I think it’d be a little unfair to call Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order a “Soulslike”, the term coined for those titles trying to replicate the formula of the popular yet ‘ard as nails Demon/Dark Souls series. There’s a lot more to Fallen Order than the traditional entries into this genre – but it’s very obvious that From Software’s masterworks have had at least some influence on the creation of Cal Kestis’ journey.
Stim packs, a health boost from your trusty companion BD-1, resemble the Estus Flask from Dark Souls. They provide a limited number of heals and once they’ve run out you can restock them at a meditation point. Dotted around each level, meditation points act as a save point, allowing you to restore your health & force and restock your
Estus Flask Stim packs – but by doing so, you respawn all enemies to the world. Sound very familiar to the Bonfires in the Souls games, don’t they? The level design in Fallen Order occasionally resembles that of Bloodborne, enabling you to open up shortcuts which will cut out some sections of the game once you’ve completed them once. Then there’s the combat. Heavily reliant on parrying and deflection, Fallen Order often feels like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, especially with its use of blocking bars (aside: what I will say here is that the combat in Jedi: Fallen Order was likely well into development when Sekiro released, so while the latter might have helped Respawn refine their version, it’s not a straight up copy of the combat system).
It’s clear then that the team at Respawn that worked on Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order are fans of From Software and took some inspiration from their work. What is a major difference here though is that Fallen Order has different difficulty modes.
There are 4 of them (Story Mode < Jedi Knight < Jedi Master < Jedi Grandmaster) which effect 3 elements of game play – The length of a window in which a press on the block will parry in an incoming attack, the damage caused to Cal should he get hit, and the aggression of the enemy forces. There are a tonne of ways for a game to effect its own difficulty – whether that be through adding extra enemies, making enemies harder to kill by giving them more health/reducing your damage capabilities or giving them better capabilities – but the 3 sliders in Fallen Order are really smart ways to enable everyone to experience almost the same exact game but played at their own skill level.
I was one of those people who advocated for varying difficulty levels in the Soulsborne games. I never saw the harm in allowing more people to experience the story in these games without the monumental challenge they often pose. It was with Fallen Order though, the first big game with Soulslike sensibilities to attempt varying difficulties, that I realised why From Software hadn’t included a “Story mode” of their own. It’s because an easier challenge deeply effects the heft of the story itself.
When I booted up Fallen Order for the first time, I chose the Jedi Grandmaster difficulty. When difficulty settings are available, I always choose the most difficult and then drop it down to an easier setting if it is starting to become frustratingly difficult (or persist if there’s a trophy for completing the game on the top difficulty – I know. I’m an idiot). By the end of the game, I’d knocked it down to Jedi Master and honestly, I’d loved my time with the game. It had blown away all of my expectations and firmly rooted itself in my GOTY considerations. I’d loved it so much, I wanted to Platinum trophy the game but rather than battle my way to the last few Echo’s, Seed’s and map locations I needed on the Master difficulty, I decided to opt for the Story Mode to quicken this up.
Wow. Jedi: Fallen Order feel like a hugely different game on this difficulty.
On any other difficulty, reaching the next Meditation point felt like a hard fought victory. On Story Mode, it was like a walk in the park with Storm Troopers and their meaner cousins, the Surge troopers, more of an inconvenience than a confrontation. Even a small group of bog standard shooty Storm Troopers could be (Phantom?) menacing in the tougher difficulties whereas in Story mode, their aim was symbiotic to those in the movies. As in to say, terrible. On the tougher difficulties, I’d be concentrating on my parry timing and keeping a watchful eye on my block gauge whereas in Story Mode, I’d be just running over and slashing whatever it was in front of me a few times until it died. Cleaning up the last few collectables became a drag rather than the tense filled action adventure I’d been treated too till that point.
I thought to myself “Maybe it’s because I’ve finished the game and I’ve got all my powers unlocked” so I restarted the game on Story Mode once I’d unlocked the Platinum trophy. Nope. Rather than the Soulslike, punishing “just one more attempt” game play, it felt like any average 3rd person platformer with a Star Wars skin.
What’s more, it made the story, which wasn’t exactly a Shakespearean masterwork in the first place, feel totally out of place. One of the more interesting aspects of Fallen Order is Cal’s reconnection with the force and relearning what he did as a Padawan to help his combat, as well as his traversal of the world. When you’re already death on legs without these upgrades because the combat is so forgiving, this whole story arc falls flat. Then there’s the way certain Planets feel. Dathomir is supposed to be an unforgiving place – the place that gave us Darth Maul and Asajj Ventress – but when you’re walking around it without a care in the world because nothing there can really kill you, it holds just as much of a threat as a wander down to the Co-Op for a Twix. This is punctuated by the comments of Mantis captain Greez, who’s terrified to step foot off his ship and often says so. When you’ve managed to tear through the entirety of Dathomir’s population without needing to stop at a Meditation point, it rings hollow.
I’m all for accessibility. The more people who can play a game the better. That being said, I finally understand why From Software have yet to bow to the pressures from the gaming media to include an ‘Easy Mode’ in their games. Victories in Soulsborne games and many Soulslikes are hard fought and feel all the better for it, but it’s the narrative aspect – in Fallen Order’s case, making you feel like a Jedi Master when your character is quite literally saying that their connection to the force has been damaged – that take the hit. Would the plot in Sekiro or in Dark Souls land as well if they were a walk in the park? I’m starting to think they wouldn’t…