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One of the breakout stars, if you will, of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is the game's newly introduced droid, BD-1. This backpack-perched bipedal bot will regularly dash off to scan some ancient relic, or leap into a storage crate to dig out some new lightsaber component for painfully generic semi-amnesiac protagonist, Cal Kestis.
Such is the endearing character that developers Respawn have injected into this diminutive box of nuts and bolts that, in the few sequences that BD-1 is separated from Cal, his absence puts a distinct downer on proceedings. After just a few missions in its company, you'd happily die for this little droid.
Which is a good thing, as dying is something you'll do plenty of in Fallen Order, a game that wears its Soulsborne influences proudly when it comes to putting challenging opponents in the way of Cal's quest (to find a shiny mcguffin which conveniently, and expectedly, has no bearing whatsoever on the wider Star Wars story).
The combat here has been widely compared to that of Dark Souls and its FromSoft brethren, and there's certainly an emphasis on patience and parrying, precision dodges and exploiting small windows of attack opportunity. Turn Fallen Order up to its highest difficulty, Grand Master, and even the lowliest stormtrooper grunt has the potential to beat the stuffing out of you - likewise all the alien bugs and rats and slug things.
Bosses are mostly enjoyable - save for one monstrous bat, where you're forced to follow badly presented QTEs to grab onto its back as you're falling through the air - and clashing lightsabers never gets old (especially when you unlock a double bladed model). It's just a shame that Fallen Order's go-to for increasing its challenge is to throw more of the same enemies at you, rather than add greater variety. This leads to annoying mob situations where it's better to just run past and pick troopers off one by one, rather than dive in and, y'know, Do Cool Jedi Shit.
Turn the difficulty down to 'story', however, and you'll still see Cal meet his maker on more than a handful of occasions, albeit not in combat situations (unless your parry timing really never clicks). Because as pretty as the planets and environments that Fallen Order takes the player to are, they're riddled with technical inconsistencies.
Cal can - and will - fall into chasms that are incredibly poorly marked by muted colour schemes and slow-loading textures; pass straight through solid ground into the abyss too many times to count (especially when leaping from point A to point B, only to find that being a half-inch left of the perfect landing spot means going straight through the environment); and even become stuck inside walls, when he's not butting against invisible ones.
It feels that while a lot of effort has gone into making Fallen Order look great much of the time - the poor Wookiees of Kashyyyk are a rare exception to this, as they look sickly and jaded compared to what we've seen on the silver screen - that's come at the expense of polish elsewhere.
Canned animations that happen on terra firma, when BD-1 dives into a container, are repeated underwater while the droid remains on Cal's back; the loading of some new areas doesn't just slow the frame rate but completely stop the game, leaving you looking at a screenshot for a few seconds; and character models frequently look as if they're floating above the ground, in both life and death. Such incredibly visible cracks easily snap you out of any immersion the game had previously delivered.
Such are the jarring interruptions in the flow of Fallen Order that, traversal and exploration wise, it feels like a B-tier team's attempt at an Uncharted (it even has a bit where you climb a collapsing train) or post-reboot Tomb Raider, not a product from a studio as celebrated as Respawn.
Watch our video interview with Fallen Order's game director Stig Asmussen
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Elsewhere, Cal's climbing is straight out of the Nathan Drake playbook, and there's loads of wall-running here, a callback to Repawn's own Titanfall franchise. Several icy and/or muddy slides, replete with ropey collision detection, feel like tributes to Super Mario 64. And with every new ability Cal unlocks - or, rather, remembers, via flashbacks to his Jedi training - new areas of each location's maze-like environments are unlocked, giving Fallen Order a Prime-era Metroidvania quality.
There's some enjoyment to be had, navigating these mysterious, haunted and cursed places, coming back two or three times both for story purposes and simply to poke about for perks. But the game's map, a 3D holographic projection from BD-1 (and thus unavailable when the bot isn't about), never becomes easy to read. It looks neat as a thing, but as a tool, it's a pain to use with any confidence.
And it's madness, frankly, that there's no option to fast travel between the game's version of bonfires, meditation spots - used for resting, causing enemies to respawn, and levelling up skills. Upon reaching a map's goal, you have to get back to your ship, the Mantis - and this means going back the way you came, or thereabouts (as shortcuts can be opened), with all the same headaches of getting through the environmental hiccups and, of course, enemies you already fought through.
While some will revel in taking their sweet time to wander, to not have the choice between walking back and skipping straight to the next story beat is... certainly a design decision that Respawn has made, here.
When you do get to the ship, though, the rest of Fallen Order's cast can shine - to differing degrees. Cal's closest confidant throughout is a former Jedi called Cere, who hides a dark past and may or may not have a crucial connection to the game's primary antagonist, an Inquisitor called Trilla, aka the Second Sister. The ship's pilot, Greez, is a four-armed Latero with a gambling habit but a kind heart. You can have optional conversations with both, which flesh out their roles fairly well.
The best of the bunch however, apart from BD-1, is Nightsister Merrin, who joins the crew fairly late on having initially been hugely distrusting of the Jedi. She's a badass witch from Dathomir (the homeworld of Darth Maul) whose 'magick' ultimately gets Cal to where he needs to be for Fallen Order's endgame. She's got a sharp sense of humour, and alongside BD-1 is a character who Star Wars fans may well want to see more of.
As a story that has to standalone between episodes three and four of the Star Wars movies, Fallen Order is limited in its stakes and resonance across the franchise's greater fiction, and can be read as something of a wild goose chase when the credits are rolling. Rather like Rogue One, its ending is something of an anticlimax, albeit a less deadly one.
As a single-player only affair, longevity will come down to how quickly you uncover all of the five planets' hidden trinkets, echoes and secrets, and how much you need that 100% completion achievement. Upon finishing the story, you're free to explore Fallen Order's limited galaxy with the Mantis, but cannot repeat its final stretch in an Empire facility - a bummer, as it's one of the best bits of the whole game, when action and music come together to get the blood pumping in a manner akin to the movies' best moments. It also really, really makes it clear just how terrifyingly powerful, how completely unbeatable, this universe's most famous [redacted for spoilers].
By the time Cal is fully at one with the Force, upgraded across his three skill trees, and BD-1 has turned from a reconnaissance companion to one who can actively assist in battle, overriding Empire droids, Fallen Order delivers the Star Wars power fantasy that many a player will be hoping for. It lets you feel what it's like to be a Jedi, in much the same way that Arkham Asylum nailed 'being Batman' and Marvel's Spider-Man successfully put you in the boots of said webbed fella. But it's a long road to reach that point, one of struggle against odds that are meant to be there, and way too many that aren't.
Bogged down by technical shortcomings as it is, and featuring a few questionable design decisions, it's impossible to consider Fallen Order a Star Wars classic, up there with Knights of the Old Republic or Rogue Squadron. If you were to strip it of its license, there's every good chance it wouldn't get a second look from players experienced with any of the games it's drawing on for inspiration. It's a marked improvement on EA's Battlefront releases of late, but given this is a Respawn game, you can be forgiven for expecting more.
It may be that patches improve performance in time, but they won't make the tale this game tells any more satisfying, or take away the sensation that we've seen this all before. An original Star Wars story though it is, with electrifying lightsaber action and an adorable droid, as a video game Fallen Order is an experience that never once escapes the shadow of its predecessors.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order was reviewed on PlayStation 4 - it's also available on Xbox One and PC - using code supplied by the publisher. Find a guide to our review scoring here.
Featured Image Credit: EA/Respawn Entertainment
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