Gaming

Star Wars Jedi: Survivor – Rediscovering Balance in a Shifting Universe

A New Hope for Star Wars

It’s fascinating to reflect on how much Star Wars has evolved since the release of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order in 2019, published by EA. This action-adventure game hit the market shortly before the mixed reception of The Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the conclusion to the sequel trilogy that left the fan base divided. In the years that followed, Disney adopted a different approach to the franchise, expanding the cinematic universe with a variety of projects, from the highly praised Andor to the more lukewarm reception of The Book of Boba Fett. Consequently, the series finds itself in need of stability now more than ever. And perhaps, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor could be the project to bring it back on track.

A Promising Demo

During a recent demo event before the game’s upcoming release on April 28th, I had the opportunity to play an extensive portion of Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, spanning over three hours of gameplay. What struck me the most during the session was not just the enhanced visuals or the improved combat mechanics, but rather the well-crafted and compacted experience it offers as both a AAA video game and a piece of Star Wars media. It delivers a classic Jedi adventure, filled with intense lightsaber duels and moments of lighthearted humor amidst the galactic drama. It’s hard to imagine anyone being disappointed with it (although the fan base always finds a way, doesn’t it?).

Based on my hands-on experience, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor appears to be in excellent shape ahead of its launch. With its expanded exploration, more rewarding gameplay, and revitalized combat, it already feels like a top-tier Star Wars experience. In fact, it might even make a compelling case for the series to shift its focus from film and TV to video games.

Kestisvania: A Thrilling Adventure

The demo began roughly an hour into the full game, with Cal Kestis and his trusty droid companion, BD-1, crash-landing on the planet Koboh. While I won’t delve into specific story details due to some restrictions, the slice I played hinted at an expansive and interconnected narrative with numerous plot threads. My mission to repair the damaged ship took me through a mining ghost town, where I encountered the villainous Rayvis. This was only the tip of the iceberg, as I left the session with a notepad full of character names and historical events to explore further.

Cal Kestis looking out over a desert town.

There is a lot to unpack in terms of gameplay, but what caught my attention the most was the game’s approach to exploration. Similar to its predecessor, Survivor blends elements from Dark Souls, such as bonfire checkpointing, with a Metroidvania-style structure where secrets are gated behind gear upgrades. During my playthrough, I stumbled upon a direct reference to Super Metroid, as some helpful creatures taught me the art of wall jumping. Survivor retains the core mechanics of its predecessor, emphasizing traversal abilities like wall-running and force powers for puzzle-solving.

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However, the significant difference lies in the game’s newfound openness. Early on, when I reached a cliffside vista, I used BD-1 as a pair of binoculars and marked various points of interest on the map. Rather than rushing towards the main objective, I spent a good 45 minutes exploring hidden alcoves, discovering collectible items, and engaging in battles with Stormtroopers to reap rewards. This more expansive approach to level design reminded me of the appeal of Metroid games, offering ample space for exploration. While it’s not a fully open-world experience, Koboh strikes the perfect balance between a smaller, more focused setting and a sense of freedom, much like games such as Uncharted: The Lost Legacy.

The world of Survivor also contains significant side content. For example, during a conversation with a miner in Koboh’s main town, I followed a rumor that led me to an abandoned cave. My quest to uncover the truth behind the missing workers culminated in an exciting battle against a formidable Rancor, providing a thrilling and challenging encounter. Other side content involved solving environmental puzzles to discover health or Force upgrades. Fortunately, this time around, the game features fast-travel mechanics, making it easier to revisit tricky secrets later. I spent a substantial portion of the demo trying to figure out how to break through a tangle of vines, only to have a sudden realization later and quickly teleport back to utilize my force powers and a wandering bomb droid to solve the puzzle.

Jedi Cal Kestis.

Furthermore, the game’s structural changes have had a significant impact on the sense of reward that exploration brings. In Fallen Order, this was a weak point, with hidden passages often revealing only lightsaber parts and unappealing ponchos. However, the developers explicitly mentioned that customization was a last-minute addition in Fallen Order, which limited its scope. With Survivor, the team approached the project with customization as a core focus, resulting in a world of difference.

By the end of the demo, I had discovered a wide array of clothing options, hairstyles for Cal, BD-1 customization parts, lightsaber components, and color sets, allowing me to personalize every aspect of the game. Cal sported a flamboyant mullet and wielded a purple-and-chrome lightsaber hilt, showcasing the extensive customization available.

The only minor concern I encountered was related to environmental legibility. Survivor breaks away from the conventional video game trend of painting climbable objects in flashy yellow. As a result, the level design feels more organic, with Cal scaling metal grates and shimmying along vines. However, I did encounter a few moments where I wasn’t entirely sure where to go, as I missed subtle visual cues or didn’t realize that a particular environmental feature was climbable.

Nevertheless, this was the closest thing to a flaw that I experienced during the demo. Overall, I was impressed by the game’s expanded scope, allowing the developers at Respawn Entertainment to create intricate worlds that naturally blend platforming, puzzle-solving, and combat. I could have easily spent an additional hour gracefully leaping across chasms and climbing up to hidden nooks. Not a single moment felt wasted.

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Pick Your Stance: Evolving Combat

Combat in Survivor has also undergone significant improvements. The core mechanics remain familiar, with Cal wielding his lightsaber to both slash and parry attacks, while utilizing Force powers to manipulate enemies. However, a standout addition is the inclusion of five different combat stances, with Cal able to equip two at a time and switch between them at meditation sites. In the demo, I had the opportunity to experience three of these stances, including the default lightsaber stance and a double-edged lightsaber stance.

Cal fights an enemy in Star Wars Jedi: Survivor.

Similar to Fallen Order, Survivor fulfills the dreams of Star Wars fans. The fluidity of basic lightsaber attacks allows Cal to seamlessly switch between stances, resulting in elegant and dynamic combat encounters. Battles can be challenging, but the combat system rewards mastery with an array of visually stunning actions. Survivor takes this further by introducing spectacular finishing moves, such as Cal dismembering droids or elegantly impaling creatures with his lightsaber to add a touch of flair to each encounter.

Force powers also play a crucial role within each stance. Besides standard attacks, Cal can trigger specific abilities unique to each stance. For example, when wielding a double-edged lightsaber, I could utilize the Force to throw it like a boomerang, effortlessly slicing through a crowd of enemies. A combat demonstration showcased the depth of this system, with the player using Cal’s blaster stance to lift multiple Stormtroopers into the air, marking them, and swiftly firing a barrage of shots, reminiscent of Clint Eastwood in a spaghetti Western.

Although I only had the chance to experience Cal’s dual-wielding lightsaber stance during the demo, it was enough to get a taste of the enhanced variety in battles. This stance allowed me to swiftly dispatch groups of weaker enemies, showcasing the graceful integration of this combat style. According to the developers I spoke with, this fighting style was initially planned for Fallen Order but was ultimately omitted. It is evident that Respawn has been refining their ideas since then, as this fast-paced stance feels seamlessly integrated into Survivor.

Cal stands beneath the clouds in Star Wars Jedi: Survivor key art.

There are several combat systems that can be compared to Survivor. Naturally, its difficulty and parrying mechanics evoke Dark Souls, while the fluid chaining of flashy moves feels reminiscent of the Batman Arkham series. However, the game that comes to mind most is Yakuza, thanks to the quick stance swapping and the added flair of special moves. When it all clicks, I feel like Kazuma Kiryu in outer space.

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A True Sequel: Building on Success

What struck me the most during my time with Survivor is how well-executed and well-defined it feels. When discussing the changes in the gaming industry since 2019, the developers emphasized that their goal was to create a “true sequel.” Rather than incorporating ideas from other popular games, such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Respawn’s focus was solely on amplifying the strengths of the first installment and taking them to the next level. This commitment was evident throughout the demo, as everything felt like a cohesive and logical evolution of the game mechanics rather than an attempt to cram in unnecessary features. Even when I finally gained the ability to ride a winged creature as a mount, it felt like a natural addition to the platforming toolkit, rather than a direct imitation of Link’s glider.

Every aspect of the game has been carefully assembled from top to bottom. For instance, the demo I played was remarkably free of the technical issues that plagued Fallen Order at launch. While there were a few minor animation hitches, they were well within the acceptable margin for a prerelease build. Considering that Survivor is designed exclusively for current-generation consoles and features breathtaking vistas and cutting-edge lighting effects, the game’s stability is impressive. It feels as though Respawn spent the years following Fallen Order refining their craft, building upon a solid foundation and methodically expanding upon it.

Cal Kestis.

This well-structured framework instills confidence that Survivor has the potential to become a standout and highly beloved addition to the Star Wars universe. It tells a classic Star Wars tale, effortlessly blending high-stakes galactic drama with the lighthearted humor that comes from a diverse cast of lovable misfits and peculiar aliens. All of this is beautifully realized within a tightly constructed action-adventure format that successfully captures the essence of a Jedi power fantasy, both in and out of combat.

For decades, a significant part of the appeal of Star Wars movies has been the ability to imagine oneself as a lightsaber-wielding hero. So far, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor convincingly demonstrates that video games can deliver that dream, transforming the series into an experience that is best enjoyed by actively participating rather than passively observing.

Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is set to launch on April 28th for PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X/S.

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