Saturday, January 25, 2020

Jedi Fallen Order

By: Patrick "TheLaw" Morris

A long time ago in what seems like a galaxy far far away video game audiences were inundated with games that explored and expanded on the Star Wars universe in a meaningful and at the time canonical way. But as we have learned time and time again: all good things must end. And end it did when Disney bought Lucasfilm, and relegated the once revered LucasArts to nothing but a mobile developer. The house of mouse signed a ten year deal with Electronic Arts but the single player story driven saber filled adventure everyone was expecting was still nearly six years away. EA's handling of the Star Wars license since 2013 has left a lot to be desired, but despite it's many, MANY flaws Jedi: Fallen Order is a big step in the right direction even if that step forward is largely reliant on the past.

Welcome welcome welcome everyone welcome back to LegalSpeak a ColdNorth Production. I'm TheLawMorris and this is the video essay series in which I get to talk about the games I've been playing and what I think of the medium as a whole. I played through Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order late last year and while it was good I feel like a lot of people are overly excited about a new Star Wars game that is anything but disappointing at launch and are reviewing it a bit to favorably. So this week I bring you my managed thoughts on the game that some people are already calling the best game of the generation, let's talk about Fallen Order.

This video may contain spoilers.

Gameplay is the real temptation of a Star Wars game. We all see Jedi use the force and wield their lightsabers, bounty hunters jetpacking through cities, podracers racing at life and death speeds, and droids…being built, and we wanna do those things! We all want a taste of what's it's like to use the force, carry a light saber, and win a podrace. And that desire is what naturally leads Star Wars to video games. The gameplay of Fallen Order is the reason I finished the game. It provides a level of polish that is expected of a much more experienced development studio and utilizes and weaves together sophisticated mechanics with a level of precision that I feel comfortable calling nearly best in class.

Combat feels punchy and satisfying, moving quickly but not sacrificing its weightiness for that sense of speed. Combat is really only bogged down by some incomprehensible difficulty spikes like Oggdo Bogdo and the bounty hunter gauntlet. Exploration is enthralling, reminiscent of the Metroid prime games allowing the player to canvas each planet at their leisure and unlocking additional areas through new force abilities as the player progresses. The only hindrance to the exportability of the planets of Fallen Order is the map with which the player is supposed to navigate those planets. I legitimately would have preferred to not have any map at all, it caused nothing but confusion.  While both the combat and exploration can be frustrating they make up for those moments (or sometimes hours) of difficulty with even more hours of pure unadulterated excellence.

Like I said, the gameplay is the reason I finished the game, I certainly didn’t finish it for the story, and the characters were very hit and miss. I don’t like to be this reductionist but the story of Fallen Order is just stupid. The plot revolves around a macguffin device that is said to contain a list of force sensitive children that will help to rebuild the Jedi Order, that Cal and Cere only realize the true potential of after they’ve spent the entire game pursuing it. The cast of characters hop from planet to planet in pursuit of this plot device of an object only to destroy it once they’ve finally gotten their hands on it. The reasoning for their destroying the Jedi Holocron is sound, but it was already stored in a clearly very safe place that took them weeks of searching and planet hopping to unlock. I was left thinking that if only Cal and Cere had had their revelation that maybe pursuing a list of children that were prime candidates to be inducted into a child militia wasn’t the most ethical quest in history prior to their starting said quest they could have been saved a lot of trouble.

Almost in spite of it's stupid story Fallen Order manages to deliver some of the best and worst Star Wars characters of the Disney era. Cal Kestas is a bland and generic feeling protagonist that feels as though went through a sort of creative tug of war between being a blank slate for the player to project themselves onto and a unique character for the new canon of Star Wars lore. What results of this creative struggle is a character that is neither. Cal looks to distinct and has to much personality that prevented me from ever envisioning myself as him but all his emotions and reactions felt toned down in a way that he was never compelling me to become invested in him or anything around him…he's just meh. Jedi master Cere on the other hand in my opinion fell victim to the same money motivated political plot armor that so many other Disney characters have in recent years. I don’t want to get to political on this show but I am absolutely interested in seeing new compelling characters added to the Star Wars universe and I don’t give two shits about their gender, race, sexual orientation, or any other arbitrary differences. Those things aren't what makes up the fiber or a person and they certainly aren't what makes a character in a story deep or engaging. Cere is a character whose story showed potential but then that potential was squashed by her being impervious to having any major flaws or personal struggles to overcome.

Then there's Trilla. Trilla is exactly what Cere, and Rey, and Captain Marvel, and every other character who seems to be shielded from any sense of imperfection so as not to cast certain demographics in a less than perfect light is not. Trilla is a well thought out character with a genuinely interesting personal conflict that we see unfold and change who she is and how she behaves throughout the course of the game. Her character design is ominous and slowly devolves into a look of unhinged madness making her appear even more physically imposing but in a different more psychotic way. Her voice acting is excellent, and her physical prowess is obviously a threat without being flawless. Trilla is an amazing villain and in my opinion the best female character of the Disney era of Star Wars because the writers treated her as a character that just so happened to be a woman.

And finally at the end of the game we get a short cameo from Darth Vader. Vader appears on the scene and immediately his overwhelming power is felt and demonstrated. Where Cal and the player have been training over the course of the entire game Vader shows up and teaches the player that no matter how good you are at the game sometimes it’s the midi-chlorian count that really matters in a fight. When considering his appearance in comics, Rebels, Rogue One, and now this Vader has been treated with the reverence and honor that the entire series should have been given. Vader is the one part of Star Wars that Disney has yet to miss on.

From a visual and performance perspective the game fairs about as well as it does in the story department. To put it simply: there is no excuse for this game to look the way it does. Over the course of my play through on a PS4 pro I was constantly seeing dropped frames, texture pop in, and in some cases even textures refusing to load altogether. When I picked up the Kyber crystal and held it in my hand the textures just didn’t load resulting in something that looked more akin to an early PS2 game. I am amazed that Respawn was able to pressure EA into letting them develop using a graphics engine that wasn’t frostbite then opted to use unreal when they have three games worth of experience developing in source! It is honestly a shame that the game plays so incredibly well yet looks so…not good.

Despite my complaining my overall experience with Jedi: Fallen Order was a good one. The game relies heavily on the nostalgia of early 2000's Star Wars games. It runs the same play that so many games from the prequel era did: take a good game and slap a Star Wars skin on it. In this case that good game was Dark Souls. Respawn tried their hand at making their own Dark Souls game, cranked the difficulty way down, then put it in the context of Star Wars. And I don’t mean to sound like I think any of this is bad, in fact these are all good things! The formula of replicating a successful game then putting it in the Star Wars universe was a good one fifteen to twenty years ago and it's still a good one today. Personally I hope EA or whoever handles the Star Wars license after the EA deal is up keeps doing what Respawn has done with Jedi: Fallen Order, because it made for a pretty good game and a huge step in the right direction for Star Wars games as a whole.

What were your thoughts on Fallen Order and why am I wrong and you're unsubbing right now? Let me know in the comments down below! Don’t forget to check out everything we do all in one spot over and that includes both of our podcasts! Ill be back next week talking about something else entirely so until then just go play some games.

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