Jedi: Fallen Order is a singleplayer action RPG. Given it was published by EA, the makers of the Battlefront 2 atrocity, and in the Disney era, my expectations weren't high, but during the month of its release I happened to watch a friend - a Dark Souls loyalist - play it and he compared it to Sekiro minus a lot of the things I hated about that game. I saw that his claims were accurate, and so I ended up playing it on his installation in 2019 December.
The comparison to Sekiro is very accurate. The combat system borrows all of Sekiro's great ideas, while removing most of the trial and error. And most importantly, Fallen Order has no consumables, so there's no loss of items when you die! Although they do still treat experience in the Dark Souls way. I'll put my discussion of the game first and story at the bottom.
The game uses Sekiro's one-button block/parry system, where a parry is just a well-timed block. The stamina meter is basically Sekiro's posture meter, except that emptying it means a lot less (and its recharge rate is unaffected by health): emptying an enemy's stamina breaks their guard and lets you get a couple of hits (sometimes just one), but it doesn't insta-kill them. Against a lot of enemies, you're expected to empty their stamina several times to kill them.
The combat system is well balanced in that all the options are useful. In almost every fight, a mix of dodging, parrying, and blocking is called for, and all the Force powers can find a place. There's never a fight that railroads any one tactic.
The game has a leveling system pretty much like Sekiro, except there's no shopping; you only use skill points to unlock abilities organzed in three trees: Force, Lightsaber, and Survival.
The upgrades are well balanced. There are no bad ones. A lot of them seem like "OMG I have to get that that'll make me unstoppable!", and they are really good, but there are no game-breakers.
Experience is handled in the Dark Souls fashion, meaning: it isn't stored safely when you rest, so you can lose experience after saving. It's also grindable (which is bad inherently but kind of necessary when you can lose it), and worse, it's tied to environmental exploration. A lot of the "Force echoes" and other things you can "inspect" throughout the planets give you experience, which means you have to do irrelevant non-combat non-story stuff to keep your combat abilities progressing properly.
Trial and error
There are still a few bosses that took me a while to figure out their rules. It wasn't the tiniest fraction as bad as Sekiro, though. I was always able to figure them out after enough lives.
The hitboxes are really good. There were less than a handful of instances where they didn't appear to me to line up with the sprites and animations. Dark Souls 1 can go cry in a corner.
Every boss was excellent; both well-designed and well-balanced. On Jedi Grandmaster, most took me upward of ten tries, but I beat most in the same session as I got to them. None of them have an unreasonable amount of health, but they all have enough that you have to actually master them to win. They all (minus the upgraded versions of normal planetary monsters, which are optional bosses) have novel attack patterns that take a lot of getting used to, but are seldom unfair.
In most of the big story bosses, I did barely a scrape of damage on my first life, but it was amazing to see how much I could improve at them after a dozen tries, even with minimal use of trial and error attacks.
The level designers are fond of "stand in this room and hold off waves of enemies" fights. I've always been a sucker for wave defense / survival misisons, but every one of these is really well executed, too; they come up with creative ways to mix enemy types to keep each wave fresh, and they're tough but never unreasonably long. In most of them, on almost every wave, I was like, "I have to fight all those guys at once? Yikes!" But it was always doable. The one on Kashyyyk might be my favorite despite how awful Flametroopers are, because I think it's the only one where the enemies don't wait until you've cleared the board to send more.
For crap's sake, when will developers stop doing this? The upgrades don't show you any quantitative information, and you're forced to blindly guess which ones will be effective, with no re-spec, of course. It's not as bad as it would be in other games because of how well-balanced the upgrades are, but it's still so fundamentally wrong that I can't not make this an h1 heading.
Use of gimmicks
Unfortunately, the developers also took a lesson from Assassin's Creed 3 and went way overboard on the use of scripted sequences, unnecessary and/or "interactive" cinematics, and one-time-use "gameplay mechanics". In particular, the section at the beginning of Kashyyyk where you hijack an AT-AT and then pilot it is awful. Not really gameplay, since there's no decisions, no failure, nothing to do except move slowly and shoot stuff at your convenience, and it lasts about 5 minutes. That whole sequence should've been cut and replaced with a short cinematic.
That one's a particularly egregious, concentrated example, but the game is filled with what I call "crawl spaces" which are narrow spaces in walls you can climb through to get to a new area. Functionally, they're no different from a doorway; except that they're sometimes easy to miss, and the animation to climb through them is reaaaly looooong. There's no reason for them to be in the game; visual spectacle should never come before gameplay.
Another thing they reaaaly overuse is sliding sections. It's a common mechanic that during exploration, you slide down a steep slope of ice, rock, or whatever material, and you control only your left/right steering and jumping as you go down. In most of these sections, there's a risk of falling off the edge and respawning at the top, and the steering is so slidey that it can be almost impossible to avoid this when you don't know how the path will curve around the next corner. These sequences never felt like a satisfying challenge to me; they were always either pointless or actively frustrating, and they're used about 3x too often even if they were implemented a little better.
Many of the boss fights have "clash sabers and mash this button" happen a couple times throughout them, but at least they don't seem to demand superhuman tapping frequency. I never failed one even when I wasn't pressing my fastest. And if they aren't cutscene delimiters they always reward you with visible damage to the boss afterward, so it doesn't feel so much like the designers wasting your time.
The game has significant camera issues. The most common is that the sensitivity is just too low, and unless I'm blind, there's no option to raise it (there's an option for "mouse sensitivity", but for whatever reason it doesn't affect console controller sensitivity). This is frequently an issue during combat with multiple enemies; although in the second half of my playthrough I discovered something that helps a lot with this (see Protips below).
Another issue is that sometimes being attacked seems to rotate the camera so you can't see the enemy, or stick the camera inside the enemy's body so you can't see anything at all. This only happened to me a few times, but damn was it annoying. Every time it happened I got killed by it.
Also, they've inherited the problem every Dark Souls game and Sekiro has: if you try to lock on and the game doesn't think you're close enough or sufficiently in view, your camera gets thrown in a random direction instead of just failing to lock on.
Jedi: Fallen Order can barely be made hard enough. The person who introduced me to this game played on Jedi Master (3rd out of 4 settings) on his first playthrough and said he died about 10 times. So I did my first playthrough on Jedi Grandmaster, and it was really not that bad. I thought it was a perfect fit for me, and I'm hardly the greatest action game player. I'd be surprised if there aren't people who feel it's too easy on Grandmaster, and there's no recourse for them besides house rules.
Also, nitpick: the difficulties are named badly. They're "Story", "Jedi Knight", "Jedi Master", and "Jedi Grandmaster". Why the hell not "Padawan"? Jedi Knight should never be the lowest difficulty with a themed name.
Another ancillary thing about the difficulty levels - a good one - is that during selection you can see an approximation of how much of a difference they make. This article shows what it looks like. I've seen someone else play it on Jedi Master, and the preview is an accurate reflection of the difference.
Unskippable cinematics (sort of)
Fallen Order mostly gets this right: cutscenes only play the first time... but if you see a cutscene, die, and then exit the game, when you return it seems to have forgotten which cutscenes you've seen, and you can't skip them. This happened to me at the Taron Malicos boss fight, which has about 5 minutes of cinematic before it.
Fallen Order has Dark Souls-style save points, themed as "safe places to meditate". They work the same way - rest to refill your status and respawn the enemies.
One really big flaw is that there's no warping between them. Traveling between meditation points you've found can be very tedious (and it isn't helped by how easy it is to get lost in this game, even with the map). Even Dark Souls offered warping between bonfires (although in the first one only for the second half of the game and only some bonfires).
That said, they're good about placing save points before bosses and having reasonable section length.
This game's team had some people on it who really love Star Wars and the expanded universe. The worldbuilding and dialogue have so many much-appreciated references to other universe material and nods to Star Wars tradition:
Hacking a computer is referred to as "slicing", bringing back the wonderful childhood memories of Republic Commando.
The Nightsisters play a role, and they're way less awful than in the Clone Wars. The Clone Wars took a bad idea and made some of their cringiest episodes out of them. A few other Star Wars games (Elite Squadron) use the Nightsisters and do basically nothing interesting with them, but this game redeems the concept.
There's a character who used to be a Jedi, but isn't anymore because she "cut herself off from the Force". To a casual Star Wars fan, this might raise an eyebrow, but a long-time expanded universe junkie (which I'm not) might have heard of this concept before, from a game like The Force Unleashed.
The game makes heavy use of the player character's Force Slow ability. I've never seen this in another Star Wars game, so it's a nice breath of fresh air in gameplay terms, and in story terms it was introduced in the hands of Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens. It's great to see someone going for continuity with both the Disney era and the old stuff.
The Kyber crystal cave on Ilum plays a role, and the devs know their stuff! They know what everything is called and a mention is made of a memory of Yoda reflecting light to open the door.
The opening sequence is poor in story terms. It's about an hour of playing before you're no longer an outsider in Cal's mind. You're led to believe he's a random scrap collector working for the Empire. When I played (if you could call it that) the interactive cinematic where he saves Prauf from a fall with the Force, I assumed he was Force-sensitive and didn't know it before this. It turns out he's a Jedi who went into hiding after Order 66. While I'm glad it's not another "magically became proficient in the Force with no training" story in the vein of Rey, it's a bit jarring that I found out the "viewpoint" character knew he was a Jedi only after so much time playing as him.
Dialogue between him and Prauf is a bit clumsy, and Prauf's death scene is very bad. The imperial overseers find out there's a Jedi in their workforce, bring Cal and Prauf and their coworkers before stormtroopers, and say that if the Jedi doesn't come forth they'll execute them all. Prauf pretends to be the Jedi to save Cal. That would've been great, but after the Inquisitor stabs him, Cal reveals himself and attacks her. This reaction completely wastes Prauf's sacrifice, so the writers pull a total Deus Ex Machina to make him escape anyway. I'm not against characters making mistakes, but I'm against them making them in ways that require a Deus Ex Machina to cover for them, and the mistakes not being acknowledged as such.
Still, I have to admit the dream scene on the train was awesome. That's something I've probably never said of a dream sequence in a game before.
Cal is chased by the Inquisitors, and ends up having a brief clash of blades with the Second Sister, the one who stabbed Prauf. He's rescued by a woman named Cere, a former Jedi, and her pilot, the obligatory short-and-stout alien named Greez. Cere tells Cal that their plan is to rebuild the Jedi order. Cal is skeptical, having basically given up and lived the last decade or so in hiding, and Cere tells him not to despair.
They fly to Bogano, a planet where Cal meets the obligatory trusty droid companion, BD-1. BD-1 has some stored recordings of an old Jedi named Eno Cordova, who used to be Cere's master. The recordings reveal that Cordova was researching an ancient civilization called the Zeffo and believes their remnants can lead him to the location of a holocron that can find Force-sensitive children. That, of course, would be exactly what they need to rebuild the Jedi order... as well as exactly what the Empire needs to exterminate the Jedi for good, or to raise an army of Inquisitors if they wanted. BD-1 was given recordings of Cordova's messages in places throughout his footsteps that Cal will trace, but doesn't have them all available immediately because they're encrypted. Cordova wanted to make sure it wouldn't be easy for the Empire to find out what he found out if they captured BD-1. So BD-1 is only able to display the recordings as Cal visits the places they were made in.
The brunt of the story will revolve around hunting for Zeffo artifacts in order to eventually obtain the holocron. The whole archaeology things feels a bit cliche, but whatever.
Cal has a unique ability among Jedi to sense psat events by touching objects related to them. This is used when you examine "Force echoes" all over the planets, most of which just give you irrelevant background about people who've passed through, but sometimes they're more interesting, and the ability is plot-relevant later.
When Cal first questions Cere about her past, she says she cut herself off from the Force because "I had an experience... that... changed my perspective". For some reason, Cal backs off after that. He asks again later and she tells him a story about how she was captured by the Empire during the purge and tortured in an attempt to make her to divulge the location of her Padawan, Trilla, and everything she knew about Cordova and the Zeffo. She almost broke, but managed to escape during a prison riot. She says Trilla was also caught during the purge and didn't survive. Again, Cal backs off even though Cere hasn't answered the question.
In the first mission to Kashyyyk, you meet Saw Gererra, and help liberate Wookiee slaves, like you do in almost every OT-era Star Wars game... but that's fine. Throughout the story, Cal has visions of his training with his old master, Jaro Tapal, wherein he learned Force powers he's since gotten too rusty to pull off. These usually appear as dream-like sequences that come up right in the moment Cal needs the power, and the memory reawakens it.
I'll go ahead and stick the rest of the story section in an expand spoiler. TLDR: the story has a lot of really good ideas, some well-executed reveals with competent use of foreshadowing, a disappointing ending, and a generous helping of clumsy dialogue and downplayed emotional drama, but on the whole I like it.
During the second visit to Zeffo, Cal has a run-in with the Second Sister. It's a really fun boss. After the fight, she reveals that she is Cere's apprentice, and that Cere did not ultimately resist the torture as she claimed; she gave up Trilla's location and so Trilla was captured and tortured into becoming an Inquisitor. Upon seeing this, Cere used the dark side to escape, killing everyone present except Trilla. The foreshadowing was there; Cere's two-time evasion of Cal's question all makes sense. She just about did tell him why she cut herself off from the Force! She just lied about that crucial detail.
Another awesome thing about the way this reveal is done is that with Cere's dialogue in the previous conversation, when she explicitly claims Trilla "didn't survive", the writers were making a callback to how Ben told Luke Vader had "betrayed and murdered" his father, and then when the truth came out, instead of apologizing for lying, justified it as "Vader isn't the same person as your father, so what I told you was true... from a certain point of view".
It's not so awesome that they put this in the same mission as the event where Greez's past catches up with him and Cal is captured by bounty hunters, because the payoffs draw attention away from each other, and when you get back to the Mantis, both conversations are handled very poorly:
Almost nothing is said about Greez's past; there's about three lines digging at him for getting Cal into that, but no real explanation of what happened.
Cere's dialogue is poor. With the line "She was my apprentice", she repeats information she already gave him and makes it not sound like an admission that she lied (even though she isn't hiding that anymore). Since it was previously an unresolved mystery exactly why Cere decided to cut herself off from the Force, Cal should've had a line acknowledging that this question is now answered (shakily, but as much as it's going to be).
Cal decides not to press her about it because "we have our lead now", but that makes no sense because they have hours left to ride.
Greez says he doesn't know what's going on between Cal and Cere, but Cal said it right in front of his face. In fact from Cal's body language in that scene, I thought he considered not saying it in front of Greez for Cere's sake, but then decided she didn't deserve that favor and gave it away. Apparently the writers were trying to convey that he took Cere out of Greez's earshot for this and the cutscene animators didn't do their job.
You meet Tarfful on your return to Kashyyyk, but he doesn't do anything besides get a couple of lines. The next big story part is the encounter with the Nightsisters on Dathomir. Cal meets a Nightsister who demands he leave, and sends Nightbrothers to attack him when he says he can't. He also runs into a mysterious "Wanderer" with a cloak and a beard, who claims to be there for archaeology and warns Cal about the ubiquitous danger of the planet. Cal survives each of the Nightsister and Nightbrothers' attempts to ambush him, and makes it to the entry to the Zeffo tomb there.
Cal has a long memory sequence of the day he and master Tapal were caught up in Order 66 and Tapal sacrificed himself to save Cal. Cal feels that if he had've been stronger, braver, Tapal would've survived.
When the memory concludes, Cal finds himself in a further dream sequence of training with master Tapal. After Cal wins the match and stabs his master, Tapal says, "Yes, Padawan, my blood is on your hands", and tells him he's a failure, a weakling, a traitor, and no Jedi. When Cal comes out of his vision, his lightsaber is broken.
Unable to continue without it, Cal returns to the Mantis, back to the brink of despair and gets another pep talk from Cere, who tells him to go to Ilum to build a new lightsaber. He does, and of course the Empire is there and he fights his way out with his new weapon and newfound resolve.
Cal returns to Dathomir. This information has been getting hinted at throughout the exploration, but now he discovers that Nightsister Merrin was a child during the Grievous massacre, and thinks it was the Jedi! The "Wanderer" turns out to be a rogue Jedi named Taron Malicos, who went to Dathomir during the purge, and ended up making allies with Merrin and becoming the chief of the Nightbrothers. He promised Merrin that if she'd ally with him and teach him her magic, he'd help her get revenge. Cal is eventually able to get Merrin to stop trying to kill him, and together they defeat Malicos. Merrin helps Cal find the Zeffo artifact there and even ends up joining his team.
With all the necessary pieces, the group heads back to Bogano to get the holocron, and Cal's able to reach it. Trilla is there. She and Cal have a brief fight that ends with him disarming her and getting her lightsaber, but this is what Trilla intended - holding the saber gives Cal a lengthy vision of her and Cere's past and how they were tortured. It renders him incapacitated while Trilla swipes the holocron and leaves.
When Cal gets back to the Mantis, the conversation is downplayed as usual and the events aren't nearly done justice, but we get an amazing scene where Cere uses Trilla's lightsaber (she walked away without it) to anoint Cal as a Jedi Knight. She goes back to being a Jedi herself.
The company travels to the planet Nur, which hosts Fortress Inquisitorius. Nur is blockaded and the Mantis's stealth systems are insufficent, and Merrin's Nightsister magic comes in handy to make them invisible. They land at Fortress Inquisitorius.
Cal defeats Trilla and gets the holocron, Cere arrives and tries to sway Trilla back to Team Good, but before the conversation can come to a conclusion, Vader appears, and kills Trilla. Cal and Cere flee in an excellent cinematic, and end up flooding the underwater facility and escaping Vader, but Cere is knocked unconscious during it. Cal gives her his water breather, but without it himself, he passes out before he can reach the surface. Merrin swims down and rescues them.
Finally, everyone is safe in the Mantis with the holocron, and Cere points out that if they try to recruit these children, the Empire will be after them for the rest of their lives too. In light of that, Cal says "Their destiny should be trusted to the Force" and destroys the holocron.
The story had some really good ideas, but the ending was a major disappointment. My biggest criticism is of Cal's decision to destroy the holocron. While you could argue it's the right decision (it wouldn't outright waste the plot because they had to stop the Empire from getting the holocron), they needed to have this idea be discussed throughout the story. Having them go through all this under the assumption that they'll use the holocron to find the children without even considering destroying it and then at the last second decide to do the latter with only a few lines of dialogue and next to no fanfare? No!
The writers should've gone for a tragic ending. It would've been the better way to explain why the heroes didn't proceed to found a Jedi order and would've been appreciated anyway. I noticed during the cinematic where Cal and Cere were fighting Vader, there was a golden opportunity to have Cal destroy the holocron to stop the Empire from getting it. I actually expected that to happen back there. The odds of them escaping with it looked pretty bleak, so it would have been a very sensible decision. And it would've been probably the only time I've ever seen the "goodguys destroy the artifact of immeasurable power instead of using it" trope be not just justified, but badass.
Trilla's arc isn't really closed. She doesn't get to either choose or refuse redemption in the end. That was a disappointment.
I'm also disappointed that Trilla was the final boss. She wasn't epic enough. The final boss could've been a losing battle against Vader after her, and, regardless, I didn't expect her to be while I was fighting her. You should never be surprised to find out you just killed the final boss. I mean for the Force's sake, they didn't even play Duel of the Fates! They played the same music she got before! What kind of Star Wars fan makes an entire Jedi RPG without once playing Duel of the Fates or Battle of the Heroes?
Generally speaking, the writers handled story conversations aboard the Mantis poorly; almost all of them are downplayed and brief, and right after them if you talk to the characters more you get inane dialogue about normal stuff, as if nothing huge just happened that changed how everyone sees each other.
I rarely noticed the music, despite turning up the volume on it. It was mostly generic tracks for the battles, even some of the bosses got what sounded like normal battle music (Ninth Sister), and Trilla got a typical Dark Souls-like boss track, albeit it wasn't irritating like most Dark Souls ones are. And as I said above, it's an atrocity that they never used any of the great iconic Star Wars tracks. The only area in which they did particularly good on the music was the main menu.
I find it helps a ton with the camera issues to not be locked on. In Dark Souls and Sekiro this wasn't really an option in my experience because 50% of my attacks would miss even if it looked like I was facing the right direction. But in Fallen Order, most of your swings are wide sweeps, so you can actually fight without locking on, and I highly recommend it against multiple enemies. It makes the sensitivity and viewport issues much less problematic.
You can't switch from blocking to parrying on short notice. If you try to parry and end up blocking, don't try to cancel your block between hits and parry the next one; it'll get you hit every time. You have to wait until the combo is over.
There is a stagger mechanic. Many attacks (most of the Ninth Sister's and Taron Malicos's attacks, it seems) prevent you from blocking the next hit if you tank the first. Usually dodging out of the combo still works.
There are a lot of attacks that you can can sometimes get away with a precision dodge against, but it doesn't seem to be reliable. I recommend doing full rolls unless you're really sure, or you just want to experiment.
You do jump higher by holding down the jump button.
There's an upgrade far down the Force tree that makes BD's stim canisters refill your Force as well. This is easily the most valuable upgrade in the game, and I recommend getting it as soon as it's available. It lets you use Force powers as a sparing special attack, rather than an "OMG I really don't wanna waste it" emergency card that you end up almost never using as a result (like power weapons in Halo).
I also really like how this upgade makes the decision of whether to use a stim more interesting. Normally you want to use it whenever you're low enough on health to not waste any, but this adds an element of wanting to wait until your Force is empty too. When practicing against the final boss I learned to use my Force powers more liberally to avoid needing to heal without having any Force to regain. I found an inefficent but reliable way to trade Force for a single hit, so when I was low on health, I'd drain the rest of my Force meter doing that before healing.
Wait a minute, you can get 10 stim canisters?!? Yeah... I played the game with 3. Lol.
Honestly though if you want a challenge I recommend not getting them all. I thought the game on Jedi Grandmaster was a well-balanced experience for me with only 3 stims. I actually think having more stims would've been somewhat less interesting in that it would've made conserving stims less important. I liked feeling like stims were a scarce resource, in contrast to Dark Souls where Estus flasks are so plentiful that I almost never worried about running out of them.