Star Wars fans have received a bevy of new stories already this year. New seasons of The Bad Batch and The Mandalorian aired through April, Ahsoka airs this summer, and now 2019’s Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order got its sequel, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor.
Note: A review key from EA for Xbox Series X was provided for this game, and took just over 30 hours to complete the main quest. There will be some early-game spoilers and vague references to later plot points.
Developer & Publisher // Respawn, Electronic Arts
Platforms // PlayStation 4|5, PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
MSRP & Release Date //$69.99, Apr 28, 2023
Reviewed On // Xbox Series X
While, the first game, Fallen Order, had its faults, it still earned mountains of praise for its combat system, storyline, and wonderful characters. Survivor rectifies many of those faults and becomes one of gaming’s greatest sequels. Survivor tells a heartfelt story with lovable characters, expanded customization options, and a massively improved navigation system lead the way for one of 2023’s strongest games this year.
Cal Kestis Needs a Break
Five years after the events of Fallen Order, Cal Kestis and his faithful droid, BD-1, fight the Empire with noted radical, Saw Guerrera. After a disastrous mission, Cal emergency lands on Koboh, the current home of an old friend, Greez Dritus, to get Greez to repair his old ship, the Mantis. There, Cal and BD-1 stumble into the ruins of an old Jedi temple and find a droid named ZN-A4 (Zee). Zee reveals that the myth of Tanalorr, a planet secluded in a wormhole away from the Empire, is real. In turn, Cal journeys to reunite the old Mantis crew with Greez and the other survivor from the failed mission, Bode Akuna.
Cal’s story is a case study of the path to the Dark Side of the Force. Namely, it shows Yoda’s famous quote in action. The core antagonist and Cal’s fears stick in their respective heads throughout the game, and their most captivating moments come when their fears turn real. More than just good Star Wars storytelling, the game is just good storytelling. Respawn knows the nature of what being a Jedi is about. More than that, they explore its darker elements and their understanding of it shines through.
Survivor’s only narrative issue is it gets a tad predictable. We accurately predicted some core plot points early on, and determined how the story progressed after some boss fights mid-fight. Additionally, the climax of the game sees one development that goes beyond what rationally makes sense, and the culprit isn’t called out on it. That’s not to say there aren’t any surprises, but when big reveals can be called early on, their shock value dampens.
Survivor’s Script Soars Thanks to Its Talent
Beyond the Dark Side, Jedi Survivor hits numerous different highs. The big action sequences will leave you in awe and the smaller intimate moments show the depth and care that went into these characters. Cal’s reunited crew includes excellent performances by Cameron Monaghan (Cal), Debra Wilson (Cere Junda, Cal’s mentor), Noshir Dalal (Bode), Tina Ivlev (Merrin), but best of all, Daniel Roebuck (Greez Dritus).
Roebuck ensures Greez goes beyond being the Mantis’ lovable pilot to one of Cal’s most trusted elders. Everyone’s favorite Latero pilot turned saloon owner hits a wide range of feelings throughout the game from joy, goofiness, anger, and conviction. Simply put, Roebuck nails every single one of them. While the game has many great performances, Roebuck’s steals the show.
Sticking with writing, NPC’s side conversations really engage the player. Enemies will have either situationally relevant conversations or humorous back-and-forths. Many of the latter come from the Bedlam Raiders’ repurposed droids from the Clone Wars. These conversations show that Respawn’s writers’ room wants their players to stay engaged with the world beyond the gameplay.
Survivor Makes Exploration Much Easier
Respawn’s no stranger to making incredible sequels. Like Titanfall 2 before it, Jedi Survivor improves upon its predecessor in nearly every way. Its most notable improvements are in world exploration and player customization.
Fallen Order‘s biggest non-bug-related critique revolved around exploration because there was no fast travel despite its checkpoint system (called Meditation spots). Even though both games give you shortcuts as you get deeper into each area, those only took you back to the last shortcut or Meditation spot you hit. Fast travel was sorely needed in Fallen Order, but worry no more, as Meditation spots let you fast-travel between them.
Additionally, Survivor successfully expands from a Metroidvania-esque level system to a mostly open-world system. When you open the world map, you can see the geography of where you’ve been, gate markers to show where you can go, and colored sections to see where you need powers (acquired through the main story) to go. Green means you have the power, and red means you don’t. Cal can also use BD-1’s binoculars to place a map marker on a far-off area they can see (and as an aside, also look up combat tips for enemies they’ve beaten and scanned for combat data).
That’s helpful design. We don’t need to see everything we haven’t gotten to yet, we just need to see where we can go from our current spot. Players see where they can go which comes in handy during linear story missions so you don’t get lost. The map layout may still feel clunky to some, but overall it’s much improved.
Another big design choice that deserves roses is that players fill the map as they explore. Unless you hear a rumor in-game showing an area to check out, you aren’t forced fed everything’s location. You can go explore that secluded entryway on the map, and you might find something. Jedi Survivor has many gems hidden in the game from secret boss fights to weird easter eggs. That’s really good for getting the player to explore on their own terms.
Additional Combat Stances Expand Cal’s Capabilities
As well as Fallen Order did combat, Survivor takes the next step. In Fallen Order, players could switch between three Stances: the Single saber, Dual Wield, and Double-Bladed saber. Now they have five. The two new ones, the Blaster and Crossguard Stances, are unlocked through the story, and expand Cal’s possible playstyles.
Survivor also gives more detail about each Stance’s strengths and weaknesses. Each Stance balances Power, Defense, Range, and Speed. Each stat has one Stance that maxes out that stat aside from Defense. These stats help guide the player towards their preferred playstyle, which is important for spending skill points.
Where Fallen Order had one giant skill tree, Survivor has multiple smaller skill trees. These trees split into three groups: Survivor (health-based upgrades), Lightsaber (Stance-specific trees), and Force (self-explanatory). Each tree has different unlockable upgrades and abilities, and each Lightsaber tree focuses on a specific stance. While you can respec (reset and refund your skills) your skill trees, knowing which Stance you want to invest in helps so much in the long term.
Players can also unlock perks, which is a separate mechanic that you spend currency on, to boost Cal’s abilities. Cal has a max of ten perk slots, but some perks cost more than others. While there are some notable perks unlock, perks do not have the same gravitas skills do. They don’t affect your skills to the same degree Skill Trees do, and some of the New Game Plus perks are entirely cosmetic. That said, perks aren’t a bad addition to the game.
Having all of these options adds meaningful customization for the player to the game. Players don’t have to feel pigeonholed into one particular playstyle, they can experiment with which ones work best for them. They can even go into Training Mode at the Meditation spots for a no-stakes practice mode. For a game that still does have a specific mold, building off an already excellent combat system, these improvements are excellent.
New Cosmetic Customizations Let You Make Your Own Hero
Much like Fallen Order, the main unlockables are cosmetic. Here, however, it’s not just ponchos. Players can change Cal’s fashion, his weapons, and even BD-1. When customizing Cal’s clothing, some articles have different color schemes. Conversely, players can granularly edit Cal’s arsenal and BD at any workbench. For the saber, players can choose a saber color, each of which has its own unique sound frequencies, the various pieces on it, the color palette, and the wear and tear. Blasters get the same options aside from the blade, and BD gets options for his main body parts (head, legs, etc.).
Fans can rejoice in that these options unlock as soon as you find your first workbench and/or outfit. In another major improvement over Fallen Order, customization feels fleshed out this time, and not just tacked on. Cal’s hair color is the only thing you still can’t change, but that can be forgiven for now with all of these other great additions.
Pyloon’s Saloon Feature a Great Variety of Characters and Sidequests
Greez now owns a saloon on Koboh, Pyloon’s Saloon. That spot grows throughout the game as Cal convinces various people he meets to go there for various reasons. This motley group of patrons include quest-giving aliens, vendors, game managers, and Turgle. Turgle is a frog-like alien known better as a bad conman. You meet him when the Bedlam Raiders try killing him for giving fake artifacts.
Turgle represents a slice of who you can expect to see. Pyloon’s can also host the tiny fisherman with the giant moustache and personality, Skoova Stev, the Astromech DJ droid, DD-EC, and more. Not all of the NPCs you bring long-running side quests. But many of them earn a spot in Many of Star Wars greatest drinking haunts that feature numerous, memorable aliens. No doubt Pyloon’s Saloon fits that bill.
These quests range from Bounty Hunting to gardening to fishing to a strategy mini-game, Holotactics. Holotactics plays like Auto-Chess and Cal unlocks new pieces by beating their inspiration in the open world and scanning them (for example, if you scan a Stormtrooper after killing it, you can now use Stormtroopers in Holotactics).
Holotactics lead an excellent set of side content in Jedi Survivor. The mini-game moves quickly enough to get addicting when you get stuck on various matches. And tying in your main game’s progress to Holotactics makes you want to come back with your new pieces. While there might not be a massive number of Holotactics matches, this still sits as an excellent minigame.
Bad Performance Issues Drag Down an Excellent Game
Jedi Survivor should never have shipped in this state. Barring very sparse, small areas, the framerate can slow down to a crawl. Textures take forever to pop in, even during cutscenes. Additionally, we had one flat-out game crash around the 25-hour mark and another complete freeze which forced us to manually shut down the game. Most slow downs happened in the bigger, open-world areas, but most other areas were not much better.
We experienced technical issues on both Quality and Performance mode on the Xbox Series X version. To use an American Football analogy, the difference felt similar to a QB competition between a veteran backup and a rookie. Your backup (Quality Mode) generally has a higher floor for their worst showing but a lower ceiling for their best, and vice-versa for the rookie (Performance Mode).
If you want consistency, use Quality Mode, but if you want the rare moments the game gets it together, use Performance. Regardless, the technical state of the game is abhorrent. Survivor’s core gameplay loop relies on precise button pressing that gets thrown off when the framerate slugs. That’s detrimental to the experience. We get that developers can’t fix every issue before a game launches, and Respawn and EA have been patching it, but the game needed a much cleaner release than what we got.
Verdict: Tech Issues Aside, This Does Everything a Sequel Should
To conclude this review, I want to make a clarification. I didn’t pick on Fallen Order because it disappoints, but instead to show how Survivor wildly improved on it.
Respawn Entertainment took most of the right lessons from Fallen Order’s reception for this release. It delivered another excellent story, expanded upon an already great combat system, and made necessary improvements to world exploration. As an open world game, the game also entices the player to explore with engaging tactics, side quests, and side characters.
Technical issues do dampen the total experience a lot. While EA and Respawn have been patching the game, waiting for more patches is understandable. However, once those patches are in, every Star Wars fan must play this game because it succinctly shows the path to the Dark Side.