The Cave

The Jedi let out a laugh as he realized there was a very good chance he would be eaten alive by a swarm of cave vermin on this odyssey of self. The Master hadn’t seen that one coming, our Jedi was certain of that.

There was more in the cave than blackness. The Jedi estimated he had been limping towards the exit for the past hour or so; since he fell. At least, he hoped he was heading toward the exit. He took a moment to rest and took a few deep breaths. When he did so, a dull pain stabbed his right side. His robes were damp with mud and at least a little blood. Willing the pain not to interfere with his thoughts, he tried to sense the area just ahead. He was not alone.

They had been following him for at least a half hour. Denizens of the cave had been drawn to the Jedi when he fell from the ancient structure that had been his objective. Though none of the creatures had yet shown any hostility, he could sense their numbers growing. The Jedi recalled his lessons in xenobiology about creatures that moved in packs. Since they hadn’t swarmed him immediately, they probably weren’t predatory. And yet, the fact that they kept pursing him signaled that they expected to gain something from the Jedi. Scavengers!

Either the herd of creatures would grow large enough that they were emboldened to swarm the Jedi and devour him, or they would wait for him to make a mistake and make their move then. The Jedi was running out of time.

Sighing, he raised his lightsaber above his head and flicked the switch. With a loud snap and a hiss, a blue glow washed over the area. Nothing in front, the Jedi turned around. From just beyond the reach of the light, dozens of eyes reflected the saber blade back at the Jedi.

They were getting closer. He didn’t know if the creatures were drawn to him or the light.

Turing back towards the exit, the Jedi deactivated his lightsaber and limped forward. One way or another, his day was going to end. He let out a bitter laugh when he took stock of the situation. His master had bid him travel to a strange planet in search of a Jedi temple. There had been no instruction to recover an artifact, contact a long lost civilization, or perform some heroic act. All the Master had instructed was that the Jedi “connect with his inward self”. Understanding oneself was the key to understanding others, or so he had been told.

The Jedi let out a laugh as he realized there was a very good chance he would be eaten alive by a swarm of cave vermin on this odyssey of self. The Master hadn’t seen that one coming, our Jedi was certain of that.

More time passed, and the Jedi shuffled onward. Getting used to the pain, he was able to spare more of his mind for observing his surroundings. The darkness wasn’t ominous, it was merely the absence of a light. He could feel gentle streams of water coursing through cracks and down the walls. Every now and then stalactites and stalagmites pierced through the horizontal surfaces, requiring the Jedi to change course. His path was a loose gravel, a sign that others had come before him and that this cave hadn’t been underwater in a long time.

As his footsteps crunched underneath him, he became aware of other sounds in the cave. There was a pattering coming from the floor around him. Almost like raindrops, but far too rhythmic. When he stopped, so did the sound. His legion of vermin friends was keeping up the pace. Though he could sense the life nearby, it was difficult to discern how close it was and how many were there.

It was time to risk another look around. Leaving the lightsaber at his side, he snapped the button and the cave lit up once again. They were closer, only a meter away, and there were more of them. A lot more. The Jedi slowly took stock of the situation. None of the creatures moved. The ugly quadrupeds were covered scraggly hair, boasted narrow mouths with a few pointy teeth, and bare tails. Large eyes stared unblinkingly and reflected the line of the lightsaber. A few of the closest creatures were about the size of the Jedi’s head. Even as the Jedi stared at them, they stood absolutely still.

The stillness was unsettling. Hair on the Jedi’s arms stood on end as he felt an energy pulse through the mass of creatures. He knew in his mind what was going to happen next but wanted to confirm it. The lightsaber shut off and the Jedi focused on listening. The rhythmic not-rain continued slowly.

He snapped the lightsaber on again, and confirmed that the creatures had advanced on him again. The closest sat just out of reach of his blade. Their next move would be to overwhelm their prey.

The Jedi crouched on his good side to be able to better reach his lightsaber to the floor. He took a deep breath, pushing all wayward thoughts to the back of his mind. Once more, the Jedi took a deep breath. Words from his master rolled through his mind repeatedly, “Victory is not gained through physical effort, but mindful execution.” Raising the saber in his left hand and angling it towards the ground, he saw what he must do in order to survive the onslaught. It would not be easy.

The lightsaber flickered off and back on again as the Jedi began to fight for his life.

Raving Reviews – Jedi: Fallen Order

Fallen Order is one of the best Star Wars video games to have ever been released. It hits a lot of the high notes required to make a Star Wars game a compelling and memorable experience. It’s concrete proof that developers need to make expansive single player games in the Star Wars universe.

Fallen Order is one of the best Star Wars video games to have ever been released. It hits a lot of the high notes required to make a Star Wars game a compelling and memorable experience. It’s concrete proof that developers need to make expansive single player games in the Star Wars universe. And yet, on the backside of spending 35 hours to complete the game to 100% the experience feels a little empty.

Fallen Order has a pretty great first hour. It’s set a few years after the end of the Clone Wars. Cal Kestis is a former Jedi, now existing as a scavenger who makes a living by dismantling old warships on a backwater planet. He makes the somewhat predictable good-guy mistake of using his Jedi powers to save a friend’s life. The evil authorities inevitably find out, kicking off the pursuit of our ginger-headed hero. He meets a few allies along the way and eventually begins a quest to rediscover his Jedi roots and restore balance to the galaxy.

Oh. Okay. No pressure, eh?

Though the game’s marketing campaigns sell it as an action / combat game, Fallen order is an adventure game at heart. You are given a quest and means to pursue it. It’s up to you to follow the clues and unlock the secrets. The core gameplay loop is a good one. Begin the leg of a quest by picking a planet from the holomap on your spaceship. Travel there, ascertain the situation, and then explore the lay of the land.

Each planet holds some secret, a clue that Cal needs to uncover in order to accomplish his quest. After landing, he’ll have to scout out the area and discover the best way to progress. And these areas are huge. Zeffo, in particular, took at least ten hours to explore between the two mandatory story visits. A lot of time is spent on simple but engaging traversal. Navigating these huge levels reminded me a lot of Tomb Raider. Discovering where to go and how to get there is a part of the puzzle.

Most of the time, there’s an obvious path to take. Frequently, you’ll observe a ledge or a crate that’s just out of reach; waiting for you to learn some Jedi power before you have the means to access it. The game handles these barriers to progression fairly well. Impassable environmental obstacles glow a dull red. I appreciate the game’s respect for my time by letting me know there’s no point trying to overcome those obstacles yet. Done poorly, placing such obvious restrictions can seem like a cheap way to pad the length of the game by forcing you to come back later. Thankfully, Fallen Order has such masterful level design that the placement of obstacles and progressing through them felt natural.

Environmental design is spot-on, and even spending hours unraveling a puzzle maze of a tomb built by a long-extinct force-sensitive race is a bit of fun. It says a lot about a game that jumping, climbing, and force-pushing giant spheres can be just as engaging as mowing down dozens of stormtroopers with a laser sword. There were only two instances where I had to seek internet assistance to solve a puzzle, and those were both due to my inability to recognize clues the game had telegraphed.

It’s these quiet moments that make Fallen Order feel like a Jedi experience. It’s not only about proficiency with a lightsaber, it’s about discovery. Discovery of yourself and the universe around you.

That’s not to say that slicing living beings with a lightsaber isn’t fun. On the contrary, it’s an experience that generates great joy! The style of combat presented in Fallen Order is a pleasant combination of the heavy swinging from the Original Trilogy and the fast aerial battles of the prequels.

Entering an area with enemy combatants, you’ll have to take inventory and identify the biggest threats and how to sequence your attacks. A single rocket trooper may not be a big threat, but if you get thrown off balance by a rocket it will open you up to attacks by other foes. Even meager stormtroopers can cause havoc when engaged against two or more pike-wielding biker troopers. Combat poses a fun challenge until late in the game, when it’s just plain fun.

As great as the combat is, there are many moments when I have to stop and wonder how Jedi-like it is to travel to planets and stab everything with my laser sword. If it moves, you can – and are probably supposed to – kill it. The focus on combat is such that there’s no real question about whether or not attacking is the right thing to do Placing such a singular response on non-character beings is something that holds the game’s storytelling back. Some of the greatest narratives in Star Wars games gave players a choice about how to respond to the characters around them.

This is the Jedi way.

There are tons of story and world-building details scattered all throughout Fallen Order. Most of them are presented as force echoes that Cal must sense with his powers or environmental details to be scanned by BD-1. When observed, these details are presented as a line or two of text that hangs onscreen for a moment, forcing you to open the menu to read the full entries. I understand why Respawn did it this way; no need to force reading on people who’d rather not. However, by relegating so many of the details to a menu people may not look at, the end result is that a lot of the games locations don’t feel as fleshed out and alive as they could have.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time going over the story here, because that’s something best left experienced firsthand. What I will say is that it’s told exceptionally well, and fantastic character writing makes the story more impactful than you might have expected. Even Cal, who has garnered a mixed reaction from critics and some fans, resonated with me more than I expected he would. I love the guy!

Think of it this way: Cal is a guy who has been training since childhood to do one thing – be a Jedi. In the middle of that, Emperor Palpatine comes to power and your way of life gets Order 66ed. Everyone you knew or cared about is murdered, and you’re next if anyone discovers the truth about you. Through a series of events, you have an opportunity to step up and set in motion a way to redeem your life’s purpose.

Cal’s quest is immediately relatable, and his supporting cast of Cere, Greez, BD-1, and particularly Merrin help to sell the adventure. I sincerely hope that we haven’t seen the last of this crew. But seriously, go play the game for the story or watch it on YouTube; it’s worth experiencing.

So where do I get that aforementioned feeling of emptiness from Fallen Order? I think the problem is that when the story ends, the game doesn’t. After the last set of set piece confrontations ends, you’re dumped back on the ship with the opportunity to go and discover all the secrets you missed during the course of the story. That’s a blessing and a curse.

Being able to go back to these empty planets after completing the main story, to me, only served to dilute the adventure I’d just experienced. Kashyyyk was no longer the battleground between the Empire and the Wookiee nation, it was this vast open jungle where I was scouring every corner looking for a blue force echo to sense. That, or I was swimming through murky water to find a crate at the bottom of a lake. It probably took me at least 2-3 hours after completing the game to travel to all the planets and uncover the things I’d missed – or been unable to access during the story.

Those few hours of running through empty worlds effectively distanced me from the adventure I’d just had. Instead of ruminating on the force, dark encounters, and epic duels, I’m left thinking about where in the heck on Dathomir that one crate is.

And that’s where I’m at. If Fallen Order had simply ended after the last epic encounter, I think I would feel much happier with it. Spending just those few hours in the empty world caused me to feel so distant from the vibrancy those worlds exhibited during the story.

If you love Star Wars, hacking things with lightsabers, exploring massive areas a la Tomb Raider, and great stories; please, play the game! Just maybe don’t worry about completing it to 100%.

Screenshot Gallery

Jedi: Fallen Order – The Beginning

You never get a second chance to make a first impression, so it’s a good thing Fallen Order seizes its opportunity. The first single-player only Star Wars video game to be released in almost ten years, Fallen Order had a lot of expectations resting on it. After spending a little less than an hour in the life of Cal Kestis, I’m confident my decision to pay (almost) full price for the game was a good one.

Cal is a ship breaker among a legion of ship breakers. They’re tasked with demolishing hulks of warships from the Clone Wars so that the Empire can use those materials to make new ones. The game, mercifully, doesn’t have a distinct tutorial. Instead, you’re taught the basics of movement as Cal follows his friend Prauf to a new assignment. In addition to showing off the movement mechanics, this opening sequence shows off the stunning visual design of the game.

As Cal winds his way through a hulk, you pass a bunch of other scrappers performing their work. At any moment you can pause to listen to their conversations, watch them work, and see sparks fly from their tools. Droids move large pieces in and out of your field of view. Anything you’d expect to see blow by wind actually moves and flaps around. Rain drops accumulate and drip down surfaces. Rats scurry across piping and away from larger beings. There are tons of fantastic details that help to sell the world as a live place.

Fallen Order is set about five years after the events of Revenge of the Sith. The Old Republic is gone, and the Empire is still in its infancy. It’s a difficult time to be a Jedi. Cal encounters a situation that requires him to use his force powers rather conspicuously, and his day gets worse from there. This means the game gets more fun to play as we’re introduced to force powers and Cal’s lightsaber. Oh yeah, and you get into a duel.

At the end of the game’s introduction Cal meets allies Greez and Cere on board a ship called Stinger Mantis. This is the moment that cemented my love for Fallen Order. Sure, we’ve already seen all the requisite Star Wars elements, the Force, Stormtroopers, aliens, lightsabers, and all that jazz; but spaceships are what seal the deal for me. I’ve always been captivated by the idea of boarding a rocket ship, pointing it up, and seeing what the stars hold.

The design of the Mantis, to me, demonstrates the care and love that Respawn put into creating this game. I mean, look at this common area:

You’ve got a kitchen, bunks, and a sitting area. Every wall has switches, compartments, and other details. There are some plants (plants!) under specially designed grow lights. Every surface has just the right look to it. The kitchen is stocked with cups, dishes, and utensils for doling out food. Everywhere you look, there’s something to see; and it’s all evidence of a real spaceship that people use on a regular basis.

The first hour of Fallen Order tries hard to sell you its world. And it works. I’m in.

Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith

While Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight had some flaws, it also contained more than a few elements that made it endearing to me and a legion of other fans. It was the story of Kyle Katarn’s ascension from a freelance blaster-toting fighter to a member of either the Jedi Order or ruler of the Sith, depending on your choices. Traditional shooter gameplay gave way to using Jedi force powers and spectacular (at the time) lightsaber duels. Combine the enthralling gaming experience with the delightfully cheesy live-action story videos, and you have a game that’s better than the sum of its parts.

Imagine my delight when I saw that this game I loved was getting an expansion that not only dealt with the Sith, but featured Mara Jade as the lead character! A new game with Mara Jade, nemesis of Luke Skywalker turned ally, was a big deal. After all, this was 1998; the peak of the Expanded Universe for Star Wars fans. Considering Lucasarts’ track record, there didn’t seem to be any downside to having high expectations. Just look at this box art! Mara Jade! Purple Lightsaber! RANCOR!!!

Okay, so it’s just the manual but it’s all I managed to hang on to for 21 years.

Unfortunately, Mysteries of the Sith is the least fun I’ve ever had while playing a Star Wars video game.

That’s not saying that the game has aged badly, even though it has. It’s more a reflection of the lack of quality found in the game at the time it was released. In fact, the thing I remember most about my first attempt to play the game was encountering a progression-stopping bug that either forced me to restart it or wait for a patch to be released.

Both Jedi Knight and MotS have some shared quirks. There’s a unique feel to the movement and the action that’s only present in games built in the Sith engine. Because the games were developed in the early years of three-dimensional shooters, everything is big and blocky. And while Jedi Knight embraced this and gave players huge and expansive levels to explore, MotS traded these for medium-sized levels that are packed with more non-player characters and scripted sequences.

I could list off a laundry list of things I observed in my experience with the game, but ultimately I think it boils down to four distinct failures:

Failure #1 Mysteries of the Sith starts off by giving the player control of Kyle Katarn.

By itself, this isn’t a bad thing. Players were familiar with Kyle, and starting a new game with a lightsaber and full suite of force powers is a good way to get straight to what made Jedi Knight shine. Unfortunately, the game’s introduction takes a long time; four of the fourteen levels belong to Kyle instead of Mara Jade. Though she’s present in between missions during the cutscenes, I started to wonder if I’d ever get to play the game’s marquee character.

Finally, after spending two hours repelling a generic Imperial attack on a nondescript base players are given a glimpse of what this game is all about:

At the end of the fourth mission, Kyle abruptly leaves the story to go and pursue rumors of a Sith temple on a faraway planet. This leaves the player to take control of Mara and not do anything related to mysteries or Sith.

Failure #2After immersing the player to fun, competent mechanics it strips all of them for a restart almost 1/3 of the way through the game.

You’re finally in control of Mara Jade on the fifth mission. Jedi student to Kyle, her force abilities are considerably weaker than his. Forget about the first two hours of the game that you spent wielding a lightsaber to block blaster bolts and force-pull enemy weapons out of their hands. You’re a padawan now! While it makes sense from a story perspective, it makes the game instantly less fun to play.

Mara is unable to reliably block enemy shots with her lightsaber, and her force powers are weak and seem to take ages to recharge. It’s much more effective to equip a blaster and shoot everything that moves. Forget about being a Jedi until you can level up your force powers.

Leveling up your force powers happens between missions. Completing mission objectives will usually give you a point or two to apply to a power of your choice. What’s stated in the manual but not in the game itself is that extra upgrade points are awarded for discovering secret areas. I missed a lot of secret areas, so by the time I got to the end of the game I felt like Mara was significantly under powered to face the uncertainty that was waiting for me. Speaking of the end of the game:

Failure #3The key selling point of the game, Mysteries of the Sith, isn’t embraced until the last three missions.

There are fourteen missions in MotS. Kyle makes a vague reference to a Sith temple at the end of mission four, but the player doesn’t actually do anything related to mysteries or Sith until mission 12. So what the heck happened in the middle seven missions? A lot, and nothing.

Mara is sent to secure supplies from a Hutt gangster, who sends her to steal something from one his rivals. In the process of doing this Mara is captured and sent to a dungeon. Eventually she faces off against a Rancor with nothing but her lightsaber and an array of weak force powers. It sounds a lot more fun than it actually was. Fighting a Rancor involved a lot of saving, dying, and reloading while I figured out how I was actually supposed to survive the sequence. There was so much potential for a fun game, but the way the game was executed really sucked the fun out of it.

By the time I got to Dromund Kaas, the location of the Sith temple, I was ready for the game to be over. The last few levels have a ton of creepy atmosphere, but there are a bunch of new elements thrown at the player for them to figure out.

No weapon except your lightsaber will function on the Sith planet. There are creepy statues that block your passage unless you use your power of force persuasion. Scattered about are a few tiny Ysalamiri that sapped my force powers. Oh, and there are some traps and hidden sinkholes that appear without warning and kill you in about three seconds.

And can we spend a minute to talk about the encounter with ‘Evil Mara’? In the first level on Dromund Kaas, Mara enters a foreboding structure to find a darker mirror of herself. She’s dressed in black and wielding an orange lightsaber like Kyle’s. This begins your first lightsaber duel in the game. It had the potential to be really cool, but wound up being nothing but a pile of frustration. My under-leveled force powers were a severe liability here as I tried to cope with Evil Mara’s frequent bursts of force lightning. While I died after about 3-5 hits with a lightsaber, Evil Mara took close to thirty before finally going down.

What wound up happening is a vicious cycle of save, hit, save, hit, die, reload, repeat.

Never mind the fact that I still don’t know exactly why I was fighting against an evil version of myself. My best guess is that it’s supposed to mirror’s experience in the cave on Dagobah during The Empire Strikes Back. In the movie, there are enough subtle and overt clues to let the audience know that this is a warning to him not to fall to the dark side. Mara’s experience in the game, however… I still don’t quite know how to interpret that.

I still have a lot of questions about the direction of the game and I think the answer to them is:

Failure #4The developers had ambitions for a game bigger than the one they wound up making

In short, I get the feeling that the developers had far more ambition than they had resources to realize their vision. 1998 was a legendary year for action games on PC, so I’d guess that MotS had to be released early in order not be competing with other big titles. Releasing a scant five months after Jedi Knight, it’s possible development was rushed to meet deadlines.

While I don’t know how exactly we got the game we did, I do know what it’s like to play now. And it’s not fun. Really. I don’t recommend anyone play this; it’s just not worth it.

It took me about eight hours to beat the entire game. I recorded all of it and cut out about three hours of frustration, wandering, and failing to give you my definitive play though experience. Most videos have some hopefully humorous annotation to give you a glimpse into my madness while playing:

Mysteries of the Sith has some good qualities and a lot of bad ones. There is a wealth of great concepts present here, and most of them were executed flawlessly in 2002’s sublime Jedi Outcast. But that’s a game for another post…