you begin to strip back the layers and see some provocative sources of inspiration. Right off the bat there are serious Mass Effect vibes in the way missions are presented. You can drop what you're doing at any moment and blitz off to a previously discovered planet, choosing to either tackle the main storyline or fart around with a presumably large selection of sidequests at your leisure.
When Cal isn't finding seeds for his space terrarium (yes really) or dodging laser fire from a wide array of stormtroopers - scout troopers, flametroopers and more all make an appearance here - he'll be solving traversal puzzles and staring out on gorgeous alien vistas reminiscent of games like Uncharted or Tomb Raider. And make no mistake, these puzzles aren't simply forced in to slow you down and pad out the play time, they're genuine noodle-scratchers.
One had me stumped for a solid 30 minutes as I tried to shepherd a big brass ball into a hole using nothing but wind vents, while another in-cooperated a series of moving platforms that needed to be force-slowed in order to jump on them and to the next before Cal plunged to his death. And plunge he did, to the point where one of the devs couldn't sit idly by any longer and allow me to continue to ruin his poor game. I don't blame him though, I'd have done the same.
To that end, Respawn have seen fit to include a number of difficulty options in the game ranging from an easier, story-driven experience right the way up to a hard-as-nails grandmaster mode that firmly doffs its combat cap in the direction of the Soulsbourne series'.
As any fan knows, all this would be for naught without Star Wars' pièce de résistance in weaponry - the lightsaber. If the lightsaber combat doesn't feel right in a game about intersteller knights knackering each other with laser swords... What's the point? If I can't feel like a badass parrying an incoming stormtrooper's electrified baton, before plunging some white-hot justice into his chest, eyeballing him and whispering "this is for Alderaan", then why have I spent my hard-earned money on this experience?
Thankfully, Respawn seem to have had the same internal R&D meetings as me just there, and have come up trumps. It's difficult to describe wielding science fiction's greatest weapon in Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order without gushing about just how right it all feels. Blocking, striking, parrying, throwing; it's all there with gusto, and leans into a tiered skill tree to capitalise on the link between Cal's progression towards a Jedi master, and your own improving finesse playing the game.
All this and we haven't even touched on the fact that you can customise the bloody the bloody thing to your heart's content with various bits and bobs you find around the planets you visit, scavenged out by your trusty BD-1 droid. Blade colour, switch, emitter and sleeve and material are all there to be tinkered with at workbenches smattered around the worlds and on your ship the Mantis Blade, all without even so much as a hint of a microtransaction or loot box. Has EA finally learned its lesson? Only time will tell, but it's certainly still wise to reserve some judgement until the game releases on November 15th.
If I'm being hyper-pessimistic, I'm really just hoping that this doesn't fall into the category of 'could have been great, but cooperate decisions got in the way of what should have been a memorable experience'. I went to the event cautiously optimistic that Respawn would be allowed to do their thing with Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, and after playing the game and speaking to the team behind it, I've seen very little to the contrary that has me second guessing that initial confidence.
If the stars align and the game's story match up with the wonderful combat, traversal and puzzling that we've seen; I'm quietly confident that this could be a defining Star Wars game of our era, maybe even ranking among the greatest in the fictional universe.
Featured Image Credit: EA / Respawn Entertainment
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