The Souls is strong with Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

I’ll freely admit, I didn’t go into Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order with grand expectations. I even recently wrote an entire article expressing my disappointment at the game’s adoption of mechanics and tropes from the Dark Souls franchise. Before playing, I just wanted a return to the good old days of Starkiller in The Force Unleashed. But after my demo, I’ve discovered that this new Soulsian approach has more than a little merit.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order Preview | Stepping off the ship

The Souls is strong with Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

The demo started off on a green planet full of ruins that was presumably from the early parts of the game. Playable character Cal is still an apprentice when you begin the adventure, and you have far less prowess with the Force than you might suspect. You can slow down certain objects and perceive visions (read: collectibles), but that’s about it.

ALSO: Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order Cal Kestis | What we know about the protagonist

This was initially quite worrisome as I got into tough scraps with mere Stormtroopers. More recent Star Wars storytelling has fought against this as the Empire’s rank and file still seem like bumbling idiots, so having any trouble dispatching them isn’t my idea of enjoyment. And neither is dying to the various rat and cow-type things that get in your way from time to time. Star Wars protagonists don’t usually struggle against grunts so a game full of grunts would be disappointing.

You can’t even use Force Push to start, as acquiring that skill is the centerpiece of the first dungeon or, a more accurate term, tomb. The puzzles here, which had me throwing giant boulders around, were certainly reminiscent of the most recent Lara Croft adventures. They’re also a key factor as to why these more linear sections are where the gameplay shines brightest.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order Preview | Charting a path

The Souls is strong with Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

When you first arrive on a planet, you get a pretty big area to explore and no real sense of direction. Locked doors and upturned bridges will eventually put you on a linear path forward, but it feels like there are enough side tangents to invoke open-world gameplay without actually delivering long stretches of nothingness. Once I got to my objective, Fallen Order delivered a much more linear level that took out the threat of backtracking and pushed me into one interesting encounter after another.

Whether you’re exploring the planet or spelunking into Jedi ruins, Fallen Order doesn’t want you losing your way. A holographic map is always at your disposal, highlighting everywhere you haven’t been. If you run into a wall you can’t climb, it highlights that too, making sure you don’t spend too much time trying to scale the impossible.

For someone with my sense of direction, this map is a godsend. There are a few signposts and other monuments scattered about, but nothing in the environment let me acclimate to my surroundings. The map serves that function well, showing you where you’ve been and what you haven’t done. I asked a developer if it was possible to turn this feature off for the more adventurous players out there, but they told me that it wasn’t possible as of yet. However, they seemed receptive to the suggestion.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order Preview | A tale of Souls and sabers

The Souls is strong with Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Whichever way you end up traversing, you’re going to run into loads of hostiles. This is both due to the plentiful combat encounters and the “meditation spots” that respawn enemies in exchange for a full heal and a top off of “stims.” These work exactly like bonfires and healing items in Souls games, with only the barest explanation of why there are new Stormtroopers wandering about. It’s a bit irksome for sure, but only serves to give the game repeatable enemies to fight.

For someone coming in with little Souls experience, combat in Fallen Order feels complicated but worth the effort. Each type of enemy requires a different strategy. Because of this, different combinations of foes can get rather hectic. One class of trooper wields a bazooka, shooting explosives towards you every few seconds. On his own, he only takes one slash to take out. However, he’s at home when he’s backing up a squad from the sidelines. You’re dealing with what’s right in front of you only to take a shot to the side. Then, before you can block, everyone else pounces on you with shock sticks.

Eventually, you get the option to force push rockets back at these soldiers, similar to the laser deflecting you can do from the get-go. You also get a few more aggressive sword slashes that support someone who doesn’t want to block as much as you probably should. By the end of my hours-long session, I felt like I could fight however I wanted to, even if I often took plenty of shots along the way. Hopefully, that freedom translates to the full game when it releases.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order Preview | For the fans

The Souls is strong with Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

If you run into trouble or just can’t get used to the combat, there is a “Story Mode” difficulty that turns Fallen Order from a combat puzzle into a spectacle generator. That’s good to see, especially since Souls-likes aren’t the most welcoming to the non-gaming public who might just want a fun Star Wars ride. The game is full of little touches that only a fan would notice, and I’m happy that all of those people will have the chance to see them.

You may think that a game without challenge isn’t worth playing, but Respawn has outdone itself in terms of presentation. The dialogue flows naturally, and my brief stint with Cal’s crew made me want to spend more time traversing the galaxy with them. This is the unique type of storytelling that used to fill Star Wars‘ extended universe. Nothing stands out as blatant fan service, and the world doesn’t revolve around a Skywalker. That’s something even the beloved Force Awakened succumbs to, and something that more Star Wars stories could learn from.

I should have recognized my initial trepidation about Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order much sooner. It’s the same feeling I experienced at the launch of Apex Legends. It turns out that the people at Respawn are masters at finding the fun in popular genres and molding them into approachable experiences. It’s easy to see that Fallen Order could probably do to Souls-likes what Apex did to the battle royale. The game strips away the unnecessary genre clutter and makes smart additions all along the way. If the gameplay had to be this way, that’s probably the best-case scenario.

GameRevolution previewed Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order on PC at a preview event. Travel and accommodations were provided by EA.