An excellent sequel to an already excellent first outing. Star Wars Jedi: Survivor makes many changes for the better, to create a game that looks and feels great to play. But it's up against flaws introduced by the new semi-open world system that it'll have to address in the game that finishes up this trilogy. Come on, you know that's how Star Wars works.
If you were any kind of fan of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order then Star Wars Jedi: Survivor should absolutely be on your to-be-played list. This excellent sequel makes a considerable number of design choices — almost all of them good — to set it apart from the previous game but it also expands on the parts of Fallen Order that worked.
The result is an experience that is, mostly, an improvement of the first game. The semi-open world mechanic developers Respawn Entertainment drop players into come with their own problems. These are minimised but they’re still present. Still, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor remains an excellent single-player entry into the Star Wars canon.
Force of nature
Without spoiling anything from the previous game, Cal Kestis, the sullen ginger Padawan from the first title, has come of age. Survivor opens with the scarred young Jedi being escorted through the neon-lit streets of Coruscant under guard. The whole opening sequence acts as a tutorial, a showcase for the unusual-to-this-series environment, and probably as a tech demo if you’re the sort to be privy to ‘behind closed doors’ presentations. It’s here, whole and breathing, to serve as an introduction to Cal’s continuing fight against the Empire in the years following the execution of Order 66.
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor has young Cal executing hit-and-run missions on behalf of Saw Gerrera, who is mentioned by name but never actually seen. Maybe Forest Whitaker was busy that day. The crew from Fallen Order has split up and it seems as through Respawn Entertainment is developing a new group for the Jedi to pal around the galaxy with. Unfortunately, the fortunes of war being what they are, Cal Kestis, his trusty robot friend BD-1, and the Mantis crash land on a planet called Koboh while searching for Greez, the Mantis’ original pilot.
From here it’s a short jump to another long-shot plan to do something about the ravages of the Empire, this one stretching as far back as the Old Republic. Along the way, familiar faces show up and several planets are explored. Bigger? Everything certainly seems that way. Better? That depends on where you’re standing.
Walk towards the light (saber)
Leaving aside the story for now — that’s worth checking out but it’s not incredibly compelling — there are two major differences. A major drop in difficulty level coincides with the introduction of a more complicated upgrade system. This applies to the game’s cosmetics (which we’ll address later) but Cal’s Force and Light Saber abilities have been expanded on, allowing for specific character builds in the early stages of the game. There are enough skill points and upgrades to render builds irrelevant by the end of play but you can go all-in as a Force user or dedicate yourself to a specific lightsaber path in the opening hours.
There are specific paths for Force upgrades, with shrines dotted around the expansive worlds to upgrade Cal’s pool of Force energy. There’s also mind control and push/pull upgrade trees. The latter is particularly powerful, though it’s something we didn’t appreciate until quite late in the game.
On the combat front, there are specific upgrade trees for different stances. Cal Kestic can upskill his standard lightsaber or the double-sided version from Fallen Order. One of the special attacks from the previous game, where Cal splits his weapons for a flurry of dual-wielded hits, has been developed into its own stance. Kylo Ren’s crossguard lightsaber is a slow but powerful two-handed attack pattern. Players also get a low-powered saber-and-blaster combo that relies on the management of ammunition by alternating ranged and up-close attacks.
These attack types have their benefits and drawbacks but none so specifically overwhelming that you’ll find yourself carefully selecting the two you’re taking into combat. The standard stance, plus the double-sided version, is enough to get most players to the endgame. The new options are a fun experience to play with and you might find one that suits your temperament enough to make it a staple of your journey.
Nerf leather? Really?
An area where attention was positively lavished was Cal Kestis’ appearance. Not just his outfits — you’ll find more than just ponchos here but the hideous pink one stuck around — but his hair (facial and otherwise) can be customised. The ubiquitous chests dotted around the landscape often contain manscaping options, from outfits with specific materials (try the Jedi bathrobe out) to a full-on mullet and handlebar moustache.
This extends to Cal’s gear too. His lightsaber can be completely customised with specific parts, as can BD-1 and the blaster (once you eventually get it). These parts can be further refined, by adding in bits of rare metals, paints, rubbers, woods, and synthetics. Finally, these can be aged (or not) as you see fit. It’s almost a pity there isn’t a multiplayer component, just for the potential to show off these creations.
Customisation is further enhanced by the addition of perks. Players will eventually unlock the ability to manually assign perks that change gameplay just enough to justify their inclusion. These are found dotted around the galaxy or can be purchased from one of the many stores on Koboh or from one researcher on Jedha. Oh, right, there’s a base-building mechanic of sorts but it’s about as complicated as having a conversation. Occasionally you’ll kill a monster or two.
The Dark Side
The new open-world aspects of Jedi: Survivor aren’t all good. Fallen Order was able to make its mostly-linear path a tighter experience for players. Opening things up for Survivor meant that the best moments were those that were under control. Either the game artificially limited fast travel, as happens on one of the visits to the Shattered Moon, or the whole design was linear (Coruscant and a later area that we won’t mention). The open sections are fun and previously locked areas with new abilities are always a blast, but it’s a distraction from this race against time the main story is attempting to keep rolling.
The reduced emphasis on combat is also a double-edged sword. On the upside, it’s an absolute joy to be able to take on all manner of enemies and in far greater numbers than was possible before. On the downside, players are left unprepared for a massive difficulty spike most of the way through the game. Once that obstacle is cleared, the difficulty remains hard(er) but not insurmountably so.
Finally, there’s the story and character. The stakes are high enough but story and character development take a backseat to spectacle. There’s more emotion to be seen from Cal, Merrin, Greeze, and the other regulars on board the Mantis but these are just flashes against the brighter explosions of massive set-pieces. A little more balance to the Force would have made Survivor a truly great game.
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor verdict
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is an excellent sequel. Don’t let anything convince you otherwise. The changes are mostly for the better and anything that is still lacking is a case of not going far enough. Combat is more forgiving and much more intricate. Customisation is an absolute joy for no reason other than it looks cool. There’s much more choice when it comes to upgrading abilities. And the characters are more fully realised this time around. Against that is a reduced challenge, the pointlessness of specific upgrade paths, and the fact that Cal Kestis and his cohort still feel like background against the events taking place in Survivor. We say play it and hope that the third game takes a similar leap forward when it arrives. Now that would be something to see.