Darth Vader won’t agree, but a lack of faith in Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order feels more rational than disturbing. The original CGI trailer looked like a mish-mish of Star Wars ideas helmed by strawberry blonde everyface hero Cal Kestis. And it's hard to draw confidence from EA’s attempt to craft a single-player Star Wars experience in Star Wars Battlefront 2, which felt like an extended multiplayer tutorial with celebrity cameos. Good news: based on an extended 25-minute demo of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order at E3 2019 - with 10 minutes of unseen gameplay - the force is strong with developer Respawn’s game. Thanks to its focus on an epic AT-AT set-piece channeling reassuring echoes of Uncharted 4, God of War, The Legend of Zelda and even From Software’s Sekiro.
A new hope
Minutes after the livestream revealed Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order E3 2019 gameplay we were treated to a 25 minute, behind-closed-doors demo. It featured over 10 minutes of new action focusing on combat, agility and a surprisingly deep-looking lightsabre combat ‘posture’ system. The demo was played live by a Respawn employee who, reassuringly, took quite a few hits during his battle with the double-blade wielding special troopers, suggesting the game is no cakewalk. Our demo begins in the oceans of Wookie planet Kashyyyk, with Cal and his droid BD-1, swimming under a stormy sky, with lumbering full-size AT-ATs in the background. The skies look gloomy, tortured with light, and in combination with the authentic laser sounds, moody soundtrack and *skreeees* of overhead Tie Fighters, allays any fears that Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order will lack for scale or spectacle.
Cal swims at improbable speed, underwater, before catching up with the AT-AT which is, handily, draped in moss and undergrowth. He leaps onto the walker’s front leg, and clambers up it in true Uncharted fashion. In fact, the scene is more like Shadow of the Colossus, with Cal leaping side-to-side to reach the walker’s weak point: its entry hatch. Cal dispatches a rooftop guard with his force push ability, and jumps inside the AT-AT. He descends the walker by sliding down a hatch housing a speeder bike, before squaring up to Scout Troopers. The combat is similar to the public demo, but you really notice the ambient chatter. “It’s the Jedi!” cries a trooper, suggesting your notoriety, as you use your force power to full him toward you and toss him away. You don’t just mash through foes like potatoes, but have to use parrying, evasion and force powers to wear them down.
The Dark Souls / Sekiro likenesses are obvious, but given that Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order began development a few years ago, a more likely influence is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Cal locks onto foes, and can rotate around them using backward evasive leaps, or modified double leaps, similar to Nintendo’s hero Link. When you defeat the guards and edge down the narrow AT-AT corridors, you reach the pilots, who you can dispatch by tapping down on the d-pad, triggering a seamless in-game cut-scene where you bang their heads together. The lack of visible load times means you’re never taken out of the action, much like God of War. EA’s game even uses some of Sony’s tricks - like forcing Cal to edgy sideways through a narrow path in later scenes, allowing the game to sneakily load in the next section of the world.
Can you pilot the AT-AT? “Hahah, let’s do this!” cries Cal, in one of his many goofy but harmless, exclamations used to signpost key actions to the player. Viewed from inside the cockpit (you can see all the control panels as your droid bounces around), you can unleash booming laser fire at distant stormtroopers, clomping along a narrow forest ravine. Eventually, a distant character rocket boosts on top of the AT-AT, appearing in front of your window. “Who are you?" asks the jet-heeled character, who keen-eyed fans will know as resistance fighter Saw Gerrera (actually Forest Whitaker from Rogue One: A Star Wars story). Eventually, your AT-AT gets rammed at full-speed by an incoming enemy fighter, causing it to explode and crash to the ground.
After a brief fade-to-black, Cal reappears in a kind of mission hub central area, where he chats to Saw and a few supporting characters. The plot isn’t entirely clear, but it looks like the Empire is mining sap from the trees on Kashyyyk, as Cal seeks a mystery character who symbolises the Wookie resistance. You can walk around this central area and walk inside a ship, where can access a holotable where can you dip into other missions - similar to the Realms table in God of War. “Over here! Looks like there could be supplies in this walker” hollers another rebel, and it appears this central hub won’t lack for activity or ambient detail. You can use the d-pad to scan the weapons cache, and droid BD-1 is on-hand for all your terminal hacking / generator overloading requests - with new skills unlocked as you progress (like the Droid Overcharge ability in the trailer).
Learn the ways
From this central hub Cal then enters the Kashyyyk forest ravine from the gameplay trailer, battling giant spiders (called Wyyyshcock according to our notes, but that could be a sticky keyboard), and groups of troopers. What’s most notable is how you need to vary your tactics for different enemy types, akin to God of War, and you can even use foes against each other e.g. force dragging a trooper toward you, then shooting him toward an incoming spider like a projectile - there seems little sign of combat getting repetitive. We also saw a quiet spot where you can tap R3 to meditate and show off a skill path of upgrades. We don’t know exactly how many abilities you’ll unlock, but the upgrade path stretched outward as far as we could see.
Search your feelings, and you already know how Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order plays, like a Grey Jedi mash-up of every great single-player-game of the last 5 years. That’s no problem in itself, allowing you to focus on the scale and spectacle, plus burrowing deeper into those combat tactics, which feels like the surprise highlight of what we’ve seen so far. Quite how long the game will be (God of War set the bar for a 30-hour solo epic which rarely repeated itself), or how much replayability it offers, is a question worthy of the Inquisitors, but from what we’ve seen so far, EA’s combat adventure is on the path to the light.