Late last year, I bowled through three of my most anticipated games in a matter of weeks, emerging on the other side somewhat disappointed and quite disillusioned. The critics loved these games. They were winning awards. But they weren’t winners for me. The question was, why?
We’ll start with the biggest meh of all—Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
This is the trailer that sold me on the game.
Notice the gender of the apparent ‘main character’? Yes, yes, somewhere in the middle of the trailer there is a line of fine print across the bottom confirming that what we’re watching isn’t actual gameplay. That’s cool. It’s the premise that sold me. The idea this young girl could realize her dreams of being a Jedi through the latest offering from Respawn Entertainment and EA Games and BE A JEDI.
Having failed the Jedi mission in Star Wars: The Old Republic (I crossed over to the dark side and played through the Imperial Agent campaign instead), I figured Fallen Order might be my chance to do right by the universe and finally become a Jedi. Further fueled by mostly positive memories of The Old Republic and older games, I looked forward to immersing myself in the world of Star Wars. Discovering new planets, brokering alliances, fighting evil in all its forms!
I was so eager to play this game that I paid extra for the Deluxe Edition, which I never do, because what do I need with more virtual crap? If the weapons and armor included as extras actually offered any sort of edge, they wouldn’t be given out at the beginning of the game. But, whatever. I was excited.
I loaded up the game and started playing.
First bump in the road: there isn’t a character creation screen. You play as Cal Kestis, who is young and so white he practically glows. I still haven’t figured out exactly why this was such an issue for me. I enjoyed playing as Nathan Drake and Lara Croft in their respective games. Some stories are told that way. When given the option, there’s no rule dictating my choice of male or female protagonist. My decision is usually based on how I feel like experiencing the story. That day. Sometimes I change my mind.
All I can think is that a promotional video had made a promise that wasn’t fulfilled. Anyone could be a Jedi. In reality, only Cal Kestis could.
Also… I’m sorry, so sorry, but he has one of the most annoying voices ever. It’s like the voice actor had a really bad cold throughout production. He did an amazing job. All of the voice acting is superb. The game is visually stunning. It’s so damn pretty. But Cal’s voice? Ugh, no thank you.
The game otherwise starts out pretty well. You’re thrown right into the action and the story builds rapidly around you as you navigate Cal through ever more challenging scenarios, including jumping puzzles (think Uncharted in space) and combat. It’s fun. It’s very pretty.
Then the story pauses for you to catch up on Cal’s past and what’s expected of him in the near future. The Jedi Order has fallen and he’s going to save it. Cool. Very cool. Except, it’s really not. I mean, it kind of is, but the game is way too short for the sticker price (it took me thirty hours to play and that’s generous—most folks would finish in half that time), and far too shallow.
I had gone in expecting to be immersed for months. Instead, two weeks later, I was just pissed off.
What I Didn’t Like
(apart from Cal)
The game is stupidly hard. I’ve been playing first- and third-person action shooters for decades. No, I don’t have the reflexes of a twitchy twelve-year-old, but I do manage to finish most of the games I play, mostly without having to resort to a walkthrough for help, almost always without having to lower the difficulty from normal. In some cases, gasp, I play above normal difficulty.
By the third act, I was playing Fallen Order in story mode and still dying ALL THE FREAKING TIME. It got to the point where I actually skipped content in order to get around certain foes because I was sick of dying or plummeting to my death. But there wasn’t much to miss because, for as much as this world qualifies as open, it’s not really. There is a path to follow through every environment. There are a few branches, but there is only one way forward and one way back, meaning after you accomplish most mission objectives, you have to go back through all the stuff you just killed… and kill it again. Because when you save, everything respawns.
And you have to save because when you die, you lose all the progress you’ve made since the previous level. You can regain it if you kill the mob that killed you. But, yeah, sometimes discretion is the better part of valor, meaning I often snuck past that guy rather than commit to spending the rest of my life in a spiral of never-ending misery.
At one point I forgot to save before exciting the ship. The next scene involved swimming to a walker and climbing the vines hanging along the outside. I climbed and fell and climbed and fell and wished for death but couldn’t figure out a way to kill myself and climbed and fell and climbed and fell and turned the game off and went to bed before I started breaking things.
When, the next day, I finally found my way inside, I died. Because, you know, there were people in there you have to kill and I had less than a percent of health left.
The chests I died so many times to loot? They held new ponchos. The ponchos do nothing. There are no armor buffs or skill buffs. No invisibility cloaks. You can just change what Cal is wearing. Why? I don’t freaking know. You can also unlock a new look for your lightsaber. It won’t change the weapon’s performance. It’ll just look different. Yep. There is literally no point in looting shit. None. As a veteran looter (Fallout is my jam), I found this rather disappointing.
The fight sequences are pretty cool and I did really like the combos I spent my meager collection of skill points on. But I’m really glad my endgame boss fight was mostly cut scene (story mode, remember), because even then, I died numerous times. Parrying (a button click at exactly the right moment) has always been my nemesis and I’m not sure I pulled off a single counter combo the entire time I played, despite upgrading the skill.
You get three, and one of them is an eleventh-hour addition that makes absolutely sense whatsoever. I mean, she’s got a really cool story and she’s really useful, but she joins the crew at the very end of the game, helps you out in the final mission (kind of off-camera), and then you’re done.
The other two companions, Cere and Greez, you meet near the beginning. They are, respectively, your new Jedi mentor and the pilot of your ship. All Greez is going to do is be a personality. That’s it. You can chat with him, but none of your interactions will have any bearing on the outcome of the game. Sadly, the same is true for Cere. Seriously, you could use someone at your back, even someone with a thin backstory and dubious loyalties. But, no, she stays with the ship and when you return from dying six trillion times, she’ll offer some sage advice.
Thanks for nothing, Cere. No, really, I mean it.
The story is… fine. My issue with it is that it’s not at all dynamic. No matter what you do, the outcome is going to remain the same. Cal has no effect on the world whatsoever. The story is also very safe. It doesn’t deviate from the formula of young Jedi who believes he has failed his master and therefore must prove himself worthy by completing a quest. Add in a quirky pilot and a tortured quasi-mentor and stir. You got yourself a Star Wars story.
Apart from being fine (boring) the pacing is kinda off. As I’ve explained, your ship’s companions are little more than wall decoration, and yet they have backstories you’re supposed to care about. You won’t go on a mission with them to sort that shit out, though. You’ll just listen as they (Cere) angst. You’ll be expected to react emotionally.
I was kinda like, okay, I’ve died a million times and this game is really freaking hard and now you want me to care about you as well? I’m trying to save the Jedi Order here and your tantrum isn’t helping. Get off my back.
To be fair, I wasn’t having a good time. The game had turned out to be not at all what I thought I’d be playing (open world, choose your own character and adventure, and invest months in saving the Order). So I lost patience with a lot of the elements.
I did like the ending. The choice Cal makes is what I would have done myself if I’d ever been given a choice to direct his actions. So, there was that.
What I Did Like
It’s pretty. It’s a really pretty game.
Some of the puzzles were very interesting.
Um, that’s it.
My disappointment with Fallen Order is mostly on me. I was expecting a different game. To be completely fair, I have to admit this is a very good game. The fight mechanics are awesome. The environments are rich in detail. The story is complete.
As I listed my complaints for this review, however, many of them felt particular to the game rather than me simply not finding what I was looking for. Make of that what you will.
Given the production quality, I would be tempted to check out another Respawn game. But I’d probably wait until it had been out for a while and I could pick it up for half off or whatever. I paid $40 for Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey and played it upward of 120 hours. I paid $70 for Fallen Order and got less than 35.
Next on the shit list: Outer Worlds. Oh, lamentation. Watch this space.