Star Wars Jedi: Survivor sees Respawn improve vastly on the action-adventure template established by 2019’s Fallen Order – and now there are beards. Our review:
A lot can change in five years. You can fall in love. Start a life. Or, as is the case with Jedi Padawan-turned-Empire foil Cal Kestis, you can grow a beard. Don’t be fooled by his newfound ability to generate hair follicles, though, it’s far from the only way Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order’s unassuming protagonist has evolved since his 2019 debut – he’s got the revamped lightsaber skills to match.
Cal’s growth is mirrored by (and indeed symbolic of) all the additional tools and tricks developer Respawn has learned in the time between then and now, too. Because while its first game had the surprise element of actually being a good Star Wars game, Survivor is about as polished, expanded and complete a sequel as you could hope for.
The first thing that hits you is the sheer ambition of the worlds this time around. There’s still only a handful you’ll visit over the course of this 20-or so hour adventure, sure, but I much prefer this tact over the Mass Effect approach of making a whole planet feel like a corridor. Koboh, as the base planet and the one you’ll repeatedly visit for both story reasons and side objectives, is the standout. Comprising forests, swamplands, ancient temples and more, it’s Respawn’s attempt – and a successful one at that – at showing off. Be it seeking out loot-filled crates, unearthing rumours or securing a new look for Cal at a shop, there’s no shortage of things to do.
Touching down on a new planet’s surface can feel daunting at first, with so many alternate routes and winding pathways laid out before you; at times I wondered where to Force Jump up to first. However, by adding in fast travel at Meditation points and revamping the in-game holomap (thanks, BD-1) so it more easily delineates between explored and unexplored areas, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor somehow stays true to its 3D metroidvania roots (akin to Batman: Arkham Asylum) despite the increased scope.
It helps that Cal feels much smoother to control, starting out with almost all the abilities he gained throughout the course of the last game. Force Push, Force Pull, and Double Jump are all here, and it works brilliantly to effectively demonstrate the passage of time by instantly putting you in the boots of a legitimate Jedi Knight. Instead, Respawn finds other ways to encourage you to explore and upgrade Cal. The most obvious being the improved customisation options, which finally sees Cal get rid of his Fallen Order ponchos. The customisation also extends to Cal’s trusty droid, BD-1; changing the looks of both to better tie in to the planet I was exploring never got old.
Such customisation also translates to the way Cal can fight, as five different lightsaber stances can be swapped in and out. Standard stance continues to be the most well-rounded, but using a double-bladed hilt proves equally effective at crowd control. The split, dual lightsaber set-up feels like a legitimate option now, meanwhile, particularly for players that want to deliver fast attacks at the sacrifice of defence. Kylo Ren-esque Crossguard and Blaster & Lightsaber are totally new in Survivor, however, the first of which delivers heavy attacks at the cost of speed while the latter gives you the benefit of range. Finding a combination that suits your playstyle isn’t hard, and each having a dedicated skill tree means there’s always room for improvement.
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is overall a much more approachable Jedi experience compared to the first, which at times felt like it didn’t know if it wanted to be treated as a true Soulslike or just pay affectionate tribute to one. Thank the Force, then, that Respawn elected to sand down the precision melee combat’s rough edges, equipping almost anyone with the ability to slice through battle droids and desert raiders like butter right from the off. Not only does it help the in-game action feel more cinematic, but it also reduces the stress that even the most basic enemy encounters could sometimes instil. No Jedi master should be chopped down by a Stormtrooper. Plain and simple.
The story isn’t the most original ever told in the world of Star Wars, but Survivor’s generous cast of empathetic characters make up for this slight shortfall. Both new enemies and returning allies all earn their place in the cast, paying tribute to previous franchise archetypes yet never without a twist. What’s more impressive than the narrative is Respawn’s appreciation for the Extended Universe. For example, the fan-favourite High Republic era plays more of a role here than it likely ever will on the big or small screen. At the same time, however, players who aren’t well read in Wookie won’t feel like they’re missing out.
On PlayStation 5 at least (the PC version has suffered more than a few issues at launch), Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is about as fully realised a Star Wars game I’ve ever played. Where Fallen Order showed the promise of what it meant to be a Jedi Knight, there’s a sense in the sequel that Respawn was afforded the time and trust to be able to develop those ideas into bona fide mechanics – to the extent that I worry how Survivor could ever be topped. It’ll certainly take some doing.
If you’ve ever wanted to live out your own personalised adventure in science fiction’s most famous cinematic galaxy, you owe it to yourself to don Cal’s beard and fight the Empire.
In addition to Cal’s returning skill tree, Survivor introduces a Perk system capable of enhancing his natural abilities such as lightsaber throw distance and block effectiveness. New perks can be bought as well as discovered out in the world.