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In 'Star Wars Jedi: Survivor,' it's you against the entire galaxy far, far away

Cal Kestis surveys a beautiful (and often hostile) galaxy.
Electronic Arts
Cal Kestis surveys a beautiful (and often hostile) galaxy.

Tatooine, Jakku, Coruscant, Naboo, Alderaan, Scarif, Jedha, Koboh...

For the uninitiated, those words might mean nothing to you.

But for those who pick up a controller and embark on the journey that is Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, it's nearly impossible to avoid becoming a loremaster on all things happening in this galaxy far, far away. For the most part, the game makes it worth your time to do so. It delivers for series fans, and for any gamer hankering for its blend of platforming, puzzling, and Souls-like combat.

A long, long time ago...

I distinctly remember going to see The Force Awakens in 2015. It was just a few days before Christmas, and my roommate Alex and I were headed to see it for a second time. We were at our peak fandom; we had just binged episodes 1-6 in under a week in preparation for opening night.

Cal's grown a beard, and encounters some old allies and enemies.
/ Electronic Arts
/
Electronic Arts
Cal's grown a beard, and encounters some old allies and enemies.

The next year, in 2016, I saw Rogue One. It provided context between Episode 3 and 4 that expanded my vision of the larger universe, as a fresh fan of the series. I appreciated the story's maturity and more serious tone. But after Disney's onslaught of Star Wars movies and shows, my interest faded.

Before playing Jedi: Survivor, I was nervous my internal Star Wars encyclopedia was outdated, unsure if I'd feel out of the loop. But after a brief introductory video and some hours of gameplay, it reminded me of what I enjoyed so much about Rogue One: it stitches together well-known sagas while introducing new, varied characters within the harsh realities of imperial oppression.

As the sequel to 2019's Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, the game centers around the tragic Cal Kestis, portrayed by actor Cameron Monaghan. Cal's been through a lot. He's one of the few who survived Order 66, the command intended to massacre all Jedi in the galaxy.

The writers do a phenomenal job at interweaving this preexisting story into their own. This new tale begins with Cal captured and steered through the imperial capital of Coruscant. Of course, he soon breaks out with the help of his old crew, along with his faithful companion, BD-1.

The ever-inquisitive BD-1.
/ Electronic Arts
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Electronic Arts
The ever-inquisitive BD-1.

BD-1 is your all-purpose ally, like a less-annoying Navi. The droid can scan enemies to learn about their attacks and weaknesses, get you a healing boost, and acquire more useful abilities to help you navigate the game.

Five ways to wield a lightsaber

Cal Kestis starts out with some basic lightsaber styles and Force skills, like the classic "pull" and "push" that you can use to manipulate groups of enemies. Over time, you'll add to the arsenal by unlocking skill trees.

The game also expands how you can use your lightsaber. Fallen Order featured single and double-bladed modes: Survivor adds three more "stances" to bring the total up to five. Each style has unique strengths in combat, which range from fast light attacks, to heavy slow ones, to a stance that has Cal wield a blaster in one hand and saber in the other.

<em>Survivor </em>gives you numerous ways to best its many fearsome foes and bosses.
/ Electronic Arts
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Electronic Arts
Survivor gives you numerous ways to best its many fearsome foes and bosses.

There's so many combat options in this game, and I'm not sure if I mastered any of them yet. Some adversaries telegraph attacks that can be easily parried, but many foes have unique attack patterns, which can be sussed out early in battle by BD-1. In my playthrough, I went for a more aggressive build, increasing my health to the max but taking less defensive talents, like those that improve parrying and blocking, to focus on ramping up the speed and range of my attacks. I often found my enemies dying before their stagger meters filled up.

Although the game incorporates some RPG elements, there aren't too many items and currencies to keep track of, which I appreciated. It keeps you moving through the world, but you'll still want to keep an eye out for treasures scattered throughout the planets. Some are merely cosmetic, which can be disappointing when you're hoping to scour resources for upgrades instead.

Far away and far bigger

Survivor's platforming resembles Ratchet and Clank as much as its combat resembles Dark Souls. Cal can easily run across walls, vault off poles, and fling himself around with a grappling-hook. Every planet offers massive, sprawling levels to explore, and each has its own discovery percentage, which helps you keep track of everything you may have missed. If you really want to complete them, you'll have to revisit past levels with newly-acquired abilities.

One of many planets to explore.
/ Electronic Arts
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Electronic Arts
One of many planets to explore.

Speaking of Dark Souls, there's no frequent autosave in Survivor, but there are meditation sites (read: bonfires), which act as checkpoints that you'll need to manually activate to save your progress. These shrines allow you to spend skill points gained from exploring and combat, restore your health (while respawning enemies), and fast-travel (a much-requested feature absent from Fallen Order).

Star Wars Jedi: Survivor may be a bit too big, in fact — it's much longer than Fallen Order was. But it still reminds me of the best of modern Star Wars. Like how Rogue One (and now, Andor) told a new epic in a familiar universe, Survivor puts on enough of its own spin to feel unique, enhanced by a deeply detailed story and world environments. Add in a soundtrack that hits all the right feels, and it's sure to be greatly appreciated by Star Wars aficionados, and spawn new series fans as well.

Star Wars Jedi: Survivor releases on PlayStation, Xbox, and PC April 28th.

James Perkins Mastromarino contributed to this story

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Bryant Denton