“EA” stands for “Electronic Arts,” “QA” stands for “Quality Assurance,” but judging by the performance of Respawn’s last two games, the two abbreviations have been at odds for a while, and that can only be blamed on the publisher, especially if it’s a repeat offender.
I waited until the recent Christmas vacations to play Star Wars Jedi: Survivor. As a rule, I love the Star Wars universe and on this occasion I didn’t want to make the “mistake” of playing at launch. It shouldn’t be a mistake, but some companies, especially when their genres are set in an open world or based on complex physics, make us get used to games coming to market unpolished or broken, and so it’s a good idea to wait a while, which in turn undermines their prospects.
But first, let’s look at the prequel to this story. In November 2019, EA released Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, Respawn Entertainment’s first major licensed work from a galaxy far, far away. It was an ambitious gamble that combined open worlds, third-person Force combat and two good parts of the metroidvania and soulslike subgenres, all within a canonical story set in the time of Darth Vader. It was spectacular, and in some ways I agree with the positives my colleague Jonas pointed out in his review of Fallen Order, but the game came out completely broken. And the press should have said that more.
I played on an Xbox One X and my experience could not have been more frustrating. I obviously played to the end (and a certain cameo before the credits makes it a must for any fan of the series), but multiple bugs ruined most of my gameplay. Controls that glitch, enemies getting stuck or attacking you through walls, elements freezing and vibrating, jumps failing, creatures getting stuck to the landscape…. and, of course, dozens of graphical bugs and glitches of all kinds.
Add this to the fact that the different fighting styles were more of an illusion (you had to stick to specific, seemingly optional techniques), that the reward for exploring was a poncho and not something that actually improved the character, or that some enemies blatantly cheated right under your nose, which is unacceptable in a souls game with, ahem, enemy respawns (like turning the direction of a straight attack to hit you), I couldn’t shake off the feeling that what could have been one of the best Star Wars games was really a failure.
“You should have played it a few months later,” I told myself, and several friends told me that EA Respawn was clearly rushing to get it out in time for that year’s Christmas campaign. “But there are also design flaws,” I told myself and told them, arguing that the problems weren’t just technical, and that if Fallen Order needed an extra 3-4 months of polish before release, maybe it also needed 3-4 months on the slate to establish what it wanted to be and not dilute itself in an attempt to conform to trends, something that has also historically been a hobbyhorse of EA.
Time passed, I shared my disappointment with everyone who told me the game had improved a lot, and then came April of this year, when the sequel, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, was released. I didn’t stumble over the same stone twice, but EA did. I waited, not the next month, but eight months, to play the title on PS5, which I imagine was the leading version. And hey, my game started much better, it looked a lot more polished, and the game is an audiovisual marvel. It also strives to improve on a couple of key points from the first: that the variety makes sense and the exploration is rewarding.
Well, as I approach the end, and after experiencing what should be one of the best battles in the game (hint: the Tie Fighter), I can only regret that it repeats so many of the problems of the original. As much as I enjoy it and in my opinion it is a superior product, how is it possible that it was finished so poorly? This title was delayed until spring, thus no longer suffering from the Christmas rush it was headed for again in 2022, and yet so many months later it is still full of bugs.
Textures and lighting that don’t load, controls that don’t trigger (it’s bad when BD-1 alerts you to scan or examine something and the prompt doesn’t appear on the screen), platforming that fails, enemies running through polygons on the ground, cheap traps, ridiculous situations that are poorly polished or unbalanced, disoriented sections, monsters floating in the air… It’s not the same and it doesn’t happen very often, but it does generate that feeling of: “be careful because it may get stuck and spoil the section for you.”
In the end, it’s a real shame. Survivor displays some of the most beautiful scenery in all of 2023, and the year has released some first-rate titles. Their recreation of Jehda is a delight and one of the best additions you’ll see to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, a real treat for fans. The main planet, Koboh, is probably the most beautiful and vast planet ever played in a Star Wars video game. The tribute to Coruscant is reminiscent of what Star Wars 1313 was intended to be. The hyperspace jumps, the much more inventive puzzles (some will remind you of Zelda), the greater emphasis on freedom and reward, are stunning. The music and perfect audio design. OK, the story wouldn’t win any awards, but in the so-called moment-to-moment Survivor is much better pitched and the talent of its artists and game designers is beyond question. But it’s pretty broken.
If it worked perfectly, or at least as should be required for a title of this caliber, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor could very well have competed in several Game of the Year Awards 2023 categories, but as it came out, as it continues, it more likely fought its way into the disappointment of the year category.
Is Respawn, the studio behind the fantastic Titanfall and Apex Legends, incapable of completing a job well if it is also a direct sequel? It could be, but whether it’s by allocating more resources or by better controlling what gets released, the ultimate fault lies with Electronic Arts. Unfortunately, this is not the first time it has been uncertain about one of its most valuable licenses, and now that it is not exclusive, it could be that projects such as Ubisoft’s Star Wars Outlaws or Quantic Dream’s Star Wars: Eclipse overtake it from the right (well, the left if you are in the UK). Or, ironically and with a touch of vengeance, Skydance Interactive with Amy Hennig’s game after EA itself canceled another game years ago.
Until Epiphany, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor for PS5 can be purchased for £35 on the PS Store. Half price. On the Xbox Store, it retains its original price of £70, and you can’t do the “credits do fine” trick by waving your hand in front of the screen. If you are a Star Wars fan and understand what you are dealing with with this article, take advantage of the offer. For the full price, it’s too bad I can’t recommend it to you, because it hasn’t been fixed like it deserves in all this time.
So what’s next? On the horizon for Respawn are the rumored third installment of the Cal Kestis trilogy (a Star Wars Jedi 3 sequel to Survivor, now without Stig Asmussen), Peter Hirschmann’s confirmed Star Wars FPS and, with a grain of salt, perhaps the rumored Titanfall 3. Will EA put in all the resources, management, attention and care that a blockbuster deserves to get it right?
The press was not harsh enough on the two Jedi games and this serious problem they share, and even today you will find “generally very positive reviews.” But there were several rebel voices, including from the community, and if it doesn’t take note, EA will not only continue to waste the power of a license it no longer owns as its own: it will once again risk the lucrative solo adventure business, the one they sadly undervalued a decade ago.
Have you played Star Wars Jedi: Survivor and what did you think of it?