Star Wars is one of the most beloved franchises in history. I mean c’mon, it’s freaking Star Wars. Electronic Arts meanwhile, is one of the most hated companies in all of gaming. They are the home of microtransactions, sports games, and the resting place of the former studio known as BioWare (yeah I know they are still a thing but I’m just bitter). And Respawn, a developer that has delivered a handful of games but only recently really hit it big with Apex Legends. I’m not discounting the Titanfall games by any means, they’re fantastic. Short of the campaign of Titanfall 2, however, we haven’t seen much of what they could do in the single player space. So what happens when you throw all of these things into a giant game stew? Will the strong flavor of Star Wars be able to shine through the bland and tasteless beef stock that is EA? Or will that secret ingredient (Respawn if you aren’t getting the whole stew metaphor) punch through and finally bring the starved gamers a competent, if not amazing, Star Wars game? Grab a spoon people, and let’s dig in.
Let’s start with the meat and potatoes (alright, I’m done) of the game, the combat. There have been comparisons to Dark Souls and Sekiro. I can say, with confidence, that I have no idea if that’s true. I’ve never played Sekiro and my Dark Souls experience has been, well, short. I can also say that I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s difficult at times, but forgiving. I played most of the game on the default difficulty, switching to the “story” mode a couple of times because I like my TV and would hate to see my controller embedded in it. Parrying and dodging is imperative, especially against the larger enemies and bosses. Now, it’s not perfect. I chose to use the dodge option far more because I struggled with the timing of the parries at times. I’m chalking this up to the degradation of my reflexes in my old age. When I did get it right however, it felt glorious due mostly to the fact that swinging the lightsaber feels incredible. You can run into a fight and start swinging wildly but more often than not, you’re going to end up as a force ghost as the enemies lay the smack down on you. Instead, everything feels purposeful. The game finds a great mix of saber combat and force powers. You never feel overpowered as the game checks you, pretty hard at times, around every corner.
While the combat is fantastic, the traversal is hit or miss. The game takes several cues from games such as Tomb Raider and the Uncharted series. Wall running, climbing and swinging all show up at some point during the game. While most of the time they work as intended, there are some points that take a very precise button press to accomplish. I lost count on the number of times where I fell to my doom because I missed a vine or ledge by a few inches. More egregious are the moments that you are sliding down some ice or muddy terrain. I was spawned several times with either a really bad camera angle or an incredibly short amount of time to react or jump to the next section. Or both. While I can appreciate the difficulty of these actions, it felt less like a design choice and more like a programming flub. You do get some help later in the game with some other abilities but it seems like those could have been implemented much sooner.
Tagging along with you is BD-1, an adorable little robot that will help you heal, slice (hack) open containers or doors, and even act as a grappling hook to use zip lines. He’s like your own Swiss Army knife, but with legs. This might sound bad, but I found him more compelling than the main character, Cal Kestis. He’s also upgradeable throughout the game, giving you access to areas once locked along with the ability to carry more health stims.
The game has some metroidvania aspects as well. Several areas require you to return later in the game once you gain the requisite ability. Usually the reward is either a skin or a lightsaber part, essentially a cosmetic. There are also power-ups that will increase your health or force meters, along with holotapes BD-1 can play which give you a little more background on the events that have occurred in the past.
The narrative is fairly well done. The game takes place between episodes three and four of the movie series, a span of about 20 years. I’d say it’s closer to A New Hope than Revenge of the Sith given the character’s approximate age. You’re tasked with retrieving an item before the Empire gets its hands on it. While there are some connections to the greater universe, most of them amount to cameos or cool little lore nuggets. For Star Wars nerds like me, it was very cool to see. For the uninitiated, I can see some things that either don’t make sense or are just outright lost in the execution. To be honest, I’m guessing most people who play it will have at least a vague understanding of the setting and where it lands as far as the lore goes. It’s very well paced and keeps you interested from start to finish though I would have liked a more solid connection to the films.
While I touched on a few things I disliked, there are still some other issues that arise. I played on the Xbox One X and I still had issues from time to time. Graphics are hit and miss and there are definitely moments of screen tearing, framerate hiccups, and other weird glitches that can be a bit annoying. I fell through the map on more than one occasion as well. Another aspect of the game that bugged me was Cal himself. When I play a game like this, I try to connect with the main character on some level. Honestly, I didn’t care for him at all. He’s kind of boring and when he does show emotion it lasts for about a minute and seems out of character. I’ll chalk it up to poor writing from a character development standpoint I guess. I didn’t hate him, but it was like playing as that cousin you see twice a year who doesn’t say much because he’d rather be anywhere else besides the family reunion. Again, BD-1 was far more relatable and fun, and he just beeps from time to time. Finally, the map flat out sucks. I’m not even going to mince words here. For people trying to go back and collect all of the skins and saber parts, I’m sorry. My advice, just set it to story mode and run around aimlessly until you find stuff. It might be faster than checking the map every 10 seconds and realizing you have no idea where you are.
It’s hard for me not to enjoy a Star Wars game, and this one is no exception. I think it lays a great foundation for the franchise assuming that they continue to pursue it. I hope they do. Respawn has created a potentially great starting point for a new series. There are no doubt improvements that can be made, but this is probably the Star Wars game most people have been waiting for. Combat takes center stage, and it should. It makes you feel like a badass Jedi, when you aren’t falling through the map of course. It’s been a long time coming, but the wait was worth it. Enjoy the game and may the Force be with you.