By Alex Wakeford
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….
It is a dark time for the JEDI ORDER.
Years after the execution of ORDER 66, CAL KESTIS, an abandoned PADAWAN must complete his training, develop new and powerful Force abilities, and master the art of the LIGHTSABER – all while staying one step ahead of the evil GALACTIC EMPIRE.
This week, we look at Respawn Entertainment’s Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and how the ongoing discourse about ‘Soulsbourne’ games has influenced its approach to difficulty and accessibility to help everybody learn the ways of the Force.I am really, really bad at Dark Souls.
Over the years, I have tried many times to get into the series. I am fascinated by the world design, the story, the community around this genre-defining juggernaut…
It is a rich and intelligent series, one which delights in having the player uncover its secrets with near-total freedom.
And yet, my attempts to get to grips with it – to ‘git gud’ – have been rebuffed every time.
There’s been a lot of discussion, particularly since the release of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice earlier this year, From Software’s latest outing, about difficulty and accessibility.
Where Dark Souls offered a potential reprieve through its online functionality, where players could leave messages in – and even enter (with good or ill intentions) – your game world, Sekiro removed that altogether. Given that there’s no levelling system either in Sekiro, the end result is a game that you either deal with and master on its terms… or you don’t.
Many have said, with varying degrees of condescension, that “Not every game can be for you, and that’s okay.” (So uncivilised!)
But I want it to be for me. I want to play these games, some of us just need the options for the game to meet us half-way.
On this, Steve Spohn, COO of the Able Gamers charity which helps people with disabilities obtain custom gaming setups (including modified controllers and special assistive technology), said it best.In situations like these, I always think back to my first time looking through the gloriously extensive options offered by Dishonored 2.
*Jonathan Frakes voice*
Does your quick-access wheel slow down time or not? Will you allow yourself multiple save slots or just one? Can enemies see you when you lean? How fast-acting are your sleep darts on enemies? How many guards do you want to respond to alarms? How accurate and how frequently do you want enemies to be when they attack you from range? Do you want your mana to refill naturally? How loud are your footsteps?
All this and much, much more has a number of options and sliders that allows you to customise your experience of the game to however you want it to be.
Obviously not every game can offer this level of customisation, but it’s the gold standard I always look to as an example of how great games can be when they give the player that level of agency.Variable difficulty modes and options are important to me.
The Witcher 3 and Dragon Age are among my favourite games of all time, I have put hundreds upon hundreds of hours into them – I’ve probably seen my own family less. But they assuredly wouldn’t be if I was locked into a specific, punishing experience playing them. I get no enjoyment out of playing RPGs on anything other than their lowest difficulty setting so I can focus on the story.
There are growing voices in the industry that are making developers and publishers increasingly aware of the need to satisfy the needs of a broader community who are interested and want to experience their games, but are driven away by negative barriers to entry.
This is something that many of the ‘git gud’ crowd find objectionable, stating that having these optional convenience features will seriously compromise the Vision™ of the developers.
Blissfully unaware that game development is an exercise in compromise.
And then Jedi: Fallen Order dropped out of hyperspace…Upon learning that Respawn Entertainment’s action-adventure Star Wars game would take heavy inspiration from ‘Soulsbourne’ titles, I was concerned.
Was this, the first major single player Star Wars game in almost a decade, going to push me away too?
Would this be… Darth Souls?
I found the answer to this question very quickly, as, when you start a playthrough, you’re prompted to choose between four difficulty options.
These range from Story Mode, to Jedi Knight, Master, and Grand Master.
Often, one is left to guess what difficulty options actually affect, but Fallen Order illustrates precisely what is impacted from the start.Lower difficulties maximise your parry timing while minimising damage you take and the aggression of enemies. Jedi Master sets all these stats equally, and Jedi Grand Master is more along the lines of those looking for the kind of punishment Dark Souls offers.
Difficulty does not influence how much damage you deal, or how much health enemies have, as Respawn was keen to ensure that the experience of playing as a Jedi with a powerful weapon – the lightsaber – is kept intact.
Lowly Stormtroopers will still die in one or two hits, the game seeks to challenge you in other ways through its mechanics.
Where I might have ordinarily chosen to roll with Story Mode, I thought I would be bold and felt up to the challenge of Jedi Knight.
I discovered, too, that I could change the difficulty any time I wanted in the options menu. If Jedi Knight proved to be too difficult for me, or if I found myself quickly becoming a master samurai with a laser sword, I could scale that challenge accordingly on-the-fly!
To my mind, this is not, as some may be inclined to think of it, “Baby’s first Dark Souls,” but an affirmation of how great a ‘Soulsbourne’ game can be when it finds a way to preserve the ‘intended experience’ of challenging the player while altering certain elements that influences exactly how to challenge different kinds of players.I decided to approach the combat of this game much like a Jedi would, practising the virtues of patience, staying on the defence, and learning from failure.
This would not be like The Force Unleashed, where I could plough through legions of enemies with Force Lightning while cackling maniacally, unleashing my inner Sheev…
Indeed, this is not a story about empowerment, but about recovering from the trauma of Order 66 that severely damaged protagonist Cal’s connection to the Force, resulting in him losing most of his Force abilities.
The novelty of a well-timed parry that is swiftly met with a counterstrike (from a lightsaber that I have designed and upgraded from parts I’ve found and skills I’ve levelled up to obtain) is one that stays strong throughout the game.
You’ll have to keep a close eye on your health, which is replenished with combat stims (similar to the Estus Flasks in Dark Souls). You start off with two and can find upgrades that increase the number of stims you can have.
In my time playing, I found almost every cosmetic item the game had to offer, but only one combat stim. I assumed that this limitation was intentional… until I discovered, upon finishing the game, that there are ten!
I am simultaneously gutted and rather impressed with myself that I managed to do the whole game with a total of just three stims in my pocket. I have been informed by the people I’ve told this to that I have fought gallantly – worthy of recognition in the archives of the Jedi Order.
I look forward to rounding those up after the final boss and seeing just how much health I could have had, but my own training as a Jedi clearly paid off!One of my most memorable experiences with this game was early on, upon getting the choice of which planet I wanted to visit first. Naturally, I had to go to Dathomir because I’d heard that it was the quickest way to get the dual-bladed lightsaber.
Having levelled up no more than three times at this point, the hellish wildlife of Dathomir ensured that I could barely get past the starting area.
I had made a wookiee mistake…
Eventually, I decided to stop playing Jedied: Fallen Player and leave Dathomir to go and learn the ways of the Force. My overconfidence had been my weakness.
I studied movement and attack patterns, made sure I was mindful of my surroundings, and did my best to unlearn what I had learned from so many other games that wanted me to leap into ‘aggressive negotiations.’
This is where the fun begins!
The constant supply of new enemies (each of which had their own unique behaviours and abilities in combat), which are mixed ‘n’ matched very effectively, meant that there was always much to learn.
Of course, combat is just one part of this game. There’s a heavy emphasis on traversal and puzzle-solving (indeed, the traversal itself can often involve puzzle-solving elements) which I often found could be just as tense and fraught as any legion of Sheev’s finest.By the end, I was left wanting more. I still have many things to find across the four major worlds (most of them additional healing stims, apparently!) but hopefully, much like The Force Unleashed before it, we’ll get some story expansions to continue this journey because I’m simply not done spending time with these characters!
The Rise of Skywalker, the ninth and final entry in the generational Skywalker Saga, is just a few short weeks away; Baby Yod— I mean, The Mandalorian is streaming every Friday, the debut of Star Wars in the format of live-action television; Resistance is mid-way through its final season, there are ongoing novel and comic releases…
Seldom has there been a better time to be a Star Wars fan, there’s something for everybody to take you to a galaxy far, far away.
And if Jedi: Fallen Order is at all indicative of what’s to come for the future of Star Wars video games, things are looking bright indeed!
This ultimately turned out to be not only the Star Wars game I had been looking for, but the Dark Souls game I had been waiting to meet me half-way.
A surprise, to be sure. But a welcome one!
(Now, Respawn, how about that photo mode, hmm?)
A galaxy-spanning adventure awaits in Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, a new third-person action-adventure title from Respawn Entertainment.
This narratively driven, single-player game puts you in the role of a Jedi Padawan who narrowly escaped the purge of Order 66 following the events of Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith.
On a quest to rebuild the Jedi Order, you must pick up the pieces of your shattered past to complete your training, develop new powerful Force abilities and master the art of the iconic lightsaber – all while staying one step ahead of the Empire and its deadly Inquisitors.
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