Screenshot by Destructoid

Review: Star Wars Jedi: Survivor

I’m a survivor

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Star Wars is such a complicated beast in 2023. I say that a lot as a general critique about long-running franchises, but rights-holders did this to themselves as a result of oversaturation.

On one hand, you have creators striving to move the series forward (and away from the Skywalkers) with the meticulously-crafted and brilliant Andor series. On the other, you have…whatever the sequel trilogy was. But there’s a middle ground for pulpy stories involving Jedi; combining the youthful spirit of adventure that George Lucas was known for while injecting some modern nuance into the mix. Star Wars Jedi: Survivor manages to walk that tightrope while improving on its predecessor mechanically.

Screenshot by Destructoid

Star Wars Jedi: Survivor (PC, PS5 [reviewed], Xbox Series X/S)
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release: April 28, 2023
MSRP: $69.99

I dug Jedi: Fallen Order at launch, but was able to clearly recognize its shortcomings. Some of those were addressed after launch, but you can’t deny that some elements of the original had an air of sterility to them; like someone was checking boxes on a “Star Wars Souls-like” directive from on high. The best way I can describe the sequel is that the team seems to have jettisoned that notion of being chained to a singular vision; adding in decades of character-action history while doing its own thing, while micro-managing the larger Star Wars universe. It’s a tall order.

Screenshot by Destructoid

Cameron Monaghan has natural big-brother energy, which is why he works as Cal Kestis

Cal (played again by Shameless alum Cameron Monaghan) is back, and although he’s aged up five years, you can customize that beard right off his face and feel like you never missed a beat from Fallen Order. That’s mostly a good thing because Survivor starts immediately in the thick of it: with a “Chewbacca prisoner” type situation on the ever-popular Star Wars locale of Coruscant. You’ll miss some backstory and some interpersonal storytelling with returning characters if you jump right into Survivor, but there’s no lengthy and drawn-out intro here (unless you want to watch the short recap video), as Cal has access to most of his core powers from the prior game and is able to kick more ass straight away. It makes for a much smoother transition out of the gate.

There are also more opportunities for Cameron Monaghan to play off of the material in Survivor without all of the table setting from the first adventure. Monaghan, as he did effortlessly in many Shameless storylines, is able to navigate those mixed feelings of insecurity and anger, as we see Cal deal with them in real time. If you don’t like Cal’s Everyman portrayal in the first game you probably won’t warm up to it here, but by character action game standards, I was invested in seeing what happened next to him and his crew.

Of course, there are some cheesy/fan servicey moments, and some creatures within that would definitely be sold as plushies if they were in a bad Star Wars movie. But the story as a whole is a reminder that you can do Force-centric stories without putting the core focus on the Skywalker family.

Screenshot by Destructoid

Combat is improved, and there are more options and playstyles to experiment with

The decision not to redo everything and give Cal some powers immediately was smart. A double jump, wall run, and an Ascension (grappling) cable in the early game amounts to a lot of versatility when it comes to platforming, and perfect parrying/dodging feels smooth in the sequel. Later on, you unlock perks (passives) that can be slotted in to augment or change up your playstyle, as well as some larger mechanical developments like air dashing.

My favorite aspect of the sequel has to be the open-ended expansion of lightsaber options. The stoic single saber is available at the start alongside the double-bladed option (which is built for crowd control); but you’ll also gain access to a dual-wield aggressive stance, as well as a blaster style, and a bulky but powerful crossguard style. The best part? There’s a Devil May Cry Dante swapping between two styles of your choice using the left and right d-pad.

You can go all-out with access to two offensive styles, or plan out different encounters with a mix of options. I enjoyed the blaster style immensely and had it equipped the entire time, and the concept of requiring players to strike enemies with a lightsaber to refill ammo is brilliant: in that it forces a non-passive approach to what is ostensibly a ranged combat style. The combat system thrives in group fights, especially as you’re wielding your force powers and blocking errant blast shots. Bosses are flashy, but can blend together with similar attacks and tactics (which typically heavily favor parrying, breaking their guard, then striking).

From a technical standpoint, my pre-release build had some issues on PS5. I experienced two crashes, which thankfully were during cutscenes directly after a save (so I missed 30 seconds of total progress across both of them). I also encountered two areas where framerate drops were apparent (one of which was the main hub), even in performance mode: but never during major confrontations or even battle/platforming-heavy sections. Several doors took multiple seconds to load, which led me to believe there was a slight glitch at one point. There are some minor pop-in issues during cutscenes, and I was instructed to turn HDR support off before launch. Although Respawn notes that these problems will be addressed in a day one patch, I wanted to be as transparent as possible.

Screenshot by Destructoid

Respawn Entertainment crafted a nice little Star Wars niche for themselves across these two games

While the original Jedi game had shades of Star WarsSurvivor is drenched in Star Wars theming. In a good way! The soundtrack is absolutely fantastic, to the point where it’s movie-worthy quality. It elevates everything, from the action scenes to the drama, and some of the more adrenaline-pumping beats wouldn’t work as well without it.

The environments are fantastically crafted, and you can tell the team really cares about the Star Wars mythos as you check out various flora and fauna inhabiting the world. This sequel universe feels a lot more alive as a result, and if you’re remotely into the Star Wars lore, there’s extra stuff to glom onto here.  Platforming can feel off sometimes, and some portions of the map don’t “catch” correctly when you’re jumping toward them. In those cases I respawned instantly nearby and tried another tact: it never got to the point where it was boiling over levels of frustration. There are plenty of gamey moments like riding on beasts (including one that functions as a Yoshi-like mount that you can jump off of), but that’s distinctly a justified Star Wars trait in the vein of Lucas’ reign.

Crazily enough, there are a few areas that feel like direct homages to dungeons from Twilight Princess (you’ll know it when you see it). Far more than the first game, you can tell there are action game fans at the helm.

Screenshot by Destructoid

I’ll be playing Jedi Survivor until Zelda comes out

Navigation can be unclear (even with accessibility options turned on), but I actually like that. Remember when I talked about Survivor being less sterile? The platforming options really help the sequel stand out. I found myself getting completely distracted for hours at a time attempting challenges and new routes; sometimes mistaking them for the critical path. It’s a true testament to how well a lot of the areas are designed, as it was easy to get lost and not feel like I was going down an obvious “side path.”

After you’re done with the campaign there’s a New Game+ (NG+) mode available right at launch, with toggles for extra damage for both Cal and enemies (Heaven Or Hell from Devil May Cry), remixed and tougher enemy layouts (popularized by action classics like Ninja Gaiden Black), and a cosmetic randomizer that triggers after every death.

I only Platinum a few games a year, but I’m considering going the distance for Star Wars Jedi: Survivor — that’s how much I liked it, and I would have scored it higher if the technical concerns weren’t in play. After finishing up Jedi Survivor and immediately cleaning up what I had missed for fun, I found myself wishing for a world where Respawn Entertainment focused all of its energy on single player games from here on out.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

9
Superb
A hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage.

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Author
Chris Carter
Managing Editor - Chris has been enjoying Destructoid avidly since 2008. He finally decided to take the next step in January of 2009 blogging on the site. Now, he's staff!