The galaxy is a rough place to be, as a lone Jedi survivor facing mounting Empire forces on all sides. It’s a good thing Cal Kestis has friends – or the horrors would be too much to bear alone. Taking place five years after the events of Fallen Order, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor picks up in the aftermath of Kestis’ harrowing trials, following his journey as he stumbles across hidden Jedi secrets of the High Republic, and aids the Resistance in pushing back against a growing tide of darkness.
In the opening moments of Jedi: Survivor, this goal seems lost. Kestis, captured by enemy forces, is reintroduced as a weathered man; he’s grown out a beard, his face is scarred, and his shoulders are burdened by the weight of his past. But this is a ruse – one that caves to reveal Kestis’ new status as a Jedi veteran armed with new strength, a multi-faceted lightsaber, and a will to destroy the Empire from the inside.
Given his quest takes place within the ‘canon’ events of the Star Wars cycle, we know this goal is largely fruitless, but regardless of narrative bounds, a strong sense of drama and a deftly-written script buoys the stakes of this adventure at every turn. Amongst a host of strong contenders, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor stands out as an incredibly strong, cinematic Star Wars tale that weaves a memorable, compelling story as it speeds through breakneck acts, and a dramatic conclusion that spells hope for the future.
In The Shadows
In Jedi: Survivor, the shadow of the mysterious High Republic Era – when Jedi were well-respected, and divined new technologies and worlds for a peaceful galaxy – is revealed in all its glory, when Kestis stumbles across an errant droid that promises passage to a safe world known as Tanalorr. Rumoured to be a realm of endless treasure, it has since faded into myth – but armed with knowledge and a burning desire for freedom, Kestis shoots off to determine fact from fiction, running headfirst into dangerous territory in a bid to re-establish the Jedi Order.
This narrative is bolstered by stellar writing, and an accompanying, nuanced performance by Cameron Monaghan as Cal Kestis, who hits all the right notes within the game’s winding, emotionally-charged tale.
In this older version of Kestis, developer Respawn Entertainment has finally developed a likeable hero replete with flaws, and written in a very human way. Where the Kestis of Jedi: Fallen Order was reluctant and hard-edged, Jedi: Survivor immediately introduces a stranger: more confident, more skilled, and with a dangerous will to fight back. This Kestis is more reckless, but in the years since he became an unwilling target of Empire aggression, he’s learned to embrace his role.
Through years of hardship, he’s become a better fighter, too. Lightsaber battles are incredibly slick in this adventure, as Kestis has mastered a weaving, ballerina-like style that allows him to slash and twirl through the air with a wonderful grace. On the battlefield, fights become dances, as he spins and sashays away from enemy attacks, and darts in to take advantage of a broken guard.
In every encounter, this graceful combat shines – even as the road gets darker, and the influence of the Empire grows.
In The Light
It’s not the only way Kestis has changed in Jedi: Survivor. He’s also learned to crack a joke – and as the game’s grim plot advances, this serves to sharply elevate the material. It’s not just Kestis, either. Every narrative beat in the game, while inherently dramatic and charged with tension, is lightened with a sharp, biting humour that injects a sense of realism into the game’s world.
Rather than delivering snappy quips that undermine the foundations of this universe – an act often seen in films – the Jedi: Survivor script is premised on unique, tongue-in-cheek moments and characters with real heart. Kestis pokes fun at how much climbing he’s got ahead of him. His ally Merrin, returning form Fallen Order, is an absolute blast with her deadpan snark and playful jibes. Then, there’s the B1-series droids that litter the battlefield, whining about their jobs in pitch-perfect sound bites.
‘Heyyyy, why you are guys dead?’ one droid says, moments after you chop down his entire crew with your nimble lightsaber moves. It’s playful, and gives the world of Jedi: Survivor a lively energy. There’s darkness in the game’s story, which is given time to fester, but in pursuing more of a balance between the light and dark side of the Force, the game strikes a more memorable tone.
Where this tale occasionally buckles is in its reliance on grating environmental puzzles, and arbitrary backtracking which dips Jedi Survivor into filler territory, particularly in the game’s slack middle chapter.
As in Fallen Order, Jedi: Survivor is a hybrid adventure game that prioritises puzzling, with each of its planets housing unique challenges, and the need to push or pull levers, analyse puzzle blocks, align lasers, or figure out the best way to cross a wide valley.
There is a fair amount of complexity in these puzzles, and they each require an understanding of the game’s Force mechanics, as well as experimentation and exploration for the right combinations. In truth, the puzzle-platforming is frequently excellent. Improvements from Fallen Order make every jump and climb feel more accurate, and free-flowing. You leap from ledges, use a grappling hook to swing across ravines, and this traversal is nicely paired with enemy combat, bomb explosions, and unique Force powers. Everything has a rhythm, and this is never broken.
Where the issue lies is in the placement of these challenges, and the way they serve to separate story chapters. Kestis might corall his crew on the Mantis, speaking of the urgency of his quest to find Tanalorr, or to hunt down the mysterious Jedi known as Dagan Gera. Then, he’ll spend a solid hour jumping through hoops on the planet Koboh, aligning lasers to open up airflow and allow him to ride a winged beast across a ravine. Or, he’ll be in for the fight of his life – and need to double back to figure out how to jump on a nearby balloon platform.
Balancing the Force
This mandatory puzzle padding is deployed to a fair extent in the game’s middle act, and feels particularly egregious, given the high stakes of the main story. With such a compelling narrative, Jedi: Survivor‘s many environmental puzzles feel like a distraction, particularly as the story pace ramps up.
The feeling only intensifies in the game’s incredible final stanza, which largely does away with puzzling, and transforms Jedi: Survivor into a full-blown action drama littered with intense battles, meaningful character moments, and an eye-opening closing sequence. The heights in this act blow away the saggy middle, hauling Jedi: Survivor over the finish line with stylish aplomb.
But in leaning so far towards all-out action drama, this chapter eclipses its predecessor thoroughly – in a way that highlights the middle act’s lean into safe, forgettable puzzling that disrupts the story’s pace. In a game that so frequently proves itself to be a creative and bold new chapter for Kestis and the Mantis crew, this reversion is disappointing.
Balancing the identity of Fallen Order – which was maligned at the time for the blandness of its exploration and its over-reliance on puzzling – with a new, more emotionally-charged and narratively complex story was clearly a challenge. And occasionally, the bones of its predecessor shine through JedI: Survivor in an awkward and revealing way.
Yet despite its middling hump, this sequel represents an overall success in this tip-toeing act. While the action remains reliant on puzzle mechanics that occasionally bog down the main story, improvements across the board – including stunningly deft writing, and a sharp narrative – contribute to a more confident, and wildly more engaging sequel.
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor has not left its roots behind – but much like Cal Kestis, it has taken great leaps forward into a brighter and more ambitious future.
Four Stars: ★★★★
This review was originally published 26 April 2023.
A copy of Star Wars Jedi: Survivor for PS5 was provided and played for the purposes of this review. GamesHub has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content. GamesHub may earn a small percentage of commission for products purchased via affiliate links.