Monday, November 20, 2023

Review [Video Game]: Star Wars Jedi: Survivor by Respawn Entertainment

Cal gets an upgrade.

Set a few years after Respawn’s first foray into Star Wars narrative adventures, Jedi: Survivor once again follows Cal Kestis as he explores the galaxy, but this time with new friends. With Greez, Merrin, and Cere each off with personal missions, Cal continues to disrupt the empire every chance he can. This is where the game begins, as Cal gets himself captured and escorted to the local senator for imprisonment. The upgrade in visual fidelity is readily apparent upon booting up the game. The lighting, the textures, and especially the animation have all been improved. Though I suppose that playing Jedi: Fallen Order recently makes it easier to see the difference. Leaving behind the PS4 and Xbox One, this is a next-gen game that takes advantage of the hardware. 

Respawn built off of the prequel in many important ways but also took inspiration from other AAA heavy hitters like God of War to make Star Wars Jedi: Survivor shine. Where Fallen Order was a big action-adventure game with good level variety, Survivor has a hub-world that anchors the player’s adventure and makes the world feel more lived-in. It’s a big contrast to Fallen Order which simply felt like the player was going from level to level. In Survivor, it feels like Cal has a home, something that makes the game all the better and is a huge service to the player.

Pyloon’s Saloon, introduced earlier in the game, is the gathering place for much of Cal’s journey. One of the main buildings in the settlement of Rambler’s Reach on the planet of Koboh—and run by a familiar four-armed friend—Pyloon’s starts off with almost no patrons. Throughout the game, however, the player is introduced to many different prospectors (some from other planets) who can be recruited to check out Rambler’s Reach. This was perhaps my favorite inclusion and a happy departure from the prequel. Many of the characters' small side arcs were engaging and kept me coming back to Pyloon’s to learn more about them. Droll Moran, aloof Caij, eccentric Zee, and the lovable yet scheming Turgle keep the place feeling lived in. Finding Skoova Stev out in the world as he regaled me with his tales amongst deep space pirates was always a treat. A minor spoiler here (though not story related), but as the place begins to empty, I felt a small sense of loss. The once bustling Pyloon’s feels like a shadow of its former self at the height of its occupancy. In this, I knew Respawn did something right, something I’d love to see emulated more often in games.

Another great improvement in Survivor is the gameplay. Not only is combat upgraded and expanded but so too is the traversal. Getting around Koboh and Jedha is made quicker with mounts, and zipping around with an upgraded ascension cable and air dash is a real treat. Some of the platforming Force Tears were a blast, and I wish there was a bit more challenge in the main game surrounding Cal’s traversal abilities. I’m quite glad that they removed the rather lengthy “slide” sequences from Fallen Order. Those could be rather frustrating, and I didn’t have that experience here. Thankfully Cal doesn't have to relearn all his old abilities.

Though the combat in the prequel was solid, Survivor adds to and expands upon its predecessor. In the original, players have two light-saber stances; single and double-sided. In Survivor, the player is granted five stances. I won’t list them off to avoid spoilers, but I found myself using a few of these new stances throughout the majority of the game. When reviewing an infographic from Respawn, I realized the stance I primarily used was one of the least popular. I realized that each of these stances was quite well-balanced and allowed for a good amount of player variety. The stance I used was reminiscent of Bloodborne, and I always had it equipped in case I needed it.

Combined with additional Force abilities, the combat shines in most situations. Fights against other lightsaber wielders are exhilarating and, like Fallen Order, the most exciting fights in the game. Living out your Jedi fantasy feels much more realized here, especially since Cal is more experienced in both lightsaber combat and the Force. There are some situations in which the player is pelted with blaster bolts while a ton of enemies ambush them. In these moments, the combat feels more like a chore than a challenge, but these aren't too frequent thankfully. When the combat shines, it is quite gratifying.

When it comes to the reason for it all, the story, the game has some good highs and head-scratching lows. The basic plot follows Cal as he attempts to discover a planet away from the prying eyes of the galactic empire. From a protagonist's standpoint, everything works, even if it is rather standard. My issue comes from enemy motivations. One of the main villains’ goals aligns with the hero’s. Why, then, is there such animosity? Sure, they have reasons for all of this, but it doesn't seem strong enough. Yet another of the villains seems to be created for the sake of surprising the player. I want to avoid spoilers here for those who haven't played, so I won't get into too much detail, but enemy motivation in this game left me confused and disappointed. One of the best boss fight sequences was a flashback. This wouldn't have bothered me so much if there was some kind of payoff. After dying multiple times, I had assumed that there would be some kind of victory for the player, but instead, I received no payoff, just a strong argument for why ludonarrative dissonance can ruin what should be an emotional story beat.

Some disappointing villain segments aside, the set piece action was exciting, and the game delivered a solid farewell. Most of the exploration takes place on Koboh, though Jedha gives it a run for its money. The other explorable planets are like smaller versions of levels from Fallen Order. Fortunately, Koboh is so large and full of variety, it alleviates any need of having to create multiple planets. Traveling around the two major planets and discovering collectibles (of which there are many) was more fun than I had anticipated.

After finishing Survivor, I realized I was quite pleased with the advancement of Respawn’s new franchise. They seemed to take a lot of feedback to heart and apply meaningful changes to their formula. Character interactions seem more natural and, villains aside, the writing is better overall. Every aspect of Fallen Order is better here in Survivor. Despite a few minor bugs (fixed by turning the console on and off), the game plays very well. With Survivor, Respawn has shown that they respect the franchise and player empowerment, but also that they are capable of taking feedback and improving on something already good. Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is one of the best uses of the license in recent years, and if Respawn’s upward trajectory continues, their next game could be one for gaming’s history books.


The Math

Objective Assessment: 8/10

Bonus: +1 for BD-1, the cutest droid ever. +1 for being an improvement on nearly everything the first game did.

Penalties: -1 for confusing enemy motivations. -1 for minor technical hiccups throughout the game.

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10

Posted by: Joe DelFranco - Fiction writer and lover of most things video games. On most days you can find him writing at his favorite spot in the little state of Rhode Island.