It seems a long time ago in a media cycle far, far away that we learned Disney got the rights to Star Wars. An avalanche of content was coming. New movies, sure, but also video games. Finally! New Star Wars video games!
And here we are. There have been four movies released (and many more in production) but only two video games – Battlefront and Battlefront 2 – and only one of those has a single player mode. And while there was a lot to like about Iden Versio’s story in Battlefront 2, it wasn’t nearly enough.
Now we have Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order
The pressure is tremendous. The Star Wars fanbase is vast and vocal. Jedi Fallen Order needs to please everyone, and make up for previous disappointments. My E3 2019 hands-on wasn’t nearly enough to determine if it will hit those lofty targets. But there’s (a new) hope.
The demo consisted of three parts: a wave mode, a hands-off demonstration then some campaign gameplay. The purpose of the Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order E3 demo seemed to be to introduce the combat mechanics and show off some early gameplay footage without revealing any details about story or skills. I got a glimpse of a skill tree with ~40 potential skills on it, but that could change by the time the game launches on November 15. So, what did we learn?
Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order Wave Mode
My hands-on started with a wave mode, which was a great introduction into what the difficulty curve is going to be like in Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order. The set up is fairly simple. Force push on the right button, force pull on the left. Use right bumper to block, and well timed blocks lead to parries which lead to lethal counters. This includes laser blasts, which get deflected back at the shooter. This was just the basics, and they were solid if a little uninspired. I worked my way through 19 waves of increasing difficulty and felt the challenge comes from crowd control on mixed unit squads. Stormtroopers mixed with Flametroopers mixed with KX-series droids require some thoughtful planning to defeat; Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order definitely isn’t a button-masher.
The force powers available in this mode served a purpose too. Force pull was a lot more useful than force push, especially because it’s the perfect counter for flying enemies. It’s immensely satisfying to yank a pesky droid out of the sky that’s been peppering you with laser fire. Force push seemed most useful on groups of enemies. You can also knock them off of ledges, so it appears environmental elements will be in play in the main game. The big question is what other force powers will unlock and how those special skills will complement each other. Star Wars fans often imagine what it’s like to be Jedi, and they can imagine quite a bit. So balancing that expectation with a suitable challenge is going to be a key component to the gameplay.
Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order Campaign Hands-On
The rest of my hands-on was spent in a campaign mission on Kashyyyk. Cal has arrived on the planet to help Tarfful, a Wookie Chieftain, who is leading an insurgency against the Empire. The game is set between Star Wars Episode 3 and Episode 4, right before the time period for the Rebels TV show. It’s the same mission on display in this E3 trailer
The hands-off portion of the demo saw Cal climb an AT-AT covered in vines and foliage (if you’ve seen Rebels you’ll know the look) to hijack it. This mission is one of a handful in the game known as “Star Wars Moments” that serve as cinematic, narrative driven sequences. The Respawn rep told me these are the missions that are “meant to make you feel like you’re in a Star Wars movie.” And I must confess that once Cal was rampaging in the AT-AT, and the camera sat just over his shoulder in a third-person cockpit view, it did feel like that. Especially after Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) shows up.
Once the AT-AT crash lands, because no one ever parks anything in the Star Wars universe, Cal and Saw work out a plan to sabotage the imperial base. This is where Cal’s ship, the Stinger Mantis, shows up. Cal has a crew, too. His Jedi Master, Cere, serves on the ship but doesn’t use the Force anymore. Greez, the actual owner of the Stinger Mantis, is on board too. He’s a gruff, stout alien and seems to be the source of the comic relief that will occur on the ship. Instead of loading screens, players will travel in real time between planets and interact with the crew or complete tasks. So expect a lot of Greez.
The gameplay itself was, again, pretty basic. Your helpful droid BD-1 will hack panels and unlock abilities that open up new areas as you explore. The map keeps track of these with icons that turn from red to green once you have the skill to get past them. This makes backtracking a lot easier, since the edges of where you initially explore often end in a big red challenge icon.
There was some climbing and wall-running that added a little flair to traversal, but after crushing through wave mode none of the 2-on-1 fights or special enemies felt intimidating or challenging. This particular level occurs about ⅓ of the way into the game, and the difficulty was lowered for the demo. My hope after doing wave mode and a bit of campaign is that Respawn ships this with a very intense difficulty mode, because the controls felt precise enough to accommodate high-level play.
It’s far too early to render a final verdict on Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order, but the good news is that the hands-on offered at E3 2019 was more promise than pitfall. A solid combat foundation is in place that seems ready to support crazy Jedi skills, huge groups of enemies and a hardcore difficulty mode. If the story can be as compelling as the combat, then we might finally have the game we’ve been looking for.