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Star Wars Jedi: Survivor

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Release Date: April 28, 2023


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PS5 Review - 'Star Wars Jedi: Survivor'

by Redmond Carolipio on April 26, 2023 @ 8:00 a.m. PDT

Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is the next installment in the action/adventure series chronicling the journey of Jedi Cal Kestis and will expand upon the stories, worlds, characters, and combat first experienced in Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.

Buy Star Wars Jedi: Survivor

Star Wars Jedi: Survivor comes to us at seemingly the perfect time. Fans still waylaid from the brilliance of "Andor" were met with a divisive, shaky third season of "The Mandalorian" (the "Guns for Hire" episode felt one musical number away from being one of the most annoying pieces of TV ever). Also, the debut season of "Ahsoka" is months away, with other awaited Star Wars stories even further down the timeline.

Thankfully, Survivor could be the best piece of Star Wars content you absorb all year — perhaps even the next few. One of the great benefits of games like Survivor and its predecessor Fallen Order (along with TV and film pieces like "Andor" and "Rogue One") is that even within this expansive and developed fantasy universe, there remains a spirit of independence. I felt that spirit for the two dozen hours I spent exploring Survivor. In its own way, the experience exists on multiple planes, both embracing and living within the Star Wars ethos that's created generations of fans while also carving out its own identity and feel.

That's what I enjoyed most about Fallen Order, which introduced us to Cal Kestis, a Jedi padawan (trainee/student) who was forced to go into hiding as a kid when Order 66 — the Imperial mandate to eliminate the Jedi Order — went into effect. The first installment of Cal's story saw him rediscover and grow his powers, find a group of friends and undertake a planet-hopping adventure that shaped his role in his fight against an Empire reaching the height of its powers.

If you're familiar with Star Wars at all, you'll know that the fall of the Empire takes more than a minute and certainly more than one Jedi. Survivor picks up Cal's story several years after the events of Fallen Order. Cal's still trying to fight the Empire, doing small resistance ops for Saw Gerrera with a ragtag crew of mercs. This latest mission takes place within the resplendent cityscape of Coruscant, where Cal sets up a chance to get close to a senator and the information on his yacht. The events of that first mission eventually set Cal on a narrative tree with several thick branches, rooted firmly in the game's quest to explore what it means to survive. Cal finds friends new and old, and travels to several new planets and places once again. During this, I saw that like many excellent follow-ups, Survivor takes some of the best aspects of the previous game and dials them up.

Like Fallen Order, Survivor's deft use of the elements of traversal and discovery serve as the gameplay's bonding agents. Within every place of every world Cal visits lie opportunities to use a combination of wall-running, double-jumping and climbing to find your way to wherever you need to go on a 3D-map provided by Cal's loyal droid buddy, BD-1. The most significant new addition to Cal's repertoire of agility is a zipline-like grappling hook that shoots out and attaches to spots indicated with an L2 icon whenever Cal gets within range. This turns Cal into Jedi Batman in some ways, as he clicks and zips onto moving platforms and other hard-to-reach areas around whatever facility, ancient temple, forest or puzzle room he encounters. This adds a completely different dimension of movement speed and verticality to Cal that wasn't quite present in the previous game, and it also opens up other angles of exploration — all of which could cause hand cramps, as Cal's quest requires him to run, sometimes literally — through a gauntlet of traversal exercises that require everything from timed jumps and button presses to a sequential skill blends. Think stuff like swinging, then double-jumping into a runnable wall, then jumping again to do a mid-air roll and then air "dash" through a force field. What can I say? A Jedi game is going to ask you to do Jedi stuff. I respect it.

You're probably going to need a sprinkle of Jedi patience as well, as Survivor has also cranked up the puzzles. There's a lot of stuff Cal (and you) will need brainpower for, and some of it's a little too baked-in and subtle. I once got stuck for a minute or two outside of my first visit to the rebuilt Jedi Archive because I didn't realize I needed to move a small sphere with the Force to the other side of the room to open the door. It was just sitting in a groove in the wall. Looking back, that's actually a microcosm of my whole puzzle experience with Survivor, which asked me to be fluent in Force use as I'd try to move mysterious-looking orbs and blocks or figure out how to redirect power to something that shoots out beams of unknown energy: The puzzles are just frustrating enough to keep you engaged but not annoying enough to make you walk out of the room for a hot second. There was a lot of, "Oh come on, what the hell am I supposed to do — oh, it's right there."

Another added wrinkle is the emergence of BD-1 as a dependable puzzle-solving aid with more abilities. Eventually, he gains the ability to fire electro-darts that can charge special kinds of exposed circuits (you'll know them when you see them) as well as a special kind of substance that can create a "trail" and be charged with a mysterious energy that makes it flammable. This is useful, I promise. You'll see. The puzzle vibe contained shades of Zelda, Kena: Bridge of Spirits or the first Darksiders in terms of scale, which I can appreciate.

In terms of pure size, Survivor treats each world Cal travels to as a large, contained playground with pathways, side-quests (called rumors here) and secrets. It feels more Tomb Raider big than say, Horizon Forbidden West, Elden Ring or even Ghost of Tsushima big, where it felt like you could wander into some epic duel or a whole game's worth of extra storyline. Without giving away too much, the worlds — really the whole game — are beautiful, even with HDR turned off and playing in performance mode. It's stunning. From the moment Cal steps off a cruiser onto Coruscant, the Imperial city gives off a neon, futuristic energy that would be right at home with the most fervent cyberpunk visions. Contrast that with the rural planet of Koboh, which features deep forests, caves and mountains that may or may not have centuries-old Republic buildings to explore. The true worth of the worlds is perhaps best in the endgame (or aftergame), where you finish the main story and the breadth of Cal's tools and skills is at your disposal.

Since we're talking skills, our guy Cal's got a few more of them. The combat spirit of Survivor is generally the same as Fallen Order, where strikes and well-timed parries with the lightsaber can wear down an opponent's block meter and break their defenses for critical hits. There's a dash of roguelike elements, as getting killed in combat leads to a loss of Force points you'd been building up, which you can get back once you land a hit on whatever or whoever killed you.

The new stuff comes in the form of more "stances," or fighting styles. Cal can only "carry" two stances at a time, which seems odd given he's a Jedi master, but they each remain cool nonetheless. Among the stances are dual-wield, which means Cal can hold a lightsaber/sword in each hand like Leonardo of the Ninja Turtles; Blaster, in which Cal has a lightsaber in one hand and a customizable blaster in the other; and Crossguard, which turns the lightsaber into a longer two-handed broadsword for powerful but glacial attacks. I found value in all of the stances but didn't get to the point where any one of them supplanted the good old "balanced" one.

The art of customization makes its return for those who like to alter the cosmetics of their lightsabers and outfits. This time, you can also tinker with Cal's hair and face with a variety of discoverable styles. If you've always envisioned Cal with shorter hair, a yellow lightsaber and classic robes, then I'm happy to tell you that your time is now.

I've been deliberately vague about the game's story because it's good enough for me to recommend you discover it on your own. I was enraptured by it and it has a handful of goosebump moments I want to experience again on a second playthrough, which I'm currently in. What's impactful is the development and performance being put into the characters, each of whom have their moments to consistently shine.

Cal Kestis would simply not be believable without the work of Cameron Monaghan, who deserves his flowers for his performance as the Jedi. While Cal was a fresh-faced "Who, me?" in Fallen Order, he wears a cloak of battle-hardened weariness and doubt here in Survivor, and Monaghan finds a way to make Cal wear it without it turning it into a blinking sign. Cere Junda (Debra Wilson) has a star turn as the Jedi master who turned into Cal's surrogate mentor in the previous game and now tasks herself with another purpose. Greez, the four-armed pilot who loves to cook and has become a sort of uncle/work dad figure to Cal, has opened a cantina (is this Star Wars without a cantina)? Merrin, the sorceress, not only grows to become a legitimate romantic interest to Cal but is also an immensely powerful fight partner. The show-stealer, however, is the jetpack-wearing, blaster-slinging Bode Akuna, who I can only say has more layers than he appears to have and is capable of genuine surprise.

I admired how the story developed different perspectives on the theme of survival. From Cal's point of view, the fight's all he's known, until he discovers a path to something that could allow him and his friends (all of whom have sort of moved on) to endure. There's a new character, Zee, a droid that's managed to live for centuries. Cere Junda is trying to make sure the legacy and knowledge of the Jedi doesn't fade into oblivion. Another new character, an antagonist, reveals an obsession to fight and survive, willing to do whatever it takes to get what he believes is his right. I thought of the phrase "whatever it takes," as the layers of the narrative started to peel away, revealing the intentions and perspective of all of the characters.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Star Wars Jedi: Survivor and would recommend it to anyone who is remotely a fan of the Star Wars universe, whether they're getting exposed to it for the first time or are of a certain age and have loved it since they heard Luke Skywalker whine about power converters decades ago. Respawn is onto something here, and I've low-key been waiting — wishing — for Cal Kestis to show up in one of the upcoming shows or movies. These games have made that kind of impact, and I'm looking forward to where the story goes next.

Score: 9.1/10

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