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‘Jedi: Survivor’ Is a Great Action Game and an Even Better ‘Star Wars’ Game

Almost four years after the release of ‘Jedi: Fallen Order,’ Respawn Entertainment raises the bar, crafting a superior sequel (and an equally engrossing ‘Star Wars’ experience)

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

When I finished Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, after roughly 35 hours of conversing, traversing, and coercing, I didn’t abandon Cal Kestis at the site of his final battle. Instead, I endured some extra loading time to travel between planets and deposit him in his humble room in the basement of Pyloon’s Saloon, a run-down dive in a prospectors’ town on a backwater world called Koboh. I may spend more hours in Cal’s company—those dark blots on the map promise much more for us to see and do—but big games are no longer held for the holidays, and I’m already feeling the Force pulls of Burning Shores, Tears of the Kingdom, and Diablo IV. If this was goodbye, I wanted to part at Pyloon’s so that when I cut our connection and returned to real life, I could comfort myself with the thought of Cal and droid sidekick BD-1 ensconced in their cozy quarters. By the end of the game, that room at Pyloon’s wasn’t just a save point. Jedi: Survivor made it feel like a home in a huge and dangerous galaxy that I was reluctant to leave.

“Everything I’m doing feels pointless,” Cal laments toward the beginning of the sequel to 2019’s Jedi: Fallen Order. “The Empire is only growing stronger.” And yeah, he has a point. At no point in Jedi: Survivor does it feel like Cal could take on the whole Empire himself—not least because the game is set nine years before Episode IV, when new hope is hard to come by. Like its predecessor, Jedi: Survivor is somewhat hemmed in, on a narrative level, by the big-screen trilogies that flank its position on the Star Wars timeline. Which makes it most impressive that the writers at Respawn Entertainment spun a story so sweeping and so steeped in the classic spirit of Star Wars that Cal’s quest seems as essential as anything on Disney+. Jedi: Survivor is a great action-adventure game, one whose exploration, navigation, skill progression, and combat improve on Fallen Order’s in almost every way. It’s an even better Star Wars game—probably the best in 20 years.

Fallen Order ended in a showdown with Darth Vader, punctuated by a refreshingly non-triumphant twist. After finally securing a Holocron containing a list of Force-sensitive children, Cal—the former Padawan turned Jedi knight—decides to destroy it, sacrificing the future of the already devastated Order to ensure the kids’ safety. Jedi: Survivor picks up several years later, with some of the interim illuminated via flashbacks and a tie-in novel. Cal and BD have continued to take the fight to the Empire, despite the seeming impossibility of loosening its grasp on the galaxy, but the eclectic crew of the Mantis—a family found and forged by Cal to replace the one he lost to Order 66—has scattered. At the beginning of the game, Cal refuses to rethink his devotion to a possibly lost cause, but as he gets the gang back together and assesses the toll that his crusade could take, he weighs what he hopes to gain against what he and his companions stand to lose.

Jedi: Survivor’s gameplay retains Fallen Order’s blend of Dark Souls–esque combat, Metroidvania-inspired level design, and God of War–style set pieces and storytelling, but each aspect is expanded and refined. The sequel offers five fighting styles: single blade, double blade, dual wield, cross guard, and my personal favorite, the blaster stance. (Just as I was craving a real ranged attack, the game gave me one, allowing me to utilize an ancient weapon and a good blaster by my side simultaneously.) Some of the game’s environments—particularly Koboh, which is so sprawling and packed with side quests, collectibles, puzzles, and platforming that, despite plenty of wandering, I beat the game having seen only 65 percent of it—dwarf the scale of Fallen Order’s. Yet thanks to the increased clarity of the map screen, coupled with fast travel, most of the first game’s tedious backtracking is mercifully removed.

Many sequels insist on depriving their protagonists of the hard-earned powers that players unlocked the first time around, thereby resetting the skill tree and creating a reason to power up all over again. Fortunately, that trope wouldn’t make sense for Jedi: Survivor’s story, and Respawn doesn’t insist on making Cal start from scratch. Many of the techniques Cal learns in Fallen Order are present from the start in Survivor, and he acquires additional capabilities as the game goes on, enabling him to climb higher, leap farther, and fight harder than before. The game’s showstopping action sequences—especially those that take place on Jedha, the moon from Rogue One—rival Kratos’s most stunning exploits. Combat has been tightened to the point that a well-executed block, slash, and Force push combo will make you feel like you have a high M-count.

The story ramps up in a similar way. Whether by coincidence or by design, Jedi: Survivor incorporates some of the most appealing aspects of each of Lucasfilm’s streaming series. The comedy and the exotic, colorful locales and cast of The Mandalorian. The tyranny and interdepartmental maneuvering of Andor. The psychological trauma and relentless pursuit of Obi-Wan Kenobi. The localized conflict and criminal element of The Book of Boba Fett. The esprit de corps and oppressive Imperial presence of The Bad Batch. Respawn lifts each of these elements and synthesizes them all into an escalating epic that pairs the big swings of the old Expanded Universe with latest-gen visuals and open-world design. It’s a potent tandem that could serve as a springboard to a TV crossover—but Cal’s contribution to Star Wars is secure regardless of his prospects as a live-action character.

The threat of Vader and his Inquisitors hangs over Cal’s head here, as it did in Fallen Order, but there’s much more to this tale than the Empire’s hunt for the few Force users who evaded death by brainwashed clone. Survivor introduces wayward former Jedi Dagan Gera—the spiritual successor to Taron Malicos from Fallen Order—and his hulking Gen’Dai lieutenant Rayvis, along with a new associate of Cal’s, Bode Akuna. It also incorporates a wide swath of existing Star Wars lore, ranging from the High Republic era to the prequels to the Hidden Path that appeared in Obi-Wan Kenobi. Survivor repeatedly one-ups itself through an escalating series of boss fights—which range widely in difficulty—and one plot twist made my mind reel. And in contrast to the titular heroes of, say, Obi-Wan or the third season of The Mandalorian, Cal undergoes a significant shift in philosophy and faces a real risk of loss.

Cal is a pleasant, sympathetic, and, by big-budget-game standards, understated presence who’s outshined by some of his supporting cast—beginning with BD, who solidifies his case as the best droid in Disney-era Star Wars (a competitive field), as well as returning comrades Merrin and Greez Dritus. Even some of the side characters make an indelible impression; the most memorable is a pint-sized, slug-looking rogue named Skoova Stev—I’m not making this up—who roves around Koboh, catching fish and regaling Cal with tall tales from his past in an incongruous Scottish burr. That’s one indication of Survivor’s sense of humor, which also surfaces in spit-take-worthy snippets of overheard dialogue between troopers or droids, as well as in one memorable “boss fight” with an Imperial functionary identified only as “Rick the Door Technician.”

Skoova is one of many characters who can congregate at Pyloon’s after being recruited in BioWare-esque fashion. The Mos Eisley cantina is justifiably famous for making the Star Wars universe seem distinctive, vast, and seamy, and Pyloon’s lived-in décor and diverse clientele achieve the same effect. With apologies to the Jedi, I was just as invested in revamping and populating Pyloon’s as I was in the plight of the Order, in part because the dialogue options at the Koboh cantina are plentiful enough to feature fresh tidbits about each denizen with every visit. On the opposite end of the hospitality spectrum, the Imperial facilities Cal infiltrates are the most, well, Imperial-looking environments in a video game this side of Dark Forces, and Coruscant and a downed Trade Federation Lucrehulk replicate their prequel aesthetics. KOTOR aside, Survivor’s story and authenticity to the license may be the strongest of any Star Wars game, a testament to the power of applying 2020s tech to the narrative ambitions of decades-old titles such as Shadows of the Empire, Jedi Knight, and Republic Commando (not to mention the canceled Star Wars 1313.)

For all of Survivor’s virtues—enhanced accessibility and commendable customization options among them—the game is marred by just a few flaws. Even with the day-one patch applied, Survivor suffers from some performance issues: frame-rate stutters in performance mode, pervasive pop-in, and general jankiness. (I played on PS5.) Although the interactive features in its terrain are, maybe by necessity, almost too obviously marked—Force-manipulable objects are shaded blue, grippable ledges and runnable walls have a telltale pattern, and so on—I still got stuck from time to time in ways that felt frustrating. (When in doubt, look for those overused squeeze holes.)

Even more than Fallen Order, Survivor is stuffed with cosmetics you can use to tweak the appearance of Cal, Cal’s weapons, and BD. Your mileage may vary, but I found it deflating to go to great lengths to discover hidden chests, only to be “rewarded” with a new hairstyle—Center part? Short goatee?—or paint scheme. (Granted, Cal does look best with a beard.) Movements in combat aren’t always as precise or responsive as I’d like, and fighting in crowds can be maddening. Even when you make concessions for technological limitations and the need for foes to pose a challenge, there’s still something strange about hacking away at humans and droids with a lightsaber—a weapon that canonically cuts through everything but beskar—and seeing it singe but not slice through them. (Star Wars games still haven’t topped 2003’s Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy when it comes to the degree of control and the power fantasy of lightsaber combat, and we’re way overdue for a game that reliably lets you use a saber to create your own passageways.)

These are all nitpicks about a very good game that builds on the promise of Fallen Order in all the ways we want sequels to, setting up a blockbuster climax for the presumptive trilogy. “I don’t know if I’m ready for what comes next,” Cal says toward the end of the adventure. Star Wars gamers are about to find out if they are: A 10-year exclusivity deal between Lucasfilm Games and Electronic Arts—which owns Respawn and publishes the Jedi games—expires this year, which will likely shake up the state of Star Wars gaming.

Respawn is making more Star Wars games, including a first-person shooter, a strategy game, and, presumably, a sequel to Survivor. But for the first time in a decade, the license isn’t solely EA’s (Lego Star Wars excepted), and the first of what may be many non-EA titles are also on the way. The EA era brought quality—most notably in the forms of Battlefront II, Squadrons, and the Jedi duo—but less quantity than anticipated. Expect the pace to pick up in the coming years. Even if EA no longer owns an exclusive license, though, it does hold the belt for the best recent Star Wars game, unless and until something tops the series starring Cal Kestis. For that, we might have to wait quite awhile.