Star Wars Jedi: Survivor preview: This is the franchise at its very best

Star Wars Jedi Survivor Cal KestisRespawn Entertainment

Three and a half years removed from Jedi: Fallen Order, Respawn Entertainment’s second chapter in Cal Kestis’ story is drawing near. After a few hours with an early build of Jedi: Survivor, the sequel is on track to deliver one of the most richly detailed and deeply innovative games the franchise has ever seen.

When jumping into Survivor for the first time at a recent preview event in Los Angeles, I had certain expectations. Based on the first few trailers, I figured we were in store for a standard sequel – one that iterates, but not one that truly stands head and shoulders above its original counterpart. After a few hours immersed in the new title however, it’s safe to say those expectations were shattered. Survivor is a far greater evolution than I could have predicted.

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Leaving the demo session, all I could think of was how Respawn had replicated Naughty Dog’s triumphant leap from the first Uncharted game to its sequel, Among Thieves. That exact sentiment is something multiple EA higher-ups shared off the record before I could draw the comparison.

From the refined visuals to the expansive level design, the snappier combat to the broad customization options, Survivor achieves a level of depth and polish Fallen Order doesn’t match. Woven through it all is a captivating plot that few will predict. This is Star Wars at its very best.

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Star Wars Jedi Survivor gameplayRespawn Entertainment
Survivor is shaping up to be one of the very best Star Wars games yet.

A galaxy teeming with life

Upon landing in Koboh at the start of the preview, one thing became clear – Survivor is a much livelier game than the previous entry. Be it the wildlife on the ground below to winged beasts in the sky, or the far more prevalent and varied NPCs encountered along the way, Koboh felt like a living space. This is in contrast to many locations in Fallen Order that restricted much of the engagement purely to a smaller landing area.

That liveliness in Survivor only grew more prevalent upon stepping foot in Rambler’s Reach, a local outpost filled to the brim with fascinating characters and thus, overflowing with storytelling opportunities. It’s this location that left me most impressed out of everything we saw. In fact, while others near me were able to finish the main path in the demo, I didn’t keep up as I spent a good chunk of my hands-on time simply soaking up the atmosphere in town. There’s nothing remotely close we can compare it to in Fallen Order. This fulfills the fantasy of going to the Mos Eisley Cantina and interacting with the diverse clientele of characters.

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Star Wars Jedi Survivor gameplayRespawn Entertainment
Rather than just set dressing, each NPC is fully realized with their own stories to share and paths to set you on.

Listening to NPCs share their tales, of which there are far more than any planet in the previous game, and observing them interact with one another was wonderful. Each new encounter was a chance to learn more about the planet, its inhabitants, and their life under the Empire’s rule, or gain hints about a secret hidden beyond the town’s walls. One local served as a merchant, enabling you to trade resources for various goods.

It’s all far more fleshed out than previously, and that’s just Koboh’s introduction. As you explore various locations, there’s a chance you stumble upon new characters that can be recruited to further expand Rambler’s Reach and provide further opportunities for new stories, challenges, and missions alike.

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Making it all sweeter, these NPCs appear to evolve throughout the full game as well. Roughly halfway through my session, a notification appeared alerting me that characters now have new conversational opportunities. It implies those you meet serve for more than just one-and-done appearances, and that they may react to the events of the game as Cal influences the world around him.

Recruiting NPCs in Star Wars Jedi SurvivorRespawn Entertainment
Recruiting new allies helps expand Rambler’s Reach.

Gameplay upgrades aplenty

At its core, Survivor is a continuation of Fallen Order with all the same third-person combat and platforming mechanics. Rather than trying to reimagine the spark of the original, much of what made the first Jedi shine remains intact here, just with new additions and added flare.

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It’s still a Soulslike-inspired title with an emphasis on precise parrying while timing your counterattacks, and it incorporates Metroidvania-esque elements in that various unlocks and abilities along the way enable you to reach new areas when backtracking through earlier locations. You’ll split your time between intense combat encounters, open-world exploration, and light puzzle-solving sections, much like the original.

Star Wars Jedi Survivor gameplayRespawn Entertainment
With Cal a more experienced Jedi in Survivor, combat options are more diverse than ever before.

Those three pillars of the gameplay loop have all been expanded on, however. Respawn adds more depth to each layer of what made Fallen Order so great in the first place. In combat, Survivor introduces five fleshed-out stances. Where the original allowed players to swap between single Lightsaber moves and double-bladed attacks only, with just one late-game option providing a dual-wielded flurry, there’s now plenty more variety to spice up the flow of each encounter.

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Two stances can be mapped to your HUD, with Cal swapping between them at the touch of a button. It’s your choice how you go about strategizing for each planet – be it leaning into your strengths, or adapting for certain enemy types on the path ahead. For instance, while we couldn’t go hands-on with the Blaster stance, it’s clear that particular style would be most effective against ranged targets and foes in the air. Meanwhile, for meatier single-target challenges, the slower Crossguard Lightsaber stance might be the optimal pick, as while it lacks in agility, it makes up for in power.

Star Wars Jedi Survivor gameplayRespawn Entertainment
How you approach each fight is entirely down to your personal preference.

Similar to how you approach combat, how you navigate the larger planets in Survivor is more down to personal preference than ever before. Mounts allow for rapid exploration, beacons can be manually placed on the map to mark down points of interest for later, and yes, the long-requested fast travel is now an option, much to the delight of the community.

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While those seeking 100% completion will head down every hidden path, Survivor is full of optional content that uncurious players could end up glossing over. Hidden bosses, platforming challenges, puzzle rooms, and even secret time trials – there’s far more to discover this time around than any location in the original. And while much of this is optional, the rewards are worth it. It entices you down these rabbit holes more often to see what shiny object awaits at the end of the trail.

Customization, but this time it actually matters

Fallen Order had customization, but its limited nature did leave plenty to be desired. Outside of some color palette changes for Cal’s poncho, BD-1, the Mantis, and a few dozen Lightsaber parts to swap in and out, there wasn’t a lot players could do to adjust their look to their liking. Thus, most rewards often felt underwhelming as each chest merely contained some colors or hilt pieces, as opposed to anything truly significant.

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Fully recognizing the first game’s shortcomings in that regard, Respawn has taken a more extensive approach to customization in Survivor. If you wanted a more personalized experience in terms of both visuals and gameplay upgrades, you’ve got it in spades here.

Customization in Star Wars Jedi SurvivorRespawn Entertainment
Yes, you can have Cal rock a mullet in Survivor if you so choose.

Cal has five distinct elements of customization including his hair, beard, jacket, shirt, and pants, and the latter three can then be further tweaked with unique colors to boot. BD-1’s droid components can be interchanged and colored too, as can your Lightsaber, allowing you to swap out various pieces and pick your own Kyber crystal from the jump. The Mantis is presumably joining the mix later down the line as well, though the ship wasn’t customizable in our session. For some extra flavor, every piece can also be adjusted to look brand new, or completely worn down, as though your Lightsaber has been through many a battle.

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It all goes a long way to achieving a more personal Star Wars tale – one where you can influence the type of Jedi Cal is through his presentation and his style in combat. When it comes to fine-tuning moment-to-moment gameplay to your liking, you’ll find yourself awash with options.

Star Wars Jedi Survivor BD-1 customizationRespawn Entertainment
Every little detail can be tweaked to craft your ultimate Star Wars experience.

For all five combat stances on offer, there are unique skill trees to improve their capabilities. Those come on top of the traditional Force and Survival trees set up in the last game. As a result, how you evolve Cal’s skills throughout the game is all down to your preference. Want to play as more of a ranged fighter shooting down foes? You can do that effectively by unlocking new skills in the Blaster stance-specific tree. Want to prepare for busier scenarios with swarms of enemies circling around you? You can do that effectively by upgrading the double-bladed Lightsaber stance. How you advance as a Jedi is down to you in a more meaningful way than we saw in Fallen Order.

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Outside of the regular skill trees, Survivor introduces a broad array of Perks too. Though how you acquire these Perks is a little different. Rather than gathering XP and leveling up at resting points, Perks are looted in chests, found after slaying imposing bosses, or at the end of puzzle rooms. Through ticking off side content and exploring beyond the main path, you can further tune the game to fit your ideal play style.

Star Wars Jedi Survivor puzzle roomRespawn Entertainment
Completing optional content like puzzle rooms or boss challenges only leads to further customization.

A dazzling and original Star Wars story

We aren’t going to touch on specific narrative beats from our preview so as not to ruin your joy of experiencing the story fresh. It’s impossible to discuss with any real clarity, and much of what we witnessed is restricted under embargo for good reason. It’s fair to say that the trailers made public by EA intentionally keep the narrative’s biggest mysteries under wraps.

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We can say confidently though, that the early plot pivots Cal’s journey in new ways not even the biggest Star Wars fans could predict. It’s clear Lucasfilm has a great deal of trust in Respawn to push the franchise forward – and that’s the extent we are willing to say.

Between explicit character development in the foreground and deep-rooted Jedi lore in the back, there is a lot to sink your teeth into. Not only is it a celebration of the Star Wars series as a whole, but it’s shaping up to be an intriguing story in its own right – one that catapults the overall series into new territory which is exciting new ground for a franchise so rooted in its norms.

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This is still very much a plot centered on Cal’s evolution amid an oppressive stretch of Empire dominance. How can he fight back against a seemingly insurmountable threat? Where can he turn when the enemy is tracking his every move? Who can he trust in a universe shrouded by darkness? What remains when hope runs out?

It’s through these omnipresent dilemmas we see a new side of the game’s protagonist. While the first game certainly had its dire elements in dealing with Cal’s trauma, the second feels even bleaker at times. Cal comes across as far more jaded and dejected having seen more of the galaxy’s hardships. He’s a little more mature, a little wiser, and thus, a little more hesitant to open up and trust those around him.

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As for where the game might take us over the course of its grand adventure, that remains to be seen, but Survivor is set to take Cal and his ragtag group of companions into a new direction scarcely explored in other Star Wars media. If this early section is anything to go by, we’re in store for a narrative unlike anything prior. One that not only advances the core characters we know and love, but one that pushes the entire franchise forward in new and exciting ways.

Star Wars Jedi Survivor gameplayRespawn Entertainment
Where Survivor’s story takes you, at least in its early hours, is utterly captivating.

With a larger galaxy map, more expansive planets to explore, new characters to meet, gameplay systems to engage with, and stories to unravel, Survivor is shaping up as a superior title to the first. While Respawn could have played it safe, delivering more of the successful formula with little innovation – it hasn’t. You can feel the effort and love in every pixel as the developers look to improve upon the Fallen Order experience from top to bottom.

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From the moment I jumped in, to the moment we were forced to put our controllers down, how much work has gone into evolving the franchise never stopped being impressive. If the momentum carries forward from Koboh, there’s a very strong chance Jedi: Survivor could go down as not just an excellent Star Wars game, but an all-time great action-adventure title.

Disclaimer: Electronic Arts covered travel and accommodation costs for Dexerto to attend this hands-on preview event for Star Wars Jedi: Survivor in Los Angeles.

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