Although Respawn Entertainment was behind it, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order was somewhat an unexpected hit when it arrived in 2019. It was (and still is) a bombastic single-player action-RPG released at a time when multiplayer and online dominated the triple-A arena. As such it raised many an admiring eyebrow and was highly thought of by most.
Much then rests on the shoulders of direct sequel, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor. After spending a little time dealing out a gloss of paint and improved frame rate to the original, for rerelease on the current-gen consoles, the studio is back with a bone fide follow-up - a bigger and bolder return for Jedi hero Cal Kestis and his chums. And, it must be said, it doesn't disappoint.
There's less surprise now, of course, and you largely get exactly what you expect, but you also receive more - much more - of, well, everything.
EA / Respawn Entertainment
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is a much bigger game than before, with plenty of new moves, collectibles and characters to discover. The size of its open-world maps means it also lacks some of the variety of its predecessor, but there is so much to see and do that you'll likely not care one jot. Perhaps the most impressive aspect is how well fleshed-out the adventure is - better even than many of the TV series and films on which it is based. This is a blockbuster in the truest sense.
- Stunning game world once again
- A vast myriad of missions, collectibles and side quests
- Great new villain(s)
- More Jedi powers than you can shake a glowing stick at
- Superb voice cast and blockbuster soundtrack
- You revisit the same worlds a tad too often
- Gameplay becomes familiar fast
A new hope
We pick up the story five years after the events of Fallen Order with a more confident and capable Jedi in Cal. BD-1 is in tow again, although the rest of the crew have scattered to the high winds to fight their own battles against the Empire.
The game starts on Coruscant, which serves as a refresher for those who've lost the gamepad muscle memory required, and it does a good job easing you back into the fray without feeling too much like a tutorial level. The opener is lengthy too, with plenty of spectacular set-pieces, although it also sets the stall for what you should expect. We always thought Fallen Order felt Souls-like - plenty of isolation and pattern-based melee skirmishes. However, while Survivor retains - and expands upon - the combat, the game feels wider and more action-packed. It's more Uncharted 4 or The Last of Us Part II, we'd say, with huge production values and plenty going on.
Some will lament the smaller, tighter scale of the original, but you can't fault the ambition of Respawn in wanting to play with the big boys second time around.
As with the first game though, it soon becomes apparent that you'll be once again hopping between planets on a new quest - with new villains and plenty to explore and do. Your starship - the Mantis - is back and you travel with some old and new friends, although there's also a "home" planet of Koboh that you'll end up returning to often, with a soon-established base to revisit.
We'll avoid any further significant spoilers - there have been enough of those floating around online already - but needless to say the journey is epic and full of plot twists. It is superbly crafted too, with a wonderful voice cast again doing the franchise proud.
There is no try, there is only do
As with Fallen Order, Survivor mixes RPG, action-adventure, combo-based combat, platforming, and puzzling to make a monster of a game. It has exceptional level design, full of derring-do, gravity-defying jumps, clever, overlapping paths to unravel, and hidden secrets to discover. There are plenty of new enemy types thrown in for good measure, as well as the standard Empire fare, and plenty of mandatory and optional boss battles to master. Plus, thanks to five difficulty levels - from story mode to Jedi Grand Master - it can present as hard a challenge as you can cope with.
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor (Electronic Arts)
Like its predecessor, this sequel starts you off with a limited move and skill set, handing you new abilities as you progress through the adventure. Cal is a more accomplished Jedi from the beginning, of course, so you do have plenty from the off, but there are additional talents you can only utilise when you hit specific story points. This not only allows Respawn to hide areas behind initially impossible to pass barriers - both figurative and literal - it encourages future exploration of already-visited areas and therefore lengthens the game somewhat. Including side quests (called "rumours") and a passion to collect every customisation pick-up, you can easily expect to sink 40 to 50 hours into Survivor.
The open world maps feel much larger this time around, although arguably less diverse. Indeed, everything has been expanded upon, full stop - possibly thanks to being a current-gen game only and less restricted by storage and hardware. There is much more scope to alter the look of BD-1, Cal, his lightsaber, even his all-new blaster, through mods found in crates and bought from traders. You can even grow your own rooftop garden this time - greatly elaborating on the plant shelf in the last game.
Perhaps more important is a more fleshed out skill tree and collection of selectable stances. There are five Jedi stances to choose from (once unlocked) this time, with the single and double-bladed combat styles being joined by dual-wielding, a blaster option that gives you a gun and saber at the same time, and a new crossguard form that is super powerful at the expense of speed. You can select two of them (selectable at meditation points or workbenches) to swap between during battle and that will come down to personal play type more than anything. We found some more effective against certain enemies, but all have their merits.
You can beef them up through the returning skill tree, which is similarly bigger. And, there are new force abilities to add to the mix. Then, there are new perks to learn and enhance to tweak your version of Cal further.
We particularly like the fact that you can now add a myriad of head and facial hair modifications to the lead character, as well as new clothing. And that it continues your choice through the cinematic sequences, even though they feel pre-rendered.
If you strike me down...
Of course, what your version of Kestis looks like has no effect on the gameplay itself. Combat is equally free-flowing and beautifully crafted. We were huge fans of the first-person Jedi Knight games of the early 2000s, but Fallen Order took lightsaber melee play to a whole new level. This sequel continues the great mechanic, with wonderful combinations of force abilities, thrusts and parries to make every ruck a joy. It can get rather difficult at times, especially when there are a larger collection of enemies, including some of the beefier types, but you'll soon find yourself fluidly whipping from one foe to another.
There is also comedy in fights, not least those involving repurposed Trade Federation droids. As Cal alludes to at one point, they don't know when to shut up - making for some great quips as you slice them apart. Indeed, the script is often at its best when off the well-trodden plot path, with seemingly minor asides and character exposition fleshing out the game world magnificently. Our only real gripe is that, with a fair amount of planet revisitation and repetition of enemy clusters (not least because they respawn when you rest to regain health), there can be a lack of variety at times. But then, the odd, amusing snippet freshens everything up again.
The other huge aspect of gameplay is platforming, which seems to be even more pronounced in this latest game. You always seem to be climbing and timing leaps and bounds. There are plenty of new methods of traversal thrown in for good measure, but it does feel you spend more time off the floor than on it. We like this - always have in games like Tomb Raider and Assassin's Creed - but some might be less keen. Still, that aforementioned cunning level design keeps you on your toes.
That ain't no moon
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is a stunningly crafted game all-round. Our review copy wasn't quite complete in terms of graphical prowess - HDR wasn't working effectively, for example, and frame rates had some stuttering moments, even in performance mode - but we are assured that these will be fixed for the final release and so it is unfair to judge them at the time of writing.
What we can say is that the overall presentation is superb. While the game naturally looks like its predecessor in tone, it crams much more detail into every crevice thanks to the more powerful platforms it is exclusive to - PS5, Xbox Series X/S and proficient gaming PCs.
Loading times are hugely impressive, as in they are barely noticeable at all. You are occasionally faced with a crack your character squeezes through which, as before, is placed cleverly to hide loading, and there are cut scenes for planetary transitions, but these are far less prevalent than in Fallen Order.
In terms of the graphics modes, there are only the two - performance on or off. This restricts the resolution to 1440p (on PS5) to achieve better frame rates (around 60fps for us), but as we said, we need to try this on a final build of the game. As things stand, it has proved a largely smooth and stable experience, but interspersed with some juddering and screen tearing outside of combat, when the surroundings were packed with the most detail.
The voice acting and overall soundtrack are exceptional. You can select a mix for multiple speakers, headphones or just in mono if you prefer, and you can adjust the dynamic range. The game sounds superb through a decent 5.1 sound system, that's for sure.
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is the last game to be released under the licensing deal between Disney and Electronic Arts and, thankfully, finishes the run with aplomb. And, while we know other publishers are working on their own tie-ins for future release, we hope at least this series continues too.
There are some minor quibbles - it occasionally suffers from the same repetitive gameplay tropes as many other open world action-adventures - but there is so much to see and do, much of which is optional, that you can get what you want from the game and not a drop more or less.
Character development is often better than in some of the Disney+ Star Wars TV shows and Cal Kestis' story is worthy of further exploration on an even bigger stage. But for now, we can be grateful that his most immediate fate is in the hands of a development team that understands him best, having delivered a truly triple-A title at a time when we perhaps need it most.