star wars jedi survivor review

Star Wars Jedi: Survivor Review – An Audacious Middle Chapter

Respawn takes a hyperspace jump into the unknown.

Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is Respawn Entertainment’s dark middle chapter. What Jedi: Survivor isn’t, is Respawn’s Empire Strikes Back. That would be too easy; instead, the team has crafted an unruly, introspective tale that pulls from the best of Star Wars storytelling while striking out on its own. It echoes Attack of the Clones and The Last Jedi, pivoting focus and intent seemingly on a whim to forefront its characters and massively expand its gameplay languages, resulting in a game that plays like an action movie but flows like a drama – a dissonance that requires Jedi-like trust in the process to eventually see the light.

Jedi: Fallen Order left Cal and the Mantis crew in a bit of no man’s land. Having conclusively destroyed the list of potential Jedi survivors, the little band of unlikely mates were set adrift into a galaxy that has already had its storytelling potentially largely tapped. These are the dark times, the height of Empire with only a budding sense of Rebellion to push back, and having run the gambit of iconic locations and faces in the first game, exactly where Respawn would take Cal next was something of an enigma. It’s here, in this freedom, Jedi: Survivor thrives.

Jedi Survivor Review

Many years of fighting the Empire has fractured the crew, each of them peeling off one by one to pursue a different path after the inevitability of the imperial creep – except for Cal. Knighted in battle and unable to let go of the fight, we pick up with this version of the now seasoned Jedi in the midst of a Rebellion heist. Like the entire cast of the game, he’s changed. Jedi: Survivor’s Cal is stronger, faster and angrier. The game’s opening sequence is an all-timer in intention statements, a colourful and violent descent through Coruscant’s underworld culminating in a definitive blow dealt by Cal that lets the player know, right away, this is not going to go the way you think.

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Fleeing the scene and seeking to lay low for a while, Cal and BD-1 find themselves on Koboh, a sprawling, original planet that serves as the game’s hub world and primary location. That last point there is undoubtedly going to raise some eyebrows; the first game prided itself on being a galaxy-trotting adventure and Jedi: Survivor sprints in the opposite direction, instead opting for a more narrow scope but becoming deeper for it. Koboh is a towering achievement of Star Wars world design complete with a charming cantina, unique wildlife, half a dozen biomes and some deep cut lore that set my heart aflutter. Your adventure will send you to a handful of other locations but these are often much smaller instances, no less intricately crafted but all roads lead back to Koboh in the end.

Jedi Survivor Review

Initially, this tighter loop made my brain short-circuit – for all my bluster about wanting entirely original Star Wars stories, I still found myself somewhat wanting for more recognisable planets and locations to visit. But the longer I sit with the game the more I’ve come to appreciate the intentionality behind it. Jedi: Survivor is rarely the game you’re expecting it to be and once you embrace that freefall, you can begin to appreciate the ride.

Jedi: Survivor’s core gameplay systems have been effectively perfected, a remarkable spit and shine of Fallen Order’s ambition to offer both meaningful combat and exploration. There are five different Lightsaber stances to choose from – single blade, dual blade, double blade, blaster and cross-guard, each offering players unique engagement methods that favour balance, speed, defense and power. You’re able to have two of each style equipped at any given time, flipping between them with a simple button press. These stances all sport their own skill trees that unlock progressively cooler moves, most of which drain your Force meter, which is then refilled by hitting foes with standard attacks.

Jedi Survivor Review

Speaking of the Force, it has well and truly awakened in Jedi: Survivor. Cal begins the game with a basic assortment of abilities (Push, Pull, Mind Trick) that can all be upgraded through another set of skill trees. But the true joy of the game’s combat snaps into focus through the middle stretch, during which Cal will unlock additional Force powers that bolster his existing ones, allowing for markedly improved crowd control and offensive capabilities. There’s no wrong combination of stance and Force here, a delightful bit of player expression that allows you to build Cal out in the exact way you prefer to play. For instance, I sat on my skill points for hours waiting for the cross-guard stance to unlock, eventually dumping them all into the tree and wielding a Lightsaber claymore for the rest of the game.

Once you’ve found the stance you’re most comfortable with, the fluidity of Jedi: Survivor’s combat becomes undeniable. Cal has a bounty of animations to pull from, giving attacks contextually interesting outcomes that you’ve earned through a series of tight parries, dodges and deliberate blows. Stronger foes will deploy these same tactics against you in turn too, often requiring your patience to wear down stamina meters before you can break through and land a blow. Exchanges, largely, feel like a dance – weighty, pointed strikes spinning out into micro-breaks in flow that allow you to catch your breath before throwing yourself back into the fray.

Jedi Survivor Review

Cal is every bit the Jedi Knight Cere expected him to become, and in turn, the player is allowed to experience a power fantasy that lifts the best elements from previous titles like the Jedi: Knight and Force Unleashed series. Jedi: Survivor does this without sacrificing its original intentions, rewarding conscious player choices with bombastic, cinematic thrills, capitalising on the contrast for great effect. Boss battles are the crown jewel of this balance, often extensive and incredibly trying exchanges that require your best play and in turn deliver some genuinely stunning set pieces that had my jaw cratered on the floor.    

Likewise, exploration has been vastly improved over the first game, with quality of life choices and a sharper eye for level design both elevating Jedi: Survivor. Cal moves much faster now, scampering along derelict ships and cliff faces with a fluidity that removes unnecessary player friction and allows you to feel more equipped to manoeuvre the game’s immaculate platforming playgrounds. Again, in pulling focus onto just a small selection of locations, Respawn has crafted far more engaging play spaces that utilise an array of traversal mechanics, including a contextual hook shot, improved Force jumping, ground and air mounts, and some Arkham-lite tools BD-1 picks up along the way. Traditional puzzles have been dialled back from the first game too; the ones that are here are enjoyable enough but largely Cal’s only barrier to progression will be your skill with his new movement abilities.

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Jedi Survivor Review

Conversely, Jedi: Survivor features a handful of systems that can be largely ignored by the player. There is a whole Perk system that requires slot management for passive boosts to your skills but to be frank, I had entirely forgotten about it for long stretches of play. That charming cantina on Koboh also has an adorable rooftop garden you can maintain with BD-1 but for the life of me I never found much of a mechanical imperative to return to it. There’s also the excellent cosmetic customisation suite that allows players to fully build their own saber, deck out BD-1 and the blaster in custom parts, and even change the colour shading on the dozens of outfit combinations. And yeah you can give Cal a mullet. The game never forces your hand on these systems, content to let you engage at your leisure, but this system passivity is at odds with, to my mind, the game’s most interesting player demand – that you care for the sake of caring.

Jedi: Survivor has a confidence in its storytelling and a faith in its audience, I find utterly fascinating. The game is effectively a four-act narrative, picking up and discarding threads with ferocious speed as it whips through tones and plots that run the gambit of earnest human drama to old Extended Universe novel pulp. The Empire takes a backseat for the majority of the game, instead Cal and friends are embroiled in the centuries old plot of High Republic era Jedi Dagan Gera as he races to claim an oasis planet hidden beyond an impenetrable abyss. Cal sees the planet as a potential Rebellion training ground, pitting him against Dagan as the two Jedi survivors duke it out to claim a new home. It’s smaller stakes than expected and gives the game room to explore what exactly it means to be a survivor in a galaxy this far gone.

Jedi Survivor Review

This conflict draws in several familiar faces, as well as some compelling new ones, and forms a tremendous thematic backbone for the game. Dagan is a treat, absolutely devouring scenery as he paces in his ornate golden robes and taunts Cal for letting the galaxy fall after the High Republic. The game does a cursory job at educating players on the relatively recent Star Wars era, and while some aesthetic touchstones are present, the majority of the High Republic connections are found in data files and inference alone. You should still read those books though. Much like the planets, I was initially caught on this choice but Jedi: Survivor has so much more cooking than anticipated, and while its ambitions can result in some pacing hitches and speedy conclusions, its achievements are worth the scramble.

Much like Jedi: Fallen Order, moment-to-moment dialogue can still occasionally slip into broad strokes, or some exposition heavy exchanges, but Jedi: Survivor navigates these characters into far more interesting waters. Cal’s Jedi journey is perhaps most surprising, a brilliant echo of the High Republic teachings and a definitive answer to what exactly you do with this character. Elsewhere, Merin returns in a pivotal role that balances Cal’s changes and locks the two of them into exciting narrative potentials. Dagan is drawn a little lighter but remains fun throughout, and the new supporting cast are thoroughly likeable and will break your heart if you let them. It helps too that the game lets you spend more organic time with its characters as Cal is sometimes joined on missions by companions, giving them a chance to banter in mostly organic and charming ways.

Jedi Survivor Review

The race to find a hidden planet is a wonderfully fun set up, all the more for giving Cal a plot that doesn’t necessitate known factors and instead allows Respawn to craft their very own corner of the galaxy. Jedi: Survivor overflows with colourful and expressive art that draws Star Wars in tones and shapes that feel fresh and exciting. From Koboh’s Old West-inspired ranch towns to Jedah’s ornate Jedi temples and even the phenomenal score and sound work, the game is dense with little flourishes that make it feel both a part of the larger galaxy but also distinctly its own beast. The only real issue is performance; playing on PlayStation I was hit with a fair few issues, from texture pop in to slowdown and clipping. Which is a shame because the game is otherwise a technical marvel, that gorgeous art direction rendered beautifully on screen, when it works.

Jedi: Survivor feels like it has something to prove. Maybe to the team behind it, whose ambitions for Cal have clearly grown exponentially in the interim years, and maybe to its audience, who the game places explicit trust in. It’s a game that dances, gleefully, in the tonal dissonance of its Star Wars building blocks. Colliding power fantasy mechanics, high-concept sci-fi and nuanced, character-driven writing, the end result occasionally stumbles trying to hold it all together but ultimately emerges a roaring success of genre melding. Jedi: Survivor is a monument to the best of Star Wars.

star wars jedi survivor review
Conclusion
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor sharpens combat and exploration to a fine point while delivering a story that goes all in on its characters and human drama. Some minor pacing issues can’t stop the game from achieving exciting new heights for the series, if you’re willing to let it take you there.
Positives
Refined, diverse combat options
Organic world exploration and traversal
Striking balance of narrative tones and ideas
Gorgeous art direction that feels fresh and new
Optional additional mechanics and fantastic customisation tools
Negatives
Console performance is rough at times
Pacing and dialogue can occasionally hitch
9