Post-Script: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

When I write impressions articles I like to have played enough of the game to feel that I can give a fair view to my readers. With Jedi: Fallen Order I, unfortunately, need to provide an update to my feelings on the game after completing it.

I have achieved the Platinum Trophy for this game and having played almost everything the game has to offer, I have some more thoughts.

As I said in my impressions article, Jedi: Fallen Order is a beautiful game, with wonderful sound design and crisp graphics. It works very well at pulling you into the Star Wars Universe. This immersion however gets increasingly broken as the game goes on, and by the end, I had a distinctly love-hate relationship with the game.

I don’t want to hate this game, and there is plenty that the game gets very right, but as a fan of the Star Wars franchise I really wanted to love this game, and I just couldn’t.

There is not one big reason for this, but simply the effect of lots of smaller factors that culminated in me having a distinct sense of dissatisfaction as I finished the game.

The first thing I want to talk about is the game’s lack of optimisation, at least when played on the PS4.

Throughout the game, there are several sections where the game will freeze. I was worried the game was breaking until I recognised they always happened in the same place – The game was loading the next area and couldn’t keep up with my character’s movement, so the whole thing froze.

These happened several times in the middle of platforming segments, which was annoying. I understand games need to load up in segments, and I know a common way to deal with this is to use lifts as a pseudo-loading screen. I don’t have a problem with this, but the game is frequently unable to load the areas connected by lifts within the time it takes to make the lift journey. And the lifts are not fast either. This means you frequently encounter a long boring lift ride, coupled with the game freezing in order to catch up with the loading.

The long loading times might be forgivable if it leads to an otherwise seamless experience, however, this is not the case. I frequently experienced texture-pop in, so much so that it was distracting, including character models popping into the middle of cutscenes, and on a small number of occasions I ended up running through a door to find myself in a low-poly, textureless world, where the collision did not register causing me to fall through the world.

These are the kind of things I would expect from beta-release steam green-light games, not a AAA EA title.

I had previously highlighted that the loading time after you die is painfully slow. Unfortunately, whilst I was initially okay with this, the compounded effect it has on the gameplay experience is distinct as the game goes on, particularly when you encounter challenging bosses.

It can take 30-60 seconds to reload your character after you die, which in a game which takes a lot of its influences from Dark Souls, is a painfully long time, particularly on harder difficulties. Souls-like games balance punishing difficulty and frequent deaths with a design which allows you to get back into the action quickly, with short loading times meaning you don’t feel like you are wasting or losing any time. Unfortunately when you play on a high difficulty and die frequently, the load times are so punishing it makes the game literally un-fun to play.

The frequency of deaths that you experience in this game ties into another distinct issue this game has – combat and combat balance.

When I first saw that Jedi: Fallen Order had different difficulty settings I was happy, surly this meant that the balance would feel perfect for whatever skill level a player was? As an experienced souls-player, who has loved Sekiro and the other Souls games, I started on the Grandmaster difficulty.

That was a mistake.

This game puts an emphasis on parry mechanics, in a similar way to Sekiro, however unlike Sekiro when you tap the block button, your parry does not engage until your character has fully raised their lightsaber. This might seem like a ‘well duh’ comment, but those milliseconds are vital in combat. When you are trying to learn when in an enemy attack animation you need to get that parry ready, having to account for your own animation time is a frustrating experience. This is paired with the fact that you will immediately be thrown into combat against multiple enemies, which means you do not have space to learn the timings against any single enemy. This frustration is compounded by the fact that if you miss a parry, the enemy will cause full damage and break your block, causing you to be vulnerable to combo attacks.

You have a posture bar for blocks, but I found that even on the lowest difficulties the enemies break your posture in 2-3 hits, and you cannot survive a single combo without your guard breaking, stunning your character, and leaving them vulnerable to further attacks.

Enemies are able to quickly stun-lock your character and I found that the most effective way to fight was constantly rolling out of the way and occasionally chip damaging an enemy. Throw a force ability get one or two hits in and run away. Any more than that and the multiple enemies that surround you will quickly stun lock and overwhelm you.

Utilising the force is one of the best features you should expect for a Jedi, but you have a very limited ‘force’ pool to draw from which means that your ability to control combat with the force is noticeably restricted.

Any one of these issues is small, and you can see past them when you start the game. I reduced the difficulty and continued with the game. Unfortunately by the time you reach the end of the game these issues have compounded into a frustrating experience. At least one of these issue crops up in every combat encounter, and it means that it becomes hard to tell when I simply made a genuine mistake, or I was fighting wonky combat mechanics.

These combat issues slip away in the best combat encounters you have in the game, however, and those are the lightsaber duels. One-on-one combat flows much better and you actually feel like a Jedi in these moments.

Unfortunately even these combat encounters have frustrating balance issues, including health pools that are so large that you spend ages slowly chipping down the enemy health in what feels more like a chore than a game; non-existent/non-differentiated attack windups which you to play rock-paper-scissors on what attack the enemy is about to perform; and pointless posture bars.

The posture issue is one that came up multiple times, but the two most egregious issues were with one regular enemy, the Nydak, who’s entire combat style was based around breaking its posture, and the final boss of the game.

For the Nydak, they are fast and heavy-hitting enemies that are fairly easy to parry, having distinct windups. They attack so quickly that you are expected to parry them to break their relatively low posture which you should be able to then punish. Unfortunately, when you posture break a Nydak your character is also caught in a stun animation, whilst the Nydak is pushed away from your character. By the time you recover from the stun and make your way over to the Nydak, 99% of the time the Nydak will have recovered from the stun and have full posture remaining. This would be okay if the game expected you to do something different with the enemy, but the literal in-game advice is to parry and break the enemy’s posture, which is infuriating advice because it does not work.

The final point on posture is the last boss in the game. The most satisfying thing about parrying and posture bars is when you perfectly time parries such that you wear out your attacker and punish them. It is one of the beautiful things that makes the combat in Sekiro so compelling. Unfortunately with the final boss in the game you can perfectly counter multiple combos to deplete that parry meter only to have the boss not be stunned, and simply refill the bar with no negative effect on them. It defeats all benefit from taking the risk of trying to parry and make the final boss of the game a frustrating grind.

My final concern about this game is the level and enemy design.

The first two planets you go to in the game, Bogano and Zeffo are the best designed and are genuinely fun to play. Unfortunately, they lulled me into a false sense of security with this game. To be completely fair the design for the other planets is not terrible. What is annoying though is the overreliance on sliding slope sections. The game is filled with one-way sliding slopes that are easy to fall off, hard to steer on, have blind jumps built-in, and truly feel like the level-filler that they are.

When trying to fully explore the map (necessary for full game completion) the number of one-way paths was incredibly frustrating as were the lack of useful shortcuts, which forced me to repeat whole sections of Kashyyyk and Dathomir several times, which resulted in a significant loss of charm.

With enemy design this is a fairly simple point, there are too many spiders. Spiders are numerous on both Kashyyyk and Dathomir, and it makes the Star Wars Universe feel smaller for their inclusion. Alien species are plethora in the Star Wars Universe, and whilst a handful of giant spiders on Kashyyyk would be a nice and creepy set-piece, they are used so much it makes the game feel like a generic ‘real-world’ game. This sentiment extends when the basic enemy on Dathomir are tiny spiders. This is a Star Wars game, and I have never seen a spider in a Star Wars film. I’m not complaining that spiders shouldn’t exist, but simply that they are overused to the point of boredom. They are the most generic of generic fantasy enemies, short of say…zombies?

Oh but there are zombies in the game too…yeah…

I know that there is precedent for zombies in the Star Wars universe, but it must be said that is not fun to fight a zombie hoard with a lightsaber. It is not fun to fight zombies and spiders together with a lightsaber. It feels generic and boring, and this lack-luster enemy design compounded many of the niggles I had with this game.

Also you massacre a native tribal population as an invasive Jedi, and it is not once really questioned whether you are a good guy or are falling to the the Dark Side of the Force with these actions…seriously.

I wanted to love this game, and at first, I thought I did. But this game wore me down. I gave it every quarter and every pass and it still slid below my expectations. I know I had fun with this game, I remember having fun with this game, but I walk away and look back on it as a disappointment. Whilst I hope that a Fallen Order 2 could be a better game, it would require putting trust in EA not rushing the job, and after this experience, I am not sure they will give it the time it needs to be perfected and that makes me sad.

There are other games that do everything that Fallen Order does, but better. If you like Star Wars, play the game on story mode. But please don’t expect perfection. This is not it. Maybe something will come off this game in a future installment. But not this day.

Impressions: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

I have not played a Star Wars game since Disney took over the franchise. Not for any particular malice, but rather because the only Star Wars offerings, remakes of Battlefront and Battlefront II, appeared to be pale imitations of the original PS2 games they were based on.

Lots of promises were made by EA following the lukewarm reception to the Battlefront remakes, and the outright hostility that was shown towards the lootbox system.

No more lootboxes

A 100% Singleplayer experience

It seemed to be everything fans were asking for.

Finally.

It was clear to those of us watching EA’s handling of video games and the Star Wars Franchise that these choices were not where EA wanted to go with gaming, particularly after their quite definitive claims about the future of singleplayer gaming.

Thankfully for us fans of Star Wars video games EA decided to eat their hat and produce a singleplayer game, which was in no way connected to the critical acclaim Sony’s singleplayer God of War remake recieved, and how much criticism their own offering, Battlefront II, recieved the year before Fallen Order’s release.

So what are my first impressions of this game?

It is beautiful, so very beautiful. It is also painfully unpolished, but despite this issue it is also very fun.

Beauty

When I first loaded up the game the first thing that stood out was just how visually stunning it all was. The game opens on a spaceship junkyard, and the main character, Cal, is part of a salvage team dismantling Clone Wars-era technology. I had real moments of fan-boy awe as I saw the Clone Dropships up close and personal or lasers tearing apart an outdated Star Destroyer.

The graphic detail and dynamic lighting effects are beautiful, and great emphasis is drawn to the lighting throughout the game when you use your lightsaber, which you are given access to not long at all into the game’s introduction. You will use your lightsaber as a light source in-game, in place of a torch. It is a simple but elegant touch to the gameplay that really shows off the dynamic lighting wonderfully.

The graphics are complemented with sonorous music that is unmistakably Star Wars in feel and tone. The combination of visuals and sound design make for an immersive and exciting step into a new Star Wars story.

Polish

My first encounter with a lack of polish came with the game’s combat. This game is frequently compared to the Souls-Borne games, and this is an unfortunate comparison as I entered the game expecting it to play like Sekrio with a lightsaber.

This game is not Sekrio with a lightsaber.

You are encouraged to use the parry in Fallen Order, but the timing is not as instinctive as it is in Sekrio. You have to take account of the animation window that it takes Cal to move his lightsaber into parry position to catch the enemy weapon as it lands. It is a difference in timing that I have not been able to master. I found myself dying several times in the intoductory sequence. I would not have begrudged this so much if it was not for the painfully long load times.

On a PS4 it takes 30-60 seconds to reload from a death. This elongates the downtime between deaths, which happens frequently if you are playing on the higher difficulties. That mixed with a slightly heavy feeling combat, meant that I had to turn down the difficulty for me to have a good time.

Low posture, stun locks and heavy enemy attack tracking made me feel more that I was fighting unpolished combat mechanics rather than challenging gameplay. One example of this would be the force stasis abilty. You can stun an enemy in game, and the most instinctive use of this ability would be to stun an enemy and run behind them to get a backstab kill. Unfortnately this is not something you can do in game as the enemies, even whilst in stasis, can track your movement as fast as you can move.

There is a lot more I could say about the balance of combat in this game, but I feel it would be better suited to a deep dive on video game combat.

Other niggles I have with the game include texture pop-ins, lag, and stuttering. I have not experienced this issues in another PS4 game before, and certainly not to such an extent that I notice it and it impacts my enjoyment of the game.

Fun

Regardless the issues I have highlighted above, this game is a really fun experience.

I have put the game down several times due to frustration, and boss-related rage, but I have always wanted to pick up the game again. This is a game that am thinking about in-between gaming sessions in a positive way. I always forget the niggles and frustrations I have an am left with a desire to dive deeper into it.

When the game works, it works wonderfully, with fluid action making you truly feel like a jedi in combat. The platforming and exploration is fun and satifying, with the game containing several well thought-out environmental puzzles. When I have struggled to solve a puzzle, it is down to my own failure to apply what the game has shown me, rather than issues with the puzzle mechanics themselves.

Exploration is rewarded with customisation options, which are great for the lightsaber, Mantis (your spaceship) and BD-1 (your personal droid), but rather lackluster for Cal himself.

Conclusion

I really love this game despite its flaws. If you have never played a souls-like game before this is an excellent entry level into the genre, particularly given the use of difficulty choices, which make combat significantly easier than will ever be found in the souls games, whilst retaining the checkpoint and enemy respawn mechanics of the infamous set of games.

The game has solid mechanics, and I would be excited to see EA really polish these mechanics to perfection in a Jedi: Fallen Order 2. The story is sufficiently engaging for an Action-Adventure game, and is a must-try for fans of the Star Wars franchise.