As a fan of Star Wars, Soulslikes, and big budget single player action games, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order was a game that spoke to me on multiple levels. It has merged the risk/reward elements of From Software’s Souls series with the fantasy of power inherent in being a Jedi. That said, it wasn’t a perfect combination. Backtracking without any sort of fast travel was annoying, exploration was primarily rewarded with underwhelming cosmetics, and I couldn’t help but wish I could do more with my powers than just push, pull and slow.
I say all this because my main takeaway from about five hours of the upcoming sequel, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, is that it felt like I was systematically crossing off the problems I had with Fallen Order. Survivor feels bigger without ever letting its burgeoning scope compromise the exploration and sense of discovery that serves as its heart.
My preview time was broken up by spending about four hours on the planet Koboh, a giant and wide-open planet that largely serves as Cal’s home away from home throughout Jedi Survivor’s history, and then about an hour on a moon planet to showcase some more traditional fighting and platforming encounters that fans have been waiting for. Let’s start with Koboh, because it represents the biggest change in Jedi Survivor versus Fallen Order: A huge open world that spreads out in all directions, with interesting encounters and rewards everywhere you turn.
Koboh Let’s go
We’ve already shown you 9 minutes of Koboh gameplay as part of our IGN First coverage, but what we haven’t really gotten to point out is the fact that most of the footage just covers the introduction to the planet, which is a pretty traditional linear part that guides you through caves, valleys and mountain paths, but opens wide when you reach the Southern Reach – in a moment that brought to mind the very first time you step out onto the great plateau in Breath of the Wild.
My main goal throughout this section was to reach the Cantina to find someone to repair my wrecked Mantis ship, and I could have just booked it over there to get the story going, but if I did, I would have gone miss out on so much meaningful exploration. In one direction there was a hidden cave that housed an incredibly tough (and incredibly cool) boss fight that I won’t spoil for you here, in another direction there was a Bedlam Raider camp with spiked Stormtrooper armor and a nasty surprise awaited me in a trap door that led underground, and if I took another path, I would eventually find a Jedi chamber that housed a giant puzzle room. Other paths were still closed to me until I found a special upgrade.
Even better, all of these outings felt suitably rewarding. Most offered me skill points for my troubles – which are much more valuable in Survivor due to the fact that there are now individual skill trees for each lightsaber stance, your force powers, and for flat health and strength upgrades – and even the treasure chests that offer cosmetic items have greatly improved rewards due to the fact that you can find completely different outfits for Cal to wear (as opposed to just different designs of ponchos). In addition to that, you can even find new hairstyles to outfit Cal with. My personal favorite so far was a bandana that made him look a bit like Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid.
Koboh is massive, but luckily I never felt lost thanks to some really excellent map features, like automatic markers that highlight passages that lead to unexplored areas, symbols that tell you which areas you can’t access yet with your current abilities, a path that marking the way you just came, and of course fast travel. Thanks Yoda for fast travel. Even better, Cal also eventually gains the ability to tame beasts so he can use them as mounts or as ways to cross large gaps. All of these additions, on top of just amazing art design, make exploring Koboh a joy.
Another thing that struck me as I played through was how good both the level and enemy designs were at setting up opportunities for you to use your strength powers in fun ways. Miniboss arenas are full of items that can be forced and thrown to deal heavy damage, rolling mines are both a constant threat and a constant boon when you can send them back to pursue enemies, and there were plenty of opportunities to end a fight before it even started forcing enemies off a ledge. My favorite interaction is when I tried to force a staff swinging enemy at me. He would try to plant his staff in the ground to stop himself, and when that failed, he would release himself and attempt to cut as he was pulled towards me. The first time I tried this, he got me, but then I found I could parry his desperation attacks, which meant I could still turn the tide in my favor.
Koboh is not a one-stop shop either. It’s a planet that you’re meant to return to many times over the course of Cal’s adventure. Aside from the aforementioned locked passages that Cal won’t be able to get through until he gets a specific upgrade, the Cantina and the town it’s located in, Rambler’s Ranch, act as a sort of home base for Cal. There are vendors to buy new customization options, colorful NPCs to talk to, and every time you come back you can be sure there will be something new to check out.
Fly Me to the Moon (Planet)
The other area I got to play was on an unnamed moon planet that Cal and his companion Bode visit sometime later in the game. Compared to Koboh, this felt like a much more traditional level style that would have been right at home in Jedi: Fallen Order. That’s not to take anything away from it, though, because it was a ton of fun – with a healthy balance of both death-defying platforming challenges and challenging combat encounters.
The Enemies of Star Wars Jedi: Survivor
What stood out the most about this level was that it was almost horror themed. It turns out that the enemies were waiting for Cal, and thus most of them were lying in ambush. The beginning was very tense as it seemed like enemies were hiding around every corner waiting to pounce on me. Respawn even played this expectation a couple of times and would suddenly have a harmless droid pop out through the mist, which I totally bit and split the poor innocent bot in half.
Even in a level that was much more linear, there were still plenty of goodies hidden off the beaten path, including Jedi: Survivor’s take on a DMC-like challenge room. In it I had to face wave after wave of what seemed like hundreds upon hundreds of B1 droids that would all go down in one or two hits, but could very easily swarm and overwhelm me. It was an absolute blast – and surprisingly tough too – when they started mixing in some droids that would self-destruct if I didn’t force them or otherwise get out of the way in time.
I loved this encounter because it’s something that wouldn’t have made sense within the context of the actual level, but in a confined space where anything goes, it was the perfect kind of battle test. I hope there are a ton more of these and I’d love to search every nook and cranny to find them.
I could go on and on about the Jedi Chamber puzzle rooms, the fun new Force powers, the exciting story beats that took place after I set foot in the Cantina, or some of the amazing boss fights I had to overcome, but it’s all things it’s probably better for yourself when the game comes out on April 28th.
Mitchell Saltzman is an editorial producer at IGN. You can find him on twitter @JurassicRabbit