2019’s Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order was a surprise hit from the FPS-focused Respawn Entertainment, but Cal Kestis’ debut felt very much like a proof of concept for something greater. Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is that something.
A Next-Gen Galaxy
Respawn ditches last-gen hardware for Cal’s sophomore outing to great effect, delivering an exhilarating planet-hopping adventure that really takes the feedback from its predecessor to heart. Survivor is bigger, bolder, and more refined than Fallen Order, but Respawn hasn’t completely nailed everything in its second lap with Star Wars.
To start, Jedi: Survivor feels next-gen on all fronts. That’s not just in its stunning vistas, ridiculously detailed environments, and ability to play at 60 FPS in performance mode, but also in the sheer breadth of options available to the player. Cal has several combat stances and force abilities at his disposal, there are an insane amount of side activities and puzzles to partake in, and each planet is massive and bursting at the seams with life. This feels like one of the first games to truly take advantage of next-generation processing power for more than just a facelift.
Farming, Fishing, and Other Fun Stuff
There are three staples of a good video game: grappling hooks, farming minigames, and fishing minigames. Survivor pulls off the hat trick with additional flourishes. Cal gets a grappling hook within the first few minutes of the game, and as anyone with taste knows, every game is better with a grappling hook. Upon reaching the game’s main settlement of Rambler’s Reach — which grows and attracts new characters throughout the story — I was delighted to discover a rooftop garden on top of the saloon. “If this has fishing,” I thought to myself, “then this is surely an all-timer.”
Returning to the settlement an hour later after an exciting excursion with droids, danger, and death, I decided to take a load off and chat with the locals. One of them then tipped me off about a rumor, which added a quest to my log: recruit the mysterious fisherman. Those geniuses.
All jokes aside, Respawn knows what makes video games work. While Survivor’s seed and fish collectibles aren’t involved in fully-fledged minigames, their presence is emblematic of the game’s breadth of content as a whole. In addition, Respawn avoids the Metroid trope by letting Cal carry all his Fallen Order toys into Survivor, letting the game barrel out of the gate and blast down the aisle with breakneck pacing that never fails to excite.
The Open Road
There’s just so much to do when you’re not mainlining the story, and every reward feels worthwhile. An unassuming cave might bring you to a deadly encounter with a legendary creature, a crack in the wall might lead to a small pond where Cal’s fishing friend is casting away, or a platforming puzzle could unlock a spiffy new haircut for Cal. It’s a Star Wars smorgasbord. There’s a galaxy’s worth of content crammed onto every planet and everything is so much easier to navigate than Fallen Order’s labyrinthian locales.
Survivor uses the best form of encouragement to get you to engage with its side content: customization. While you can score some extra skill points, healing stims, or force capacity through exploration, the primary reason to stray from the beaten path is unlocking new clothes, hairstyles, parts, and paint jobs for both Cal and BD-1. While it’s a bit disappointing that you might miss out on your favorite output by skipping some random cave, there are a surprising number of customization options for Cal and BD-1 and you can pick up a solid starter wardrobe from planetary vendors (whose currency is also obtained via exploration).
In addition to being packed with secrets and rewards, each of Survivor’s planets is a visual feast. From the rugged cliffs of Koboh to the sandy deserts of Jedha, every location is pure photo mode bait. If you’re the type that loves to take screenshots, then soaking in the sights and sounds of Jedi: Survivor can easily add hours to your initial playthrough.
Unfortunately, the game’s beauty comes at the cost of performance. The performance mode never feels like it holds a steady 60 FPS, and even the 30 FPS quality mode buckles under intense load. This is especially frustrating since the frame drops only seem to happen during tough battles. For example, a duel with a Rancor in a damp cave saw the game’s framerate tank into the teens, forcing me to swap from quality to performance mode just for the game to feel responsive.
Falling Back to Fallen Order
The game excels when it lets you loose onto a massive plain or desert with a mount to ferry you from nook to cranny as you clear the map. Respawn uses this wide-open level design to patch the cracks in the foundation left over from Fallen Order. When the game funnels you into linear levels in service of the story, however, the otherwise excellent pacing screeches to a halt and Fallen Order’s flaws begin to seep through those cracks.
Thankfully, Respawn has addressed the complaints from Fallen Order by adding several shortcuts and enabling fast travel between meditation points, but that’s still not enough to bandage Survivor’s underwhelming level design. More inventive combat arenas and enemy types would’ve done wonders for this game.
The story isn’t this game’s strong suit either. Unfortunately, Cal’s journey doesn’t hit as hard as it should. Survivor tackles some interesting topics, namely survivor’s guilt, but it refuses to engage with its themes in any significant way outside of the introduction and final act.
Cal and the primary antagonist — who is in desperate need of more screen time — are mirror images of one another. Both have complicated feelings about the Jedi Order and themselves for not being able to do more, but they find themselves on diverging paths. Not wrestling harder with their clashing ideologies was a missed opportunity.
Cal’s layers of guilt are peeled back through the character-focused scenes sprinkled throughout the story. In typical Star Wars fashion, the main plot revolves around the retrieval of a MacGuffin that lets the good guys beat the bad guys, leaving the characters to do the heavy lifting narratively. Respawn takes full advantage of the Star Wars playground and delivers side characters and companions that are way more inventive than anything else churned out by Star Wars media in recent years.
Aside from the familiar faces from the first game like the lovable Greez, humble Cere, and enigmatic Merrin, Survivor introduces a wacky cast of endearing side characters that can be recruited to the game’s central hub town of Rambler’s Reach. This town is already home to people like Turgle, a lovable frog friend that plays the role of the game’s “weird little guy,” but you’ll also be able to check in with a slew of friendly faces every time you return.
Cal’s crew is the heart of the story though, and the way he processes his trauma through them is the driving force behind the narrative. Cal is in a very different spot than we left him at the end of Fallen Order, and he’s become riddled with resentment and guilt after the original crew broke up. Survivor’s story is a fairly paint-by-numbers “getting the gang back together” affair, but watching Cal toe the line between light and dark while his guilt slowly eats away at him is textbook Star Wars, even if the narrative doesn’t dive as deep as it should.
In addition, Survivor still hasn’t remedied one of Fallen Order’s most detrimental aspects. Regardless of Cal’s weapon or style, combat still feels mushy. Parries in particular never feel as tight as they should, which is exacerbated even further by the swath of satisfying parries we’ve gotten in games like Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty since the release of Fallen Order. Mixing in force powers and blaster shots makes things much more enjoyable, but the simple act of swinging a saber leaves a lot to be desired.
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor builds on the foundation established in Fallen Order and delivers expansive environments crammed with content and secrets. Respawn still falls into some of the same pitfalls that it did in Fallen Order, though, namely in its underwhelming linear sections and middling story. Still, it’s peak Star Wars. It has all the sights, sounds, and fanservice that Fallen Order brought to the table multiplied by ten, offering fans a great time in a galaxy far, far away.
This game was reviewed using a copy of the game provided by the game's publisher,public relations company, developer or other for the express purpose of a review.