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Why we're worried about Jedi: Fallen Order

Ever since the original Star Wars trilogy sparked a new galaxy of fiction, millions of fans worldwide continue to hold the property close to their hearts. The space opera built a vibrant universe full of memorable characters and stories. Everyone knows the sound of a lightsaber, and the stormtrooper outfit is practically iconic at this point. To put it simply, Star Wars fans care deeply about the universe. It all started with some movies, but today, you can find it everywhere, from comics to novels, from TV shows to video games.

At EA Play 2018, Respawn co-founder Vince Zampella revealed his studio was working on a new game. Called Star Wars: Jedi – Fallen Order, details were pretty scant for the remainder of 2018. Come April 2019, however, and we learned a bit more about the upcoming title. At Star Wars Celebration in Chicago, some folks from Respawn held a panel, which was bookended by a flashy cinematic trailer.

Some questions were answered. But the panel didn't answer all of them, leaving us worried about Jedi: Fallen Order. The game comes out in November, so there's still time for Electronic Arts and Respawn to change our minds. For now, let's go over the major concerns we have about the newest Star Wars game.

What's EA got to do with it?

Respawn is at the helm of Jedi: Fallen Order, but we can't forget the parent company that looms over them. EA owns the Star Wars license when it comes to console games, and they have it until 2023. However, according to reports from Kotaku, EA CEO Andrew Wilson has always wanted to keep the company's focus on in-house titles, like sports games, Battlefield, and The Sims. The Star Wars deal doesn't fit that mold, which might explain why the last two Star Wars games were essentially sci-fi Battlefields built for monetization.

You probably already know how much EA likes microtransactions. A community manager needed to confirm that Jedi: Fallen Order wouldn't have microtransactions, DLC, or a season pass. It's so unexpected that it made headlines. Furthermore, this is still EA we're talking about. The lack of monetization plans surrounding the upcoming release sounds nice, but it doesn't undo the bad will from years of FIFA Ultimate Team or the Battlefront 2 loot box fiasco.

An EA-published single-player, narrative-driven Star Wars game that doesn't focus on monetization sounds too good to be true. The PR for the game is taking the right first steps, but we're waiting for the other shoe to drop.

What about Apex Legends?

If you've been paying attention to the battle royale genre since February, then you know about and might have played Respawn's hottest new game, Apex Legends. It's free, after all. The first-person shooter took the world by storm, racking up 50 million players in its first month. The game is, as you'd expect, a live service, requiring constant monitoring and patches. Furthermore, the game recently started its first season: Wild Frontier. The plan is to continue having more seasons throughout the year, with the next ones starting in June, September, and December.

In essence, Apex Legends has been massive, and it looks like a game that will continue being important to Respawn and EA. It's worth noting that Apex fits the classic EA mold far more than Jedi: Fallen Order. Season passes, loot boxes, new heroes, and skins are all crucial parts of a lucrative long-term business plan. A contained, single-player story? Not as much.

Maintaining an ongoing game as a service isn't the same as developing a whole new title from scratch. But having a studio do both at once calls into question the quality of either product. Even with more than 200 employees working at Respawn, it's hard to rule out the possibility that Apex Legends could take resources away from the development of Jedi: Fallen Order.

Is Respawn the right studio?

While we don't know everything about the kind of game Jedi: Fallen Order will be, we have some basic facts. It's a third-person action game where you play a Jedi Padawan named Cal Kestis. During the Star Wars Celebration panel, the developers referred to it as having "thoughtful combat." Game director Stig Asmussen compared the game to The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker and Metroid: "The enemies are crafted in a certain way that once you upgrade, you can think about how you're going to approach them differently, and maybe they aren't as big a challenge as they were at one point."

Asmussen joined Respawn during the development of Jedi: Fallen Order, and his experience directing God of War 3 will likely prove valuable. However, Respawn's history doesn't carry the same pedigree when it comes to third-person action games.

The studio was founded by two former Infinity Ward developers, the studio known for creating the Call of Duty franchise. Since Respawn formed, that studio developed the Titanfall games and Apex Legends. Developing games with an emphasis on military-grade guns doesn't seem like it carries over to a melee action game featuring lightsabers. Without that experience, it's hard to put all our faith into this upcoming Star Wars game.

Will it really be ready by November?

Despite all our doubts about Jedi: Fallen Order, we hope the game turns out to be a success. EA and its Star Wars video game license desperately need a win. We all have to wait until Nov. 15 to see if the game lives up to everyone's hopes. Luckily, that's only a few short months away. But that brief interim could be both a blessing and a curse for Respawn and its fans.

It's no surprise that the game has a release date set near the end of the year. Obviously, it coincides with another major Star Wars release: Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. The movie will conclude the newest trilogy that started back in 2015 with Episode VII: The Force Awakens. In fact, the last two Star Wars games — Battlefront and Battlefront 2 — released a month before the last two movies did. So it only makes sense that Fallen Order would follow the same pattern with The Rise of Skywalker.

However, this means that Respawn is, for all intents and purposes, locked into that release date. No matter what happens, shareholders will be expecting the game to launch on Nov. 15, regardless of whether the game is ready. We don't know how far into development Respawn has gotten, but if the worst case scenario comes up, we could see an incomplete game this holiday season.

FromSoftware-like combat

During E3, Respawn and EA showed off quite a bit of Jedi: Fallen Order, and gave us some much-needed information on how the combat will work. Because this is a third-person, single-player action game, many expected something akin to The Force Unleashed. While these comparisons are still floating out there, many outlets are now mentioning FromSoftware and Dark Souls when discussing Fallen Order's combat. In fact, game director Stig Asmussen mentioned that the new game will have the "same types of methodology" as the SoulsBourne games.

When you read coverage and impressions from E3, reporters have described the combat as having a focus on precise timing and dodge-rolls. Sounds familiar, right? As Cal Kestis, players will also have to pay close attention to the health bar — as it won't regenerate — as well as health canisters (basically, Estus Flasks) that they can replenish at save points or the hubship. All of that makes this sound like a game much closer to Dark Souls than The Force Unleashed. So, expect a much more challenging Star Wars game than usual. But Star Wars is supposed to appeal to a casual audience, so going the hardcore route might well turn around and bite EA. It's a risky move on Respawn's part.

The protagonist can't really affect the Star Wars universe

While actor Cameron Monaghan — known for his roles in Shameless and Gotham — will likely put on a strong performance as Fallen Order protagonist Cal Kestis, there's plenty to worry about when it comes to how good of a character he'll actually turn out to be. It's tough to pull off a brand-new hero in the Star Wars universe, considering how much involvement Lucasfilm has in the writing and approval process. It becomes even more difficult when you're writing him into a part of the canon timeline that's already been fully formed.

See, Jedi: Fallen Order and the events surrounding Kestis take place a few years after Revenge of the Sith and before A New Hope. Through avenues currently unknown, Cal found a way to survive after Palpatine's Order 66 wiped out almost all the Jedi. During this dark period, he'll look to overcome these terrible times and bring down the Empire.

Here's the problem: we already know he doesn't do that. Vader and Palpatine are the menacing forces of A New Hope, which means whatever Kestis did ultimately failed. This doesn't mean the game will suffer, but you have to wonder how effective this protagonist will actually be when his timeline is already written.

Backtracking through levels could get tedious

Even though Respawn didn't highlight it in the public reveal, Fallen Order features some extremely interesting game mechanics related to exploration and traversal. According to multiple reports, including some statements made by Giant Bomb, a big part of the game involves you having a ship that acts as your hub, and you and your crew will use it to traverse between multiple planets in whatever order you choose. Basically, this won't be a linear game. Its focus is on exploration, similar to Metroid Prime.

If you've played Metroidvania-style games, you're familiar with finding areas, being forced to leave them be, and returning to them once you have specific upgrades or unlocks later in the game. It sounds like Fallen Order will be a lot like this, as your unlockable powers and upgrades will be necessary to open up new areas on each of the planets. It's unknown how much backtracking this game truly has, but that mechanic can become tedious and frustrating if overused. In a Star Wars game that will already be tougher due to its combat, the Metroidvania aspects will need to be enjoyable and rewarding to capture players' attention. Otherwise, that exploration could get annoying very quickly.

Will the story be lacking that signature Respawn creativity?

While it's true that protagonist Cal Kestis' mission likely won't have any major effect on Star Wars canon because of where it falls in the timeline, that's not the only story-related thing that has us worried about this game. Regardless of where Respawn Entertainment decided to set the Fallen Order story, the writing team always had to prepare for an extremely close-knit relationship with Lucasfilm. In other words, nothing about this story gets approved without input from the company that created Star Wars.

In an interview with Eurogamer, Respawn's Jason de Heras offered up a reminder of that. "We have to work with Lucasfilm on everything, we have to approve everything and have to collaborate with them, so there's give and take," he mentioned. It's slightly concerning when you hear someone say that they have to collaborate. Basically, de Heras said that Respawn must compromise because of Lucasfilm's ultimate vision for the Star Wars timeline.

What does this mean for the overall narrative of the game? Will it be lacking in substance and interesting story beats because everything has to be shoehorned into the series canon? It's certainly something that gives us pause.

Will there be enough content to justify a $60 purchase?

Back in April, EA confirmed that Fallen Order would not be like the publishers' other recent Star Wars games. This single-player experience wouldn't feature microtransactions, multiplayer modes, a season pass, or DLC of any kind. As a company notorious for its sketchy views on "games as a service," this announcement was met with both surprise and excitement. For once, the giant publisher did it right, following the vision outlined by Respawn.

Here's the question that one must pose: will Fallen Order have enough content to justify a $60 purchase on Nov. 15? The games industry has changed dramatically in recent years. Where single-player experiences once reigned as king, now there are strong free-to-play titles, compelling cooperative games, and subscription services like Xbox Games Pass that offer hundreds of gaming opportunities. It's not even remotely as necessary to shell out 60 bucks for a AAA title in 2019.

To justify that expense when all these other games exist for much less, Jedi: Fallen Order will have to provide a unique, entertaining experience that doesn't just end after six hours. This can't be The Force Unleashed, in other words.

The graphics look … dated

On the surface, graphics don't usually make a game enjoyable or not. Games don't have to be Red Dead Redemption 2 in order to have a positive effect among the gaming community. Still, when you see a AAA title in 2019 with graphics that look stiff, dated, and gray, it doesn't exactly instill confidence. Unfortunately, Jedi: Fallen Order seems to fall into this category, at least based on the footage shown off during EA Play.

If you look closely at the gameplay demo, the graphics look a bit dated. Everything seems slightly too gray and muddy, which you could argue is the point, since the game's set during the darkest time in the Star Wars universe. Still, these graphics don't look like those of a top-tier game releasing in late 2019. Near the end of the console lifecycle, you'd expect better, especially from a developer that just released Apex Legends, which looks better. Hopefully, the final product is more polished, but what Respawn has shown to the public so far doesn't look as good as expected.