FBT is a falling Jedi
Five years after Order 66, ex-Padawan Cal Kestis is saved from Imperial Inquisitors - force-trained assassins dedicated to hunting down the remnants of the Jedi - by Cere Jund, a Jedi who turned her back on the force. Her old Master hid a Holocron detailing the location of every child with force-abilities and Cere needs Cal to help her recover it before the Inquisitors do by following clues he left that only a Jedi can understand. Along the way, Cal learns that being a Jedi means more than wielding a Lightsaber. It means lots of platforming.
I’ve never rage-quit a game so many times. I didn’t think it was possible to screw up Star Wars more than JJ Abrams but here we are. While Fallen Order looks good and in the final third becomes awesome, a more effective name would be Fallen Jedi. This game is 90% platforming. I was hoping for a return to the Kyle Katarn era. Instead I got Cal Ka-can’t.
Platforming has its place in gaming, but a Jedi game isn’t it. It's like some old NES Star Wars Platformer, far more so than the Unleashed series. Yes, Jedi are supposed to be agile, able to use the Force to counter gravity and that’s all good but we don't use it as a Jedi kicking ass, Cal only uses it in frustrating wall-runs - endless wall-runs. I’m a Jedi Knight not the Prince of Persia. It’s one of those games where a millisecond too early, late, left or right will kill you and then you have to do it all again, and again, and again, and you don’t want to. And even when you do manage to struggle through some long-winded jump-run-jump-run-jump-run challenge, it cheats.
We repeatedly slide down endless mud and ice floes, leap onto walls, run along them, swing about – and fall down constantly. It’s brutally unforgiving and insanely frustrating. The developers said the Zelda series was a major inspiration – I’m here to be a Jedi not Link, there wasn’t enough inspiration in the SW Universe?
And to make it worse, you can’t do any of that when there’s fighting going on. You can only wall-run where its marked so it’s not a power you can use in battles or have fun with. All the fights are in strictly controlled, ground-level areas or corridors. It’s like playing a linear shooter then a Mirror’s Edge level on repeat, with some Assassin’s Creed wall climbing thrown in. All it's missing is some Star Wars.
It does ties in with the SW films, just the ones I don’t want to be reminded of. Cameos by Forrest Whittaker and those enforcer droids from Rogue One, that Wookie from Episode Three; they’re nice tie-ins but I miss the self-contained focus of the Dark Forces II - Jedi Academy trilogy, where being a Jedi was actually cool. All Cal does is be the blandest Jedi to have ever lived. He was not popular at Padawan school that’s for sure.
Cal is a dab hand with a Lightsaber, but it doesn’t feel as showy or reckless as it was, and his Force Powers – push/pull feels limited. I miss force-choking. He can also do that time-freeze thing Kylo can do, which is totally useless in a fight and is there just so they can add in more time-based puzzles and platforming.
The story struggles too. For the most part it is Cal and Cere gabbing on about the plus/minus of the Jedi Order and the Force, and it drags. The main Inquisitor we deal with, Second Sister spices things up and adds to depth to it all, but she’s rarely around and its only in the final third, when the Holocron is within our reach and the race is on, that it gets narratively tasty. And undermining the story is the backtracking nature of the game.
On the first arrival at a planet, various avenues are blocked by a missing force power or object, but once you gain the ability you can go back to the planet to see if there’s anything there - but it’s always more cosmetic changes like lightsaber designs and different coloured ponchos for Cal. Ponchos?! I just re-did a slip n’ slide for that? Cal doesn’t have force-sense and the map is shockingly unhelpful, so you just run about lost, suffering the wall-running, mud-sliding puzzles again only to reach a secret that turns out to be more Poncho choices. Why!? At least have all those collectables mean something, let you build your Cal into the Jedi you want to be. I got so annoyed with it I stopped wearing Ponchos as a protest.
I don’t understand why they made this open world, it’s empty. No side missions, events or things of interest, it would have worked so much better as a tight, linear race against time. Wasting hours returning to a planet, pirouetting about for a new lightsaber hilt when hundreds of kids’ lives are at stake just seems daft. Get on with the story. I played this for 24 hours and 20 of that was either falling or backtracking.
And when we’re not falling down pits, we’re using force abilities to push balls around ancient ruins. The Master’s trail leads us to uncover the tombs of The Three Sages – more like The Three Stooges. Why do all long-dead aliens enjoy securing things behind puzzles that take one second to figure out and one hour to complete? What’s wrong with a lock and key?
One of the planets is Dathomir which is the only truly challenging planet – for a Jedi. The place that Darth Maul came from, we tangle with tons of his brethren while chasing down the last surviving Nightsister who is the coolest character in the game. I visited Dathomir early, when I was seriously underpowered just to have some proper Lightsaber mayhem instead of all the whingey teen drama, and happened to unlock the dual-saber. Worth it. We also get to tangle with a Dark Jedi there, who crashed during O66 and became corrupted. The final third of Fallen Order is top-notch, but Dathomir is the game’s highlight.
Besides our own backtracking the game does it a few times, and it screams padding – this is actually a pretty small game. We visit Kashyyyk at least twice - and where I rage quit constantly; am I really wall-running up a tree and getting a lift off a giant bird that reminds me of Neverending Story? And we return to the Jedi Master’s homeworld way too many times. And each time you do revisit somewhere, the locals respawn.
While the game thankfully respawns you right at the wall you just fell off, dying sends you back to a checkpoint you have to have activated earlier – if you don’t, you go back to the one before… And if you ‘rest’, while health is replenished, so are all the locals. And your heath stims are also re-created, weirdly. Since you gain XP for kills, it becomes a bit Borderlands-like respawning everything to farm for Skill Points and since it all respawns after a plot point anyway, you might as well rest up before a boss-fight. You’ll need it.
The boss-fights are gigantic button-mashing messes. Your only tactic is to run behind and stab over and over. They look great but they’re not even remotely interesting or exciting, although the few fights with the Inquisitors do make up for it. For the boss fights, the developers claim Dark Souls was their inspiration – again, might I suggest Star Wars as an inspiration? Did you even want to make a Star Wars game? I’m amazed we got a Lightsaber.
Elsewhere there’s fairly unimaginative creatures to cut down like acid-spitting spiders and various other beasts, and of course Stormtroopers, including Scouts and specialists armed with that lightning-saber thing and Troopers with shielded mini-guns. You can learn to reflect laser-bolts which is fun, but often the fights with Imperials are scrappy mob-fights. You’re clearly no match for just one so the game throws tons who all gather and melee away, and you never get that “I’m a Jedi!” feel you did from earlier games, where you just Forced ass.
A weird thing is the Stormtroopers have a sense of humour. They’re not as chatty as the villains in NOLF but they have ‘humorous’ exchanges – like one complaining his visor has a smudge on it so he won’t be able to blast straight. Oh ha-ha. Or them reacting to Cal’s moves in ironic, self-aware ways. It just doesn’t work as well as they think.
But… it’s still Star Wars, and there’s just enough of that old magic to keep you going. Once you’re seasoned enough for Dathomir it heats up big time and everything just flies right. It’s pure Star Wars – escapades, fights, lightsaber-building, scraps and scrapes, battles, and an awesome, terrifying cameo. The force is finally with it. So much so that when I unlocked Game+ I dived straight back in. And then discovered Game Plus doesn’t include your past Skills & Unlocks as God intended, just the … ponchos. And then I rage quit, for the last time.
Fallen Order’s heart is in the right place, the world looks great (at least, it looks great when it’s not stuttering and lagging) and there’s some really touching and exciting moments, especially at the start and end; and Cal’s droid, BD-1 is all the cute in the world. At times I really felt like I was in Star Wars, but mostly I felt like I was in another game. It’s certainly not my most hated game of last year, but it is the most disappointing if you signed up to be a Jedi. It’s JJ Abrams Jedi compared to the Han-shot-first Katarn Jedi.