A few minutes into a hands-on preview of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, Padawan protagonist Cal Kestis eavesdrops on a pair of patrolling stormtroopers. On the planet Zeffo, Cal listens in as the two clueless bucket heads discuss how their empty stomachs might be hurting their ability to aim their blasters.
The encounter is a fun nod to one of Star Wars’ longest running jokes, but it’s not to be trusted. As we quickly learn from behind the budding Jedi skills of Cal, the game’s enemies are no pushovers. Sure, rank-and-file stormtroopers go down with a single slice of Cal’s elegant weapon, but those grunts only represent the Empire’s first line of defense.
Cal’s been sent to Zeffo to dig up some valuable information, mysterious intel that’s also being sought by the Emperor. When we arrive on the windswept planet, it’s already crawling with Imperial forces: baton-wielding scout troopers and stormtroopers shouldering the galactic equivalents of rocket launchers and Gatling guns support the standard patrols.
Zeffo’s also home to a variety of indigenous beasts, such as the ram-like phillak, which doesn’t think twice about introducing intruders to its trio of sharp horns. Toss in Tomb Guardians, towering golems that protect the planets’ sacred crypts, and Cal’s got much more than errant blaster bolts to worry about.
Thankfully, developer Respawn Entertainment has crafted a layered combat system, offering a variety of cool ways to even the odds. Standard attacks deliver satisfying lightsaber swinging action capable of significantly damaging low-level adversaries, while chipping away at more formidable foes’ health bars. Mixing this basic maneuver with blocks and parries is even more effective. The former results in cinematic clashes with those baton-brandishing baddies, while the latter is always accompanied by a stylish animation. Delivering a follow-up attack or final blow by flipping over the back of an enemy is a highlight.
Blocks can also be used to deflect blaster fire back at targets, a smart move if you’re looking to eliminate ranged stormtroopers, while also dealing with closer threats. Defiantly walking toward one of those turret troopers, lightsaber raised and ricocheting blasts back at them, is especially rewarding; even more so when you finish them off with the aptly named “Leaping Slash” — an unlockable skill that sees you delivering a devastating overhead strike.
A number of these special moves are accessed via a skill tree, adding even more flourish-heavy attacks to Cal’s arsenal. By investing XP, or experience points, earned during combat and natural progression, you can shape your play style. By the end of our three-hour demo, we’d unlocked the above move, as well as a “Dash Strike,” and a skill that upped the duration of Cal’s Force “Slow” power.
Speaking of the Force, using and combining Force abilities layers the combat with additional depth. We had access to “Slow” and “Push” during our preview, and had a blast blending them with our growing lightsaber skills. The former worked especially well against those lumbering tower guards, who’d temporarily fall to their knees when hit with the power of the light side. Force abilities can’t be abused, though, as they’re fueled by a depleting meter that replenishes with regular attacks.
Managing and mixing the various lightsaber skills and Force powers makes for some thrilling encounters, especially when tougher fights demand a more strategic approach. The AT-ST battle that brought our demo to a close called on us to not only rely on the tactics we’d learned, but also make liberal use of the evade and dodge-roll inputs. As the walker relentlessly peppered us with blaster fire, missiles, and grenades, we did our best to avoid the barrages, while occasionally sneaking up to hack at its legs. This dogged strategy ultimately worked, but we later learned slowing the mechanical beast’s grenades – before pushing them back at it – would have brought it down much quicker.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order’s thoughtful combat seems to strike the perfect balance between accessibility and depth, offering pick-up-and-play appeal for those who just want to feel like a Jedi, as well as plenty of nuance for fans craving a more strategic experience. It also offers a number of difficulty settings, further catering to both camps on either end of that curve.
Regardless of your skill level and chosen difficulty, you’ll always have the opportunity to redeem yourself following an untimely demise. One of the game’s cooler, combat-related systems encourages you to hunt down the enemy that signed your death warrant. Upon re-spawning, any damage dealt to your executioner will replenish your lost XP, as well as your health and Force meters. It’s a great inclusion that drives the gameplay, while also weaving these mini revenge tales into the larger narrative.
While we spent the majority of our demo introducing the Empire’s finest to the business end of Cal’s lightsaber, we did experience a good deal of the game’s platforming-heavy exploration. Zeffo actually serves as the perfect playground to showcase Cal’s acrobatic skills, as it features variety and verticality. We rarely traveled more than a few steps without encountering some sort of platforming challenge, from running along walls and swinging on vines to catching air on wind gusts and sliding on ice slides.
Individually, these elements make the world a more compelling place to explore, but when combined they infuse the action with an extra jolt of adrenaline. Exiting a wall-run to immediately grab a rope, then swing right onto a long stretch of ice that sends you hurtling forward never gets old. Factor in the Force, for maneuvering platforming objects, like windmills and fan blades, and simply navigating Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order‘s world becomes as absorbing as freeing it of Imperial foes.
Combat and traversal still just scratch the surface of what fans can expect from the final game. We also got a tease of its puzzle-solving side, manipulating wind tunnels and using Force powers to solve quite the conundrum, and we got a peek at cosmetic customization options available for BD-1 and Cal, by re-skinning the former in a “Blue Leader” get-up that made him look like R2-D2’s little brother and changing the latter’s lightsaber blade from blue to green.
Of course, there’s also the matter of the game’s original story and characters. Respawn guarded those details like they were Death Star plans, but we did meet Greez, a four-armed Latero (a brand-new Star Wars species.) Cranky and comedic, he pilots the Stinger Mantis — your hub ship in the game — when not calling BD-1 a “bucket of bolts.” Cal’s mentor Cere also makes an appearance. The former Jedi is mostly still a mystery, but it seems she’ll play a significant role in Cal’s efforts to rebuild the Jedi Order.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order clearly has plenty more secrets and surprises in store. We can’t wait to uncover them all — and get back behind Cal’s awesome lightsaber and platforming skills — when the game arrives next month.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order arrives November 15 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC, and is available for pre-order now.
A full-time freelance writer born in Lizzie Borden’s hometown, Matt Cabral has covered film, television, and video games for over a decade. You can follow him on Twitter @gamegoat or find him in the basement of an abandoned building hoarding all the canned goods, med-kits, and shotgun shells.
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