When Respawn Entertainment announced it was making a third-person action game in the Star Wars universe, many fans didn’t know how to react; the studio was critically acclaimed, but at the time, Respawn was purely known for shooters like Titanfall and Apex Legends. However, 2019’s Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order surpassed the expectations of many, delivering a terrific adventure full of exciting action and memorable moments. Now, with all the learnings of Fallen Order, Respawn is ready to top itself in hopes of creating another unforgettable Star Wars adventure.
Five years have passed in the Star Wars timeline since our last journey with Cal Kestis. In that time, the group he was traveling with in Fallen Order has split up, and Cal’s been working to further the cause of The Resistance.
Cal may have grown in the five in-universe years since Fallen Order, but Respawn has learned nearly as much in the four years since it launched that game. “That first game, on so many different fronts, was a learning experience for us because we had never made a Star Wars game, it was a new team we had built from the ground up,” director Stig Asmussen says. “It’s taking that knowledge that we had on the first game and our main pillars which were combat, navigation, storytelling, and our Metroidvania approach… we kind of dipped our foot in just enough to learn how we make that into one cohesive product. Seeing the reaction from fans on what we did gave us confidence; it was somewhat liberating. It’s like, ‘Okay, how do we expand on this?’ Some of the ideas we had before, we kind of held back on because we just wanted to make sure that we could ship this thing. [With Star Wars Jedi: Survivor,] we put forward and made just a much larger, more grand experience.”
My gameplay session starts aboard The Mantis, Cal’s ship from the first game. However, the trip doesn’t last long, as he doesn’t exactly stick the landing on his approach to the planet of Koboh, where he’s going to visit an outpost where his old pal Greez lives. The crash-landing damages the gyro module of The Mantis, but hopefully, Greez has a spare one.
I guide Cal to a high lookout point and use his cute and trusty droid, BD-1, as binoculars. After spotting the location of the outpost, I mark it with a waypoint. As I bring up the map system, I breathe a sigh of relief; the previously convoluted minimap feels more streamlined and less confusing. I make a mental note of the direction I need to head, and I begin descending toward my destination.
Soon, I come to my first meditation point, which functions much like it did in Fallen Order. Serving as checkpoints, meditation points also allow you to rest to recover health and stim packs, change your stance loadout, train, adjust your skill tree, and swap out unlockable perks.
Shortly after emerging from Cal’s meditation, I encounter my first enemies: the Battle Droids common within the Prequel Trilogy. They rattle off a quip and a “Roger, Roger” and fire in my direction. Timing it just right, I return the blaster shots to their senders and take them out with ease. The Empire has been in control of the galaxy for a decade at this point, so seeing Battle Droids is an odd sight. However, the next enemy I find answers some of those immediate questions.
As I enter a nearby cave, a more formidable foe greets me alongside two more Battle Droids; it seems this planet’s raider faction has repurposed the droids to fight alongside them. This Bedlam Raider has some agile and powerful melee attacks, and though I’m rusty with a lightsaber at first, I quickly recall how to take down enemies with the Jedi weapon of choice. Using the traditional single lightsaber, I parry his attacks and slash him down. Combat feels as good as ever, even if I’ve barely touched Cal’s skill tree.
One of the big improvements to the combat of this game is the addition of new, fully-featured lightsaber stances. The balanced single-saber stance and the crowd-control-focused double-blade stance from the first game return, but I was most excited to get my hands on the new twin-saber stance, where Cal wields a lightsaber in each hand. The twin-saber stance made an appearance in Fallen Order but was not fully fleshed out. It is in Survivor, and it provides a focus on aggression and offense. After my demo, I also get a glimpse of a stance where Cal wields both a lightsaber and a blaster.
The combat feels familiar, but that’s by design. “We saw the reaction from the players and it was good, so we didn’t want to take what we had and completely bust it up,” he says. “We wanted to build it up, and that’s exactly what we did. It was kind of easy for us – the things people were asking for were things that we wanted to do as well.”
As I move closer to my destination, I activate shortcuts, which let me skip a lot of backtracking if I need to go back the way I came. These shortcuts also persist if Cal is defeated, complementing the meditation checkpoints. I was impressed by the exploration throughout my demo. The overwhelming number of one-way slides appear to be gone, making for a much more natural landscape and less frustrating flow to the stages. In fact, the one time I encountered a one-way slope, I could wall-run up it – a seeming acknowledgment from Respawn of one of the big complaints players had with Fallen Order’s level design.
Another complaint from the first game that Respawn seems to have addressed is the level of customization. While you could swap out basic ponchos in Fallen Order, Survivor lets you truly make Cal Kestis your own character. In the pause menu, you can change Cal’s hair, facial hair, shirt, jacket, and pants. That’s in addition to the BD-1 and lightsaber customization. All of these receive new options through exploration, giving you a reason to poke around each nook and cranny of the map.
Continuing down the critical path brings me face to face with another relic from the Prequel era: a B2 Battle Droid. These tougher, tankier droids put up a much harder fight than the flimsy Battle Droids I fought earlier, but they’re still easy enough, especially now that I’ve shaken off that rust and regained some of my Fallen Order muscle memory.
Soon enough, I arrive at Rambler’s Reach, the outpost I was seeking upon crash-landing. I approach the cantina, Pyloon’s Saloon, and a frog-like creature named Turgle goes flying out of the door; it seems like he sold counterfeit goods to the wrong crowd. He pleads for his life, but a high-ranking Bedlam Raider named Zeik begins electrocuting him on the order of Rayvis, a hulking Gen’Dai that commands at least a portion of the raiders on Koboh. Being the noble Jedi Knight that he is, Cal steps in right before Zeik goes in for the kill, resulting in a boss fight.
After the fight, Cal enters the cantina, where he finally meets up with Greez. Though it’s been four years since I’ve seen this four-armed hairball, it felt great to see Cal and Greez catching up. It’s clear that Greez cares about Cal as he pleads with him to stop fighting The Empire and settle down somewhere to live a quiet life. If Jedi: Survivor can deliver several moments like this, I’m excited about the story’s direction.
I won’t spoil much more beyond this point, but I uncover several other compelling mysteries that I can’t wait to explore, many of which surround an anomaly called Tanalorr, which Cal and his friends decide to pursue. Along the way, I battle several other creatures, including large Bilemaws, grotesque Shiverpedes, and powerful Wampa-like Mogus. Each creature demands distinct strategies, and I’m not ashamed to admit I was bested on multiple occasions.
When you are defeated, the enemy that delivered the killing blow glows yellow and will provide you rewards (including refilling your health) if you find that enemy and damage them during your next life. It’s far from a novel concept at this point, but I appreciate the less hardcore implementation of the Soulslike mainstay mechanic.
After spending three full hours playing Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, I feel confident that Respawn has learned all the correct lessons from its first attempt at creating a Star Wars adventure. The navigation feels more natural, the combat is more fleshed out, and the story is going in some very intriguing directions. If the slice of gameplay I experienced is any indication, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is a more than worthy successor to the already great Fallen Order.
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