Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is probably a bigger sequel than you’re expecting

I went into my four-hour date with Star Wars Jedi: Survivor with a list of reasons to doubt it. I’ve been replaying 2019’s Fallen Order and it hasn’t been going well. A game I liked a lot at launch is now full of annoying flaws: Cal’s lethargic movement, underwhelming lightsaber upgrades, and checkpoints that force me to reclimb stuff that was barely engaging the first time. Uncharted plus Dark Souls isn’t the winning combo it was for me three years ago.

Judging by the opening hours of Jedi Survivor, Uncharted Souls is not what Respawn is going for anymore either. My biggest gripes with Fallen Order were tackled within minutes of picking up the controller. Wallrunning no longer drags Cal downward like gravity is getting the better of him, lightsaber combat is divided into Ghost of Tsushima-like stances with unique upgrade trees, and you can finally fast travel between checkpoints. Jedi Survivor is maturing alongside Cal himself.

The five-year time jump is felt in Cal’s exciting new lightsaber takedowns, his quicker and more confident acrobatics, and his “still figuring it out” early-20s stubble. Even Cal’s actor, Cameron Monaghan, sounds older, or is at least trying to sound older by speaking with a deeper-than-usual voice that reminds me of how I sound in the morning before drinking water (I hope that doesn’t stick for the whole game).

Jedi Survivor is very much a “more of the first game” kind of sequel, and I’m mostly not complaining. It’s better and grander in ways you can guess, but Jedi Survivor’s biggest surprise is how it’s dipping its toes into open world territory.

Home on the range

My demo centered on a single planet that was easily twice the size of a single Fallen Order map. Think less Dark Souls and more God of War 2018: you’re still doing a lot of rock climbing, wallrunning, and light puzzle solving through narrow canyons or caves, but in the case of the planet Koboh, these sections spoke off from a wide-open central desert containing a town with sidequests, a vendor, and a headquarters that Cal can develop over time.

Respawn indicated to me that Koboh is a pretty big chunk of Jedi Survivor, and one of several sandbox-y planets. There are also linear “Fallen Order-style” levels too, but I get the sense Respawn is most excited about its open spaces.

Jedi Survivor is an early 2000’s 3D platformer wearing expensive 2023 textures.

I am too. It felt great to stretch Cal’s legs in Koboh’s sun-scorched corner of space desert in a way that retroactively makes me like Fallen Order’s levels less. That game’s funnel-shaped planets were a constant hop-scotch between fighting and climbing that afforded no time to take breath and appreciate its beautifully weird alien landscapes. Koboh is instantly convincing as a place where people live (it helps that you actually meet the people who live there) and has neutral spaces where you can just exist for a beat without anything to saber or climb.

Waiting off the beaten path is typically a chest that’s holding, much like the first game, a new cosmetic. Unearthing a pair of pants from the bottom of a cave is still pretty weak sauce for loot, but at least there are enough customization options this time around to get invested in my redheaded saber-swinger’s fashion sense: Cal can now sport a bunch of different shirts, armors, pants, and even hair styles (especially weird to open a metal box and find a beard). BD joins the costume party too with modular part sets that can pretty radically alter his appearance.

In a few rare instances I found actual upgrades, like a permanent Force meter enhancement or a perk—Respawn seemed pretty excited about how this perk system lets you personalize your Cal build, but I only found one in my demo and its effect was slight enough that I can’t remember it now.

Movement and puzzles

Respawn is making the wise choice to give Cal almost all of his old abilities right from the start. This is great, because getting to double jump or force pull a rope into your hands without a traumatic padawan flashback makes Jedi Survivor’s lightweight problem-solving immediately more stimulating than the first two-thirds of Fallen Order, where often your only verbs were “slow” and “push.”

The platforming is nothing challenging or cerebral enough to get your blood pumping, but I actually prefer it that way—there’s comfortable simplicity in slicing a rock pillar so it timbers into a bridge or uncorking a reservoir of tar to raise floating platforms to my reach. Jedi Survivor is an early 2000s 3D platformer wearing expensive 2023 textures. Maybe basking in 20-year-old level design and thinking “hell yeah, now this a videogame” is a sign of encroaching PlayStation 2 nostalgia, but I welcome it with open arms (for now).

Cal is more capable than ever, but Respawn has turned up the temperature to accommodate.

Besides, Jedi Survivor’s combat is tough enough. Cal is more capable than ever, but Respawn has turned up the temperature to accommodate. You’ll notice harder-hitting stormtroopers show up earlier on, like the jerks with anti-Jedi sticks or the one with a laser minigun, often mixed with regular blaster troopers. Troopers are as gratifying as ever to kill in a single slice, but even more fun to murder are the new separatist droids plucked right out of the prequels, now reprogrammed to fight for a band of local raiders.

I appreciate that Respawn is leaning into the standard conehead droids as bumbling doofuses that are practically begging to get scrapped—one droid stationed on a cliff I climbed under monologued to himself for 20 seconds about how alone and vulnerable to attack he was. With no human gore holding Respawn back, droids slice up nicely and allow Cal to get a little more creative in his executions.

Cutting power

Jedi Survivor’s extra enemy variety plays nicely with Cal’s deeper bag of lightsaber tricks. There are five stances in Jedi Survivor, but I could only use the first three in my demo. The other two (and coolest-looking) stances, blaster and crossguard, were only shown in a hands-off combat demo presumably meant to rub it in our faces. Here’s how EA described the stances to press:

  • Single: The standard lightsaber, balanced for offense and defense
  • Double-bladed: The staff is great for crowd control
  • Dual Wield: Cal’s lightsaber split into two lightsabers. Great for aggressive play, high skill ceiling.
  • Crossguard: A powerful, deliberate stance that allows you to deal massive damage at the cost of long wind-up times.
  • Blaster: This stance allows Cal to deal with long-range foes.

The two stances from Fallen Order, single saber and double-sided, have more distinct strengths and weaknesses now. The heavy attack button, for instance, now does something completely different depending on Cal’s stance: single blade is a powerful stab, double-blade whips the saber around in circles to hit everything around you, and in the new dual-wield stance Cal slows down time and briefly counters every attack thrown at him.

These moves are cool and flashy, but there are subtler differences that are fun to experiment with. An early upgrade for double-blade lets you infinitely deflect blaster shots if you perfectly time the first one (perfect for shielded minigun troopers). A similar upgrade for dual-wield splits one perfectly deflected shot into two projectiles that can take out two troopers at once. Even after only a few hours and around a dozen upgrade points, I was frequently switching stances trying to pick a favorite.

It’s a shame, then, that Jedi Survivor places a seemingly arbitrary limit on active stances. Only two stances can be equipped at a time and you can only swap them out at checkpoints. Even with only three stances unlocked, this feels needlessly limiting.

Respawn told me you can play the game front-to-back with a single stance if you want to, but what I want is the opposite—a violent ballet of every style and battle tactic moving seamlessly together. Instead, I settled on single and double-blade because they seemed the most versatile and sorely missed that cool multi-parry exclusive to dual wielding.

Just shy of a month before release, Jedi Survivor is hitting the spot. The first few hours suggest it won’t be the most adventurous sequel around, but its changes are calculated. Fallen Order was an awkward-but-promising action game that left a lot of meat on the bones, and Respawn clearly doesn’t want to repeat that. Jedi Survivor feels like a sequel made by people who are keenly aware of its predecessor’s most talked-about faults and laser-focused on erasing them. 

Source: PC Gamer

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