In Jedi: Fallen Order, you play as Cal Kestis, a partially-trained Padawan who — after years spent in hiding following the great Jedi massacre depicted in “Revenge of the Sith” — is no longer fully attuned to the Force. But it’s not his lack of prowess with the Force early in the game that makes Kestis/me such a suck-y Jedi. Rather it’s his/my pathetic timing while fighting, frequent failure to properly gauge when and where to jump, and an unintentional, yet unceasing, need to fall off every precipice possible.
It’s common for a game like Fallen Order to require players to level-up their characters before they become some omnipotent hero. In fact, it’s a big part of Luke Skywalker’s dramatic arc in the original Star Wars trilogy. But after playing through four levels of the game it feels like Kestis is stuck in a perpetual awkward phase. Despite being cast from the game’s outset as a nimble athlete able to navigate a danger-filled salvage yard with ease, every movement feels a bit clunky. Whenever I released the left stick on my PS4, he’d often take at least another shuffle step or two, which, while realistic, feels imprecise and is hard to get used to. In a fight, my Jedi takes for-ev-er to swing his saber, usually giving my foe time to strike first. And with every blow, Kestis is staggered like a fighter with a glass jaw, giving other foes openings to attack.
The key, according to the game’s maker, is defense first. Once you get used to deflecting incoming attacks, you can then utilize a precisely-timed parry to defeat your attacker. But if you’re facing more than one foe, it’s extremely tough to find a good time to release the block button for a parry or counter strike. Even playing on one of the game’s easier settings, it was maddening to try to parry each attack and then counter unless the enemies were staggered or slowed through Kestis’s force powers. I didn’t feel like a Jedi at all. I felt like a piñata.
Stormtroopers with stun sticks often taser me because I seldom know what movement Clumsy Cal will make when I mash the melee button. And so help me Obi-Wan Kenobi if I happen to be fighting near a cliff, because I will fall off, it’s just a matter of time.
Looking around, it seems others have not shared this experience. Perhaps your time with the game will go differently, and you’ll feel mighty and dynamic and actually enjoy your time rather than stewing over getting killed by lesser foes. But this was my experience, and it was not enjoyable.
Getting bludgeoned, repeatedly and thoroughly, isn’t the feature that detracts the most from my fun though. That would be the running. Jedi: Fallen Order is an open world game that features massive (and beautiful) maps — but your primary mode of transportation is to travel on foot. That’s an issue, particularly since there’s no fast travel.
After completing the main mission on a planet I don’t feel relief. My primary feelings are exhaustion and dread. The former because it has taken hours, and multiple respawns, to reach that point. The latter because I know I have to make my way back to my ship running through the same gauntlet that already killed me multiple times.
You have the ability to create some shortcuts, but they never seem to shorten the trip that much. I may be misusing the game’s 3-D map, but that’s also partially because it’s pretty hard to read.
Navigating the terrain in Death Stranding (at least while relatively unencumbered) was a cakewalk compared to some running and jumping sequences in Fallen Order. The controls felt so sluggish that I often worried my momentum would carry me over a ledge. Even when it didn’t I’d freak out, overcompensate and accidentally jump off the cliff anyway.
This feels like a good time to talk about death, or more accurately, respawning. Rather than picking back up slightly before your demise, you’re brought back to the last time you saved, which you can only do when you discover meditation circles. There were times when I had to redo more than 10 minutes of the game after respawning. In those moments, I could feel my face radiating with the heat of Tatooine’s binary suns.
When you’re in a meditation circle, you can choose to rest, which recovers your health meter and replenishes your stim sticks (which heal you between rests). Resting also respawns your enemies though, so there’s a cost that could ultimately put your health bar back in the red before you save again.
I will own the fact that I may not be good at this game. But I didn’t have this much difficulty learning Death Stranding. I didn’t have this much difficulty learning Spider-Man, which I loved. I could crush The Force Unleashed on the most difficult setting. To make any kind of headway in Fallen Order I really needed to drop the settings down to “Story Mode.” Again, I’m a suck-y Jedi.
I understand the desire to create such a difficult game dynamic. But my enjoyment of previous saber-wielding Star Wars games like The Force Unleashed or the Kyle Katarn series came from the fulfillment of the fantasy of mowing down the Empire’s minions with a lightsaber — which is, by design, the most overpowered weapon in a galaxy far, far away. At times in Fallen Order it feels like I’m wielding a pool noodle.
I do think that once Kestis up-scales his Force power later in the game — which I have not finished — it will be more fun. But the early going is an absolute grind, and for someone like me with a job, two kids and limited free time, I prefer not to spend that time retracing my steps after respawning.
Even in story mode, there remains the challenge of the movement mechanics. And while enemies appeared to die faster and Kestis’s health bar decreases only a small amount with each blow suffered, the timing of parrying and counterstriking remains difficult. Enemies will block your attacks if they’re squared up and facing you and if you telegraph your defense by holding the block button too soon, most of the time they’d launch an unblockable attack. At all levels, your enemies remain smart. If these stormtroopers were in Mos Eisley, they would have found the droids they were looking for and turned them into a coffee maker.
Despite all that, I won’t say Jedi: Fallen Order is a “bad” game. It’s just a difficult game for me to enjoy, which obscures many of the game’s high points. The story, a key part of any Star Wars property, feels rich and immersive and goes deeper and darker than the majority of installments in the franchise, movies and spinoff shows included. You’ll recognize some faces, visit worlds both familiar and foreign and wield some awesome weapons. And again, I haven’t finished the game. But given my time constraints, I’m not sure I will.
I love Star Wars stories, so it’s a shame this game is so hard. The remaining plot of Fallen Order seems promising. It isn’t just a “dark time for the Rebellion.” There is no rebellion, just refugees of The Republic on the run, trying to hide and survive as their friends perish. Kestis spends parts of the game recalling his relationship with his dead master and rekindling his connection to the Force. His companion, Cere Junda, is both sympathetic and mysterious after shunning the ways of the Jedi following a stint as a tortured prisoner of the Empire. Together, with oddball pilot/comic relief Greez Dritus, they’re embarking on a quest to find fellow Force users and rebuild the Jedi Order, while the Dark Side-wielding Second Sister and her baddies try to stop them. It’s a fresh tale for Star Wars and I’d love to learn more about it. If only I/my Jedi didn’t suck so much, I might have found out a bit more by now.
If you like feeling powerful and slashing through waves of enemies like Darth Vader at the end of “Rogue One,” this is not the game for you. But there will be those who embrace its challenge. If you like Dark Souls and you like the Star Wars universe, this is precisely your game. You will love it. And if that does describe you, then please tell me how the story ends, because I fear I may never see it. And that, like my Jedi, sucks.