Stormtroopers, robots and Nazis. If you’re making a video game, these are the three enemies you can let your players completely take apart without them feeling bad about it. Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, the confusingly coloned sequel to Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, is three for three – that Stormtrooper I just cut in half was definitely a fascist.
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It’s not just the white-helmeted bellends and flimsy-looking battledroids on offer here. Jedi: Survivor has the benefit of offering up a stunning Star Wars world, sublime combat and a AAA action adventure that is polished, fun and packed full of stuff to do.
Survivor, much like its predecessor, takes a lot of its structure from the FromSoft soulslike games, while softening some edges and making them more accessible. You’ll spend a lot of your time moving from Meditation Point to Meditation Point, which function exactly the same as Bonfires from Dark Souls.
Beyond spending skill points and changing your lightsaber style, you also end up here after dying — but your experience points don’t make the trip back, and you’ll have to retrieve it from your murder scene or land a hit against your killer to get it back.
Chuck in a limited amount of healing stims, which replenish at Meditation Points, and so far, so soulslike. However, despite the structural similarities, the moment-to-moment play in Survivor actually feels much more like something out of a pinball machine, as Kestis leaps from place to place twirling his lightsaber.
There are five different fighting styles in the game – dubbed stances – although you can only have two equipped at the same time. You start with three “classic” styles. The single saber, a double-bladed lightsaber and then two separate sabers. They’re all good at different things, but for most of the humanoid enemies that you’ll face, if you get past the enemy’s block, you’ll take them out in a couple of hits no matter which stance you’re doing it with.
The latter two feel more like fan service than serious options, handed to you at about a third of the way into the game. There’s a version that pairs a blaster with a lightsaber, getting rid of the lightsaber force attacks in favour of a blaster that recharges as you whack people. Then there’s the crossguard stance, which functions like Kylo Ren’s saber in the most recent trilogy and boasts high damage and defence while simultaneously being too slow to really be effective for either.
Still, despite the slight disappointments for the late additions to the fighting stances, it’s hard to feel too aggrieved. Pairing the single saber with a dual-bladed attempt, it felt like there were almost too many options in combat and I was never bored taking apart the game’s numerous enemies.
The same is true of the movement, which is mostly clambering around, sliding through small gaps in the world and trying to solve puzzles that oscillate between simple and brain-meltingly complex, although a system is in place that will let you tap a d-pad button to accept or refuse a hint when Survivor has decided you might be a little bit stuck.
The signposting could be better for some puzzles, and I was stuck several times in the game for a good chunk of time because I hadn’t noticed a climbable wall amongst the stunning scenery that stretches out in every direction and in one case hadn’t noticed the different between some climbable vines hanging from the ceiling and the adjacent vines hanging from the ceiling for purely aesthetic reasons.
Still, it’s hard to be too grumpy. The moment-to-moment play in Survivor is a joy as you’re ambling around, and a few of the set pieces are magical, feeling genuinely next-gen. One boss fight that has Kestis squaring off against a giant Imperial machine is a mind-bending event that feels next-gen in terms of both the design of the thing but also how incredible the tech underpinning it must be, as you teleport rapidly around the arena with barely any slowdown and even less time to breath and assess the situation you’re in.
The best part of the game has Kestis infiltrating a downed Lucrehulk battleship, a claustrophobic environment that is probably the very best Survivor has to offer. Here, you’ll get a great boss fight, a few fascinating mini-bosses, and also the most substantial fan service that Star Wars prequel trilogy fans received in video game form since… Jedi Power Battles?
Sorry for bringing it up.
Most Survivor players will remember the first introduction of Episode 1’s terrifying Droidekas long after you’ve moved onto the rest of the game. Star Wars fans too, will appreciate seeing a bunch of separatist tech that has barely seen since Naboo. Not a Star Wars fan? You’ll quickly appreciate how each of the droids and raiders secreted within the derelict ship have a different combat style, but I’d be willing to bet if you make it this far, you’ll be browsing Amazon for the nine-film Blu-ray collection.
Truly, this is Uncharted for the laser sword generation, which feels like the sort of elevator pitch any developer would rightfully shy away from, but Electronic Arts has pulled it off here and it’s one of the best action games of the last few years.
A large part of this is down to the third game in Survivor’s threeway inspiration mash-up: the humble Metroidvania. Survivor unfolds itself slowly as you play and there’s a real joy to hurling yourself around the game as areas you’ve previously explored to a tedious level will suddenly look entirely different when you return with a new movement mechanic or special key to help you get past previously impossible objects.
The heart of Survivor is Koboh, a new planet that was created by the game to go along with its new open-world vibe. You’ll spend a lot of your time exploring Koboh, and while you will fly to other planets from the Star Wars universe during the campaign, you’ll often find yourself coming back to Koboh again and again, both for mission objectives but also for the Saloon located in the middle of the planet’s solo colony, where several NPCs are waiting to hand out new quests or sell you stuff. More faces pop up there over time as you find them throughout the game and convince them to head back to the saloon to… clean your fish tank or help with the gardening.
Both of these things are real in-game mechanics that you can explore, and it is, sadly, a little jarring to find a gardener midway through fighting a thousand stormtroopers on a desert world before suggesting they might want to come and deal with some plants.
Still, the characters themselves are charming enough and it gives you a reason to come back to Koboh or the other locations armed with a new movement mechanic or ability that will let you open new paths. This could be something as simple as a mountable creature that will let you walk up steep inclines, but could also be a new force power that’ll allow you to mangle doors, It’s a joy, because even if you can’t yet find the answer to a blocked path ahead of you, when you later get an item that will let you best the obstacle it’s a rush — one that has you eager to jump back and solve the puzzle, often having to wrestle with Survivor’s slightly-dodgy-but-better-than-Fallen-Order’s map to do so.
This means some challenges – an early side-mission sees you running headlong into a Rancor you might not be able to defeat for ten hours – may play on your mind for the length of your playtime, but it also means there’s a ton of stuff to do here around Survivor’s slightly meandering central story, which is a paper-thin quest that involves you travelling around the map to pick up McGuffins before heading back to a different world to show someone else that McGuffin.
Still, I watched every single one of the cutscenes, which are imbued with a dynamic quality that makes them feel like the latest Disney+ Star Wars show. Combined with some cracking music that feels like Star Wars and framing that will feel instantly familiar – including those Star Wars wipe transitions that will feel so familiar to anyone fond of the game – it’s hard not to feel like Survivor is the best video game representation of Star Wars we’ve seen to date.
This means that when some of the moments really land – a particular force push feels like it would have audiences screaming in a cinema, and you’ll know it when you see it – it’s easy to accept that the story is a bit nonsense and enjoy the ride.
This is what I did, and despite Survivor’s dark tone I found myself buying wholly into the slightly scowly Cal Kestis and the characters that pop up along that journey. I’d like to add a special shoutout to every single battledroid here too, because while many moments in the game made me feel things, the battledroids made me regularly laugh out loud with their barks, quips and bickering. An early exchange where a battledroid asked “why are we called the raiders?” only to be answered by another droid suggesting “the raiding,” made me laugh so hard I knew these were the droids I was looking for.
There are some issue with this perfect Star Wars world. Invisible walls will stop Kestis jumping onto some roofs but not others, sometimes a jump is made much harder because of clipping through the floor and occasionally the frame rate will get a little bit sluggish playing on quality mode on the PlayStation 5.
Still, these feel like small quirks to a game that is largely sublime and is so dense there’s still plenty of stuff to talk about if it weren’t for the fact that, say, choosing what seeds to grow in the Saloon’s garden is such a small part of the game it’s a sideshow for players to engage with if they want to, or not at all. Survivor is full of these little quirks. If you want to stop and smell the Jawas along the way you’ll be rewarded with cosmetic items and tiny buffs for it, but it feels like the sort of game you can just enjoy at your own pace. It’s also the sort of game that a more casual player is going to spend a year chewing over as they hoover up collectibles and exploration tokens.
Ultimately, this is Star Wars. But that fidelity comes with a cost. Much like Disneyland’s own Galaxy’s Edge, fans will need to see this version of the universe for themselves. Sadly, much like that district, it’s an amusement park rather than a real world.
Sure, it’s a hell of a ride, but if you want to truly enjoy it it’s best to keep all of your limbs inside the cart at all times and not ask too many questions.
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is out on April 28 for PC, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S. This review was played on a PlayStation 5.
The best action adventure released in 2023 so far, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor has a confidence to its world and the play that it totally manages to back up by how fun it is. A must-play, perhaps the best action game of the generation so far.
- Some of the best graphics in video games
- Phenomenal combat
- It actually feels like Star Wars
- Fiddly map
- Paper-thin central plot