By now, gamers have probably had someone recommend “Star Wars Jedi: Survivor” to them. It’s become one of the biggest games of 2023 not just on the power of its brand but because it’s legitimately, unexpectedly fantastic. The truth is that many “Star Wars” games over the years have relied a little too heavily on the fan base, cutting creative corners to value profit over quality. There are a few gems—“Knights of the Old Republic,” “LEGO Star Wars,” and I’m awfully forgiving of the pure fun of “The Force Unleashed”—but no one really expected “Jedi: Survivor” to be one of the most wonderfully addictive games of the year so far. 2019’s “Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order” was reasonably enjoyable but had some repetitive mechanics, shallow storytelling, and world-building. It was fun enough but forgettable and easy to leave behind. “Jedi: Survivor” is the kind of game you don’t want to stop playing. Trust me. I finished the story hours ago, and I’m still wandering the planets of Koboh and Jedha, trying to find all their hidden secrets and looking for new ways to hit things with lightsabers. I’ll miss this game when I finally move on, and I hope the lessons learned from its design carry over to future installments in this franchise.
Cameron Monaghan (“Shameless”) returns after “Fallen Order” as Cal Kestis, a Jedi Knight who has been sent into hiding by Order 66, working with Saw Gerrera (the character played by Forest Whitaker in “Rogue One”) in the Resistance when the game opens. “Jedi: Survivor” takes place five years after the action of “Fallen Order,” which puts it nine years before the Battle of Yavin, detailed in “Star Wars: A New Hope.” That also puts it four years before the action of “Andor” and around the same time as the Disney+ show “Obi-Wan Kenobi.” Got that? Briefly, it’s not a great time to be a Jedi, and things get worse when Cal’s team is killed on a mission on Coruscant, leaving him even more on the run with his pal Bode (Noshir Dalal), one of his few allies remaining.
The intense action of the prologue of “Jedi: Survivor” leads Cal to a planet called Koboh, where he seeks out a character named Greez (Daniel Roebuck). The bulk of the first several hours of the game will take place on Koboh, one of the most remarkable open-world settings in years. There’s a home base in a town called Rambler’s Reach, where you land your ship, the Mantis, and can interact with merchants and locals and even plant seeds you find elsewhere. The narrative of “Jedi: Survivor” sends Cal and his team to other planets, reuniting him with characters that fans will find familiar alongside some new ones. It’s a rich piece of storytelling about a warrior searching to find his way back to the front while encountering the impact of the Empire’s tyranny, including Jedis who have given into the dark side. There are fantastically detailed supporting characters, including Debra Wilson as Jedi Master Cere Junda and a Nightsister named Merrin (Tina Ivlev), who becomes one of Cal’s closest allies.
The storytelling is much richer than an average Star Wars game, but what elevates “Jedi: Survivor” is the gameplay. It’s largely melee-based combat, heavily reliant on parrying and using different lightsaber stances to defeat tougher enemies. A game like this often succeeds because of how it doles out power to the player. At the start, you’re just a kid with a lightsaber. As the story unfolds, the player unlocks five different lightsaber stances, including a wicked dual wield, one that includes a blaster in the left hand, and even the powerful crossguard stance used by Kylo Ren in the last trilogy. While a different stance can give an advantage against certain enemies, they’re largely just one of many customizable aspects of “Jedi: Survivor.” Pick your favorite stances—two can be equipped at a time and easily alternated—and the game unlocks skill points and perks that can be used to give Cal even more power. It’s a perfectly calibrated system that takes Cal from a simple warrior to a Jedi Master under your guidance.
The game is also deeply customizable in cosmetic terms. Landscapes are filled with items that can change the appearance of Cal, his weapons, or his trusty droid BD-1. I’m not into customization purely for appearance, but I found myself playing with the aesthetics of my lightsaber and character more than usual. It’s very reminiscent of the lightsaber workshop at Galaxy’s Edge in Disney World, where people can build their own lightsaber collectible with different pieces that have different meanings. And the variety of looks for Cal can be fun to play with when you want to change up the game visually. To that end, the settings of “Jedi: Survivor” are mostly great. I loved the variety on Koboh and the desert-vastness of Jedha, even if some of the later settings start to feel a little similar in their “Empire Base” design.
“Star Wars Jedi: Survivor” also features a remarkable variety of gameplay. Sure, it’s mostly about death by laser sword, but there are meditation chambers that are basically puzzles to solve and lengthy conversations that can be had with NPCs, some of which open up side missions. It’s a game with many personalities scattered around its settings, and not all are trying to kill you. (A personal favorite is Skoova, a little fisherman who pops up all over Koboh.)
Ultimately, “Star Wars Jedi: Survivor” is what I want from a game set in a universe that I’ve honestly become a little tired of visiting. “Star Wars” culture is everywhere, and I had grown a little weary of it when I fired up “Jedi: Survivor” (especially after a dull season of “The Mandalorian”). But I was instantly enraptured with this “Star Wars” game in a way I didn’t think was possible anymore. There’s still life in the Resistance.
Electronic Arts provided a review copy of this title.