The people who will embrace the latter definition and still see the game as enjoyable are people who derive pleasure from testing their limits. Given how often Fallen Order’s mechanics induced mental anguish, this game should similarly appeal to masochists. The game is far more grind than joyride, more effort than ease, and as a result takes far more time than a casual gamer will like to reap its full rewards. However, those rewards — primarily a strong, Star Wars-worthy story — make the painstaking struggle worthwhile, if not enjoyable.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is a trying game. Virtually nothing is easy. Even its easy mode can kill you repeatedly if you don’t take the time to learn the game’s required movement and combat techniques. Even then, you’ll likely die multiple times in frustrating ways.
That the Respawn team chose to tweak the third-person melee model of previous Star Wars games is commendable. Given the long drought in Star Wars games, a recycled version of The Force Unleashed probably would have been welcomed by a mass audience. Introducing melee mechanics similar to Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice that encourage a timing-based, defense-first approach to combat was a potentially brilliant decision. However, the precision required in duels — or the inconsistency with which the game recognizes a player’s inputs — prevent Fallen Order from reaching its full potential from the perspective of a Star Wars fan who doesn’t have much time to invest in mastering extremely challenging fundamentals.
Timing is of the essence for this game, but someone’s watch is broken, either mine or the game’s. Given how often my commands went unanswered on my PS4 Pro, it sure felt like it was the game.
It appeared both in combat and in movement challenges. In fights, it seemed I was always a hair off. If you parry precisely, you can dispatch your enemies quickly and cinematically. That rarely happened. Instead, my foes would often slip past my defenses, then wallop me while my Jedi reeled. If I was pushed into a corner or pinned along a wall after the combo blows, I was in trouble. If there were multiple enemies around me in the corner or near a cliff, I was dead. Even in easy mode, where the timing is supposed to be the most forgiving, it was difficult to properly time parries. And some of the movement issues seemed to indicate something was slightly out of sync between the game and the controls.
Early on, the player is challenged to leap and grasp various surfaces in order to climb up or around obstacles. Once in the air, no matter when I seemed to press the “grasp” button (L2 on the PlayStation 4) I always fell. So, I learned to hold it down. That’s fine, lesson learned. But then when I’d repeat that move in several other sequences — trying to latch on to a creature to stop a free fall, for example — it wouldn’t register. I tried to time it to when an on-screen prompt appeared. That too didn’t work. And so, for a solid two minutes my Jedi would plummet downward, clench his arms around nothing but air, and fall into the abyss. He’d then respawn above the beast to try again, only to fail. Down and up he’d go, a dizzying cycle, until by some miraculous coincidence, the command finally registered and he caught hold. Then, a short time later, the beast would knock him back into the air and the sequence repeated … and with similar results. That was not enjoyable, but it was not the most anger the game coaxed from me.
The frustrations of climbing and grasping were nothing compared to sliding. And, man, does this game love to make you slide. As you go skidding down the many (many) slippery surfaces of this universe, you have little control. Slight adjustments would often turn into overcorrections and send my Jedi skidding to his doom. (Falling into oblivion is my Jedi’s super power.) Timing again comes into play, as you’d often have to leap to safety at the end of the slide. Eventually every slope felt like a death sentence. If the game intended to inject some adrenaline and adventure with these sequences, it only got anxiety from me. Yoda’s mantra from The Phantom Menace — “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” — frequently came to mind.
Fortunately, falling to your demise doesn’t force you back to your last save point (which are infrequent). If it did, I would have quit the game outright. Ultimately, I endured and was rewarded by a strong Star Wars story.
The beauty of the script stems from the story’s themes, rather than plot points. In fact, the story perfectly aligns with Fallen Order’s challenging game play. Playing as Cal Kestis, you’re a half-trained Jedi who is forced from hiding in the dark days after the Emperor’s minions obliterated the Jedi Order. At the outset, he’s merely trying to survive rather than become a hero. And both through the game’s limits on his early abilities, and the times you get your butt whopped by stormtroopers and mini-bosses, you’re frequently humbled.
Failure is at the core of this game, as is the way in which Cal/we handle that failure and move on. Both Cal and his companion, Cere, must come to terms with incidents from their past that have both shamed and cowed them. To atone for her failure, Cere cuts herself off from The Force. Over the course of the game, through their actions and interactions, the two learn how to cope and support one another through their trials, which are as much spiritual as physical. It culminates in a sensational and cinematic finale that will thrill any Star Wars fan, one that again reminds you of your limits.
As someone with limited time to play games, the shame of Fallen Order stems from multiple frustrations. It’s hard to fight and, worse, it’s hard to move. The game’s timing issues distracted me from both the story and the beautifully constructed worlds; I was too focused on simply staying alive. My many (many, many, many) deaths discouraged me from exploring worlds — all of them beautiful — as did the simple fact that traveling by foot (even a Jedi’s Force-enhanced feet) takes forever.
I really wish the game handled traversal better. I nearly 100-percent-ed Spider-Man because I l-o-v-e-d swinging down Fifth Avenue and could always hop a subway if I was in a hurry. Here, if I want to wander, not only is there no fast travel (note to Cal Kestis: You have a space ship. Use it.) but there’s a good chance I’ll find doom instead of some cool treasure. And aside from the lightsaber mods, the loot you find is all kind of blah anyway. What’s the incentive if all I get is a slightly different design of the same boring poncho?
Thanks to its theme-rich story, the game does have a redeeming quality that serves up enough of a reward to make all the suffering worthwhile. The shame of it is that if the combat and movement were just a little tighter, a little more forgiving, this could have been one of the better games of the year. As it is, I’ll look forward to a sequel with equal amounts of excitement, dread and hope for improvement.