Cal Kestis, Jedi Knight, just can’t catch a break. Whether it’s his constant persecution at the hands of the Empire, the exhaustive gauntlet of tricky climbs and jumps he must face, or the yawning gulfs of emotional distance he seems compelled to place between himself and his friends, poor Cal rarely seems to be having a good day.
However, given that this is the dark second act of a potential trilogy, bleakness is very much in vogue, and Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is stronger for it. Available on Xbox X|S, PS5, and PC, Respawn Entertainment’s latest title delivers on the Jedi Knight fantasy, couching its mostly engaging story with a commitment to immersion that leaps from the game’s environments at every turn. Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is an ambitious and impressive beast, held back by a slow second act and overreliance on Uncharted-esque traversal sections.
Across the 20-hour main campaign, Cal’s adventure takes us from the planet-sized metropolis of Coruscant, to the frontier world of Koboh, and to a handful of places in-between. Following on from the events of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, Cal spends the course of the adventure balancing his need to escape the long arm of the empire with his desire to save others from its pernicious boot.
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is a game of stark contrasts. At its best, it’s a thrilling sci-fi romp, oozing with enough Star Wars goodness to keep even the most dedicated fans happy. At its worst, though, it’s a bland pseudo-open-world monolith, reminiscent of Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla in its aimlessness. Much to its credit, Respawn’s latest offers far more examples of the former than the latter, even though it fails to produce an entirely perfect bouquet.
For example: early on in the game, you run into a very old force user who, finding Cal suitably unimpressive, challenges him to a duel. I won’t spoil anything, suffice it to say that the scene is a glorious and iconoclastic mix of Star Wars elements old and new, answering pressing questions but raising new ones. Also contained within one of the game’s earlier chapters was a traversal section sufficiently counterintuitive that I spent an hour bashing my head against a wall before I realized that the weathered surface I was attempting to cross could, in fact, be used for wall-running. In hindsight, it blows my mind that these two experiences came courtesy of the same game.
This is not to say that all (or even most) of Jedi: Survivor’s traversal sections are banal. At best, the platforming sections add new and interesting mechanics to the mix, forcing you to think laterally. One mountain path, in particular, required me to manage wind currents to help with my jumps, leading to lots of satisfying “aha” moments.
The presence of these more compelling traversal sections is for the best, since getting from A to B accounts for a surprising chunk of the game. Cal is consistently confronted with dizzying gauntlets of platforming puzzles and wall running with a speed and consistency that would make even Nathan Drake lose his lunch. Cal Kestis is part Jedi, part Olympic climber, and all goatee.
Across the stars
Strangely enough, there are few things more Star Wars than the contrasts that underpin Jedi: Survivor. After all, it’s a franchise that gave us both The Empire Strikes Back and Attack of the Clones: hits and misses are almost as Star Wars as The Force itself.
In this regard, Jedi: Survivor’s story is indelibly Star Wars. A thrilling opening section gives way to a meandering second act which, in turn, becomes dramatically upended through an unexpected and impressive plot twist.
The game sets up a cast of memorable and likable characters, often arming them with charm and sparkling dialogue. However, it often feels like these figures are wasted in the context of the game’s pacing. Jedi: Survivor's cast simply isn’t given enough time in the spotlight. The avuncular Greez and the brooding yet soulful Merrin are treats and I was disappointed that I didn’t get to spend more time with them. I’d have much preferred to spend more time learning about Merrin’s soul-searching journey across the galaxy or Greez’s family history than traipse through yet another treacherous swamp.
An elegant weapon
That said when Jedi: Survivor shines, it is truly resplendent. I poured over the game’s lightsaber customization menus for a full half hour before I was satisfied with my choice of weapon, and that was just the tip of the personalization iceberg. The five lightsaber stances available in combat offer meaningfully different and uniquely satisfying means by which you might dispatch your enemies. In conjunction with the game’s skill trees, you are given a wide range of tools by which you might confront the game’s tightly paced and deeply satisfying souls-like combat.
In contrast to the likes of Elden Ring, however, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor boasts a range of difficulty levels, providing a range of different experiences. You can have anything from a light, story-centric journey to a full-on Dark Souls slogfest. This sort of mutability runs through the title, allowing you to curate a Jedi adventure that’s truly your own. Despite its flaws, I finished my time with Jedi: Survivor feeling like I’d charted my own path through the game’s trials and tribulations.
By telling a Star Wars story with this personal element, Jedi: Survivor has done something special. Despite its occasional blunders, the title is a treat for Star Wars fans, even if it left me wanting more cutscenes and fewer overwrought traversal sections.