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Cal Kestis and the droid BD-1 gaze out across a lush landscape perforated with prefab shelters Image: Respawn Entertainment/Electronic Arts

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Star Wars Jedi: Survivor almost swept me off my feet

Build a team of space rogues in Respawn’s much-improved, but still flawed, sequel

Yes, there is fast travel now.

OK. Now that I’ve gotten the most important part of the review out of the way, let’s get properly started.

Writing a video game review is a bit like having a whirlwind vacation romance: It all happens so fast, and you absolutely cannot gauge the experience by traditional metrics. You and your new obsession cram an entire relationship into a really compressed time frame, and as a result, emotions can run a bit hotter than you’d anticipate. At the end, you slump into a chair at home and go: “What the hell just happened?”

At one point in my time with Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, I was laughing so hard that I couldn’t breathe; at another, I turned off the game after beating my head against a boss fight for more than 30 minutes, then pointed at my PlayStation 5 and said, “Fuck this, and fuck you,” before storming off to bed in a huff. Sometimes I’d let out a piercing “WOO!” as I turned a grappling-hook vault into an air dash that literally took me through a Stormtrooper. Sometimes I’d look at a room of 10 enemies I was expected to fight all at once while being pelted with blaster fire; say out loud, “Nah, bro”; and walk away for a while. There were story beats I genuinely didn’t see coming, and story beats so predictable that I groaned when they happened.

Cal, with his foot up on a rock, looks out over a desert world named Koboh, with the droid BD-1 nearby, in Star Wars Jedi: Survivor
Cal looks out upon the desert landscape of Koboh in Star Wars Jedi: Survivor.
Image: Respawn Entertainment/Electronic Arts

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order was a bought-on-sale game collecting proverbial dust in my PlayStation library, but in preparation for this review, I threw an entire weekend at it before I even touched Jedi: Survivor. To my surprise, I encountered many enjoyable characters, fun but rote story beats, reasonably engaging puzzle rooms, plenty of Uncharted-esque climbing, but also a parade of serious roadblocks. Huge maps with no fast travel — as you can guess from my intro to this review — were a major “why?!” thing, but the combat also felt phenomenally bad. Huge group fights against multiple melee enemies coming from four different angles were the norm, often while a phalanx of Stormtroopers rained down attack-interrupting blaster fire. I noped out of Jedi: Fallen Order without finishing it.

If we’re relying on the whirlwind romance analogy, I basically dated someone intriguing but annoying; told him to lose my number; then spent a weekend with his younger brother, who maybe learned from his older brother’s mistakes but is repeating a few of them, too.

I’d call the younger brother back, though — really. Provided we set some ground rules first.

Jedi: Survivor is a more polished, thoughtful, and complete game than Jedi: Fallen Order. Protagonist Cal Kestis already has all the Jedi abilities he collected by the end of the first game, so you actually feel like a Jedi from the outset. Different lightsaber styles, which were introduced very late in Jedi: Fallen Order, don’t always make a huge difference, but they do let you more effectively tailor your approach to the enemy mobs you’re going to fight. There’s fast travel now (seriously, Respawn, what were you thinking?), and the critical path in the sequel yields more survivability tools (health upgrades and healing stim charges) than Jedi: Fallen Order, where these helpful upgrades often required tedious backtracking — which was made all the worse by the lack of fast travel. (If you hadn’t noticed, the fast travel thing really bothered me.)

Cal Kestis looks toward the camera, in front of which a mysterious, robed figure holds a Stormtrooper helmet, in Star Wars Jedi: Survivor Image: Respawn Entertainment/Electronic Arts

All the things I liked about Jedi: Fallen Order have returned, too. I’m a sucker for a Jedi story, and Cal is, at the very least, a likable protagonist who doesn’t make any egregious mistakes that test my patience. The cast of NPCs that you gradually assemble — a process that also involves getting the Jedi: Fallen Order band back together — ranges from will-they-won’t-they love interests to a Scots-accented fisherman alien approximately 2 feet in height, each with their own amusing interactions and budding friendships (or more) with Cal. There’s an enjoyable Mass Effect 2 vibe to (re)assembling your team as you race to collect the MacGuffins in order to save the galaxy.

Jedi: Survivor’s plot itself is not going to wow you with unexpected twists and turns, with perhaps one exception that was not only genuinely surprising, but sent the story to a place I never expected it to go. Of course, a story doesn’t have to be surprising to be enjoyable, and truthfully, Jedi: Survivor’s core narrative is mostly a vehicle to bring you to new locales and get to the real focus: Cal’s developing relationships with the other major cast members, particularly returning character Merrin and new buddy Bode Akuna.

While the total number of planets you visit in Jedi: Survivor isn’t very high (six, a couple of which are pretty small), it’s a visually pleasing game, and Jedi parkour-ing your way through jungles and floating sky ruins while using your Force powers and gadgets to get around is usually a good time. Most of the game takes place on the planet Koboh, a “New Mexico in space” that’s typical for Star Wars. You can freely explore Koboh, which also includes Breath of the Wild-esque puzzle dungeons that unlock new passive skills — a nice change from Jedi: Fallen Order’s hidden treasures being largely cosmetic. (Then again, one of the first things I found in a treasure chest on Koboh was a mullet. Just saying.)

It’s not all peaches and, uh... blue milk, however. The combat is improved compared to Jedi: Fallen Order, but it certainly isn’t fixed. Fighting a couple of enemies at a time imparts a terrific feeling of mastery if you’re on top of the all-important parry timing (easier combat difficulties widen the parry window, which says a lot about the mechanic’s significance), and the animations for each of the saber stances feel aesthetically and even kinetically different. In the piratelike Blaster stance, Cal attacks with rapid, fencing-esque jabs interspersed with offhand gunplay, while the heavy and powerful strikes of the claymorelike Crossguard stance have a genuine heft to them.

Cal Kestis looks on as a fellow Jedi, Merrin, sends a wisp of green particles out from her fingers in Star Wars Jedi: Survivor
Merrin, a fellow Jedi, returns from Jedi: Fallen Order.
Image: Respawn Entertainment/Electronic Arts

As the game wears on, though, the battles in which you’re pitted against a horde of enemies — with a melee swarm steadily hammering your block meter, and laser fire breaking your combos from afar — continually become more frequent, and those fights are intolerable. This is to say nothing of bosses. They usually aren’t so bad on the default Jedi Knight difficulty, but some of the late-game multistage boss fights really, really tested my patience. Each successive phase made my window to attack increasingly small, while the boss’s attack strings (often with unblockable attacks doing massive damage) got longer and longer.

At its worst, Jedi: Survivor’s combat felt like a chore preventing me from enjoying the parts of the game I liked, which is to say, literally everything else. As a saving grace, however, Respawn places meditation spots — the game’s equivalent of Dark Souls’ bonfires — thoughtfully enough that you’re never stuck doing a combat gauntlet and a boss fight back to back.

One of the metrics I use for reviewing a game, in terms of its quality, is “how much time do I spend thinking about it when I’m not specifically on task for the review?” Jedi: Survivor clocked pretty high on that front in the six days I spent with it. I was invested in the characters; I wanted to explore each planet, and see what was out there. I wanted to recruit more colorful space rogues to Pyloon’s Saloon, Cal’s informal base on Koboh. There was a lot left untouched.

the droid BD-1 looking toward the camera, with Cal Kestis behind him sitting at the controls of a spaceship, in Star Wars Jedi: Survivor
Cal’s trusty droid buddy, BD-1, is back as well.
Image: Respawn Entertainment/Electronic Arts

If I plan on seeing this guy again, though... ground rules, for sure. I played Jedi: Survivor on the default difficulty for review purposes, but I probably would have had a lot more fun on an easier setting. This way, I could have focused on what the game was doing well: the exploration, the parkour, the characters, the locations, and the combat animations, like the ones that make Jedi in the films and TV series so cool to watch.

So, did Jedi: Survivor sweep me off my feet? Am I about to introduce him to my mom, and talk about getting a condo? Probably not. For starters, we need to discuss that beard before there’s any talk of moving in together. That said, if he hit me up again for a second date? That’s an easy yes, provided that I’m picking where we go. A healthy relationship is about boundaries, after all.

Star Wars Jedi: Survivor will be released April 28 on PlayStation 5, Windows PC, and Xbox Series X. The game was reviewed on PS5 using a pre-release download code provided by Electronic Arts. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.


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