Star Wars Jedi: Survivor Review: An Improvement On Fallen Order, But Still Flawed

Less than four years ago, following the microtransactions debacle and unfulfilled promises of its first two efforts, gaming behemoth Electronic Arts — popularly known as EA — delivered a "Star Wars" game that didn't tick off fans. But "Jedi: Fallen Order" was clearing a low bar EA had set for itself. Its story was threadbare and the world too empty — as you mowed through herds of faceless Stormtroopers and briefly met a range of forgettable characters, you realized that it had no personality. Crucially, "Fallen Order" didn't feel like a living, breathing world. Its follow-up, "Star Wars Jedi: Survivor," feels like an attempt to answer all the complaints fans and players had.

Though it is still structurally a corridor shooter, "Survivor" feels less like one. While the narrative ping-pongs you between several celestial bodies — including the galaxy's capital Coruscant and the Jedi's spiritual home Jedha — it keeps bringing you back to Koboh, an American Old West-inspired planet created for the new "Star Wars" game. Koboh has a lot to showcase and lets you roam around, giving "Survivor" the open-world feeling that I craved in "Fallen Order." The core part of that is a saloon owned by an old friend. As you traverse the galaxy and complete missions, the saloon keeps expanding with new colorful characters (who offer a variety of side quests) and things to do (which involves sprucing up an aquarium and a rooftop garden).

This directly addresses the problems with "Fallen Order," as the world of "Star Wars Jedi: Survivor" feels lived in. Sure, most of these interactions don't impact the game in any meaningful way, but simply having more opportunities to talk to people makes "Survivor" richer. They also embellish the central story that goes in circles, and the characters in them are infinitely more interesting than our plain protagonist, Cal Kestis (Cameron Monaghan). Five years on from "Fallen Order," the Jedi Knight is fighting the good fight against the Empire, which leads him to reunite with the gang. "Survivor" is better every time others are more involved — and boring when you're just dealing with random monsters and Empire minions.

Combat is a thrill and a challenge on Star Wars Jedi: Survivor

Gameplay-wise, the "Star Wars Jedi" series continues to be inspired by other games. As on "Fallen Order," developer Respawn Entertainment — under the leadership of director Stig Asmussen, who worked on the early "God of War" games — lifts aspects from virtually every great action-adventure video game franchise out there to build out "Survivor." I was reminded of "Uncharted" and "Tomb Raider" as I moved through the environments and dodged debris or live fire in heart-pounding sequences. Cal's finishing moves are reminiscent of Kratos in "God of War." To add to that, "Survivor" gives Cal a grappling hook early on — it's dubbed the "ascension cable" — a tool that's present in every other action-adventure game these days.

"Survivor" is also inspired by the "Star Wars" films and TV shows. While you can switch between a single- and double-bladed lightsaber from the start — the only options on offer in "Fallen Order" — more are introduced as you progress through the new game. The first of them is the ability to split your double-bladed lightsaber and turn it into twin single blades. You know, like Ahsoka Tano. Then, we have the crossguard stance that we first saw with Kylo Ren, wherein you have two vents sprouting from the side. (And just like Kylo Ren, you can even unlock a force stasis ability that lets you freeze opponents and blaster bolts in mid-air.) The one you choose impacts your power, speed, range, and defense. You can switch between two stances on the fly, so you can be flexible in what you bring to the battlefield.

With one-on-one combat against bigger enemies, I drifted toward the crossguard. It's better for defense and has stronger attacks, which means when I landed a blow, it meant something. Of course, you must be wary as crossguard is the slowest stance — you don't want to be in a fight with a quick and agile opponent, because were you to miss a swing, it could prove costly.

I picked the two-lightsaber option for dealing with a horde, though there are times when "Star Wars Jedi: Survivor" overwhelms you with numbers. Those moments aren't fun, as it feels like you're unequipped for battle, despite being a powerful Jedi. Largely though, Respawn nails the Jedi feel on "Survivor" — just as it did on "Fallen Order" — be it the swings or the sounds, the way Cal moves and cuts through his opponents, or the power you feel as you dodge, parry and strike in a satisfying flow. Combat is both a thrill and a challenge, customizable through the difficulty system.

Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is still a game

It's not just lightsaber stances in "Survivor." The new "Star Wars" game expands on how you can move around its maps too. While you start off with just the ability to jump, it slowly expands to double jumps and air dashes. And in combination with access to the skillset of supporting characters and the aforementioned grappling hook that can be used to slow down time, "Survivor" throws you into complex platforming sequences that will have you balancing and chaining them together to make it through. When everything goes right, it looks amazing and is a blast. But at times all of this feels more akin to a quick-time event. You can't always tell what lies ahead, which means you'll inevitably fall to your death at least once — which happened to me a lot more — before you figure out the right button presses and execute it to perfection.

Some other annoyances are carried over from "Fallen Order." Because this is still a game designed with collectibles in mind, it results in silly things like an extra Stormtrooper chilling in the corner, guarding a trinket, or something that you can spend at a virtual shop to improve your character. Though enemy placement is arguably better than what it was in "Fallen Order," there are still occasions where the whole thing feels artificial. In many cases, even as the Imperial forces can no doubt see you, they wait for you to arrive on their floor before they begin firing. Moreover, they repeatedly fail to hear blaster fire even when they are around the bend or behind the next door. All of this is borne out of the fact that the "Star Wars Jedi" series games are corridor shooters.

PS5 performance and manual save troubles

I was also ticked off by the lack of a manual save feature in "Star Wars Jedi: Survivor." As with "Fallen Order," progress is only automatically saved after a cutscene or a major sequence. Manual saves, on the other hand, are only allowed at "meditation circles," where Cal can also learn new skills, change lightsaber stances, or make use of fast travel. (Yes, after much criticism, Respawn has allowed fast travel on "Survivor," which makes repeat visits to maps easier. You can jump from one meditation circle to another.)

Owing to this restriction, I've had to redo portions, at times half an hour long. All because I made a tiny mistake or, in one egregious case, the game auto-updated after my PlayStation 5 emerged from its rest mode, not even giving me the chance to finish the in-progress mission. Frustrated and devoid of any alternatives, I've had to prioritize playing "Survivor" over sleep and other pressing commitments because the next save point (aka meditation circle) wasn't in sight. Do the developers think that people don't have lives outside of video games?

Speaking of the PS5, performance has largely been a non-issue for me. (I spent most of my time in the 4K 30fps 'Quality' mode. You can turn on 60fps with the 'Performance' mode, but the resolution will drop to 1440p.) Thankfully, I haven't had any major issues like the poorly optimized PC version for which Respawn has had to apologize. I did face a couple of game crashes — the first one happened after like 14 hours of playtime, and the second one came after a visual bug in which Cal's midriff disappeared for the remainder of the mission and into the following cutscene, before "Star Wars Jedi: Survivor" crashed. (It's possible that wasn't the reason. After all, correlation does not imply causation.)

It's not just EA that's making Star Wars games now

The sequel to "Fallen Order" doesn't do a lot of new things — it merely builds on the first game in a number of small ways. A semi-open world that expands the galaxy far, far away, with dialogue that is stronger and interactions that are longer, and a welcome variety in your approach to combat. And it does all that while retaining the original's foundation, in how it made you feel like a powerful and graceful Jedi. Yes, "Star Wars Jedi: Survivor" is still openly lifting from other action-adventure games — but what's more important is that it largely comes together.

Ultimately, "Survivor" is a step in the right direction. If this ends up being the trilogy that Respawn has envisioned, they can build on it from here — even more than how "Survivor" has improved upon "Fallen Order." It's still not quite all there but seeing the improvement from the first chapter to the second entry in "Star Wars Jedi," I'm now more hopeful.

At the same time, I'm also looking forward to the open-world "Star Wars" game in development at Massive Entertainment, the makers of "Tom Clancy's The Division" action RPG series. Now that EA doesn't have an exclusive deal with Disney–Lucasfilm anymore — it was torn up a couple of years after the launch of "Fallen Order" — a lot of other studios are working on "Star Wars" games, from Ubisoft to Skydance. (This is speculation on my part, but seeing what it had gotten from EA, Lucasfilm didn't have the confidence to extend the deal.)

That means by the time the potential third "Star Wars Jedi" game rolls around, EA won't be the only one with an offering. But at the moment, there's no other video game out there that lets you playact as a Jedi, as good as this one.

"Star Wars Jedi: Survivor" is out now on PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X/S.