Star Wars Jedi: Survivor's story takes place five years after the events of Fallen Order and is going in an interesting direction. Given embargo restrictions, I can't talk about what and who I specifically most enjoyed during my three-hour preview of the game, so you'll have to trust me that Survivor sets up some intriguing ideas and teases some potentially interesting character dynamics in its second chapter. Unfortunately, I was less impressed by a lot of what I can actually talk about and more by what I can't, but the sequel to one of my favorite Star Wars games is shaping up nicely.
In Survivor, you once again play as Cal Kestis, who finds himself struggling to keep ahead of the ever-expanding threat of the Galactic Empire, while also fighting against them. All these years later, the Empire is still expending efforts to hunt down and kill any Jedi who managed to survive Order 66, and Cal's exploits in Fallen Order have made him a key target. The preview I played picked up at the start of Survivor's second chapter, with Cal crashing the Mantis and setting out to find replacement parts for the ship. Greez, Cere, and Merrin aren't around, leaving Cal and his droid companion BD-1 to adventure alone.
I'll admit I haven't been all that excited for Survivor leading up to its release. In 2019, I was hungry for stories like Fallen Order, which was exploring a relatively untouched segment of the Star Wars timeline at the time. Beyond a handful of stories like Star Wars: Rebels and Star Wars: Darth Vader, the post-Clone Wars era was still a largely unknown period in Disney's Star Wars canon. That's no longer the case in 2023, with Bad Batch, Andor, Tales of the Jedi, and Obi-Wan having further expanded on the era and the various factions struggling for survival under the Empire's shadow. So seeing Survivor, yet another story set during this period, wasn't all that exciting.
But Survivor seems to subvert expectations in its second chapter, potentially tying the mystery at the core of its story to a completely different time period: The High Republic. First unveiled in 2020 via a multimedia project of comics, novels, and web series, The High Republic is a 300-year period that ends roughly 50 years prior to the events of The Phantom Menace--it's essentially the Republic's golden age and when the Jedi Order was at its peak. It's also very new to the Star Wars canon and hasn't been explored much outside of comics and a handful of books. To see that the next chapter in Cal's story is heavily tied to The High Republic is a surprise and a delight, especially since the implication of what I played seems to be that Survivor will help bring more of that lore and history forward into the "present day" of the Skywalker Saga.
Again, I can't talk about the exact details (yet). Just know that it seems like fans of The High Republic stories are going to find a lot to love in Survivor. And if you have no idea what The High Republic is, I think Survivor will provide ample reason to pay closer attention to the time period and seek more information about it.
Survivor plays like its predecessor. Armed with a lightsaber and half-a-dozen Force abilities, Cal thrives even in the midst of a heated firefight, able to reflect shots back at attackers and parry melee strikes. Though Cal can cut through weaker enemies in a single blow, stronger targets will have to be overwhelmed first--chipping away at their posture weakens them enough to finish them off, and this process can be sped up by using the Force to rip away shields or armor, slow threats to a standstill, or trick enemies into attacking one another.
Like Fallen Order, Survivor's combat is fast-paced and rewards quick thinking and reflexes. The sound design makes every action quintessentially Star Wars, whether it's a deftly deflected blaster bolt or a powerful Force Push. Like any good Jedi, Cal adds a little flair to every swing of his lightsaber. In motion, it looks cool as hell. However, this does make it a bit tricky to track exactly when one attack animation ends and the next begins--and without that context, reliably parrying can be tricky. This was an issue in Fallen Order and it's disappointing to see it rear its head again in Survivor. Cal's dodge at least feels a bit more reliable this time around, but it's frustrating to mess up a parry in a lightsaber duel because I didn't realize I was still in the midst of an attack animation. I'm hoping this is something that becomes easier to deal with as you spend more time with the game and become more used to Cal's movements.
Cal starts out with all the abilities and equipment he unlocked during the last game, giving you access to a double-bladed lightsaber that can also be wielded as a single-bladed saber or split into twin sabers. Each of these three combat styles has its own strengths and weaknesses--Cal can more easily focus on dealing quick and powerful hits to a single target when using the Dual Wield style, for example, while opting for the Double-Bladed fighting style makes it easier to deal with larger crowds. Survivor adds two new styles: Crossguard (slow, but powerful) and Blaster (ranged), but they weren't a part of the demo I played.
Though I think all these lightsaber fighting styles look cool in motion, the demo didn't make a good case for why the game features so many of them. I never encountered a situation where I needed the wider swings of the Doubled-Bladed style nor did I meet an enemy that moved so quickly that I felt the need to switch to Dual Wield. After trying out the three starting styles in the first 15 minutes, I switched to the default single-bladed style and never went back.
This feels more like an issue with enemy design, at least in this limited early chapter of the game. There's a healthy variety of enemy types in Survivor--shield-wielding foes who can more easily block your attacks, for instance, and agile assassins with blades of their own who can go toe-to-toe with Cal--but there aren't any that have resistance or immunity to specific lightsaber styles (of what I saw, anyway). At least in terms of lightsaber styles, Survivor isn't encouraging you to evolve and adapt fight-to-fight. There are enemies who better respond to certain Force powers--some foes can fight against being Force Pulled or Pushed, for example--but most fights play out the same since the lightsaber is how you mostly deal damage and there doesn't seem to be anything encouraging you to switch up your style in the moment-to-moment skirmishes.
It's hard to not compare Survivor to other games where the main character's arsenal features a singular weapon that can change forms to flavor combat on the fly, like Metroid Prime, or multiple weapons where each serves a unique purpose, like God of War: Ragnarök. Survivor doesn't seem to stand up to such comparisons with its peers if the three hours I played are any indication. Hopefully, enemy design and combat scenarios further evolve in later chapters to better sell why it's worth putting in the effort to learn the different combos for all five styles. Otherwise, I'm not sure why the game provides as much choice as it does. It doesn't seem worth spending your time and spreading your ability points across five separate skill trees.
I'm also not a fan of Survivor resetting the group dynamic of the Mantis crew and splitting everyone up prior to the start of the game, meaning the first big step of Cal's journey is getting the gang back together. The crew disbanded from a fracture in ideology: Cal feels like he has a responsibility as a Jedi to do everything he can to keep fighting the Empire at every possible turn, while Greez, Cere, and Merrin all want more than a life of constant rebellion. It's a tried-and-true storyline (especially within Star Wars) but one in which the most interesting part--the cause of the dissolution and the moral ramifications of it--has already happened. All we're seemingly left with is rounding up the group we already spent bringing together in Fallen Order. The preview didn't showcase much of this process--I recruited Greez when the preview ended--but given how little conflict there was between Greez and Cal, it does make me a little worried that the interesting part of this storyline has already passed us by.
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There are new characters for Cal to befriend this time around, but most of them don't seem to be joining the Mantis crew. Instead, Cal can send them to a town called Rambler's Reach on the planet Koboh, where they'll hang out in the cantina that Greez owns, offering Cal optional side quests and opening up shops with cosmetic items. As you progress in the story, new conversations open up with these characters. These new NPCs are very hit-or-miss. One in particular--who ties back to that aforementioned High Republic mystery--is incredibly memorable and fun to talk to, as is droid bartender MXNK-6, aka Monk. But I can't even tell you the names of anyone else. They're just not all that interesting to speak to and don't feel like actual characters just yet.
The game wants you to come back to this hub-like area repeatedly to interact with these people (Cal can also buy music to play in the cantina and find seeds on other worlds to plant a garden on the roof). But a hub is only as good as the characters in it, and in the three hours I had, I didn't even want to take the time to revisit the town or the cantina while I was still on Koboh. Unless the game is going to force me back to interact with the people I'm sending there or these characters evolve in a meaningful way, I don't see myself ever wanting to take the time to go back to Koboh. Much like the lightsaber styles, it currently feels like a superfluous system that could just as easily be included with folks calling Cal over comlink to offer side quests.
My final major gripe with Survivor is the villain the game seems to be setting up to be the major big bad this time around. I can't talk about them given embargo restrictions, however, so I'll leave my analysis for a later date.
Granted, again, I only was able to play three hours of the second chapter of Survivor. There's a chance that the game addresses many of my concerns in later levels. And, as I said from the jump, there are some cool pieces of lore and awesome characters teased in these early hours--I just can't talk about them yet. Survivor has its moments; here's hoping it all comes together and Respawn sticks the landing.
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor launch for Xbox Series X|S, PS5, and PC on April 28.