Just like every other Gen X-er I have a close affinity with the Star Wars merch juggernaut that came rumbling through popular culture, impossible to avoid. It dragged us along in its wake, through the ‘dark times’ – the movie-less epoch of ‘83 to ‘99 – and supplied us with a fantastic expanded universe of toys, books, comics, cartoons and video games.
Since Disney acquired the Star Wars licence and EA took over the gaming franchise, the quality has dropped off a pretty high perch but, in all honesty, the games had been mediocre for many years prior. The golden era where I was tucking-in to the likes of Dark Forces, Rogue Squadron II and Knights of the Old Republic are long gone. The last sixteen years has all been a bit miserable in Star-La-Land.
Hopes for a return to form were high, then, when developer Respawn (Titanfall 2) got the opportunity to craft a single-player adventure, absent of the normal EA lootbox shenanigans and determinedly story-focused. So, does it deliver the expanded universe excitement we’ve all been craving? With a handful of caveats, I’m pleased to report it does.
You’re plonked in the shoes of mechanic Cal Kestis, a junker on a dead-end planet, who breaks down old starships that will ultimately be converted into the likes of Star Destroyers and AT-AT Walkers for the new galactic Empire.
Of course, secretly Kestis is more than just a scrap metal merchant and the evil Empire is soon paying particular attention to him. Set in the period between the prequels and the original trilogy, there’s fertile ground here to explore: the consequences of the Jedi Purge (“Execute Order 66!” remember?) and Vader’s nasty little cadre of disposable dark Jedi, the ‘Inquisitors’ being one such playground of the imagination.
Gameplay-wise, Fallen Order is very much an amalgam of popular third person adventures from the last decade. The DNA of Dark Souls, Tomb Raider and The Last of Us is obvious, with heavy emphasis on climbing (and, oddly, sliding) around the alien worlds you visit – and revisit – as you try to beat agents of the Empire in a race to crucial information that will impact the entire galaxy. This will have you using your light saber and force powers to battle the local flora and fauna, as well as the plastic-coated goons that form the incompetent Storm Trooper legions.
More trying encounters appear in the form of high-ranking commanders, Purge Troopers and the afore-mentioned Inquisitors, and the ‘Soulsborne’ style melee fighting – with a dependance on parries, blocks, rolls and breakable stamina bars – keeps things tense, especially on the higher difficulty levels.
Despite the hero of the tale being a fairly generic young white dude, there’s a deep commitment here to a diverse mix of race and sex. Disney may have a long way to go along this road, but the fact that two of the most important characters are women of colour (and that all the major new human characters bar Cal are women full stop) is a heartening step in the right direction.
Empathy is more easily attained in games than in many forms of arts and entertainment, as you’re literally in the world and experiencing the events at a single remove, so representation can have a real and tangible effect on us gamers.
Speaking of empathy, Cal’s relationship with his droid companion, BD-1, is critical to the story. Not only does the cute little fella supply a great deal of charm, his friendship with his companions is a fantastic way to anchor Cal (and you) to the game’s moral and ethical core. Fallen Order not only tells a fascinating tale of the rise in space-facism, it directly ties Cal and his past to the concepts of optimism and compassion.
As with all action games there’s a huge disparity between the story’s evident concern for gentleness and the fact you’re basically cutting down hordes of living, breathing beings with impunity (force pushing troopers off a cliff never gets old!) but this is cartoonish set-dressing which you can comfortably hand-wave away.
The important thing is how the game makes you feel and, for me, this is where Fallen Order shone. Casting more light on the interregnum, Vader’s desperate hunt for the remnants of the Jedi order, and how those people cope with their feelings of guilt, helplessness and anger is sensitively told. This creates a path towards redemption: the more hopeful emotions that bring about forgiveness, wisdom and hope. It’s a story about faith in yourself, forgiveness – both of yourself and others – and in that way touches on a very spiritual part of the Star Wars universe that’s only rarely explored in the movies.
Although Fallen Order exhibits a fair amount of jankiness (a few more months in development would have worked wonders, both on the technical side and in terms of structure) this is a game where you explore some truly beautiful worlds, filled with ancient constructs that provide a very tangible feeling of exploration through arcane relics of a vanished past.
There’s a strong principle at the game’s core, nailing the Star Wars vibe and even helping put flesh on the bones of some thinly-sketched Prequel-era conceits. It drew me right back in the world George Lucas created, added to it with equal parts reverence and fearlessness, and stayed true to the concepts of justice and peace epitomised by the Jedi. Most important of all, it proves you can still make a popular Star Wars game without gross monetization or story- and consequence-free multiplayer focus and, for that, my inner fanboy is profoundly grateful.
Review Supplied by @Treble_Alpha