Jedi: Survivor Feels Like the Empire Strikes Back of Star Wars Games
A bold direction for a galaxy far, far away.
After five years of fighting the Empire, Cal Kestis has become a capable, confident Jedi, and that theme of confidence permeates every facet of Star Wars Jedi: Survivor. After playing roughly three and a half hours of Jedi Survivor, I can say that the sequel knows the problems of its predecessor and has taken steps to address nearly every one of them. At the same time, Survivor isn’t content to sit on its laurels and just fix problems; It drastically expands the scope of the story and world, creating a dynamic combat system that gives you a wealth of options.
The demo we played through picked up roughly one hour into the game according to Respawn, as Cal and BD-1 crash-land on a frontier planet named Koboh after a job went wrong. Cal is on the search for his old friend Greez. There’s, unfortunately, not a lot I can say about the story elements of Jedi Survivor, but the dynamic between Cal and BD-1 feels more fun than ever as the playful little robot scuttles around and excitedly beeps and boops at the various discoveries you make.
The second you pick up the controller it’s incredibly clear that Jedi Survivor plays drastically better than the previous game. Fallen Order had a lot of weird little quirks and issues with its mechanics, like the awkward animation of Cal’s run, or the “floatiness” of its core combat. Everything in Jedi Survivor simply feels faster and tighter. For example, Cal instantly jumps onto climbable surfaces now and climbs nearly twice as fast. Movement, in general, just feels faster and more fluid, whether it’s executing double jumps or pulling a rope with the force to jump onto.
“I think where the game really shines is when you look at the sum of the parts and how they prop each other up to something that’s more refined,” director Stig Asmussen tells Inverse. “I feel like we’ve all gotten better at our craft, and I hope others recognize that and feel that way as well.”
All of those refinements are put to good use in the drastically larger environments of Jedi Survivor. The smaller more focused environments of Fallen Order have now given way to expansive, explorable planets that feel like open-world hubs. Koboh is a planet that feels a bit like the Wild West, smattered with towns and settlements, ancient ruins, deep forests, and more. There’s clearly a space-western aesthetic happening, from Cal’s new outfit having the big belt buckle and gunslinger belt to the rustic cantina at Rambler’s Reach, that you visit while looking for Greez.
The cliffs and forests of Koboh are populated with all the platforming and puzzle-solving you’d expect, but you won’t be exploring them alone. Jedi Survivor introduces mounts that Cal can tame, and the two that we found let us glide long distances on a bat-like creature or run up slopes on a two-legged ostrich kind of alien. These mounts can also help you explore new areas, as the latter one had an ability that let Cal jump extra high to reach new areas.
Past that what’s most surprising is the number of NPCs that populated the various areas of the planet. The cantina at Koboh seems to function as a base of operation for Cal, and you can find various recruits that enhance the base by completing side quests. For example, you can find someone named Ashe Javi and her droid DD-EC, who can become DJs at the cantina if convinced, letting you play a selection of in-universe music.
At points in the story, you’ll get a notice that new conversations are available at the cantina, and these can often lead to new sidequests, which are themed as “rumors.” Hearing about rumors will mark an area on Cal’s map, and you’ll need to head to that area and search to find your objective. All of the rumors I had time to hear helped flesh out the people and culture of Koboh, but one in particular came with a massive surprise.
I’d heard about a group of Prospectors that delved into a mine looking for riches and mysteriously vanished. As I delved into the mine it was clear something wasn’t right as countless creatures lay strewn about, and wreckage littered each hallway. Dropping down into a cave area put me face-to-face with a massive Rancor, which launched a nail-biting boss battle that took me multiple tries.
Jedi Survivor’s combat system has a wealth of new options, with five different Lightsaber “stances” to choose from. During the demo, there were three stances unlocked: single-blade, dual-blades, and a double-sided Lightsaber. All three of these stances feel drastically different, and each comes with its own skill tree to unlock new moves.
Once again, combat feels far more refined this time around. Everything feels more fluid and easier to control. Cal can effortlessly send blaster shots flying back, use a Jedi mind trick to make enemies fight on his side, and effortlessly dodge both on the ground and through the air. From the get-go, you already have Force Push and Force Pull unlocked, giving you a wealth of combat options that only expand as you level up.
Each Lightsaber form also has its own “Force” attack mapped to the Y button. For the Dual Blades, holding the button down puts Cal in concentration mode, which lets him instantly counter any attacks. The double-ended saber move, on the other hand, lets you throw your weapon in an arc around you, hitting any nearby enemies. EA also showed off a combat demo that revealed the two final stances, the Kylo Ren-inspired cross-guard saber and dual-wielding a saber and blaster. That latter stance looks like an absolutely wild deviation from what we’ve seen before. Cal can blast enemies at a distance, send out a shock bolt that bounces from enemy to enemy, or force lift a whole group and then use a Red Dead Redemption-style marksmen ability to shoot everyone at once.
There also seems to be a wider array of enemies to account for Cal’s vast array of options. Koboh is home to a group called the Bedlam Raiders, who’s somehow found a way to control Battle Droids and Super Battle Droids. The fan-favorite enemies not only bring a healthy dose of slapstick humor but also an interesting new combat dynamic. Standard Battle Droids are brittle, usually going down in one hit, but they often come at you in droves. Super Battle Droids, on the other hand, are hulking enemies that are hard to stagger and consistently hit you with heavy blaster attacks. The demo also had me going up against intimidating brown Wompa-like creatures named Mogu, giant toads, a giant head-butting chicken named a Rawka, and the usual fare of Stormtroopers.
Jedi Survivor might ostensibly be a sequel, but the host of changes and five-year time leap practically make it feel like a new game. There’s, of course, history from Fallen Order, but it’s clear Respawn wants to make something big and bold unrestricted by the past. In many ways it feels reminiscent of The Empire Strikes Back, never forgetting what its predecessor did but not bound by it either in terms of building a universe and story. Later this month we may need to have a new discussion about the best Star Wars games.