Star Wars Jedi: Survivor Preview: An Open World Far, Far Away

Games Features Star Wars Jedi: Survivor
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor Preview: An Open World Far, Far Away

Cal Kestis is a problem-solver. The itinerant young Jedi at the center of Respawn’s Star Wars Jedi series bucks the trend of most Jedi in the Imperial Era by not just retreating to some hole in the Outer Rim and wallowing in his own misery. Maybe that’s the difference between youth and old age: Kestis is somewhere in his early 20s in the upcoming sequel Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, while the most famous Jedi of that time period, Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi, are both nearing the end of their days. Cal believes he can still make a difference, whereas Yoda and Kenobi know exactly how much of a difference they weren’t able to make—or, worse, how the difference they made led directly to the rise of the empire. 

I’m sorry: we’ve got to talk about Star Wars. Again.

Star Wars Jedi: Survivor comes out later this month, and like the entirety of the games press I recently played a few hours of it at an event in Los Angeles. The slice we played that day focuses in on Cal as a roving problem-solver, solitary except for his adorable droid BD-1, helping out those in need while embarking on a larger quest to reunite the fractious group of friends and colleagues who journeyed with him throughout 2019’s Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Although still a single-player action game, Jedi: Survivor moves away from the single-minded linearity of Fallen Order to embrace the ever-popular open world rigamarole full of sidequests and favors for NPCs. It’s part of a larger process of teasing out what made Fallen Order work into something longer, larger, and more complex—something that might command the audience’s attention for a greater length of time than a more direct single-player game, but without resorting to unnecessary online nonsense or games-as-service pay pig exploitation. 

Going open world is a notable but unobtrusive way to expand on the game’s scope without saddling the player with too much extraneous business. You don’t have to help any of the settlers of the dusty remote planet Khobo if you don’t want to, but for anybody who wants to spend more time in this game and its world, those sidequests make it possible without having to resort to replaying story missions. And it’s all in keeping with Cal’s nature as an earnest young Jedi stalwart. 

The main bit of story in this demo involved Cal tracking down Greez, the four-armed alien pilot who has retired to run a cantina in a remote corner of the galaxy. That brings Cal to Khobo, where he unexpectedly encounters a bit of remote Jedi history that presumably sets the game’s main plot into motion. This chunk we played comes early in the game, about an hour into it, apparently after a section set on Coruscant, and unfortunately I’m not able to discuss most of its story. So let’s move past the narrative and talk about how the damn thing plays and what’s changed since Fallen Order.

Remember how you chopped up a lot of stormtroopers real good with your lightsaber in Fallen Order? Well, you do that in this one, too. And you can even use the Force to push and pull them around the screen, or hurl projectiles back at the fools what tossed them, or engage in other shenanigans the likes of which the Jedi are well known for. Jedi: Survivor keeps the swordplay-with-superpowers nature of that combat intact, where you have to play it smart and stay on defense and try to parry your opponents’ strikes before unloading a flurry of saber slashes in return. It still has that light Souls influence, where trying to hack and slash your way through will almost definitely lay you low.

The biggest upgrade on that combat is the addition of three new stances, bringing Cal’s total up to five. The demo didn’t include two of those stances, but the third one we played, wherein Cal wields a lightsaber in each hand, offers a tangible difference from the two original stances. Whereas the traditional single saber stance is the most targeted and maneuverable (and also offers the best balance with using the Force), and the double saber mode (aka the Darth Maul Special) is good for defense and keeping large crowds of enemies at bay, the dual wield stance turns Cal into a whirling dervish of destruction, with his two blades mulching through the bad guys like a couple of saw blades. It’s faster than the two-bladed saber, but leaves you more open to enemy attacks. It’s also less precise than the single-saber alternative. It’s an exciting option, though, and the ability to switch stances on the fly with a single tap of the D-pad lead to me hopping quickly back and forth throughout the demo. 

The game’s Souls-like influence isn’t exclusively found in combat. As before, “meditation points” serve as an analogue to a Souls game’s bonfires. You can manually save your game there, spend skill points on the tech tree (which now includes separate tracks for your Force skills, the five different combat stances, and Cal’s physical strength and endurance), activate perks (minor boosts found throughout the game), or recharge your health—which, in Souls fashion, will restore every enemy you’ve defeated (sans bosses), forcing you to weigh your need for health against the risk of having to fight a bunch of enemies again. It’ll be nothing new to anybody who’s played Fallen Order or a From Software Souls-like.

Beyond those new sidequests, the biggest additions to the formula are the Jedi meditation chamber puzzles. These are very much like the shrines in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild; they’re complex platforming puzzles that require expert use of your various Force skills and a deep reserve of patience. I played through one during my demo, and because I wasn’t able to exit it until I completed it, i wasn’t able to play all the way through the demo’s boss battle. I’m not complaining, though; the chamber puzzle was an ingenious challenge and one of my favorite parts of playing this game that day. If they’re all as well-designed as the one in the demo, and stay on the right side of the annoyance divide, these should be a popular addition to the game. 

In more familiar news, BD-1 remains a top-tier droid. It’s not just because it’s adorable and full of personality; BD-1 is extremely useful throughout, like R2-D2, and without the awkwardness and obnoxiousness of, say, C-3PO. BD-1 is a good little buddy. And his appearance is now deeply customizable, as is Cal’s; you’ll uncover many hair and clothing options for Cal in chests throughout the game, as well as new paint palettes for BD-1. You can deck ‘em both out to your heart’s content. 

It’s no surprise that Respawn, the studio behind the tremendous Titanfall 2, can make what looks like a really good single-player Star Wars game. Hell, they already did that four years ago. What I’ve seen of Star Wars Jedi: Survivor makes it seem like a steady, common sense progression from the original, keeping what works while expanding the rest into something more extravagant. If Respawn maintains the quality of this demo across the whole game, it’ll be another keeper—almost as if Respawn solved a problem that didn’t even exist.

 


Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.

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