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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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Editorial

The PlayStation 5 Specs Are Beefy, But Not Entirely Necessary

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PlayStation 5

Six years have passed since the launch of the PlayStation 4, and, consequently, the launch of the eighth generation of consoles. Throughout this time the industry has seen a shift in how the medium is consumed. Nowadays, gamers are no longer forced to experience titles through conventional controller inputs thanks to the implementation of VR, while visual performance and optimization are at record heights given the current technology available to developers.

For well over a year now, rumors and speculations have sprung up surrounding the next generation of hardware from both Sony and Microsoft, with the latter being more open about its technological aspirations. Despite withholding true hardware specifications, Microsoft does not shy away from igniting conversations around its next systems (yes plural). Sony, on the other hand, has been extremely tight lipped on the topic, only hinting at the PlayStation 5 during a discussion on the success of the PS4.

Until now, consumers were left to speculate on the possibilities of what the PlayStation 5 will contain. To the surprise of many, however, Sony has unexpectedly opened up about the final specifications that will be found within the upcoming hardware. Lead architect on Sony’s next console Mark Cerny detailed how important this generational leap is for the company and what consumers can expect from its beefy machine. While confirming some rumors, and debunking others, Cerny expressed Sony’s desire for the new generation to allow “for fundamental changes in what a game could be.” As a bold statement by Cerny, this ideology will help Sony fall in line with the trajectory that other studios, such as Xbox, have had during the eighth generation of consoles.

For those who are unaware, the PS4 launched in 2013 to wide success, re-establishing Sony’s brand at the forefront of console gaming. Although the console became a household and media juggernaut, many tech-savvy individuals were quick to point out the flaws within its hardware. For example, much of the specifications that the PS4 touted were, in fact, already outdated at release when compared to high-end PC rigs. Despite the obvious limitations of console gaming, the choice of hardware found within the PS4 proved puzzling, as it was being marketed as a giant leap forward for the industry. Sony would later attempt to mitigate the ongoing damage caused by underperforming hardware with the mid-generation iteration of the PS4 Pro, though this attempt only served to extend the console lifecycle by another few years.

From the outset, Sony knew its largest issue was underperforming hardware, and, thanks to the information detailed by Mark Cerny, the community finally has some insight on how that will be addressed. For starters, the CPU found within the PS5’s hardware will use the third generation of AMD’s Ryzen line which is a massive leap over the PS4’s Jaguar chip. Although I am not much for technical jargon within the PC economy, I do understand how much the Jaguar chip held back performance within the eighth generation, and I welcome the Ryzen with open arms. My only hope is that this upgrade will be enough to sustain the PlayStation 5 throughout the years and maintain its presence as a PC competitor.

Additionally, the custom AMD Navi GPU that will be present in the PS5 will support ray-tracing, a feature that only a few games fully utilize on PC, but nonetheless will provide a more realistic experience. Although this specific feature is a welcome addition to the console ecosystem, I honestly never expected it to be a priority. While having real-time accurate reflections within the environment will definitely increase immersion, I would personally desire a more optimized experience that will never falter during play. We will have to wait until more is revealed on the PS5’s ray-tracing technology, but I can only hope that it will not take priority over performance.

Building upon the implementation of ray-tracing with the PS5, Cerny noted that, for him, the audio technology present within the PS4 did not achieve the standards of a generational leap from the PS3. According to Cerny, the PS5 will implement 3D Audio, dramatically changing how gamers perceive sound within a video game. The inclusion of 3D Audio sounds like a well-deserved feature for PlayStation veterans. However, I feel as though this addition will only benefit those who have an entertainment setup that supports it. Unfortunately, individuals who resort to stereo speakers could potentially see no difference in how the audio is delivered from PS5 titles compared to those on PS4.

The interview also provided information surrounding the type of storage available in the PS5. As a much-needed addition, the PlayStation 5 will contain a solid state drive (SSD), which will allow for faster load times and experiences. As many PlayStation users know, the PS4 can provide some appalling load times, leading this issue to be a constant topic of discussion throughout the entire generation. The possibility of a game having long load times was so great that it often made headlines in video game’s media, pleading for action to be taken (Bloodborne anyone?).

Thankfully, information on the PS5’s hard drive capabilities does not require too much speculation, as Cerny provided an example of how fast it will be. According to him, Marvel’s Spider-Man, which has an average of a 15 second load time on a PS4 Pro, will have just 0.8 second load times on a PS5. No indication is yet forthcoming as to how consistent this technological feat will be across different titles, and I urge consumers to temper their expectations on the speed of the PS5 because only time will tell how efficient it can be. Regardless of my concerns surrounding inconsistencies, the PS5 will feature the fastest load times of any console before it, eliminating one of the greatest issues of the PS4’s hardware.

Bloodborne gameplay 1

In addition to the announcement that PlayStation 5 will have an SSD, Cerny confirmed a much-desired feature in backwards compatibility. Although this feature will not reach as far back as the competition, the PS5 will be compatible with PS4 titles, both digital and physical. This was to be expected—seeing as both consoles will run off the same architecture—but the silence from Sony proved worrisome for some fans, myself included. While I am disappointed that PS3 titles will not be compatible with the PS5, I understand that the cell processor of that earlier device would take more effort than it is worth to make games from the platform compatible. Regardless, PlayStation fans can rejoice in this news, as it further validates any investment into the PS4’s ecosystem.

Where I draw most of my criticism from Mark Cerny’s report on the specifications of the PS5 is within the idea that Sony’s next hardware will support 8K resolution. To be clear, I am not stating that such an achievement is impossible; rather I question the necessity of it. Given everything that we know about the PS5, one can assume that the system will cost around USD $500. With 4K televisions slowly becoming a household norm, is it worthwhile for a company to be devoting resources into a feature that will likely not be consumer friendly for years to come? I understand that Sony is at a disadvantage right now with the Xbox One X outputting at native 4K, but seeking to outdo the competition to this extent seems financially unobtainable for most consumers.

My concerns develop from individuals who hear the news of PS5 and 8K resolution and assume it to be the Second Coming. It is unfeasible to have a $500 to $600 console run at a native 8K resolution. Anyone who believes this will happen need look no further than PlayStation’s competition with the Xbox One X. At its launch, Microsoft was selling the Xbox One X at a loss, solely to prevent the console from exceeding the $500 mark and turning away consumers. Microsoft’s current machine is capable of outputting at a native 4K resolution, whereas the PS4 Pro can only achieve the same through upscaled checkerboarding. The PS5 will surely be able to output at a native 4K resolution, but to expect anything more with the current state of consumer technology is wishful thinking. I urge consumers to understand that if the PS5 has an 8K setting, it will likely be only achieved in the future and through a checkerboarded solution.

Spider-Man PS4

Given the rumors that the next generation of hardware will be the last, Sony may be trying to future proof the PS5 so that it can remain on the market for as long as possible. Given the information provided by Mark Cerny, Sony may be intending to utilize every feature of the PS5 to its entirety before considering what could come after. By future proofing the PlayStation 5, Sony can anticipate where the industry is heading, ultimately eliminating the need for a mid-generation upgrade with a PS5 Pro.

I have been a PlayStation fan for as long as I can remember, but have recently branched out with the Xbox One X and PC gaming to experience what those ecosystems have to offer. By broadening my horizons, I maintain an outside perspective on how Sony is upholding its promise to gamers and how the competition tackles similar issues created by an ever-growing industry. With the eighth generation nearing its completion, I look forward to discussions such as this one as it generates hope and excitement for the future of the brand.

While the PlayStation 4’s colossal success this generation will provide a jump-start in sales for the company’s new hardware, the beginning of a new generation only reinvigorates the console wars. As a firm believer in what both Sony and Microsoft will do to shape the future of the industry, I am reminded that competition breeds excellence. Furthermore, when competition is present between both parties to win over public appeal, in the end, consumers emerge victorious.

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