Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order preview – Wielding a lightsaber never felt so good

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. (Image credit: Respawn Entertainment/Electronic Arts)

I wouldn't blame you for being nervous about Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. EA and Respawn haven't shown a lot of gameplay aside from a 20-minute extended demo at E3 2019. That usually doesn't inspire confidence when you're less than a month out from release at this point. But I'm happy to report those fears are mostly unfounded.

EA flew me out to Anaheim recently where I had a chance to go hands-on with the game for three hours, and I walked away feeling confident in the team at Respawn. This new Star Wars story is in good hands. During this time, I was able to visit three separate planets: Zeffo, Dathomir, and Kashyyyk, which we saw in the demo from E3. Zeffo is an entirely new planet that the team at Respawn cooked up specifically for Jedi: Fallen Order.

On the surface, Zeffo appears to be an ordinary planet occupied by the Empire. There isn't anything too wild about its flora or fauna — at least from what I've seen, and in comparison to the rest of the universe — but it's what lies beneath that is interesting. Zeffo is home to a Jedi Temple, one of the first major puzzle-platforming sections I encountered. It's not quite as elaborate as something out of Tomb Raider or the previous Assassin's Creed games, but the scale is impressive.

tomb puzzle

tomb puzzle (Image credit: EA)

While these awe-inspiring platforming sections look amazing, they don't always feel amazing.

While these awe-inspiring platforming sections look amazing, they don't always feel amazing. My issues lie solely with Cal's responsiveness to jumps and how precise they need to be. If I didn't jump at the last possible second right at the edge of a cliff, more often than not, I would fall to my death. There's no leeway. I lost count of the number of times I barely missed a rope by the tips of my fingers, on jumps that by all accounts I honestly should have made — especially considering I'm playing as a Jedi. This aspect feels less fluid than it should, and it leaves me worried for the rest of the game when it comes to sections like this.

In direct contrast to its platforming, the combat is immaculate. Respawn nailed precisely how I want to feel when wielding a lightsaber. Combat Designer Jason De Heras said, "we wanted to make the lightsaber feel authentic." They certainly have. Some games have done this crucial element better than others, and Jedi: Fallen Order may be one of the best in that regard.

It honestly felt like I was playing Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, and that's a high compliment. No, it wasn't nearly as difficult — though I was playing on the default Jedi Knight difficulty, and you can raise the difficulty level if you want — but the actions felt so precise and tactical. I needed to block, and parry, and dodge when appropriate. I couldn't swing my lightsaber mindlessly. Well, at least not without dying. That's exactly what I wanted from it: thoughtful combat.

In direct contrast to its platforming, the combat is immaculate.

This is even more apparent when you're fighting tougher enemies. Though your standard Stormtroopers can do a good number with their blasters if you aren't careful, it's Purge Troopers that you need to watch out for. Even more so, the Nightbrothers on Dathomir, which I had the chance to visit after I completed the Jedi Temple on Zeffo. I couldn't keep the smile off of my face when I saw that Respawn had included the Nightbrothers. They're formidable, and you cannot go into a fight expecting to beat them easily.

You also need to be careful when you rest to restore your health and Force meters. Doing so at a save point will respawn enemies. What's worse is that if you die, you lose all of the XP you gained since your last skill point. Only by damaging or killing the enemy that killed you can you restore any lost XP. Damaging an enemy that previously killed you is another way to refill your health and Force meters if you aren't too keen on the idea of enemies respawning every time you want to do so. BD-1, your buddy droid, can only heal you so many times by itself.

The developers put a lot of care into ensuring that the Force powers feel grounded and tactical too. You won't be getting something as crazy as what happened in Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, where Starkiller pulled a Star Destroyer out of the sky. That's not to say Cal won't be performing some incredible feats — he's still powerful — but not quite as outrageous as the aforementioned example.

Since you can customize your lightsaber, there are even parts in-game that you can actually get in the real world at Savi's Workshop in Galaxy's Edge, a new Disney park that opened over the summer at resorts in California and Florida. This is because when Respawn was designing the variant hilts, Lucasfilm was designing the Galaxy's Edge experience around the same time. But there are still wholly original parts that Respawn created.

When it comes to the story, I can't spoil too many details. Respawn is keeping its cards close to its chest, so what I can tell you is essentially what you already know. It takes place after Order 66 with a young Jedi named Cal Kestis on the run from the Inquisitorious. I asked Producer Blair Brown about how much freedom Lucasfilm Story Group gave the team when crafting this narrative, and the answer surprised me a bit. The process was very much collaborative, not controlled by Lucasfilm as some sort of dictatorial overlord.

"Working with [Lucasfilm] has been a great working relationship," Brown told me. "I think a lot of people on the outside think 'Oh, they must be this big mega overlord,' but they've given us a lot of ownership to tell the story we want to tell; have the combat we wanted; make the creatures how we want…. Through that collaboration, I think we ended up with something better than if we had just done our own thing."

This story is all about becoming a Jedi, and Brown reiterated that Cal won't be going on a journey that involves an inner struggle with the Dark Side. He's a Jedi through and through, and won't be succumbing to darkness any time soon. The Second Sister and Ninth Sister aren't there to convert Cal; they're there to kill him.

Though the Second Sister and Ninth Sister have been explored in the comics, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order will still unravel their backstory to give them more dimension and depth. These aren't villains thrown into the game for the sake of it. It's nice to see that Respawn is willing to explore more of their backstories without requiring players to read the comics. It's never fun when you need to spend more money to get the complete story.

Microtransactions 100% will not be added.

And both Brown and De Heras were adamant that Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order would have no microtransactions whatsoever. The studio had confirmed as much several months ago, but given EA's reputation and the cosmetic lightsaber pre-order bonuses popping up, people were skeptical. As it turns out, you cannot spend real money on in-game purchases. The pre-order lightsaber bonuses are precisely that: pre-order bonuses, not something you can purchase in-game with actual money. Respawn has no plans to add microtransactions to the game.

I wasn't able to get an answer on how long the game was, but I was told it was "meaty," and there would be a solid amount of content. It will be a long game.

As for any upcoming DLC, all Brown could say is that "we're focusing on delivering the game right now." Before my interview ended, it was also reiterated that "this is a fully realized, self-contained game." While there may be DLC plans down the line, Respawn did not cut up the game to sell bits, and pieces as expansions like some people may have worried. A full product is being shipped.


Cal (Image credit: EA)

After E3 2019, I had a running list of games that I thought may take my Game of the Year title: Pokémon Sword and Shield, Borderlands 3, and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Based on its combat and story alone, Jedi: Fallen Order still has that potential; I'm just worried the platforming will sour some of the experience.

Despite that, my time with Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order wasn't nearly long enough. There are a lot of mysteries on Dathomir that I can't wait to uncover, and what glimpses of the narrative I got left me wanting more. If you've been itching for a third-person single-player action-adventure in the Star Wars universe, this may just be the game you're looking for.

Jennifer Locke

Jennifer Locke has been playing video games nearly her entire life, and is very happy Xbox is growing a stronger first-party portfolio. You can find her obsessing over Star Wars and other geeky things on Twitter @JenLocke95.