Preamble: I would never normally play a game like this. These action-adventure games are not my jam at all. I don’t like action sequences, combat, button mashing and tricky platforming. Which these games tend to have.
The only reason I actually picked it up was because I’ve heard it’s got a souls-like combat system and taking that system and putting it in a Star Wars universe was something I’d been dreaming about for a long time. Unfortunately, that meant I can’t help but to compare Fallen Order to Dark Souls and Bloodborne.
Speaking of Star Wars itself, I’m somewhere in the middle — the lightsabers are absolutely fantastic and basically define the world for me. They’ve also got some wonderful worlds to see and explore. And that is it. I care very little about the plot, politics, blasters, spaceships. All that only serves to us to what really matters: awesome lightsaber fights in wicked cool places.
I loved Phantom Menace because the Darth Maul + Qui-Gon + Obi-Wan scene at the end was brilliant. Also, Jar-Jar was funny. This may have something to do with me being 13 at that time, but still. Great movie.
You play a character I only think of as Blando Blandissian (real name: Cal Kestis) who is utterly uninsteresting. Blando is a young padawan hidden away on a starship scrapyard having escaped the purge of the Jedi. The Empire is still hunting the remaining ones and Blando gets found out and then saved by a couple of rebels.
He meets a cute droid and sets off on a quest to find other potential Jedi.
The whole storyline is quite boring, too. You don’t get to make many choices (it’s not an RPG) and with the exception of the second world you travel to (you’ll see both, but you can choose the order), it’s fairly linear.
But the worlds you get to visit are really diverse and cool. You’ll see Dathomir (a birthplace of Darth Maul), the jungle on Kashyyyk (where the Wookies come from) — the writing here is really silly — every word (names, animals, places) has three y’s on it. Ridyyyculous. But the world itself is lovely. This huge jungle being destroyed by the empire’s mining operation. Each place has a very distinct feel, flora and fauna and it is fun to explore.
They’ve even tried to put a bit of verticality into it. This is one of the great strengths of the soulsborne games and it makes the areas much more intriguing than if they were all just a big flat plane.
The areas in Fallen Order are not as majestic, but it’s still way more than just going left and right. It makes it more interesting to explore.
Unfortunately, the world design is nowhere near what From Software has produced. It’s still all mostly linear. Not a lot of decisions.
Fallen Order indeed has a souls-like combat. This is wonderful.
You’ve got the stamina, timing, parries and everything else that makes it downright dangerous to just jump in and mash some buttons. You need to observe your enemies, learn their patterns and react to them.
It feels a little fiddlier than the souls games, but it’s all good. The combat is also much faster (than Bloodborne, even) which I struggled with, but you can lower the difficulty. This alone makes it much more accessible than the souls games and indeed, on the lowest one you can just button-mash through it to follow the story.
You probably wouldn’t want to do that, though. The little story there is is about as captivating as the protagonist.
If it was just the exploration and combat, this would be a really decent game. Nowhere near the heights of Dark Souls or Bloodborne, but like, really good. It’s not, though.
You spend a significant portion of the game fighting the controls in really fiddly platforming sections or trying to solve easy but equally fiddly puzzles. And these bring the game down a lot.
I kind of assumed that the main issue with games like these would be the combat. I don’t like combat in the vast majority of games (with the bizarre and as yet unexplained exception of the soulslikes). So yeah, swap whatever garbage combat a game would have with the soulsborne one and Bob’s your uncle.
But I was struggling about as much with the platforming and puzzles as I would have with the combat.
The rest of the game is a solid "meh". Most of the items you discover in the world are cosmetic changes to your character (new clothes or colour patterns), your robot or your ship.
This should be absolutely exciting! Fashion Souls is a huge part of the soulsborne games. Except, none of these outfits look better than your default kit. Which is a really low bar.
And since they’ve got no effects on the gameplay, I’ve played the through the whole game with the default look. Speaking of looks, there’s no character customisation and of course Blando is a white male human. The most overplayed look in video games.
There’s really no inventory or other customisation to speak of with the exception of the Force skills.
You get three skill trees where you can put skill points you accumulate throughout the game and here you can finally make some meaningful decisions.
Do you invest in the lightsaber throwing or pushing groups of enemies off a cliff? The answer is of course both, but you need to prioritise. Not all the skills are equally amazing, but the abilities are generally cool and I had fun playing with them.
Unfortunately, parts of the skill tree are locked away and only open at set milestones in the story. Which meant at some point I’d learned all the skills I could and was just accumulating skill points waiting impatiently to be able to put them to use.
And some of the more interesting stuff (force push/pull, double-ended lightsaber and my favourite — dual-wielding lightsabers) is only available as you progress throughout the story.
I’d be much more excited if I saw a dual wield in the skill tree and could just work towards it.
And so this is a game that brings some of the really cool stuff bits of Dark Souls (the combat, verticality, exploration, learning through repetition, celebrating failure) into the world of mainstream gaming.
But on every occasion, it falls short.
The world is not as fun. The combat is more fiddly. The respawning mechanic makes no sense in the universe (both Dark Souls and Bloodborne have the respawn/resurrect mechanic embedded deep within the lore). The areas are more linear. The story is clearer but more boring.
It’s got item and location descriptions (one of the main storytelling avenues in soulslikes), but they’re absolutely mundane and uninteresting. It’s got fantastic dress-up opportunities and it completely underdelivers on them.
It’s got soulslike shortcuts: when you progress through the game, you might be able to e.g. open doors that were closed to you originally. And on your later runs you can go through the door, skipping the original lengthy route.
Except, the game is so linear the shortcuts almost never have a real value.
The levels are vertical and when you get high enough, you can look down through a hole in a wall or a ledge at a lower part of the level. But unlike in the Dark Souls games, all you can do is look. You can’t jump down to get somewhere quickly. You can’t utilise your knowledge of the lower levels.
It’s also very much light on bosses. I think there are like 3-4 proper boss encounters plus maybe a couple optional ones. I hate bosses in most games, but the soulslike combat makes them interesting. You get to the opportunity to put what you’ve learned to use and improve. Face a real challenge.
And that’s the real tragedy of Fallen Order. It’s got all the bits that work so well in the soulslikes. And I genuinely thought they’re what makes those games special and simply transplanting them to another setting would be amazing. Not a 10/10 but a solid eight. And it’s not.
What From Software did with soulslike is put all these pieces together with a fantastic care, put a huge amount of effort into the world design and history and made sure you got a super solid coherent picture emerging out of it all. It gave you variety of builds and play styles to go through to keep you engaged. It gave you a real world you actually occupied and learned.
What Respawn did with Fallen Order is put all these pieces together into a Star Wars world. That’s all.
And so while I’ve had fun with the game, playing it has been a constant show of how these are not connected at all and how it all fails to produce something really good. It did give me a huge new appreciation for Dark Souls and Bloodborne, though. These games are much more than just the cool systems and lore.
There were things I liked though. The NPC characters you get to meet are all really awesome and unlike Blando, have actual personalities.
But even there I missed the potential. If this were an RPG like the Knights of the Old Republic or Mass Effect, you would go on missions pertaining to their backgrounds. You would get to see them outside of the confines of the ship you travel on. You would learn more about them.
But this is a linear follow-the-quest romp. So you get to know them much less than you could have.
A lot of my criticism comes from the fact that it’s not my kind of game.
There are some genuinely problematic bits there: forced failures, the occasional button mashing, some of the platforming is really fiddly (especially the slide and rope sections were horrific). Locking away parts of the skill tree and abilities, not knowing when they become available. The ending was really bad, pretty much undoing the entire endeavor you went through.
But there are some improvements over the soulsborne games too: a difficulty slider. A map! Things are more explicit and easier to learn.
If you do like platforming, puzzles, action sequences and a terribly mediocre Star Wars story weaving it all together, this might work just fine.
And hey, if you do play this and like it, try Bloodborne next. You’ll be familiar with the core gameplay and you’ll get to experience something amazing.
Me, I wish From Software got to do a game with lightsabers in it. Also, if Nier: Automata had this type of combat leaving everything else the way it is, I would have finished and almost certainly loved it to bits.