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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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Opinion

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s Dive into Mythology Alleviates Its Greatest Misstep

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Fate of Atlantis

Now that the final episode of ‘The Fate of Atlantis’ DLC trilogy for Assassin’s Creed Odyssey has released, both new and returning players have the opportunity to play some of the greatest content additions ever to hit the Assassin’s Creed franchise. While providing a capstone to the Odyssey content releases and story arc, ‘The Fate of Atlantis’ takes the title’s RPG gameplay and fully unchains itself from the series’ semi-historically accurate portrayal of ancient civilizations. For those hoping to experience a more mythological side of the Assassin’s Creed universe, ‘The Fate of Atlantis’ is Ubisoft’s answer.

Mild spoilers for Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and its DLC below.

One can argue that the past few Assassin’s Creed titles have been slowly itching towards a more fictional approach to storytelling and world building when compared to the original pillars of the series, and with Odyssey this claim is more true than ever before. One of the greatest criticisms Odyssey received at launch was how it handled the previously established lore and world-building that the series is known for. Fans were immediately taken aback by the shoehorned in game mechanics that went against the established foundation set in Origins the year prior. Odyssey’s Kassandra/Alexios having the same playstyle and mannerisms of Origins’s Bayek, despite living 400 years earlier, can be written off as being done for ease of development, however it still left hardcore fans puzzled and frustrated by the lazy implementation.

Elysium - Odyssey

Despite the aforementioned transgressions, Odyssey provided players with an excellent ancient civilization sandbox to run around and vicariously live in. The post-launch content gifted players more of Odyssey’s story to explore by introducing Darius, wielder of the first hidden blade, and Atlantis, one of the last cities of the Isu/First Civilization race. Continuing its trend of playing fast and loose with the Assassin’s Creed lore, Ubisoft thought to retcon almost everything that was already established about the first Assassins in its ‘Legacy of the First Blade’ trilogy of DLC. By completely disregarding the traditions and ideologies founded in Origins, Ubisoft proved to fans that the future trajectory of the franchise was heavily in favor of gameplay over all else. However, that is a topic for another day.

‘The Fate of Atlantis’ was Ubisoft’s final story-arc DLC for Odyssey, and after the underperforming ‘Legacy of the First Blade’ story, many fans worried that its closing content would suffer the same fate. In a surprising turn of events, however, ‘The Fate of Atlantis’ proves that the Assassin’s Creed franchise can actually succeed when it does not take itself seriously. The past few entries into the series has seen Ubisoft take further risks by edging away from its successful formula. Since Assassin’s Creed III, the franchise has incorporated more fantastical elements that are in contrast to its original ‘near accuracy’ approach. Odyssey’s ‘The Fate of Atlantis’ DLC trilogy unchains itself from that restriction and dives head first into mythology. 

Hear me out before the enraged comments begin. I have been an Assassin’s Creed fan since the beginning and, in my opinion, the greatest draw of the franchise is how it incorporates historical accuracy with its fictional narrative. Anyone who believes that what is said in an Assassin’s Creed to be fact should really open up a history textbook, but seeing ‘what if?’ scenarios take place in the same historical events we have been told for centuries is a fresh take.  

The opening episode sees the games protagonist head into Elysium to gain knowledge of their birthright’s potential and power. Elysium is a ‘would be’ paradise for souls who are granted safe passage through The Underworld, and it is where the protagonist reconnects with those who desire paradise after death. The world of Elysium is vast and beautiful, consisting of sprawling fields and open vistas. The story present within this episode tasks Kassandra/Alexios with gathering information from Persephone, Hades’s wife, by either aiding a rebellion against her or sabotaging its progress. Regardless of choice, players will find themselves at the same confrontation in the end, which is a theme that resurfaces in every subsequent episode. 

As a stark contrast to Elysium, the second episode takes players into the depths of The Underworld with Hades holding the protagonist hostage until his demands are met. The Underworld is the complete opposite of Elysium in almost every way. The paradise fields of Elysium are swapped out for the dark and claustrophobic roads of despair. 

Where Elysium struggled was with the balance for beauty and good level design where the map was often to vertical for simplistic traversal. To help alleviate this issue, the developers added a mechanic known as the Wings of Hermes, which acts like an elevator to each mountain area. The problem with this mechanic, however, is that they were spread so far between that most times the player ended up having to climb the mountain instead, which can become extremely tedious after the first few times. The Underworld, in contrast, does not suffer from this design; instead, it focuses more on placing obstacles in your path between destinations. Whether it involves poisonous ponds scattered across the land or an infinite sea of debris to maneuver and climb over, The Underworld is a cluster of despair which adds to the atmosphere even though it gets in the way.

Fate of Atlantis Cerberus

The main appeal towards the second episode is that players can reconnect with familiar faces from the main story and see how their fate unfolded. The narrative of witnessing familiar NPCs’ fates plays into the significance of decision making in the episode. Instead of forming a rebellion against Hades, players’ decisions are weighed in on by Hades and Poseidon, as they constantly wager on your actions. Just as in Elysium, all decisions will lead towards the same ending, but personalizing the final interactions with those NPCs is a nice touch.

The final episode in ‘The Fate of Atlantis’ story arc seeks to be a culmination of everything that came before it. The futuristic city of Atlantis is, in my opinion, the most beautiful setting of the three, by incorporating the bright colors of Elysium with the obstacle filled paths of The Underworld. The fusion of forefather technology along with ancient Greek architecture fosters a setting that remains out of this world, yet somehow remarkably grounded. The narrative of the third episode sees Poseidon rewarding players’ triumphs by promoting them to Dikastes: essentially the judge, jury, and executioner of Atlantis. By doing so, all decisions made in Atlantis are catered to how the player would lead the city. 

Up until the finale of the third episode, I was under the impression that ‘The Fate of Atlantis’ was Ubisoft’s way of taking the formula of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and turning it into a fantasy RPG. However, in the closing moments of the final episode, Ubisoft has surprised me by finding a way to tie in everything done in these three episodes to the overall lore of the franchise. What I first believed to be an experimentation of a potential spin-off franchise turned into a nice nod to previous Assassin’s Creed titles and the story they had set up with the Isu/First Civilization. 

Poseidon

Overall, the story arc of ‘The Fate of Atlantis’ was a positive experience and a fitting way to end the content of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. The DLC asked that players suspend their disbelief with its semi-accurate take on Ancient Greece and journey into the afterlife of Greek mythology. While not the first title to do so (with Origins’s ‘Curse of the Pharaohs’ DLC last year tackling Egyptian mythology), Odyssey proves that a fantasy take on its formula leaves more to explore. 

Despite the praise, however, ‘The Fate of Atlantis’ possessed the same issues that are present within the main game and its previous titles. The DLC proves that Assassin’s Creed’s biggest flaw is still its modern-day storyline and main protagonist Layla Hassan. The writing and acting of Layla are beyond abysmal at this point, and Ubisoft needs to understand that this is an issue that is weighing down the series. For example, the death of a prominent character left a cliffhanger at the conclusion of the second episode, only to be written off as a ‘whoopsie’ in the opening minutes of the third. Layla’s naïve attitude and self-centered approach to the events around her are dragged out and annoying. No resolution is present for her actions, nor any character development or improvement in the slightest. Instead, her motivations remain the same despite reason, causing universal unrest every time the game pulls you out of the Animus to live in her shoes.

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