E3 2019: What Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order Needs To Do To Not Suck
Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order will be the first Triple-A singleplayer campaign we get to play in quite a while. Published by EA, and developed by Titanfall and Apex Legends creators Respawn, the game will basically set the standard for narrative-driven Star Wars stories told in video games for the next few years. Will the bar be high, or low? What, exactly, does Star Wars Jedi: Fallen order need to do to not suck?
What Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order Needs To Do To Not Suck
#1 Have A Story To Tell
Just being set in the Star Wars universe isn't enough. It feels like it should be, and I am sure the trap of getting lost in the joy of just being there is very tempting, but this doesn't always produce great games. The Battlefront games developed under EA, by Swedish developer DICE, look great, and they sound great, but they are also soulless empty husks. We don't need another exercise in box-ticking, running through a list of things that people think of as being "Star Wars." We need a story. Respawn have given themselves a very interesting point of entry into Star Wars lore, just after the execution of Order 66, the Empire's attempt to eradicate the Jedi. If Cal Kestis really has been missed in the purge, then the game will need to feel claustrophobic and threatening. It can be tough for games to maintain the feeling of being hunted, and this will be the key to success for the story. How does Cal react to the pressure? Exactly how in touch with Jedi teachings is he? Will his treatment by those who pursue him tempt him towards the Dark Side? There is a lot of potentials there to not just tell a cut and dry "me against the world" story.
#2 Let Cameron Monaghan Act
Cameron Monaghan, who is playing Cal Kestis, can act. I don't mean the guy gets paid to do it, I mean he is a legitimately talented actor. His turns as Ian Gallagher on Shameless and Jerome/Jeremiah Valeska on Gotham have both been great. He can bring depth to characters that otherwise could come off as shallow or cartoonish. God of War recently showed what you can do by hiring talented people and giving them a demanding script. I can think of no dumber move that bringing in someone with legitimate acting chops and saddling them with a script straight off an 80s Saturday morning cartoon. Star Wars might have lasers, and space magic, and spaghetti-western sensibilities, but the reason people have loved it for so long is because it makes them feel things. A bit of emotional resonance in the script would be most welcome, and Monaghan can pull it off.
#3 An Unapologetically Evil Antagonist
Vader ended up saving his kid, and Kylo Ren seems to feel bad about things all the time. The best bad guy in Star Wars has been Palpatine because the man just never cared. He was bad to the bone, evil through and through. The only thing Palpatine ever hid from anybody was an even greater level of evil shenanigans. After Order 66, we can safely assume that the Empire feels like it is in a position of power, and nothing gives an evil touch of the class quite like feeling untouchable. The Second Sister concept art we have seen looks great, and I would like her to be ranking pretty high on the evil scale. Games work so much better when we actively dislike the antagonist, because at some point before the credits roll we are going to fight and kill them. You want that moment of victory to mean something. Games, unlike movies, have active participants, and in a way, how we develop emotions towards characters is a little more complex than simple passive viewing. I really hope the game takes advantage of that to provide a completely despicable enemy that we only want to fight because the desire to kick their ass outweighs the fear we feel when they appear on the screen.
#4 Chunky Combat, Make It Hurt
The greatest advantage, and disadvantage, of Jedi combat in a game is surely the Light Saber. It looks great, sound amazing, and sparks fly everywhere when you smack them together. There are classic duels that occur in space, powered by space technology and tiny things called Midi-chlorians that nobody really cares about. The only thing they cannot replicate is the idea of "death by a thousand cuts." A deft blow from a Light Saber is likely just to lop a limb off, so we need some chunky additions to combat to really make it feel weighty. I want to be able to slam an elbow into a nose, or a knee into a face. I want to be able to crunch someone up a bit before delivering the final, fatal, blow. Fun powers will also help here. Smashing an enemy into the wall with my mind is something I want to do every time I get even vaguely bored in real life. Maybe we'll be able to pick something heavy up and drop it on someone. It doesn't really matter; the combat just needs to feel brutal, like even the fights we win are taking something from us, wearing us down until the Second Sister decides it's time to show up and put us out of our misery.
#5 Avoid The Social Garbage
One of the most transparent ways that developers have come up with to try and force always-online in singleplayer experiences can be summed up as "social garbage." Nothing takes me out of the moment more than a message flashing on the screen to let me know that some kid called "TheButtMaster" killed a boss 30 seconds quicker than me. I don't need to know that; I just need to sit here and enjoy the aftermath of whatever it was I just experienced. Just let us have a singleplayer experience that we can engage within our own way, at our own pace. Please.
#6 Absolutely No Microtransactions
I'm fine with a singleplayer game being amazing and then buying some DLC or a narrative expansion for it. I quite enjoy it. I fell over my own feet in my rush to get the DLC for Horizon Zero Dawn. What I don't like are options to buy new robes for my Jedi, or something that lets me level up faster, or a different color for my Light Saber. If such things need to be in the game, then make them unlockables that can be earned through in-game achievements. If I see a screenshot of some dude's character wearing a rubber horse mask, I'd rather know that he got it from killing 100 Purge Stormtroopers while standing on his head than know that he just paid $4.99 for it. At the risk of sounding like an angry old man, sometimes the desire to sell digital trinkets harms the strength of the storytelling, so let's just avoid that altogether.
In all honesty, I have a lot of hope for Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. I really enjoyed what Respawn did with the single-player campaign in Titanfall 2, and I think they have what it takes to bring us an engaging and entertaining story that is set in the Star Wars universe. I also think they have the strength of will to tell the story they want to tell, in the way they want to tell it, which is the real secret to doing just about anything well.