Tech reviews

Survivor review – a Force to be reckoned with

Star Wars fans have experienced more twists and turns than a TIE fighter when it comes to video games in the franchise, but 2019’s Jedi: Fallen Order helped Force Push the series in the right direction – and now Respawn Entertainment is back with Jedi: Survivor, a sequel that looks to build on the foundations laid by the first game and take the series to new heights.

It’s been over three years since the release of Jedi: Survivor‘s predecessor, which may not seem too long ago – or longer depending on how much the pandemic blurred existence for you – but in this time we’ve seen the release of blockbusters like Elden Ring, God of War Ragnarök, Ghost of Tsushima and Horizon Forbidden West to name a few, an impressive onslaught of big-budget titles that have elevated expectations for action-adventure games.

Has Jedi: Survivor done enough to separate itself and stand out in a crowd of games that are defining the genre? The good news is yes, and even manages to exceed expectations in some cases, as Jedi: Survivor improves on the formula and surpasses the original in every way.

We won’t spoil any story details or late-game mechanics here, but we will touch on some early unlocks related to traversal and gameplay.

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Set five years after Jedi: Fallen Order, Cal Kestis is slightly older, scarred and has grown a beard. The last few years Cal has been continuing his fight against the Empire, and a lot has changed in the time we’ve been away from the crew of the Mantis – a team we helped build who are nowhere to be seen in the opening moments of the game. Cal now has different ship-mates and is working with new recruit Bode, a jetpacking fighter who acts as one of your companions on missions.

Very quickly it’s noticeable how vastly superior the movement mechanics are to the original. Cal now climbs much faster, and getting around feels incredibly fluid and effortless. A new addition is the Ascension Cable, a Sekiro-style grappling hook that allows you to instantly launch to ledges and wall-running spots.

Jedi: Survivor also introduces creatures you can use to navigate the environments, whether it’s gliding across the map or riding them to get around quicker. The cool thing about them is that they’re also useful for accessing otherwise unreachable areas, allowing Cal to approach sections of the map he can’t reach alone, a welcome surprise as it’s another layer of creativity in the Metroidvania-based gameplay.

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Cal starts the game with all the basic Force abilities you learned in the first game like Force Jump, Force Push and Force Pull, and building on these is where the game really shines and takes Jedi: Survivor to the next level. As you play you’ll unlock abilities that greatly affect combat and the way you platform. For example, Force Dash allows you to combo dashes into your double-jump, which is a game-changer for exploration.

The game constantly feels fresh and gives a great sense of progress, as you’re always discovering new abilities or tools that improve movement. Even right until the end, the game found new ways to surprise us, with every new mechanic opening up the world a little more and improving how we traversed the landscape.

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Combat has also seen a big improvement, with five different lightsaber stances that are tailored for various play-styles. The Double-Bladed lightsaber is ideal for crowd control, while the Crossguard lightsaber acts as a great-sword that’s perfect for heavy attacks.

Jedi: Survivor builds on the Dark Souls-inspired combat of the first game, continuing to mix the timed parry system with lightsaber attacks and Force abilities, and it does feel very satisfying and responsive, especially when seamlessly switching between your two equipped stances mid-fight. While the stances are fun, none of them are mandatory to use and you can play the game however you want, even going the whole game without ever using a stance again after obtaining it.

The upgrade system in Jedi: Survivor is very clean and simple, allowing you to spend skill points on combat Force abilities. Stances also have their own individual skill trees, so you can focus skill points on your favourites to unlock new moves.

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Early in the game, you are taken to Outer Rim planet Koboh, a huge explorable playground that’s laced with interconnected pathways, secrets and Metroid Prime-style inaccessible areas across multiple different biomes including mountains, swamps, towns, forests, crash-sites and caves. The beautiful open-world is home to various communities trying to get by in an Empire-patrolled and Bedlam Raider-invaded climate.

Your old pilot Greez is also on Koboh, now settled with their own dive bar named Pyloon’s Saloon, which serves as a base of operations that can be improved and populated throughout the game.

As you progress, the place becomes a hub of side activities with the fruits of your labour being rewarded, including the aquarium housing fish caught by the curiously named local fisherman Skoova Stev, the rooftop garden where you can manually plant and grow your seed discoveries, and a DJ playing original space-tunes from your playlist.

One of the best additions is a handler who gives you access to Bounties, allowing you to track down and take out Bounty Hunters before they can hunt you.

Everything about the side activities at Pyloon’s Saloon is a fun way to make use of your discoveries in the world, and brings value to all of the gameplay elements you’ll find yourself naturally doing.

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The world itself feels incredibly alive and a joy to explore, with random NPCs you can stumble across on your travels that you can interact with. It’s reminiscent of something you’d expect in a From Software game like Elden Ring, and it can be quite comforting meeting unique characters while navigating every nook and cranny of Koboh and other locations.

Whether it’s a quick chat, a side-quest, a random boss encounter, or Jedi Mind Tricking them into sharing their valuables, it’s always a fun part of the world-building – and oftentimes you can send them to Pyloon’s Saloon for more dialogue and unique services.

The characters you meet and recruit really do feel like a community, with incredibly deep dialogue providing lore and character backstories, which all changes and adapts to the progress you’re making in the game’s main story.

Rumours are the game’s side-quests, pieces of information you’ll gather from talking to characters within the world, and they’re very good, oftentimes taking you to unique areas you can completely miss otherwise, sometimes even with new bosses waiting to surprise you. You’re always rewarded as well, with some missions expanding on the lore in meaningful ways.

The amount of dialogue you hear just by simply playing the game is also impressive, with almost every enemy patrol unit conversing with each other and offering up unique and oftentimes humorous discussions as you roam nearby, which really adds to the feel of you being in the Star Wars universe.

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While Koboh is by far the game’s crowning achievement in terms of scale, it isn’t the only location you visit, with Jedi: Survivor taking you to the neon-soaked city-planet Coruscant, the dunes of desert-moon Jedha, and a few more we don’t want to spoil for Star Wars fans.

The majority of locations are made up of fully explorable areas combined with tighter narrative-driven paths, which feels like a really good balance and contributes to the success of the level-design.

Hidden in each location are a number of side activities that reward you with skill, health and cosmetic upgrades. These include environmental puzzles, Force Tears that transport you to challenge rooms, and Jedi Chambers that serve as dungeons containing puzzle rooms and unique encounters.

All of it is optional and they don’t impede on the game in any way. They feel like a natural part of the world you’re passing through, and for players who like a challenge, some of the Force Tears will put your Jedi skills to the test.

A very big part of the level design is constantly opening shortcuts to create new and faster paths through each section. This feels very rewarding and helps connect everything together like a satisfying jigsaw puzzle. It also means when you inevitably come back later to revisit areas you currently don’t have the tools for, you have easy access and it never feels like a chore to get from one place to the next.

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Discovering everything the world has to offer is one of the game’s strengths, and there’s a lot to find, especially for Star Wars fans who have a galaxy of lore and history to uncover.

While it doesn’t quite have the ambiguity and jaw-dropping discovery of something like Elden Ring, you can facilitate more organic exploration by adjusting the Force Interaction Hints setting, which removes button prompts from environmental puzzles to minimise any hand-holding.

We had a blast with our time with the game, but there are areas where improvements could be made – for example, when you fall you’re essentially on a timer to land before you black out and die. Sometimes, we had to tactically time jumps to land safely in areas where it didn’t feel necessary.

Boss variety could also be built upon. Most of the time you’re fighting the same-sized beasts or having a solo duel, and while they all have unique attacks that definitely require learning patterns on harder difficulties, we’d have liked to have seen bosses that introduce new elements or even require outside-the-box thinking, perhaps by making specific lightsaber stances a requirement to give them more purpose.

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Jedi: Survivor has five difficulty options at launch ranging from Story Mode to Jedi Grand Master, with the ability to customise a number of settings to fit your needs, like parry timing, player damage, enemy aggression, and you can even turn off fall damage for when you miss those leaps of faith.

You can essentially make the game as easy or as difficult as you like, which addresses some of the criticism related to difficulty in the first game.

The accessibility options for Jedi: Survivor should also be commended, with a very deep range of settings that allow you to map buttons on the controller, modify and scale subtitles, and there’s also extensive colour blind settings that allow you to change the appearance of enemies, HUD elements, scenery and points of interest to a number of colour choices. There’s also an arachnophobia safe mode and five field-of-view options on console.

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We played Jedi: Survivor on PlayStation 5, which has a 4K graphics mode that locks the game to 30FPS and a performance mode that’s limited to 1440p which targets 60FPS. Most of the time, the game did feel smooth to play with the majority of our playthrough being on performance.

Unfortunately, the game did have some technical issues, with textures occasionally not loading correctly. We also experienced screen tearing, with shadows, hair and clothing sometimes glitching.

The game did soft-lock on one occasion thanks to a T-posing companion, but thanks to the fantastic shortcuts and level design, it only took five minutes to get back after reloading. Cutscene transitions also felt clumsy throughout, but overall we didn’t have any game-breaking bugs or issues, and nothing stopped the game from being playable or fun. The team are also pushing a pre-launch patch that will hopefully address the issues we encountered.

Graphically, the game looks decent with some aspects offering mixed results. The vast distances and environments look beautiful and full of detail – which is impressive for the amount of areas there are to explore – but close-ups of character models could sometimes feel underwhelming. Something that deserves recognition is the facial animation work, especially on Cal, where his emotions come through in a big way with the glances and expressions he makes.

The story feels serviceable and has all the marks of a huge blockbuster, and it genuinely does feel like a true and worthy sequel with some memorable set-pieces. Not all narrative threads landed for us, but there’s a lot to like and everything comes together well.

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Star Wars Jedi: Survivor surpasses the first game in every way, taking its strengths and flaws and improving every aspect of them to create a force to be reckoned with.

Perfected level design, rewarding exploration and refined traversal mechanics combine successfully to make it a delight to play, and we found ourselves going back after finishing the main story to find any secrets we may have missed.

It manages to avoid open-world fatigue and separates itself from other titles in the genre by just being so fun to control, with intuitive movement combos that evolve as you play to keep the gameplay fresh. If you’re a Star Wars fan, this might be the closest you come to feeling like a Jedi, and even if you’re not, you might just be playing one of the best action-adventure games in recent years.

Platform reviewed on: PlayStation 5

Star Wars Jedi: Survivor releases on April 28 on PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.


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