Star Wars Jedi: Survivor arrives this week, bringing Star Wars fans a stunning new journey that improves on the previous game in just about every way.
I enjoyed Jedi: Fallen Order, though there were some aspects that didn’t quite land with me. The combat took some getting used to, traveling could be confusing/frustrating, and the story seemed to end right when it was picking up. Even so, it delivered a thrilling Star Wars experience, even if it felt like they were still figuring out exactly what they wanted to do.
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor
Developed by: Respawn, EA
Platforms: PlayStation 5 (reviewed on), Xbox Series X|S, PCs
Release Date: April 28, 2023
Survivor, however, feels like everything we wanted before. From gameplay mechanics to story beats, everything about the sequel feels confident and refined. This is a game fully sure of itself and what it wants to be/do, and the result is ridiculously impressive on all fronts.
Expansive New Story
[Note: I will NOT be going into story spoilers.]
Set five years after the events of Jedi: Fallen Order, the game starts you off in a very different place than where we left off. And no, you don’t need to have read the book, Battle Scars, to understand either. Consider this like a fresh start as we see Cal Kestis with a whole new crew, and everyone else scattered about doing their own things.
As he continues the fight against the Empire, Cal begins to wonder if there’s any hope remaining. When word of an ancient legend, offering a place of refuge and secrecy from the Empire comes around, Cal sees it as an opportunity to make a bigger difference. Possibly even the chance to begin anew and have a normal life. Gathering his old allies, along with new ones, Cal will have to face down bounty hunters, raiders, and myths in order to uncover the truth…without losing himself along the way.
For his part, Cal is also markedly different. Gone is the unsure, reluctant hero, and instead we have someone far more confident in his abilities and status as a Jedi Knight. On the gameplay side, you feel this keenly as you’re not stripped of all the powers you gained in the previous game. In many ways, it feels like jumping in with your skills intact and moving forward in a different direction.
Along those same lines, we also can see the toll the years of war have taken on Cal. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the character last go ’round, but I struggled to connect with him a bit. Much like the story, by the time I came around to really embracing him, it was time to wrap things up. In Survivor, however, the connection felt almost instantaneous.
I’m not sure what exactly the difference is. Maybe the fact he’s lost a bit of that initial naivety, or simply due to my being used to him. Either way, it was a marked difference for me. You’ll still find him doling out quips and one-liners, but you can tell there’s more of an edge to it all.
Honestly, one of the things that impressed me most from the outset, is how you can clearly feel the time that’s elapsed. In Cal’s (and the others as you encounter them) mannerisms, dialog delivery, and general interactions with others, you can sense the weariness and the toll these last few years have taken. From a story perspective, you can also see how Cal’s quest to fight back against the Empire, can lead him down a dark path….
From the opening section of the game, you’re hit with all these aspects. The game does an excellent job of conveying big bits of story through the visuals, dialog, and overall direction it leads you. At once it’s both welcoming/familiar, re-introducing you to this corner of the galaxy, while making it clear there’s a new story to be told. New dangers to face.
I’m avoiding spoilers, so forgive me for keeping things vague. For those wondering, yes, you do end up meeting up with your old crew, the events surrounding their split come into focus. Along the way you meet a handful of new people. While they don’t always join you on your adventures, the ability to interact with them on the regular (using Koboh as your “base” you keep coming back to) allows you to build out additional relationships and see how your actions are impacting the galaxy.
Among the other newcomers are some important characters as well that dramatically impact the story and where things are going. I don’t consider this a spoiler (as we’ve seen examples in the trailers already), but I was really shocked with how much The High Republic era is part of the story. It’s not just a character or references, but there are whole gameplay sections/puzzles all about it.
Combined with some of the other deeper lore cuts, Survivor manages to pull from multiple stories within the franchise and integrate them smoothly into a cohesive story. It’s neat to see it all come together alongside the more personal story of Cal and his latest adventures. All in all, the game expertly balances the smaller scale personal moments with the larger galactic conflict in the story.
It surprised me in a number of ways. There are touching emotional beats, “holy shit” set pieces, Easter eggs/deep cut connections that will have die hard fans flailing, and thought-provoking story moments that will leave you thinking. Couple all that with engaging characters, and it was ridiculously hard to stop playing at times. Like a great book, I just wanted to see what happened next!
More Refined Gameplay
By and large, the gameplay in Survivor is much the same as Fallen Order; just more refined. It’s both a natural evolution of the things introduced in the previous game (adding the ascension gun for example), and presenting the best version of these mechanics you could want.
So if you were hoping for big dramatic changes, you’re not exactly getting them. Not everyone jived with the combat system in Fallen Order (I myself have a love/hate relationship with it), but Survivor makes it far easier to get into. The basics are the same—you’ll need to time your blocks/dodges/parries in order to whittle down enemy stamina to do damage—but you’re not starting from scratch either.
You kick off the game with multiple stances which impact your blade and playstyle. There’s the standard single blade combat, the double-bladed configuration, and the two-handed stance where you break the hilt in half to hold a blade in each hand. What’s great, is you get all of these within the opening tutorial area (which I’ll talk about more in a sec)! Unlike the previous game where you unlocked them as you went, you’ve got the same options available to you from the start. Having those choices/options, along with the use of your Force powers made it FAR easier to jump back into the action. Even though it’s technically the same, getting into a groove and finding a playstyle that works for you, happens quickly.
A thing I loved early on, was how seamless the tutorial section felt. It doesn’t outright hold your hand, but ensures everyone (even if they’re using this as the jumping in point) is on the same page in short order. There’s even a little recap cinematic at the beginning to remind players of the basics, along with a more detailed breakdown of the previous story for those just getting started.
Regardless, getting into the game and (re)learning the mechanics was smooth and flowed nicely into the story all at the same time. Even as it introduced completely new mechanics (your combat buddy and the ascension cable), it was handled in a natural feeling way. While it was very obviously a tutorial section, it also never FELT like one…if that makes sense?
Here are some other gameplay tweaks I want to touch upon:
Taming Monsters – Instead of mowing down every local fauna who happens across your path, Survivor lets you use the Force to “tame” them instead. While you’ll still kill plenty of more aggressive monsters on your journey, it’s nice they acknowledge the idea of Jedi killing these animals wholesale (even using a fun flashback to hammer it home). It allows you to turn giant creatures against your enemies or use them for travel.
Customization – You saw a lot of chatter about this earlier in the month when people were posting their early impressions from a hands-on event, but customization is a BIG factor in the game. From clothes to hair, new body types for your droid, and being able to alter every inch of your Lightsaber, there’s virtually no limit to what you can create. Sure, while it’s largely cosmetic (the skills and perks are where you improve your stats), it’s still pretty damn neat.
Collectibles With a Purpose – There are far more things to pick up on your travels than ponchos this time around. While there are a bunch of cosmetic collectibles strewn about, other things you find along the way have more tangible purposes. There are artifacts that offer up deeper lore when you bring them to certain characters, or even minerals you can trade in at a local shop on Koboh for bonuses. All in all the result makes it feel more worthwhile to track down those collectibles you can see while you’re roaming around.
Skills and Perks – The skill system remains largely the same as in Fallen Order, but Survivor adds some meat to them overall. Again, it helps with the feeling that you’re not starting over as the character, and instead building on the skillset you earned in the last game.
One new addition, however, are the perks. You can find various perks (another collectible) along your travels. As the name implies, each one offers a different perk to your play style. You start off with three Perk slots you can use, and are able to find more along the way. Some Perks cost more than others, which means there’s a bit of strategy involved in how you assign them. You can mix and match to your hearts content to enhance the way YOU specifically approach combat, and change them up when you come across a tough area.
Both Skills and Perks can be altered at the Meditation sites. You can completely clear our your skills and reallocate as you see fit. As you progress and unlock even more Stances, you may find that the initial play/combat style you favored at one point, no longer applies. As such, you’ll want to adjust your skill points to focus on the new way to play. Granted, resetting your skills comes at a bit of a cost. The first time is free, but after that you’ll have to expend Skill points to start fresh.
Even so, it goes a long way towards allowing you the chance to play the game how you want to. There’s a sense of freedom to it all that also helps with getting into the combat, and making the experience your own. Between this and the customization options, playing through Survivor can feel like a uniquely YOU journey, even if the story is the same for everyone.
Farming, Really? – The rooftop of Greez’s Saloon on Koboh also has a garden! So unlike the small terrariums you had aboard the Mantis, you can plant a whole garden this time around. Even better, it’s treated almost as a mini game where you can arrange the various seeds you find on your journey, unlock bigger plots of soil, and make it look exactly how you want it to. It’s a small thing, but yet another fun reason to keep coming back to Koboh and interacting with things.
Traversal and Exploration
Probably the thing people took most issue with in Fallen Order, was getting around. It was frustrating, to say the least. Areas were confusing, the holographic map they gave (while cool looking) was largely useless, and the lack of Fast Travel options made hunting down secrets and what-not more of a chore than anything else.
Thankfully, Respawn took those criticisms to heart and overhauled how you move throughout the VAST maps on planets. And when I say vast, I mean it. These locations are absolutely massive and getting from one point to another is a trek. This time around, however, they’ve introduced some new ways to move about.
I’ve already mentioned the ascension cable that adds another tool to getting around on top of jumping, double-jumping, wall-running, and wall-jumping. On top of that, however, you’re also able to find mounts (beasts your tame as mentioned above) you can ride. Each planet has their own unique mount and it’s neat to see how different they feel when you’re riding them, and the benefits they can offer beyond simply moving quicker.
Then, of course, there’s quick travel. Pretty much any Meditation site works as a quick travel point. This means you have to visit them first in order to ‘unlock’ the ability to fast travel between them. So you’ll still have to do quite a bit of initial exploring, but getting back to areas you want to revisit, or getting back to base/the Mantis, is a snap. I love it so much.
I know some were concerned the addition of Fast Travel would take away the impetus to explore. Honestly, that’s definitely not an issue here. The level work done for each planet and stage is leaps and bounds above that in Fallen Order. I don’t know exactly what they did, but the overall layout of things makes me want to explore naturally, rather than just because secrets might be around.
The larger scale seems to be a factor, as it’s easy to find a point to stand and simply look around the area you’ve uncovered. Meditation Sites (which are blessedly more abundant this time) can be seen easily, along with the routes to get to them. You’re also able to see enemies roaming in the distance, collectibles shining, and potential sites to come back to later on.
Being able to see all of that at a glance while moving about, was a massive help to me. I didn’t feel like I was blindly walking the maps and stumbling into puzzles like I did in Fallen Order. This cut the confusion way down. Not only did it make getting around easier in general, the layout made me more interested in exploring than ever before. Because I could see/map out how to get places ahead of time, I found myself eager to dive into them.
I can’t tell you how many times in Fallen Order I accidentally wandered into some sort of puzzle/challenge area and forced to complete them in order to get where I wanted to. It was more frustrating than fun for me, but in Survivor, I can plot my course to avoid those pitfalls and do what I actually want to do.
That said, there are still times where things can be a bit frustrating; mostly in the smaller, more confined places on the map. There are a few points where I straight up stood around for minutes on end, having no idea where I was supposed to go. Only to find a tiny crack between the walls to slip through that blended in too well with the background.
Thankfully, those moments are few and far between (and can be enhanced using the accessibility features), but it’s something to be aware of. In those moments, the holographic map came in handy as it clearly denoted the way forward was somewhere in my location, so I didn’t have to backtrack.
Other than that…the map is still kind of confusing. While I would say it’s an improvement over the area map in the previous game, at it’s core, it still works essentially the same. The Legend is a bit more clear, and things are marked slightly easier, but on the whole it’s much the same.
That said, with how improved the overall map layouts were, I genuinely found myself hardly needing the map. Seriously, that’s how much smoother getting around felt this time around. I only popped it on occasionally to make sure I was heading in the right general direction, and that’s about it.
Odds and Ends
Just a few other tidbits I thought were worth mentioning, but didn’t quite fit anywhere else above:
Story Mode – I know people like to fuss and fight about difficulty levels, but honestly, who cares. I tried out all the different difficulty options (you can adjust them at any point), and it’s fun to see where you can get with each one. Here’s the thing, if you REALLY didn’t jive with the combat from the previous game, I would honestly suggest giving Story Mode a try.
It essentially turns the game into a basic button mashing action game when it comes to fighting. BUT you still get all the challenge on difficulty from the platforming and puzzle solving. Even though it’s an “easy mode” there’s still plenty of difficulty to be had, without having to fret over the combat. Just something to consider.
Options/Accessibility – I won’t detail them all here, but there are a TON of great accessibility options available in Survivor. It’s a trend many big AAA titles have been getting in on, and I love seeing it. From being able to adjust the size of the subtitles, to color blind options, and adjusting how you receive hints, they make it so everyone can get in on the fun.
Visuals and Bugs – Survivor is a ridiculously good looking game. Only launching for current gen systems, the title takes advantage of the hardware and presents a stunning image all throughout. From the massive scale of the planets, to the smaller details on characters, and the epic feel to flying through space…it’s just pretty.
In my playthrough, I didn’t really notice any big bugs or glitches worth mentioning (unlike Fallen Order when everyone looked like they were in a wind tunnel). There were some minor things here and there with clipping, but nothing that took me out of the story or interfered with gameplay. The game will have a Day One patch, so even those minor things might no longer be an issue.