Five years on the run has changed reluctant Jedi, Cal Kestis – in so many ways. In Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, he was naive, unsteady, and childlike in his approach. Star Wars Jedi: Survivor introduces him as a more confident, well-rounded hero. No longer afraid, he wields his lightsaber with gusto, dashing and spinning with balletic grace. His chin is stiffer; his eyes brighter. His evolution is a reflection of the wider changes to be found in the highly-anticipated Fallen Order sequel.
During a recent international media event, GamesHub was able to get hands-on with a preview build of Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, set shortly after the game’s opening chapter. The three-hour snippet took place on the planet Koboh, in the wake of a starship crash that strands Kestis and his reliable droid companion, BD-1, in unfamiliar territory.
Together, they have one goal: survive long enough to fix their transport, and chart a path forward to alien mechanic, Greez, who resides in the distant town of Rambler’s Reach.
It’s not an easy quest by any stretch – as the world of Koboh is distinctly hostile, and littered with a variety of threats that require an understanding of new exploration and combat mechanics, all tweaked and improved for this more ambitious, world-spanning adventure.
Style, grace, and lightsaber dances
The most distinct change returning Fallen Order players will notice in Survivor is a completely overhauled combat system, which adds plenty of flourish and style to Kestis’ attacks. In the preview build, three ‘stances’ were available to play with – Single, Dual Wield, and Double-bladed. These determine how Kestis wields his double lightsabers; as a single faster or slower weapon, or in two hands, with blades acting as frantic cudgels.
The Single stance is the simplest of the three, with Kestis simply wielding his lightsaber in standard, sword-like fashion – but both Double-bladed and Dual Wield feel like they make much larger impacts in combat.
Double-bladed stance is the flashiest of the three, with this stance incorporating twirls and spins that have a twofold impact: it makes every hit harder, and transforms Kestis into a wheel of destruction. With swings of his elongated saber, he twists forward and spins, engaging in a dramatic dance that requires precision and flow. You can block attacks, and parry them effectively – as long as you understand the back-and-forth rhythm. Kestis swings forward, then blocks as stormtroopers fire blasters.
He leaps backwards as other enemies brutishly swing clubs. Block, twist, spin, and weave, and you’ll sweep the battlefield, surviving to fight another day after conquering each satisfying, puzzle-like enemy encounter. Double-bladed stance does occasionally inspire frustration as it’s a slower move set, and leaves room between swings for enemies to block and attack in quick jabs – but its grace and flow feel wonderful.
Read: Star Wars Jedi: Survivor interview – Stig Asmussen on narrative bounds and creativity
Dual Wield stance is a more dynamic move set in that regard. While slightly less dazzling, it involves Kestis wielding a lightsaber in each hand, swinging down with more aggressive force. It leaves fewer opportunities for enemies to creep in and disrupt the dance of battle, and tends to be much snappier for attacking and defending. With each stance having its own downsides, it’s best to mix them for more impactful combat – and this is easily done as you fight, with a single button press that translates to an instant swap.
Combined, these moves generate meaty impact, and help you carve a flashy path through enemy hordes, as the Empire advances and Kestis’ road becomes rockier.
A fourth stance (of five total), which involves the use of a laser blaster pistol, was also shown off during the Survivor preview – and this has a rapid-fire ‘Dead Eye’ mechanic, rather like the Red Dead Redemption franchise – but it was not available to play during the media session.
The grace and ease of combat in Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is a major improvement on its predecessor, and effectively transforms enemy encounters into satisfying, dramatic tête-à-têtes, providing numerous, worthy obstacles to overcome as you stomp through enormous planets, dogged by the forces of the Empire. But perhaps the greatest challenge ahead for Kestis isn’t simple survival – it’s exploring vast new frontiers, and solving an overwhelming array of environmental puzzles.
As in Fallen Order, this sequel hangs its harrowing tale on puzzling, as Kestis is required to follow twisting paths through mountainous regions, forests hiding deadly threats, and sparkling streams as he works to repair his ship, The Mantis.
For the most part, Koboh is defined by a predestined path, with various hoops to travel through – jump down this stream, climb along these vines, cross this canyon – as you open up shortcuts, and advance towards your ultimate goal.
Various dead-end pathways obfuscate your path along the way, which can force some quick thinking and slow down the advancement of the main story. But as in combat, there is a flow to these hurdles. Initially, some puzzles appear impossible, and you’ll scratch and claw at an answer – until it finally clicks and you understand exactly what’s being asked of you.
Puzzles in Jedi: Survivor operate on a unique logic, and approaching them with an open mind will usually push you in the right direction. Failing that, an improved map system will also help your quest, as it provides a handy progress tracker, and prevents you from doubling back along the way – although you will likely double back, as some regions can be confusing, and require multiple attempts to overcome.
Whether it’s working to destroy deadly space particles, crossing a gaping ravine, or working out how to take down towering beasts, Jedi: Survivor makes you really work for Kestis’ place in the universe – but with so many gorgeous sights to take in as you journey, it’s hard to begrudge the occasionally difficult puzzle or two.
The galaxy is your oyster
As one of the last and most mature blockbuster games to hit the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 generation, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order was a stunner. Its alien worlds felt vast and imaginative, with sweeping vistas and breathtaking sunsets. Star Wars Jedi: Survivor pushes this feeling up several notches, with the preview build of Koboh showing off a sparkling realm that encourages wonder at each turn.
It’s a beautiful game – and ‘next-gen’ graphics do great service to its many alien plateaus.
Rivers glimmer and flow in the light, trees sway subtly, and each step you take reveals new sights – a hidden cavern dappled with skylight, a canopy where darkness festers. Upgrades to the game’s lighting and graphics system also make each of the game’s characters feel tangible and real. Greez is wrinkly and adorable. His hair bounces under his chin as he talks, and sweat drips from his forehead in tiny, well-rendered droplets.
Turgle, an anxious mutant frog, is notably slimy, and oozes as he walks.
Kestis himself looks incredibly lifelike, with buoyant hair and more accurate, human-like mouth movements that elevate Survivor out of the uncanny valley. While far from the most important piece of the puzzle, Survivor’s graphics effectively buoy Respawn’s tale of survival in hostile circumstances.
Tweaks, twists, and a vast ambition
The story of Cal Kestis may exist on the outer rim of the Star Wars galaxy, but with an ambitious sense of grandeur, Survivor aims to make a major impact.
In just a short three-hour gameplay session, it became clear that while Fallen Order was a fun and intriguing spin-off, Survivor is a much-changed beast. From tweaks to combat, to more impressive detail in each story beat and exploration segment, there is much to set this game apart from its predecessor.
Koboh, with its many-layered puzzles, fun and chatty denizens, and puzzles galore, may just be a small slice of Kestis’ next chapter – but even as part of a cloistered preview, it provided a memorable taste of a colourful, creative, and impressively-scaled journey.
Much like Kestis himself, Jedi: Survivor seems to be bolder and more confident. While the game still appears to adhere to a familiar formula – in its reverence for environmental puzzles and measured exploration – much higher stakes and more intriguing twists in just a single, early game chapter bodes well for the unfolding tale.
Wherever Kestis goes next, his journey will be worth watching.
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor launches on 28 April 2023 for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, and Windows PC.
EA provided flights and accommodation to GamesHub for the purposes of playing Star Wars Jedi: Survivor and speaking to its developers. EA did not have oversight of this article. GamesHub has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content. GamesHub may earn a small percentage of commission for products purchased via affiliate links.