We’re just a few short weeks away from the release of Respawn Entertainment’s hotly anticipated sequel to Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, Jedi: Survivor. In a recent story trailer for the game, we caught a glimpse of protagonist Cal Kestis doing battle with the Empire, only this time with a companion character in tow. Cal can now perform unique attacks in tandem with returning characters like Nightsister Merrin, not too dissimilar to the systems in the recent God of War titles.
While this certainly looks cool, it did raise a few eyebrows around the office as we wondered, and worried, if we would be subjected to gaming’s most recent frustrating trend – overly chatty companions. Just last week we had the chance to play an extended preview build of Jedi: Survivor and sit down for a chat with a couple of the creative minds behind it. Cinematic Director Dori Arazi and Narrative Technical Director Joanna Rob fielded our questions about the game and I was able to ask directly about how they’ve gone about ensuring Cal’s journey won’t be too noisy.
“He (Cal) can have Marin and Bode with him out as he’s exploring the galaxy. We don’t want to talk too much about specifics, but it was really awesome to be able to have characters in the same space as the player because it just totally changes how the narrative is being delivered” said Rob when asked about the role these companions will play in the game.
“It changes from being what I would kind of describe the past tense experience of exploring levels where a story has happened and you’re piecing it together to a story is unfolding here with my companion. Or in other cases where this is still kind of the past tense level, now those characters have opinions or they can remark on things that you find, stuff like that, which is really exciting.”
As someone who is always chasing new and organic ways in which games can tell us stories, it seems as if Jedi: Survivor is pushing in the right direction with its narrative design choices. In the preview build, I met several NPCs who made the world feel more compelling and actively engaging in the way Rob describes.
But I still found myself nervous about overwhelming the player with what Rob calls “systemic barks”, voice lines that prompt the player with character information among other things. These can be incredibly useful, such as delivering lore tidbits or even puzzle assistance for increased accessibility. But player downtime is equally important in exploration experiences and I pressed the team on how they intend to balance banter, exposition and that all-important peace.
“From a pacing standpoint, in terms of overwhelming the player with information, the game is very carefully designed with ebbs and flows in mind, including the side quests and the secrets and the exploration,” Arazi told me, “but we were very careful on when do we start bringing you back on the path. And that’s when we start storying you back in and maybe escalating it with a cinematic. But the pacing of the banter is ebbing and flowing with the experience of the story.”
Only time will tell if this balance is achieved but having spent time with the team and the game, I’ve come away confident that Respawn understands the need for player downtime.