I spent a lot of time with Cal Kestis and the crew of the Mantis for my Star Wars Jedi Survivor review, and while everything about the Fallen Order sequel is undoubtedly bigger, that doesn’t always mean it’s better.
That’s not to say Star Wars Jedi Survivor doesn’t achieve what it sets out to do. The fantasy of playing as a Jedi is better than ever, and the characters are certainly the star of the show. But some changes don’t quite land, most notably the addition of the pseudo open-world areas, which feel like they add scale purely for the sake of it.
Survivor is home to a delightful corner of the Star Wars universe
The Star Wars universe is so vast and firmly established in its scope, fictional history, and central characters that any Star Wars game is bound to draw on recognizable sights and sounds. In Survivor, developer Respawn deftly balances this with less-familiar extracts from deeper in the Lucasfilm mines.
Considering the age of the Empire has been farmed for all it’s worth across Star Wars media, this is a good thing. Respawn clearly wanted to take us a bit beyond the Emperor’s reach, as well as to delve into different eras from across the Star Wars timeline. Remember how Fallen Order opened in a scrapyard where Republic-era Venator-class Star Destroyers were being broken up? There are more moments like that, handled with equal deftness, and I visited various other planets, communities, and mythologies from the less-trodden paths of the galaxy far, far away. Many will still be familiar to more dedicated fans, with Respawn effectively repurposing them for its own storytelling.
Respawn also makes its own original contributions to Star Wars. If, like me, you enjoy all the series’ delightful little aliens and charming droids, then I’ve got good news: BD-1 is still the adorable standout he was in Fallen Order and is joined by new robots making various endearing bleeps and bloops, while Salacious Crumb stans will also find new creatures to love. Whether you’re a superfan with full knowledge of Star Wars canon, or simply someone who’s seen the movies and TV shows, Survivor will make you feel right at home.
Cal and crew are Survivor’s highlight
It’s difficult for me to say much about Survivor’s story without delving into spoilers, which, rest assured, I won’t do. But the conclusions of certain plot threads are painfully obvious from very early on, and if you’re aware of the state of the Star Wars universe at the time it’s set, the overarching narrative is spoiled slightly anyway.
You’ll quickly figure out where the story is going, but the performances and character relationships will carry you through. The little breaks between action set pieces on your ship, the Mantis, are where Survivor’s storytelling really shines, and if you’ve played Fallen Order, relationships built in that game will come back into focus alongside new ones. These are the sequel’s best moments.
It’s a shame then that the plot feels a bit formulaic. It has its standout moments, confrontations, and emotional beats, but it feels overstretched by Respawn’s desire to get you traveling back, forth, and back again between various planets. Your reasons for doing so feel contrived and are essentially MacGuffins. Our Fallen Order review identified the exact same issues in that game, and it’s frustrating that nothing has improved, though I do understand that the devs can’t do much that would alter the established canon of one of Star Wars’ best-documented periods. Survivor succeeds better as a soap opera: if you’re here to see how the crew of the Mantis has changed and what happens when they come back together, it’s a treat. But not a whole lot really happens that you won’t see coming.
Star Wars Jedi Survivor is bigger than its predecessor in almost every way, and this is – mostly – to its benefit. The Metroidvania exploration and Soulslike combat can be approached with more choice; you can focus on specific lightsaber stances and Force powers, making them more powerful as you progress, and deepening the Jedi power fantasy that Respawn already nailed in Fallen Order and which is core to the appeal of games like this. Force-pushing Stormtroopers off ledges and watching their bodies slowly disappear off the screen just never gets old, and in Survivor it contains layers. I made it my mission to improve that power until I could get four guys with one move.
While this is great for personal expression, it can undermine the flow and variety of combat. You can only equip a limited array of Force powers and two (out of a possible five) lightsaber stances, which means that all of them have to work in every situation, which in turn limits the variety of combat challenges. I found myself coasting through almost all encounters in the game using the same two lightsabers and the Force Push power, instead of having to figure out the best tools for a given situation.
I played on normal difficulty but didn’t detect a fundamental change when adjusting to a higher difficulty in search of a challenge. Higher difficulties change your parry timing window, enemy aggression, and incoming damage, which does raise the general threat of combat, but in a linear way. They don’t solve the problem of Survivor’s fights sharing a repetitive, bland quality, the sense of being viable with any combination of kit and thus robbing that kit of distinction. It still feels great to parry attacks and blaster bolts while dodging incoming fire and weaving together stance switches and Force powers – Cal feels much smoother to control than he did in Fallen Order – but the ceiling for unique opportunities isn’t as high as I would’ve liked once I found my rhythm.
Survivor is a game about choices
You’ll also find that there’s so much more to do in Survivor than in Fallen Order, with plenty of cosmetics to collect, side quests to complete, and exploring to be done. I’m not a fan of the more open-world design of some of the planets – it just doesn’t feel necessary or add much, except space in which to hide collectibles. Their shortcomings are clearest when set against the more limited levels, which have a much tighter sense of pacing and flow about them, especially when it comes to introducing combat encounters, dramatic set pieces, or story beats.
My ambivalence to all this didn’t matter too much, though, as Survivor doesn’t force you into any of the side stuff, instead giving you an empty plate and sending you off to the buffet to eat as much or as little as you want. I finished the main story in about 20 hours and will have at least 50 or 60 on the clock once I’m done with all the side stuff. There’s also a New Game Plus mode, which remixes enemy distribution, once you’re done with your first playthrough.
Survivor is all about giving you lots of choices, from the tools you take to a fight, to how and where you explore, to a wealth of side quests and cosmetics you can pick at to your heart’s content. If you want Cal to have a mullet and BD-1 to be bright pink as you swing a doubled-ended orange lightsaber, fill your boots. Insert yourself into the bland vessel of Cal Kestis and be your own Jedi. This is where Survivor excels.
It doesn’t come without cost, however. The story, as in the first, doesn’t really mean, change, or say anything, and combat really does suffer from having to account for the myriad of options always at your disposal, when each lightsaber stance feels like it ought to behave more differently from the others in order to properly reflect different combat challenges.
Star Wars Jedi Survivor commits to being bigger
Survivor is exactly the type of game I assumed it was. A sequel that aspires to be bigger in almost every way, its commitment to this goal both makes it worth playing and inadvertently holds it back in a few key ways. That said, if you love Star Wars or enjoyed Fallen Order, you’ll have a blast when the Star Wars Jedi Survivor release date rolls around, however much of it you decide to engage with.
Star Wars Jedi Survivor review
No surprises here. Survivor doubles down on Fallen Order, deepening the Jedi power fantasy and expanding on its predecessor in every way, though all its choice and freedom does limit both the story and, surprisingly, the combat.