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E3 2019: EA Unleashes the Force Powers and Fluid Combat of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Here’s a familiar Star Wars scenario: You’re running from danger and turn a corner only to realize there are a few stormtroopers 10 yards away. They fire blasters, so there are slashes of deadly energy racing towards you at light speed. If stormtroopers weren’t such terrible shots, you’d be dead.

Or maybe you’re young Jedi Cal Kestis, the hero of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. In that case you might use one Force power to slow time, making those blaster shots look like paper streamers fluttering through the air. Then you Force pull a stormtrooper right into your hands, before depositing him in the path of his own blaster fire, which finishes him off. In that case you’re not dead; you’re cheering, because that is awesome.

The Power of the Light Side

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is the new third-person single player game from Respawn Entertainment, the makers of Titanfall and Apex Legends. It is a canonical Star Wars story, which means that the stuff that happens here actually happens — this isn’t some side-pocket narrative wormhole — and characters and aliens introduced here could well end up in a movie down the line. That also means that Cal is necessarily well-defined, so there’s no option to play on the Dark Side of the Force.

EA revealed 15 minutes of gameplay at the EA Play event that marked the beginning of E3 week. But while we haven’t been able to get hands-on with the game yet, another demo session featured about 10 minutes of gameplay that leads up to the previous 15, adding some new context to the story. Here’s what we’ve learned…

Who Is Cal Kestis?

First, a brief backstory. Cal (voiced by Cameron Monaghan) survived the slaughter that followed Order 66, which wiped out most of the Jedi in “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith,” and has been hiding out in the months since. He runs across a former Jedi named Cere. She’s got a ship, the Stinger Mantis, piloted by a gruff four-armed alien named Greez, and thinks she might be able to finish Cal’s training as they journey towards an uncertain future.

There’s another companion who actually goes everywhere with Cal: the droid BD-1, who often rides the young Jedi’s back, as if it was Yoda training Luke on Dagobah. BD-1 has many functions: He can help explore and map environments, dispense stimpacks, and occasionally interact with elements such as electrical panels, which he overrides. BD-1 chirps and whistles much as an R2 droid would, and his sounds were even created by Ben Burtt, who did all the original Star Wars sound design.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Down and Out on Kashyyk

The extended demo begins with Cal and BD-1 emerging from a river on the Wookiee home planet of Kashyyyk, where a couple of AT-ATs are advancing on a band of rebels. The walkers seem to have trudged up the waterway to this point, because they’re draped in foliage. Cal and BD-1 use the hanging vines and greenery to climb up to the top and enter the massive machine. After making short work of the crew, Cal begins to pilot the AT-AT, firing on the other nearby walker and generally causing some mayhem. This brings him into contact with a very surprised Saw Gerrera, voiced by and featuring the likeness of Forest Whitaker, who played Gerrera in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.”

The young Jedi and older guerrilla fighter realize they’re after more or less the same thing: Cal seeks a Wookiee rebel leader named Tarful, “the symbol of the Wookiee resistance,” while Saw is trying to disrupt Imperial supply lines, which means he’s going to free a bunch of Wookiees who are imprisoned in a tree sap extraction plant which doubles as a prison camp. Maybe one of those prisoners knows where Tarful is hiding?

Sounds Like Star Wars

All that info is delivered as a big chunk of exposition which is very easy to listen to thanks in part to the backing of a terrific score. Fallen Order feels like Star Wars in ways video games set in George Lucas’s galaxy haven’t always managed. The sound design is a big part of the reason it all works. The basic audio effects we’ve heard so far are terrific, and the score, by composer Gordy Haab, Nick Laviers, and Stephen Barton is pure Star Wars. It is by turns stirring, epic, martial and even lightly humorous. The music sounds just right.

Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order

An Uncharted Path

Soon, Cal is running towards the extraction plant, and we get a taste of the game’s sense of movement. Cal can wall-run and, thanks to a Force power, double-jump. Fallen Order seems to rely on level design to suggest your path — there are no obvious checkpoints or objective markers. BD-1 can project a map of the area to help you get your bearings, but that’s about it.

Based on what we see in the demo, that’s no problem. There’s a real sense of the Tomb Raider series as Cal explores Kashyyyk. The ideal path forward is always clear, even as it’s easy to see that some alternate routes and hidden explorable areas are likely just out of reach. And when you see a bunch of stormtroopers engaged in a firefight with Saw’s forces, or literally trying to burn out a couple of giant spider-like Wyyyschokks, obviously that’s where you’re going to run.

Going on Offense

We’ve heard game director Stig Asmussen describe Fallen Order as “thoughtful combat.” While we haven’t taken Cal for a spin ourselves — so we don’t know how the combat and Force powers actually feel — it’s not difficult to see what he means. The game doesn’t rely on a patterned combo system. Rather, it’s all moves and counters, for a series of attacks, blocks and parries. Spamming a squad with big lightsaber slashes might look good for a couple seconds, but even basic troopers might also be able to knock Cal on his back. They’re terrible shots, but these Stormtroopers aren’t mere cannon fodder. That said, if you knock a trooper on his back, you can then skewer him with the lightsaber.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

This isn’t a stealth game, exactly, but the element of surprise is useful, and some of the best fun might be found by using the Force to throw unaware enemies out of your path in creative ways. Using the Force is even a part of basic exploration, as Cal can traverse some areas by Force-pulling vines to swing on.

There are a few different meters on screen at any given point. Cal’s health and Force level are obvious, and there’s also something that looks almost like a block or stagger meter. We saw these in action when Cal comes up against a Purge Trooper, who is armed with a double-ended energy weapon and has been trained to track remaining Jedi. Based on Cal’s level in the demo it’s not an easy battle, but the Purge Trooper doesn’t present too difficult an obstacle, especially if players balance Cal’s available meter energy.

Meditate on Your Skills

At a couple points during the demo we saw notifications that Cal has earned a new skill point. While we haven’t seen much to document the skill tree, at one point in the longer playthrough Cal finds a glowing spot where he’s able to meditate, taking him into what looked like a skill tree rendered as a sort of galactic map. The demo didn’t linger on that point, so we aren’t sure how the upgrade and skill unlock path works, and we don’t know if those meditation points will be required for upgrades.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Since the demo strolled through the Stinger Mantis just long enough to let us understand that it will serve as a home base and a transport around the galaxy, we’ll presume that upgrades and skill unlocks can also be conducted there.

Droid Wars

The longer and shorter demo both end the same way: With Cal having found an imprisoned Wookiee. As he searches for a way to open the prison cell, a KX security droid (like K-2SO in “Rogue One”) attacks Cal from behind. This looks like a mini-boss, but it’s also the end of the demo.

The game’s references to “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” help wrap some context around what we’ve seen of Fallen Order. There’s still a lot we don’t know about this game, but the half-hour we’ve seen already suggests that Respawn Entertainment is working to surprise even the most die-hard fans. Just as that film upended some of our assumptions and expectations about this galaxy, Fallen Order looks poised to have us look at lightsaber combat and Force powers in a new light.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order will release on November 15 on Xbox One and is available for pre-order today on the Microsoft Store. Click here for details.