For a Star Wars fan, it’s hard not to smile the first time you force-push an enemy off of a cliff in Star Wars Jedi: Survivor or duck into a customisation menu to change the colour of your lightsaber. For everyone else, the grin might come at a different time, but there’s plenty to smile about here.
There’s nothing here you haven’t seen before – there have been countless Jedi games, and a variety of third-person action games, but Star Wars Jedi: Survivor’s biggest strength is how polished and consistent the whole experience feels.
Many of the better bits of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order have returned: protagonist Cal Kestis, lovable robot sidekick BD-1 and the slightly more thoughtful combat and exploration. However, there’s also a whole lot of new stuff, too.
In Jedi: Survivor, more is more. There’s more of a focus on an open world, with players getting to explore big chunks of the planet Kobah, a new addition to the Star Wars canon just for the game. While you get stranded here early on due to problems with Kestis’ ship The Mantis, it’s far from abandoned, the planet teeming with enemies that are eager to bring the pain. With empire stormtroopers, wildlife and even some battle droids from the separatist droid army featured in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, NME’s time with the preview was filled with combat.
Lots of Fallen Order’s early combat, once you’ve moved past that game’s introduction, involves you using your lightsaber like a baseball bat to try and fell huge creatures on an alien world.
Meanwhile, the battle droids fought in this preview – set about an hour into the game – were paper thin, didn’t do much damage by themselves and came apart as soon as you wave a lightsaber in their direction. Ignored, these droids can overwhelm you with numbers, but most fights feature a handful of them scattered around to make you feel like a badass when you tear them apart.
New dismemberment physics mean that when killed these droids will eject their parts in a shower of sparks as you kill them. Most fights feature a handful of droids scattered around ready to overwhelm you with numbers, but as you tear them apart it’s impossible not to feel like the badass Jedi Knight that Kestis is becoming.
After all, what better way can you show your commitment to the light side of the force than by chopping the arms off of a stormtrooper?
There was a decent mix of enemies during our playthrough. The earlier battle droids may be ineffectual, and a laughable melee variant serves at little more than amusement, but the chunkier droids, well-trained raiders and even several varieties of stormtrooper all ramp the challenge up significantly, even before you consider the giant creatures that you’re pushed towards killing – although I found I could often skirt around them and keep going without battering the wildlife.
Each fights slightly differently and will reward different approaches. Kestis can switch things up between several different fighting stances (they were three in our preview – single saber, dual sabers and one double-bladed saber – but five in the full game) and you can have two equipped at a time, switching between them at the press of a button. These are fully featured with their own skill trees, meaning once you master them you can string together some impressive combos.
It seems like this will expand with the additional stances, too. At the end of our preview we were shown a combat demonstration where a member of the development team pulled a blaster to put down several empire troops. While I can’t talk about this feels to play, it looked different enough to what I played that it feels like there will be some real depth for players that want to try and eke out the best possible damage from the skill system.
Playing into this will also be the force powers. These also have their own skill trees so that you can develop what you like, but the powers I found myself using the most was the force push, force pull and an easy-to-use Jedi Mind Trick that will turn an enemy into an ally briefly, confusing a fight as your enemies try to react to the shift in allegiances.
Elsewhere, customisation means that you can change the look of your lightsaber, BD-1 or even Cal Kestis himself, and there are a heap of different options, Changing the emitter or grip on your saber is barely noticeable but as I eagerly went in and poked and prodding before painting my entire saber purple, I’d say it’s a valuable change to make. You can impact the weathering, colour and parts on both the lightsaber and BD-1, while Kestis can choose between several types of hair for both his face and head, in addition to several different outfits in a variety of colourways. Kestis, it turns out, is an incredibly fashionable Jedi.
While later in the session I threw down with a huge Rancor – a challenging experience that I was not good enough to prevail in, generally fighting the planet’s wildlife remains one of the least satisfying parts of the Star Wars Jedi experience. Outside of this combat is an absolute joy and I found myself trying to find every big fight within the preview area just so I could enjoy the scrap.
I couldn’t stop taking on bigger and bigger challenges in Jedi: Survivor, and you’re encouraged to do so due to the game’s respawning system. Much like Dark Souls, when you die you’ll drop a chunk of your XP. However, to get it back you just need to go and punt the enemy that killed you. Hit them in combat and you’ll get your XP back, but you’ll also get a full heal and regenerate your entire force meter. This encourages you to take big risks, because if an enemy does strike you down you’ll come back more powerful than they could imagine. Or, at least, more able to whale on.
This is backed up with some characters that you’ll genuinely care about. My notes, shamefully, don’t contain the name of the little frog guy that’s packing a blaster, but I know that if he croaked I’d be heartbroken. Several other characters were also instantly memorable, and i’m excited to find out more about them in the full game.
So far, the characters feel more of a draw than the story, which feels like a fairly standard romp – although a restrictive embargo by EA means there’s very little I can say about it. However, the structure of the story and the quests around it is compelling. As the world has opened up a quest system that marks rumours you’ve heard on the map has slotted in. This could be something as weighty as finding some lost prospectors, or merely someone in a nearby village telling you that raiders have occupied a structure and are harassing people from the imposing watchtower parked nearby, if you were the type of Jedi that might want to go and evict them.
As a system it feels lightweight and doesn’t put pressure on the player, taking the form of a map icon you can investigate if you want to. There are powerful options on offer for diving in, but it’s fun enough to meander around without an aim for a little while.
A little sightseeing is easy to justify with how stunning the game is, too. The three-hour preview saw Kestis regularly crouched on vantage points over stunning vistas, or moving through lush and vivid areas. The water is stunning, fauna and flora both look distinctive and even areas in the same biome look fairly distinctive. Some work could be done to make the environment a little more legible: a shortage of bright yellow paint in the Star Wars universe means that I spent a lot of time looking for a net I was supposed to climb or jumping for a climbable vine that turned out to be an aesthetic one.
A month from launch, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor looks like a strong, confident action-adventure game. The chunk shown to NME is a little safe, perhaps, but does that matter when it’s this fun?
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor launches 28 April 2023 on Playstation 5, PC and Xbox Series X|S.
First appear at ‘Star Wars Jedi: Survivor’ preview: slick presentation delivers ‘Star Wars’ magic