Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is caught between two worlds. On one hand, it tells an intimate, well-crafted story of low yet meaningful stakes that pulls you into Cal's reality and provides an antidote for the much bigger, much more reckless and aimless Star Wars stories Disney has been leaning on. On the other, it tries to rebel against this by offering up an open world to lose yourself in. For some, it will be a perfect compromise, but this identity crisis, several performance issues, and far too many niggling annoyances leave the game short of greatness, and not even the extended grasp of the Force can pull it closer.
Narratively, the game is superb. It's easy to get lost in the nonsense of Star Wars' magical powers and silly lexicon, but Survivor strikes right at the heart of why we're still telling Star Wars stories almost 50 years on. Underneath everything, it's about outcasts trying to do good in the face of forces greater than themselves, and finding a place for yourself, even if you have to make it in the people you meet. The cast was one of Fallen Order's assets, and adding one-armed Jedi Dagan Gera (played by American Horror Stories' devilish Cody Fern) solidifies that here. Unfortunately, the game’s structure feels messy and rushed.
Updated May 2, 2023: Post-release, we've updated our review of Star Wars Jedi: Survivor to include a video discussion between features editor Eric Switzer and editor-in-chief Stacey Henley. They discuss the finer points of creating a game within the Star Wars universe, and Survivor's shortcomings when it comes to its attempts to capture that magic.
After the prologue, you find yourself on Koboh, a vast planet teeming with side quests, combat scenarios, traversal opportunities, and hidden areas. You can explore as much as you want, but likely will do the main plot beats before jetting off to Jedah - I was keen to unlock some more abilities before exploring and wanted to meet up with some old buddies. Okay, I just wanted to see Merrin. Sue me.
You land on Jedah, meet Merrin, do the main plot beats and then jet off for... Koboh. Again. After that it's back to Jedah. Then Koboh. Then Jedah. Then Koboh's Moon! That's kinda different! Then Koboh again. After a while, it not only gets dull to play, but a little ridiculous as a story. To its credit, you are constantly unlocking new pieces of Koboh narratively, but the same side quests are there demanding your attention, the same hubs, the same routes to these new places. Koboh is full of life, but the more you go back and the less things change without your direct impact, the more artificial it all feels. It has all the tools to be a fully immersive world, but uses the same one so often it splinters in your hands. It doesn’t help that the map is rancid either, caught between 2D and 3D, with navigation assist often telling you where you just where rather than where you need to go.
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor's greatest sin is that it is inescapably a video game, held together with the sort of video game logic that just does not work when it presents us with a wide open world. Cal can run along walls, except when he can't, he can defy gravity, except when he can't, he can move things with his mind, except when he can't. At times progress through this world is blocked by a need to progress in the story, but at others, the game demands you solve things in a certain way, and punishes you for thinking outside the box. If a jump expects a double jump and dash, it will sometimes see Cal bounce off the wall if he reaches it with a single jump and dash.
The most egregious example of Survivor demanding you have it their way is when you unlock the ability to grab hold of the strange balloons that decorate some higher-level regions of the map. These are inflatable contraptions Cal can bounce off, but he can also freeze time whenever he does so, and decide to bounce off in whichever direction he likes, physics be damned. In combat, he can slow time down, but not to this extent, and the logic is never explained. Worse, when you hit puzzles that require these balloons, there is an endless generator of them in case you fail or break them. But if you try to string two together when the game wants you to solve it with one, the first one will disintegrate, leaving you with no room for creativity or thinking outside the box in ways a Jedi should be encouraged to do.
This scripted sensibility comes in handy during the boss battles at least, which mix cutscenes and gameplay seamlessly. One particularly effective scene sees a difficult battle flip onto the ceiling half-way through, and the game's major moments are full of these dramatic flourishes. One of the most cinematic moments comes courtesy of Merrin's Blink powers, which she is briefly able to share with Cal during a boss encounter on Jedah. But that only raises another issue with the companions themselves.
Aside from BD-1 by your side, you will be accompanied on Jedah by Merrin and on Koboh by Bode, a new character with a jet-pack and blaster pistols. However, it's not that simple. They will only be with you for specific story beats, and often will Blink/jetpack away, leaving you doing large sections by yourself, only to return at the last minute for a cutscene. They're somewhat helpful in combat, but otherwise feel pointless. Trying to explore either planet with them by your side will not bring them along for the ride. Instead, they’ll sit down and say they'll meet you later. Guess Bode doesn't care about those prospectors trapped in the mine.
Speaking of blasters, new combat stances add an interesting dimension. In part thanks to the skill point system, I stuck with Double-Blades and Blaster throughout, occasionally shifting to my underpowered Crossguard stance for boss battles. I think the level up system will restrict most people, and having to choose two at a save point rather than switching on the fly will also limit usage. Still, the combat is meaningful and varied, even if deflecting bullets sees Cal contort his body and look silly. He has lightning fast reflexes for bullets, but takes an age to heal. Pushing the button will sometimes cause Cal to say he's healing himself, but fail to actually do it, resulting in death. With a save point respawn system, that's a major let down.
There are performance issues too, with some odd blurring during movement, stuttering even in Performance mode, and bugs throughout, while I had two hard crashes on PS5. I expect these to be fixed, but it's hard to know if some of the overall jank will go away with these patches, or be there forever. Cal's running, for example, will always be goofy. The puzzles being so finickity and precise, not to mention those in caves being difficult to see let alone figure out, will also remain. A few of the puzzles are tricky, and that's all well and good. But too many of them are difficult only because the mechanic is hidden, or too far away, or in darkness, or just doesn't react the first time you interact with it. Sometimes they’re not even puzzles, but some traversal that you usually can’t do, but now you can.
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor has everything a Star Wars fan will want - it's an excellent story, and uses classic Star Wars tropes, musical cues, and narrative moments. But if you're not enamoured by a John Williams horn reprise, what you have is a decent adventure game with a vibrant but often annoying open world that you keep being sent back to, that rarely lets you think for yourself and often just doesn't quite work properly. For a story so sharp, it's a shame the game gets in its own way so often.