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Can Jedi: Fallen Order Redeem Star Wars Video Games?

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Jedi: Fallen Order

Star Wars fans, single-player fans, heck, fans of EA Games have not had the best time since EA made a deal with Disney in 2013 to exclusively work with the Star Wars license in the console and PC space.

This decade, EA’s output has become less concerned with serving the audience that made Star Wars games such a hit in the 1990s and 2000s. With the cancellation of multiple story-based projects (including Ragtag, the action adventure that was to be Amy Hennig’s next game after Uncharted 3), DICE’s Battlefront games have been the only surviving releases, neither of which made single players particularly happy.

However, this situation is about to change and hopefully for the good. With the announcement last year of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (a title not just formulated for maximum SEO, but presumably for an ongoing series) fans of single-player and Star Wars stories were promised a game that takes place shortly after Order 66, when the Jedi Order was all but exterminated at the end of Revenge of the Sith.

Now, we have finally seen concrete details revealed about the game at Star Wars Celebration 2019. The game is described as “action melee” with “thoughtful combat” and, though we have to wait a little longer for gameplay footage, we now have plenty of information to form a picture of this highly anticipated release.

The Story

Fallen Order follows Cal Kestis, a Padawan who survived Order 66 and must flee the forces of the newly formed Galactic Empire. In the original Star Wars, this time period was known as the ‘Dark Times,’ when Darth Vader helped the Emperor hunt down the Jedi Knights to extinguish their light.

In the old Expanded Universe, one could have sworn Jedi were around every corner, since every spin-off novel and comic seemed to refute the movie trilogy’s implication that Obi-wan, Yoda, and, eventually, Luke Skywalker were the only ones left.

However, Disney has kept a tighter lid on the Dark Times than even George Lucas did while he was in charge of his Star Wars universe. Though games like 2008’s The Force Unleashed revelled in showing that ex-Jedi and ex-apprentices were all over the place in the 20 years between Episodes III and IV of the film saga, Fallen Order takes place in a different kind of universe.

2008’s The Clone Wars TV series was planned to extend into this time period, but never made it, and projects such as Rogue One and Star Wars Rebels are much more in the mode of Star Wars than Revenge of the Sith. So, with the exception of novels and comic books that focus on previously established characters, the only clear window into this time period until now has been Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Now, thanks to the Celebration panel, we finally have a look at a Padawan in hiding during this time. Sometime after Order 66, we find Cal working with the Scrapper Guild, dismantling old ships from the Clone Wars. In voiceover, we learn he lives by three rules: don’t stand out, accept the past, and trust no one.

Obviously, events conspire so that Cal breaks at least two of those three rules, meeting characters such as the Second Sister, part of the Imperial Inquisition, and an ally for Cal in the former Jedi Knight, Seer. The Brothers and Sisters first appeared in the new canon during Rebels, and they basically serve as a means to delay the appearance of Darth Vader until later.

When a Force-sensitive sentient is reported to the Empire, it first sends in melee-focused Purge Troopers (also new to Fallen Order) and then the Inquisitors. Still, even in the new canon, the appearance of Vader is only a matter of time.

Story speculation aside, the visuals and tone of the reveal trailer promise a look at the ‘Dark Times’ that is more impressive than Star Wars has ever seen in motion. The Force Unleashed, which took place closer to the events of Rebels, attempted to bridge prequel trilogy and original trilogy aesthetics.

Fallen Order, on the other hand, appears to lean heavily into the more richly detailed, space fantasy and future noir aesthetic that defined the unproduced Star Wars Underworld.  The little of that series revealed through episodes of The Clone Wars, Star Wars 1313, and concept art showed off a shadowy Blade-Runner-inspired world—one that suits the plight of Jedi hunted by the Empire perfectly.

The Developer

Respawn Entertainment is a studio batting a thousand. Formed by the ex-Infinity Ward developers behind the first two critically acclaimed Call of Duty: Modern Warfare instalments, Respawn first hit with a multiplayer-only game: Titanfall. However, the team finally flexed their single-player chops again with Titanfall 2‘s excellent story campaign.

Titanfall 2 was all the evidence required to show that these developers never lost their mojo in the wilderness years since Modern Warfare 2. Although Respawn split into two teams, the Titanfall and Star Wars developers have clearly cross-pollinated over the years of production; many of the staff on Titanfall 2 are credited differently or not at all on the studio’s third and latest game, Apex Legends.

As well as the existing team’s excellent pedigree, other key personnel on Fallen Order were brought on specifically to fill out Respawn’s storytelling expertise. Notably, among the six writers are Matt Michnovetz, writer on The Clone Wars and Rebels, and Chris Avellone, who previously worked on Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords.

The game’s director, Stig Asmussen, has previously worked on God of War III. In a recent interview, Chris Avallone confirmed a seemingly very serious focus on the kind of story-driven, action-adventure game that series like God of War came to exemplify.

The team at Respawn is in a better position than any other studio has been to deliver an epic action-adventure experience in the Star Wars universe. The Force Unleashed ultimately suffered from stress on all sides; Star Wars 1313 failed to see the light of day entirely.

Respawn is not only fresh off its biggest success yet but is also building Fallen Order on the Unreal Engine, instead of EA’s proprietary Frostbite tech that went through so many problems at studios such as BioWare. Yes, assuming this story and action-adventure focus is evidence of, say, a step forward in the genre as big as 2018’s God of War would be ridiculous. However, deriving that Fallen Order aims to do for Star Wars what Batman: Arkham Asylum and last year’s Spider-Man did for their own respective franchises is not unreasonable.

The Road Ahead

Fallen Order hits PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on November 15, so Star Wars fans only have to wait seven months. With the story details teased at the Celebration panel, along with the news that the game is single-player only with no microtransactions, there is plenty to be excited about.

Hopefully, Respawn and Lucasfilm will see fit to reveal more about the combat and character progression at E3. Though EA has declined to set a proper press conference of its own, its partnership with Microsoft for publicity around Fallen Order is a good indicator that the game will show up on the Xbox stage.

Mitchell is a writer from Currawang, Australia, where his metaphorical sword-pen cleaves fiction from reality daily. When he's not writing, he plays video games and watches movies. While thinking about writing.

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E3 2019

Ubisoft’s E3 Showing Was All Hype, No Bite

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Ubisoft E3 Conference - Gods & Monsters, Ghost Recon Breakpoint

Ubisoft’s E3 2019 press conference featured some anticipated announcements and a few surprise ones. With the odd hidden gem lost in a sea of generic announcements, the conference by Ubisoft felt like a commercial that one is forced to view between episodes of their favorite TV show. The unfortunate leaks that surfaced mere days ago left a notable stain on Ubisoft’s presentation and overall appeal. The decision to open with Watch Dogs: Legion was a smart one since everyone knew it was coming though the homeruns became few and far between after that.

With both the announcement and extensive gameplay footage of Watch Dogs: Legion, Ubisoft seemed as though it was gearing up for a “headbanger” of a conference. The way the game was being presented for the first time would lead players to believe that Ubisoft had a stellar showcase to follow. After Microsoft’s slower and less hyped conference and Bethesda’s adequate attendance, I genuinely believed that Ubisoft would show them all up. Instead of a “headbanger” performance, audiences were treated to a rollercoaster of announcements.

Shortly after the conference commenced, audiences had the brakes instantly pumped on their excitement as Ubisoft took the time to advertise a new television show it is creating along with the producers of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. For the next few minutes, actor Rob McElhenney took the stage to describe the producers’ vision for a show that explores a comedic take on the politics surrounding a development studio and its egotistical creative director. Following this announcement, Ubisoft proceeded to show a trailer for the new Apple TV exclusive series. No game was announced for that duration.

Eventually, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint featured, with a surprise visitation by Jon Bernthal, who portrays the game’s villain. To promote Breakpoint, Bernthal briefly described how his past roles in the entertainment industry have influenced his character and how, as the villain, he encourages the players/Ghosts to hunt him down or die trying. Instead of following up with gameplay footage, Ubisoft announced a new addition to the Ghost Recon family, Delta Company. Not much was said about the new initiative, but it seems to be a collective forum for Breakpoint fans.

As odd as a forum announcement can be on an E3 stage, even more unsettling was the exaggerated hype from its developer, a sentiment that would sadly carry on throughout the remaining conference. Before concluding the Breakpoint showings, the developers were psyched to announce the beta on September 5. Unfortunately, since the beta is less than a month from the game’s launch, Ubisoft may be confusing the term with demo.

As a time-honored tradition at every Ubisoft E3 conference, Just Dance 2020 had an explosive presentation emphasizing the importance of Just Dance in people’s lives. With on-screen actors over-intensifying the joy of dance to everyday individuals, translating to the on-stage actors performing a symphony of limbs for everyone’s amusement, Just Dance 2020 is a reminder of how to oversell a product. Ubisoft continues to take a household party game and hype it into a hardcore intense experience year after year.

The hype-train continued on as viewers were introduced to Ubisoft’s premium PC subscription service, unsurprisingly titled Ubisoft+.  A sizzle reel followed, showcasing some of the titles that will be featured on the proprietary service. The success of Ubisoft’s subscription service remains to be seen in an age where all the cool kids are doing one. However Ubisoft’s turn at bat might strike out when considering its lineup. Almost all the titles shown in the subscription trailer are playable in another form of subscription such as Xbox Game Pass or have been free with a PlayStation Plus membership. Considering this subscription service is PC-only right now, it has the possibility of finding a foothold in the market, but Xbox Game Pass PC Games is another new contender with an established fanbase behind it.

Outside of the forced enthusiasm for new titles existed a trailer that had many considering the possibility of a Zombi sequel. Instead, audiences were treated to a surprise announcement from the Rainbow Six team with its new game: Rainbow Six Quarantine. Continuing the concept of 2018’s short-lived ‘Outbreak’ content drop for Rainbow Six Siege, Quarantine is a full-fledged title built on the foundation of that mode.

Finally, CEO Yves Guillemot insinuated a classic “one more thing” moment as a developer from Ubisoft Quebec came on stage to show a project that has been in development for four years: Gods & Monsters. This title will take advantage of player’s historical fantasies, with an emphasis on mythology being the primary storyteller. Potential aside, the announcement proved to be a poor way to abruptly end Ubisoft’s press conference as it contributed to a bait and switch for current Assassin’s Creed Odyssey fans. With the developer being from Ubisoft Quebec and mentioning historical storytelling and mythology in reference to Odyssey, many  audience members would have been anticipating an Assassin’s Creed announcement. The misguided excitement and anticipation only contribute to the continuing narrative this year that E3 2019 is lacking in content from previous years.  

Ubisoft is trying to position itself as being the publisher known for fun and variety in gaming. This mission statement is reaffirmed year after year by Guillemot, with this year being no different. Despite its desire, though, Ubisoft’s 2019 press conference contained an excessive amount of artificial hype. Instead of allowing the games to impress the audience, Ubisoft developers took upon themselves to do it instead. Before and after every trailer shown was a developer explaining to the audience how hyped they should be, rather than allowing the footage to do its job. An obvious takeaway from Ubisoft’s 2019 conference is its reinforcement of fun with others. Almost every project shown featured co-op in some way, further emphasizing Guillemot’s expression of inclusivity. Just a shame that his encouragement towards gamer empowerment and expression was contrast to extensive cringe-worthy corporate hype.  

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