Last year at E3, we learned the title of the new Star Wars game, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, and this year, we finally saw how it will play. EA Play featured 15 minutes of gameplay showing the game’s protagonist, Cal Kestis, attacking an Imperial refinery on Kashyyk, followed by a chat between presenter Greg Miller, Respawn CEO Vince Zampella and the game’s director, Stig Asmussen.
The footage we saw was packed with Force-powered action and interesting details and really laid out how the game will play. Overall, it felt like a relief to finally see how good the game looks in motion, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t nits to pick. Here’s what we liked about what we saw, what we didn’t, and what we’re still scratching our heads about.
What We Liked
The gameplay demo opens with a shot of Cal Kestis infiltrating the Kashyyk industrial facility, and from the very first shot, it looks fantastic. A CGI trailer released earlier this year showed the game with a much more cartoony art style, more akin to the Clone Wars animated series than anything else. This footage showed a much more detailed and realistic look for the game.
Kashyyk itself looked great. It was packed with lush foliage and really sold the idea of a familiar but alien planet. Most of the level blended this natural environment with the cold metal of the Empire’s architecture, which looked appropriately imposing and hostile.
In motion, the game looks even better. Cal’s animations were smooth, packed with the kinds of small details that really sell just how acrobatic and superhuman the moves he’s making are. He feels lithe and powerful, and just from the way he moves, he gives an impression of a person with the kind of determination that can only come from fighting for the survival of the entire Jedi order. Cal’s enemies moved with similar grace, though their movements were a bit heavier, more menacing, as you would expect from armored Imperial soldiers.
We saw a decent variety of enemies in the trailer; at least enough to imply that we won’t just be mowing down Stormtroopers for the whole game. In addition to your standard blaster-wielding troopers, we also saw higher-ranking personnel wielding electrostaves and riot control batons like you may have seen in Clone Wars and The Force Awakens. One class of enemy in particular, clad in black armor with a long electrostaff, seemed to give Cal much more trouble than his compatriots. You can also expect to square off against droids and fauna native to the planets you travel to — in Kashyyk’s case, giant bugs with immobilizing spit.
In general, it looks like you’ll be facing off against swarms of low-level cannon fodder with a few much more difficult high-ranking enemies thrown in. It felt right for Star Wars, which has always had its heroes battling hordes of Stormtroopers mixed in with climactic fights against more evenly matched foes.
To counter these enemies, you’ll, of course, be equipped with a lightsaber, but also a whole suite of Force powers. We couldn’t quite tell how it will all feel from the footage (more on that later), but combat certainly looked good. Lightsaber fighting was full of spins, dashes, and the kinds of acrobatic moves that Jedi are known for. Paired up with the Force, it turned Cal into an absolute badass on the battlefield. Some moves we saw in the footage included Cal pulling a Stormtrooper toward himself and impaling them on his lightsaber, deflecting blaster shots back at the troopers who fired them, and of course throwing his lightsaber to hit distant targets. In one of the coolest moments of the trailer, he used a time-slowing power after a Stormtrooper fired at him, then pulled the trooper to him and walked them into the path of their own blaster shot.
Of course, the Force doesn’t only work in combat. From the looks of it, the Force will make even traversal fun in Jedi: Fallen Order. In another moment that I’m sure elicited fist-pumps from plenty of viewers, Cal used a very Titanfall-esque wall run to cross a large gap on his way to the facility. He can also use the Force to double jump, as well as scale walls. We also saw him use a grappling gun at one point when even his Force powers weren’t quite enough.
When it comes to story, Jedi: Fallen Order will be in the Star Wars canon, which means we can expect to see some familiar faces, and probably plenty of background references that only superfans will get. In the gameplay reveal, Cal was given orders by Saw Gerrera from Rogue One and The Clone Wars. Honestly, this cross-over with existing characters could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how they handle it. But the possibility of meeting up with classic characters or seeing legendary events in the Star Wars timeline is too intriguing not to be at least a little excited about.
It’s not just fictional Star Wars legends involved, either. On the production side, we learned that Ben Burtt, the sound designer from the Star Wars films (and a mind-blowing number of other great films, from Invasion of the Body Snatchers to Wall-E) will provide the voice of BD-1, Cal’s droid best friend. We’re also putting BD-1 in the Pro column. It’s about as adorable as a robot can be without actually being Wall-E.
What We Didn’t Like
As I said, we were mostly positive on the reveal, but there were a few things that left us a little cold. First off, Cal Kestis. To be fair, he didn’t have much to say in the footage we saw, instead of focusing more on the whole “invading a heavily fortified military base to stop the Empire’s evil plans” thing, but he didn’t exactly win us over with the screen time he got. Star Wars is full of interesting, bombastic characters — people and aliens of all shapes, sizes, and races — so it feels like a letdown to have our protagonist be someone who you could imagine meeting at a party and forgetting about before you got home. When your character has less personality than his droid companion, you’ve got a problem. A great protagonist could elevate Jedi: Fallen Order beyond just a satisfying action game, but a dull one could bring the whole experience down.
Another potential spot of trouble we saw is in the variety of combat. While the moves the reveal showed did look incredible, there were only a handful of abilities on display. There’s almost certainly a whole bag of tricks we haven’t seen yet, so this might not be too much to worry about, but a lightsaber throw only feels impressive the first couple times you see it.
Melee combat was where we really had concerns. As cool as it is to see Jedi on the big screen wielding their iconic weapons, they’re a bit harder to handle in games. The one thing lightsabers are most known for is able to carve through anything they touch, which is tricky when you have to make combat challenging. It looks like Jedi: Fallen Order is keeping that experience authentic, making lightsabers extremely deadly, but we couldn’t really see a whole lot of nuance to them in the game. From our point of view, it looked like a lot of hacking and slashing, at least until you came up against an enemy that needed some encouragement from the Force to get out of your way. Respawn Entertainment is great at first-person gunplay, and the company’s statement that the game’s combat is inspired by Dark Souls is encouraging, but it hasn’t yet proven itself on third-person melee combat. The devs at Respawn have certainly done enough to earn some trust in their abilities, but it remains to be seen whether they can tackle this entirely new set of challenges.
What We Want to Know
More than anything, the reveal left us wanting to see more. More action, more environments, more characters, more Force powers.
The Force remained one of our biggest questions. How many powers will we get? How will we acquire them? How will we use them? We couldn’t tell from the demo how the powers are rationed either; whether they had a cooldown or depleted some kind of meter. The demo also showed extensive use of the lightsaber for blocking projectiles, but it’s not clear whether that involves a timed button press or uses some kind of resource to maintain.
We were also left wondering just how much of the galaxy we’ll get to see. Kashyyk is nice and all (aside from the gargantuan bugs), but one thing Star Wars has always had going for it is its variety of alien locales. Being on another planet doesn’t mean much if we just end up in hallways and bunkers while we’re there. We’re hoping we’ll get to see a good variety of locations across new environments and old favorites, and of course, mingle with the local tentacle monsters and werewolf people.
It also remains to be seen how Respawn will handle Jedi: Fallen Order’s position in the canon. There’s a very fine line to walk between a satisfying amount of cohesion with the series and an overload of fan service.
And the most important question, of course: as Greg Miller asked on stage, is Watto in the game?
We may learn the answers to at least some of these questions soon. As we heard at the end of the presentation today, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order will make another appearance Sunday at Microsoft’s press conference.