It’s a great time to be a Star Wars fan. We haven’t had to be bored for quite a few years, and while not all content is spectacular, something is being made for every audience, whether it’s movies, series, comics or games. One such project is Jedi: Fallen Order. This game managed to take elements of several great games like Metroid, Dark Souls and the Tomb Raider reboot and merge them into a successful whole. Still, there was plenty of room for improvement, room that Respawn absolutely took advantage of for Star Wars Jedi: Survivor.
Note: This review is largely based on a playthrough in which the Day 0 Patch was not yet available. The developer has indicated that the update in question addressed performance, among other things, but given that it was only released shortly before the review embargo, we have not yet been able to test it adequately. If the patch brings such changes we will update the review.
Improvements you should expect
Survivor has become a sequel as you want and expect how a sequel is. It takes the pieces that were good from the original, improves them, introduces new elements and also manages to get rid of criticisms. A good example are the frustrating segments where Cal had to platform while sliding down a mountain. These elements are pretty much gone and the few moments when you have to slide, the controls work as they should. Or how about the customization of Cal and his weapons. Instead of ponchos in different colors, there are now different types of clothing that can be (mis)matched, you can customize Cal’s hair and beard growth, and it offers more than enough options to build your dream lightsaber.
For me as a Star Wars fan, the story of Jedi: Fallen Order was a reason why I got him gave it a high rating at the time. In recent years, the space between the mainline films has been filled considerably with new content, and the adventure of Cal Kestis and his crew managed to be both interesting on its own, but at the same time make itself important in the larger Star Wars lore without making it feel forced.
Survivor takes it a little easier on that front by focusing on Cal’s compulsive battle against The Empire and his doubts surrounding the Jedi teachings with all the consequences for himself and the precious people around him. The crew members – both new and old – and the bond you get with them along the way is great. The “why” of the story, on the other hand, is basically mostly a big MacGuffin-fest where you are constantly being sent from place to place. Hardcore fans will especially enjoy the High Republic elements. I am deliberately choosing not to go too deeply into the plot for reasons of spoilers, but it managed to surprise me quite a bit with twists and setpieces at several points.
The moment the credits roll there are enough threads left for a third part, but I wasn’t left with the feeling that it’s been botched. This piece of the story is done, and it rather left me curious as to what will be done with Cal Kestis by Respawn Entertainment or by Lucasfilm. Given that plot points from other media have been referenced in Jedi: Survivor and there has been more overlap lately (I’m looking at you Rebels and Ashoka), I firmly believe that we will see Cameron Monaghan playing the live action Cal in a few years.
More than one main story
Except for the main story, there was little to do in Jedi: Fallen Order, but this too is feedback Respawn has listened to. In addition to the collectibles, side quests and activities have now been introduced and you have more ways to explore the planets through mounts. You have the traditional RPG sidequests, Bounty Hunter missions and Legendary Monsters (with a nice nod to a Fallen Order fan favorite) that must be defeated. There is also a Holotable minigame where you can fight enemies you have scanned with BD-1. Of course, you can’t release a AAA game in 2023 without having a game within a game.
The characters that provide you with these all have their own backstories and consist of aliens that I, as a Star Wars veteran, have not seen before. Personal favorite is the fisherman Skoova who has the greatest sailor stories despite his small size.
At the same time, the galaxy is not as big as I had hoped. There is only a small handful of planets to explore and this is something you don’t initially expect with the amount of greyed out planets and empty space on the Galaxy Map. Hub planet Kohbo does sit chock full of side content and areas to explore that will make you spend the bulk of your time there, but I would have liked to have seen more environments like this.
When the credits of the main story ran across the screen, I had around twenty hours on the clock. Of course I did plenty of collectibles and side quests in between, but right now I expect to be around 30 to 35 hours once I complete all the collectibles and side quests. Meanwhile, I have already started a second playthrough on New Game+ where you get extra skills and can use modifiers.
Another criticism from the previous game was the exploration of the world and I am specifically referring to the in-game map plus the lack of Fast Travel. The latter has now been added and can be used to your heart’s content via the rest points, but the holomap is still not much to write home about (if you can find it on there at all). While using it, I was turning and zooming more to find my position and the next objective in the world, rather than seeing it at a glance. A possible compass at the top of the screen to give you a push in the right direction would certainly not have been a luxury. Let’s take it as a learning point for the next game.
Spicy revamped combat
Combat is still spicy in Survivor. If you expect to play a casual Star Wars game where you can button mash with a lightsaber, you’re in for a rude awakening. Even a mere Stormtrooper can be taken out on the normal difficulty – if things get tough. A boss fight later in the game slowed down my progress and resulted in an hour and a half of cursing, tendencies to throw my controller, but mostly frustration at my own impatience. The times I did die, it didn’t feel unfair and Survivor wants you to block, parried and attack at the right times. Don’t worry, should it really be too tough, you can adjust the difficulty without being penalized (including Achievements/Trophies) and there are accessibility options that can be turned on. Think of a Slow Mode option that allows you more time to react to attacks.
Highlighting the innovations in combat – in addition to new Force powers – are the lightsaber “Stances. These not only determine which saber you fight with, they actually affect gameplay. You can only select two stances at a time so you have to think carefully about what suits your play style. In my case, it meant using the Dual Wield stance by default; an option that is very fast and offensive, but also the only stance where your attacks can cancel during animation to quickly block. Other stances require you to sit out the attack, and anticipation of enemies and your location on the battlefield is key. The Crossguard stance (where you use a lightsaber like Kylo Ren) is the perfect example of this. It may have the highest damage and defense, but at the same time it has the shortest range and slowest run-up. Somewhere I expected that towards the end of the game, or possibly during the post-game, you would have the ability to have all stances at your disposal at the same time, but that is not the case.
The launch of Fallen Order did not exactly go smoothly at the time and suffered from graphical and technical glitches. Unfortunately, this is no different with Jedi Survivor. The frame rate was not stable in both quality and performance modes during the review period, and at one point I decided to play on quality mode because it made little difference. As someone who draws games at 30FPS a lot worse due to the advent of the PlayStation 5, this was a bit of a bummer. It didn’t stop here. Screen tearing, textures not loading properly, pop-in and even a few crashes came along. The Day-0 patch that came out the day before the review embargo seems to have helped the frame rate for now, but performance mode is still not a stable 60FPS. It doesn’t affect gameplay, but it is distracting. Whether the texture issues are still present now, I dare not comment on this because I had too short a time to play the updated version to find out. Hopefully Respawn will keep patching to smooth out these wrinkles, because once everything loads properly, some vistas are very impressive.
Hopefully Respawn is not done patching Star Wars Jedi: Survivor yet, because this game deserves to run smoothly. On almost every facet, Survivor is an improvement on Fallen Order, giving me the feeling that the developer seems to be genuinely listening to feedback. There is more side content in addition to the main story and collectibles, and it manages to make the gameplay even more tactical. Although the story is a first-class MacGuffin-fest, it managed to surprise me at several points and leaves enough plot lines unresolved for a possible third installment. Fortunately, this is done in such a way that it doesn’t feel botched so I already can’t wait for the next adventure.