Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is shaping up to be the next Star Wars: The Force Unleashed – but the question is, can it fix all the mistakes that the latter game had? The story trailer for Jedi: Fallen Order looks quite promising, but developer Respawn Entertainment and publisher EA have yet to show players any footage revealing how Jedi: Fallen Order will actually play, inciting some worry since EA has so far only wielded its exclusive franchise license to pump out DICE’s two multiplayer-centric Battlefront games. There is hope, though – it’s possible that Respawn looked back to learn from the successes and failures of LucasArts’ Star Wars: The Force Unleashed series, the only two proper single-player Star Wars entries of the last 10 years.
Starring Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, Galen Marek – better known by the moniker Starkiller – Star Wars: The Force Unleashed games were power fantasies on a level that only a Star Wars setting could do justice. Before joining the non-canon universe of Star Wars Legends, along with the rest of the Expanded Universe after the franchise was purchased by Disney, Starkiller was the strongest Force-sensitive person living at the time of the Great Jedi Purge. The Force Unleashed‘s gameplay reflected this spectacularly, with each title making players feel beyond powerful when chaining lightsaber and Force ability combos on enemy fodder, as well as performing such jaw-dropping feats, such as pulling a Star Destroyer down to a planet’s surface.
It’s understandable, then, that Starkiller and the once-canon Force Unleashed story remain well-loved among Star Wars fans and creators alike, with characters from each game having almost appeared in Rogue One and Star Wars Rebels. Neither Force Unleashed title was perfect, however, with the franchise falling into a fast downward spiral by the rushed launch of The Force Unleashed II prior to the series’ cancellation. Considering EA – a company accused of being greedy and untrustworthy, which has resorted to attacking itself to promote Jedi: Fallen Order – is at the helm with the new game, there’s a lot that could go wrong, so analyzing where The Force Unleashed shone and where it went oh-so wrong could decide Jedi: Fallen Order‘s ultimate fate.
- This Page: Retain The Story’s Meaning & Avoid Weak Gameplay
- Page 2: Explore The Star Wars Galaxy & Make Players Truly Feel Like Jedis
While The Force Unleashed allowed players to live out their Sith fantasies as Starkiller, Jedi: Fallen Order is taking a parallel but opposite approach. Following Cal Kestis, a Jedi Padawan who survived the Jedi Purge’s initial onslaught, Jedi: Fallen Order seems it will place players squarely on the light side of things. There are plenty of similarities to be found between each protagonist, though. Each characters’ stories are set during the Purge, with Starkiller having been the son of a slain Jedi before being spared and trained by Darth Vader. Much like the first Force Unleashed puts players into Starkiller’s shoes to prove himself in the ongoing Purge near the end of his Sith training, Jedi: Fallen Order will similarly use the convenient setting so that players can control Cal as he continues to grow in strength, having been unable to complete his training.
Cal will start off Jedi: Fallen Order on the righteous side of the Force, but some may still recall that Starkiller’s character arc was one of personal redemption. Those who played The Force Unleashed will remember that Starkiller starts off as a moderately powerful villain, slaying droves of Torguta and Wookiees without remorse. Halfway through the first game, however, he begins to question the Sith and develop a conscience, putting him at odds with the Galactic Empire and eventually inspiring the organization of the Rebel Alliance before the events of A New Hope. It remains to be seen if Cal’s story will match the dramatic grandeur of Starkiller’s, but it’s doubtless that a single-player only story experience like Jedi: Fallen Order will focus on Cal’s development from Padawan to Jedi. The first Force Unleashed is a beacon of video game storytelling in the Star Wars universe done right, so it can be hoped Respawn did its homework in this area.
Then there’s The Force Unleashed II, a perfect example of what Respawn should not do. Following a rushed development over less than a year, LucasArts took everything great about the original and threw into the trash compactor. It lazily walks back Starkiller’s death from the first game’s true ending, next to nothing occurs during majority of the story, and returning characters and plot devices from the first game aren’t ever explained. Worst of all, the “amnesiac” Starkiller clone protagonist’s motivations are nonexistent, and his character isn’t developed in any sense by the time players are asked to once again choose one of two endings. One ends on a cliffhanger, whereas the other completely jumps the shark once expanded upon through DLC. Respawn is a highly capable developer, but if they dare to make Cal Kestis as hollow as Starkiller’s clone, Jedi: Fallen Order should at least be so courteous to be as unduly brief as The Force Unleashed II.
Gameplay-wise, it’s a safe bet that Jedi: Fallen Order‘s Cal will not be shooting Force lightning from his hands like players could do so gleefully as Starkiller. That said, the reveal trailer confirmed that Cal has some mastery over the Force, as he’s shown bending steel and executing impressive jumps and wall-runs that would likely be impossible without Force manipulation. Since he also wields a lightsaber, it’s more than fair to assume there will be plenty of room for overlap between combat in The Force Unleashed and Jedi: Fallen Order. Gameplay has yet to be shown for the latter, though, and conflicting sources have so far likened it to everything from Metroid to Dark Souls.
What’s clear are the things that both Force Unleashed titles did right in terms of gameplay, as well as the many ways they got wrong. The primary reason so many players have fond memories of the games come down to their visually and mechanically spectacular combat, which was weighty and flashy enough to truly make players feel like a Force-wielding, lightsaber-swinging god. The Force Unleashed is a power fantasy in every sense, and the variety of fluid, stylish animations that trigger as Starkiller is directed to dispatch his foes carry go a long way to achieve this. This feeling of unlimited power was bolstered by groundbreaking use of ragdoll and particle physics, allowing players to effortlessly grip and push large objects and enemies aside.
While it was fun in both entries, combat in The Force Unleashed was imperfect for a number of reasons, and the foremost was that each game suffered from repetitive enemy types. The original had considerable visual variety among enemies and a meaningful sense of skill progression in how Starkiller could deal with them, but many enemies were really more of elaborate reskins of one another. The Force Unleashed II, on the other hand, just suffered from a general lack of enemy variety in trying to address the aforementioned issue by introducing enemies that could only be killed using certain methods. True to contemporary gaming trends, both games were guilty of over-relying on recycled (but cool-looking) QTEs, but by the end of The Force Unleashed II it feels as though they’re required to defeat nearly every enemy.
The Force Unleashed duology certainly suffered from gameplay kinks beyond combat, mostly in the form of pitifully weak puzzle and platforming sections. Each game was guilty of the former crime, with easy but annoying “puzzles” killing the pacing of either story. However, as with all of the most egregious things to take issue with in the series, The Force Unleashed II was the only one brazen and desperate enough to shoehorn platforming in between layers of the core experience. Used to pad out the game’s length – despite the fact that the majority of The Force Unleashed II is blatant padding – these platforming segments felt as completely out-of-place and pointless when the game released as in 2010 as they do now.
Page 2 of 2: Explore The Star Wars Galaxy & Make Players Truly Feel Like Jedis
The most useful tool any Star Wars game has at its disposal are the countless amazing locales that come with it, as the franchise sports some of the most visually striking and truly alien settings ever depicted. Demonstrable of how important it is to take advantage of this is that the one Force Unleashed entry that did was acclaimed for its fidelity to the Star Wars universe, while the other one was lambasted for generic settings that overstayed their welcome. Unfortunately, it’s not hard to guess which is which.
The Force Unleashed featured numerous memorable locations, including the verdant worlds of Kashyyyk and Felucia and the dingy but fascinating junkyard planet Raxus Prime. Unforgettably, these worlds underwent massive transformations when revisited after falling to the Empire, and many players still likely have images of a horrifically scorched Kashyyyk burned into their minds. Each setting gave the sense that Starkiller was merely an unwelcome visitor by thoughtfully tailoring enemy designs to the locale and creating the illusion that the present enemies and NPCs were going about their own (often violent) business prior to the player’s arrival.
Running entirely counter to this was the level design of The Force Unleashed II, which is so destitute in terms of aesthetic and variety that Jedi: Fallen Order would have to actively go out of its way to replicate it. Unlike the original, LucasArts was frantically pressed for time with The Force Unleashed II, and it shows nowhere more than here. In addition to forcing players to constantly retread the exact same corridors and arenas in order to save on development time, LucasArts only included four unique locations in the sequel – two of which exclusively consist of generic interiors and another, Dagobah, only exists to trigger a single cutscene. To its credit, The Force Unleashed II did at the very least bring better visuals to the table. But it did so to no real end, as the game’s drab worlds don’t come close to the beauty and character on display in the original.
To recapture the space magic of The Force Unleashed while avoiding its most glaring mistakes, Jedi: Fallen Order needs to help players feel like a Jedi without making Cal Kestis into a walking tank like Starkiller. Fights, especially against the game’s imposing Purge Troopers and bosses, need to feel unique and challenging, testing players’ mastery of abilities as they’re acquired. At the same time, though, this needs to be balanced with the sense of weight and style that made its forebears feel so satisfying, and this will primarily be down to the slickness of animations and the tightness of controls.
As for overcoming The Force Unleashed‘s biggest combat issue, Jedi: Fallen Order will need to walk a fine line when it comes to enemy variety. On top of including just enough new enemy types to neither bore nor overwhelm, variably scaling enemy presence and configurations goes a long way to help build tension and better pace levels. As for traversal-focused gameplay, Respawn proved that they’re masters of verticality in the Titanfall series, but if they’re going to bring platforming to Jedi: Fallen Order they need to keep it varied and make it a core part of the gameplay rather than tack it on as an afterthought.
Every bit as much as Cal and others will need clear motivations and meaningful character development in order to make them compelling characters, the places Jedi: Fallen Order takes players will play an equally important role in ensuring the game feels like it truly inhabits the Star Wars universe. Based on what’s been shown thus far, it’s really too early to tell if it will succeed in this regard. However, if the stunningly unique sci-fi worlds that Respawn has crafted for the shared Titanfall and Apex Legends universe are anything to go on, Jedi: Fallen Order is likely in some of the industry’s best hands in this department.
In the end, Jedi: Fallen Order may not come to resemble The Force Unleashed series beyond their shared franchise identity. It’s unlikely, but even if that turns out to be the case, it doesn’t change the inherent design lessons to be learned from the gaming industry’s last foray into single-player Star Wars territory. The night-and-day contrast between The Force Unleashed I and II can easily be boiled down to a few key points of difference, and the reception of Jedi: Fallen Order hinges on those same things. If it can’t engross players in an original story in the franchise, fails to make them feel like a true Jedi, and bars them from visiting beautiful, detailed worlds that look ripped from the sequel trilogy, EA and Respawn will have a mess on their hands. However, if enough attention has been paid to those all-important pillars of the Star Wars experience, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order will unleash its true potential this November.
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