- Star Wars Jedi: Survivor Director Stig Asmussen shares with us the myriad of improvements the development team has brought to the new game.
- From an expansive hub world, powerful Force powers, and new combat stances there’s a lot here for Star Wars fans and gamers to be excited for.
- Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is available for pre-order now for Xbox Series X|S on the Microsoft Store for Xbox.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to spend some three hours with the upcoming Star Wars Jedi: Survivor — the much-anticipated sequel to Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order — before its upcoming release date of April 28, 2023, for Xbox Series X|S.
Now, while I enjoyed the first game immensely, it was not without its faults. Its map design could be confusing (with no fast travel), combat difficulty felt inconsistent, and the reward factor for going off the beaten path would very often reward you with… a different colored poncho (yay?). These aren’t just my opinions – the developers at Respawn clearly felt the same, and Star Wars Jedi: Survivor Director Stig Asmussen spoke incredibly candidly to me about some of those very same shortcomings. As it turns out, many of the things fans like myself were looking for, and some of those criticisms, were aspects Respawn admits should have been there from the start. This time around, the developers are aiming improve on every single one.
“When you’re making a game, you really don’t know exactly what it is until it goes out into the wild,” explains Asmussen. “You can do as much focus testing as you want, but once millions of people are playing, it becomes a different story. It validates a lot of the things you thought, but it also confirms things and wondering that this was something we could brush up — one of those things was fast travel.”
Stig explained to me that the team had initially fought against features like this, wanting to stay true (to a fault) to the “Metroidvania” gameplay design it aimed for – seeing you return to previously explored areas, unlock new paths with new abilities, and make progress across multiple areas rather than follow a single path through the game. The challenge was that Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order just wasn’t really designed around fast travel or built to have that type of feature in-place. But once the fan feedback came in, and once Respawn began to scope its sequel, a fast travel mechanic was part of those discussions on day one. You’ll be happy to know that moving through Jedi: Survivor’s levels feels far more intuitive, and rewarding as a result.
“You can do as much focus testing as you want, but once millions of people are playing, it becomes a different story.”
Another of the cornerstones from the original game that the team is expanding upon heavily is what the definition of a “hub world” is. In the first game, it was confined to the starship Mantis. You could talk to the crew, look at some of your collection, interact with some objects, but that was about it. Which is fine – it fit nicely within the narrower narrative scope of the original. But these hub worlds have now been given a significant expansion, as befits a much wider storyline.
In the portion of the game I played, Cal has taken up residence in Rambler’s Ranch, a small town located on the planet Koboh. Despite having to carry the weight as one of the last surviving Jedi, he also taken it upon himself to help the locals by improving their town piece by piece. This starts to give the upcoming game a veneer of a space western, building upon narratives that we’ve seen in Star Wars television shows like “The Book of Boba Fett” — Cal has, essentially, become a small-town sheriff who aims to clean up this small town and rid the area of those dang bandits. Drop that on top of the rich Star Wars universe and you’ve got something that just feels much more tangible and immersive to play around in. Oh, and you can also collect seeds, set a plot, and grow a garden in the middle of town (not kidding) — this now feels more like living Cal’s life than reliving a single story within it.
One of the highlights of the first game was the small cast of characters who joined Cal, and Rambler’s Ranch offers even more of that feeling – this town is full of locals who add color to the game world. There’s Mosey Cimmaron, who runs the town stables; Ashe Javi & DD-EC, a pair of DJs who play music at the local Cantina; MXNK-6, a fast-talking and humorous droid bartender; and Dom Dendra, the de facto mayor of Rambler’s Ranch who can sell you cosmetics.
On that note, this was another major area the team invested resources in to build upon what, unintentionally, did feel like a bit of an afterthought in the first game: while it was fun to collect various colors and parts for your own personal lightsaber, other areas of customization were lacking.
“Really, [customization] was kind of an afterthought in the first game, and it came in really late in development,” says Asmussun. “The first time we got the whole game together, we were playing it… but I’m not really getting rewarded. There were skins for BD-1, skins for the Mantis, but those were just skins. And I think people saw through that. But the one that we talked about, that I think we got right, was lightsaber customization. And people kind of responded to that. So that’s what we’re going to do — we gave all the customization features ‘the lightsaber treatment.’”
This is extremely evident in our time with the game, being able to not just swap colors but swap parts on BD-1, or to fully customize Cal’s facial features and hair, and a variety of unique-looking outfits. Practically everything has been given new options to make your take on Cal’s adventure feel personal. Of course, the lightsaber customization remains, which continues to look like a Star Wars fan’s dream to tinker with endlessly by swapping parts in and out as the mood suits.
“We gave all the customization features ‘the lightsaber treatment.'”
Finding your way through this world has also been improved, another area that Asmussun admits was a pain point in the original game. Thanks to valuable feedback from players, the redesigned map was added very early on in the iteration process to deliver something closer to what players wanted. While you shouldn’t expect this to be an open world – these are still crafter levels with choices and exploration built in – getting around them should be far smoother and more open to interpretation.
“There’s huge improvements in terms of clarity and of being able to add markers,” explains Asmussun. “BD-1 has binoculars now as well that allows you to scan the environment and drop beacon points. There’s just a lot more legibility in general regarding where you need to go next. Lots of lessons learned here and areas we wanted to improve upon.”
But amid all these improvements, Respawn also acknowledged the strengths of the first game. They were not going to break them or remake them; they were going to make them better and refine them. One of those pillars is Fallen Order’s excellent combat system, which offered an unexpectedly Soulslike spin on lightsaber combat and Force abilities. This returns, but with several new ideas grafted on to help build it out.
“One of the things we were not able to complete for the first game was Dual Wield,” explains Asmussen. “We had that as a late-game pick-up in Jedi: Fallen Order, and that was something that we wanted to have as a full stance, but we just kind of ran out of time, so it became this special instead. But there was a lot there. It was probably ready to roll within the first six weeks of working on Jedi Survivor.”
Cal appears to have lost none of his talents from the original adventure and in fact has a much clearer grasp on his Force and lightsaber abilities.
What becomes immediately clear as a fan of the original, is just how fluid the combat now feels. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what’s improved, other than everything feels significantly more responsive. Part of that, I imagine, is tied to the story — when we meet Cal in the upcoming game, it’s been some five years since the previous adventure, giving him plenty of time to brush up on his skillset. Also, there doesn’t appear to be any forced moments where you must unlearn what you have learned – Cal appears to have lost none of his talents from the original adventure and in fact has a much clearer grasp on his Force and lightsaber abilities. But that’s not to suggest there aren’t fresh combat tricks for players to learn. New this time will be the five “stances” that each have their own strengths to utilize to counteract with the variety of enemy types in the game.
These are Single, which is your standard lightsaber stance, a balance for offense and defense; Double-bladed, which is great to use for crowd control; Dual Wield, where Cal’s lightsaber splits into two, which is ideal for more aggressive playstyle; Crossguard, which is a powerful, deliberate stance that has Cal dealing massive damage (at the cost of long wind-up times); and Blaster, which has Cal dealing with long-range foes with… well… a blaster.
“It’s easily the biggest improvement [to Star Wars Jedi: Survivor], in that you can now carry five stances and they each have a unique personality,” details Asmussen. “There’s a kind of synergy that we have the way that we’re constructing the enemies in the game that some stances might be able to reveal exploits faster against some enemies than another one. But to be clear, you can take down any enemy with any stance.”
The challenge for Respawn is finding ways to balance what is essentially a “one-hit-kill” weapon like a lightsaber and continue to make it feel fun, especially now that Cal is so well-versed in both his growing abilities as a Jedi and as a master wielder of the weapon of a more civilized age.
“Oh, there’s also dismemberment in this game,” Asmussen underscores with a bit of a smile.
“We introduce a variety of different ways that enemies can block a lightsaber, and something we work with Lucasfilm on is what kind of technology can we bring to the combatants who are basically loaded up to take on a Jedi,” explains Asmussen. “What kind of Star Wars tech can we give to them? Whether it’s shields or electrified devices that can block a lightsaber. A lot of the enemies are one hit kills; you just need to find the opening. Most of them aren’t though.
“That’s always the challenge. How can we provide contextually the tools that can block a lightsaber but also weave into the narrative that these things have a reason to exist. It’s something we’re always trying to make sure we’re underscoring. Oh, there’s also dismemberment in this game,” Asmussen underscores with a bit of a smile. “Fans have been asking for that and we got the green light from Lucasfilm.”
There have also been several adjustments to really make you feel powerful. Force Push and Pull are still tied naturally to the controller’s Right and Left triggers respectively from the start, allowing you jump in right away and play with a myriad of new combat features that weave together powerful Force powers and cinematic-like lightsaber combat. Think of it as a combat sandbox: If you think you can Force Pull a Stormtrooper, hold him in the air while you ram your lightsaber through him, or parry blaster fire back on a variety of enemies while dashing back and forth, or manipulate them to attack their own colleagues… you can.
Presenting this in action during our event, one member from the team’s combat team took the controller and showcased the level of hurt one can unleash on enemies in the game once you become in tune with all of Cal’s abilities. We watched as he moved through each of the five stances, demonstrating the various ways in which you can approach and cut down enemies with the saber, or by using some end-level Force powers where you can group enemies together, slow down time, and charge your pistol to unleash a barrage of blaster fire.
Everything we’ve seen so far promises a bigger, better, more customizable adventure with Cal Kestis and BD-1
Everything we’ve seen so far promises a bigger, better, more customizable adventure with Cal Kestis and BD-1: responsive combat, engaging characters, and an ancient mystery that is just waiting to be solved. We can’t reveal too much more about the latter, as that would be delving into some spoiler territory, but we did get enough of a tease that once these credits roll, our mouths are going to be on the floor.
Thankfully we don’t have long to wait to dive in, as Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is launching in just a few short weeks from now on April 28, 2023, for Xbox Series X|S. If you’ve yet to experience the original game, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, it’s available to play now for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S with Xbox Game Pass.
STAR WARS Jedi: Survivor™ Standard Edition
STAR WARS Jedi: Survivor™ Deluxe Edition