Star Wars video game fans have waited impatiently – for almost a decade – for a romp through their favourite galaxy in the best traditions of the action-adventure game. Out of mercy (for I, too, am a fanatic), I’ll cut to the chase: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order does indeed deliver on that. Hitting all the right notes – and not just with the fluttering woodwind and heavy brass of the John Williams-styled orchestra – Fallen Order is right on brand.
It has the ancient ruins of mystical past civilisations seamlessly blended with the crashed hulks of light-speeding starships; the militaristic, sterile, black and red halls of the Empire, with rapidly sliding doors that open on to lush landscapes. Alien life lurks everywhere, some cutesy, some deadly.
Each planet – but especially the freezing, windswept stone villages of Zeffo that are overrun by stormtroopers – could be a Star Wars movie set. And Cal Kestis is a model Jedi protagonist – a lonely, brooding apparent nobody in the armpit of the galaxy whose fate is suddenly redirected towards heroism. His cute droid companion, BD-1, clings on his back, chirps in robot speak and aids him with holographic maps and occasional wisdom. Perhaps he was the runt of the R2-D2 litter.
And, of course, there are plenty of roll-your-eyes throwaway comedy lines – the tonic of the Star Wars saga.
The game is set in an era Obi-Wan Kenobi called the “dark times”, years before Luke Skywalker brings a new hope to the galaxy. Most of the Jedi Order, which once acted as intergalactic peacekeepers, are either dead or in hiding. The nascent Empire thrives.
A former Padawan child apprentice who never finished his training, Kestis lives a solitary life on the planet Bracca, scrapping starships for credits. But soon the Inquisitorius, a force-sensitive squad of professional Jedi hunters, track him down. In the opening scenes, Kestis flees before being saved by a former Jedi Master (and Fallen Order’s more complex character) Cere Junda. Together, helped by Greez, a four-armed alien pilot with a gambling addiction and a bounty on his head, they seek to rebuild the Jedi Order.
Do these feel like storylines and characters you’ve seen before? That’s because Fallen Order is a concoction of everything Star Wars has produced so far. With so much expectation, few risks were taken. The game’s developer, Respawn Entertainment, worked closely with Disney-owned Lucasfilm, which keeps a tight leash on any Star Wars product.
Not only does it scrupulously stick to the franchise’s motifs, but Fallen Order plays it safe on the gameplay side, too, bringing together some of the most successful features from other video games rather than forging its own path. Lightsaber combat is heavily influenced by the 2018 hit God of War, which broke new ground for making each axe fight feel weighty and dangerous, and Dark Souls, where every enemy is defeated in a different way. These influences are welcome: Kestis was never properly trained in the force, and his early trials are appropriately tough.
Still, this is a game that will occasionally shudder on a PlayStation 4, which could do with a little extra hyperdrive fuel to run it. Or maybe Respawn needed another month or two for polish. At times, encounters feel unfair because Kestis is sluggish, and it’s hard to tell whether this is by design or a design fault.
Levels are complex, multilayered and hard to navigate, with hidden rooms and shortcuts – a nod towards Tomb Raider, Uncharted and Metroidvania games. As Kestis’s journey progresses, he can unlock new areas, and I urge you to return to old planets as some key items, including “stims” that double your health, can only be picked up on reruns. When you’re in a tricky boss fight, you’ll be thankful.
Whether you love Fallen Order may depend on your view of the most recent Star Wars films. If you’re a fan of the JJ Abrams-directed Force Awakens, a movie that lovingly and religiously captured the original George Lucas feel, then Fallen Order will light you up with the force that binds us all. For those who preferred Rian Johnson’s new take in The Last Jedi, a film that takes risks, breaks taboos and even questions the entire premise of the saga, then Fallen Order will feel a little too straightforward.
In relaunching a much-loved and much-missed Star Wars genre, Fallen Order does exactly what it set out to. It reaches the bar, but then stops, with a set of characters and adventures that are not particularly intriguing or fresh, but certainly feel like they come from that very particularly galaxy, far, far away.