Electronic Arts may have acquired the coveted Star Wars licensing deal back in 2013 but it’s only now that we’re reaping the rewards. Two disappointing Battlefront games and a scrapped project from Visceral later, Respawn’s Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order has been released and has proven to be a hit with fans and critics. I for one really enjoyed the game and its unexpectedly weird mix of lightsaber-slashing, tomb-raiding and canon-exploring. The story is strong, the graphics beautiful and the gameplay finds a good balance between making you feel like you have the powers of a Jedi while still having combat with even the more basic enemies be quite taxing. The game wears its inspirations on its sleeve and yet, while I’d still count it as one of my favourite games of the year (although it’s no Metro: Exodus) there’s one vital gameplay mechanic missing that the game’s contemporaries do so well: stealth.
That’s right, for all the wide range of enemies you encounter, from Stormtroopers to bounty hunters to… well, different kinds of Stormtroopers, you can only dispatch them head-on through melee combat. Think you’ve got the drop on a Scout Trooper and can sneak up behind them for a silent takedown? Too bad; no matter how softly you approach from outside their line of sight they’ll still hear you coming and turn around to face you before you can land a single blow. For a game that takes so much inspiration from other titles, like Uncharted for instance, it’s strange that this is the mechanic Respawn chose not to copy. Just imagine the Uncharted games without stealth: no more moving from cover-to-cover, grabbing an enemy and breaking their neck as their comrades look away, or the overwhelming tension that if you’re spotted then you don’t know if you’ll make it out of the firefight alive. Maybe Respawn thought that a stealth mechanic would be a step too far in imitating the game’s inspirations but I think it was the wrong call. And if they don’t want to draw comparison then they shouldn’t start the game out with a mission on a train because all I could think about during it was “wow, wasn’t Uncharted 2 a phenomenal game”.
However, I would presume that the primary reason for the lack of stealth in the game is for the focus to be on the much-discussed “thoughtful combat” system. That the developers wanted to put all their time into making it as good as it could be and then push that combat system onto players as much as possible. And it’s good. The combat is fun. It feels rather ungainly and counterintuitive at the start of the game, with some bizarre button-mapping, but once your fingers get the hang of it then it works quite well. The game is surprisingly tough, and blocking and dodging are vitally important, as too is timing your attacks correctly. It’s quite easy to get into a bad rhythm and an enemy, say a Nightbrother on Dathomir, that can be killed in a couple of hits suddenly becomes quite a challenge. Although, I have no shame in admitting that for some fights, like the later boss battles, I brought the difficulty down to ‘Story Mode’ where button mashing can get you quite far.
But could there be another reason for the missing stealth element in Jedi: Fallen Order? Could it be that stealth is not the Jedi way? Nathan Drake in Uncharted or any of the Assassins in Assassin’s Creed are morally ambiguous characters. Sure, ultimately, they’re the heroes of their respective stories but those characters and the world they inhabit lend themselves to that kind of murderous gameplay, whereas Jedi don’t. The game needs to strike a balance between what is fun to play and what makes sense for the ever-growing canon of the Star Wars universe and I don’t see stealth being in a Jedi’s wheelhouse. At least not sneaking up behind helpless targets to quietly stab a lightsaber through their heart. Jedi face their enemies head on, with honour, and shouldn’t strike the first blow. They’re all about defense rather than attack and stealth gameplay doesn’t lend itself to a character based entirely around morals like a Jedi. If the game were called Sith: Fallen Order then that’s when you break out the literal back-stabbings, but that’s hardly the Jedi way.
But are there not ways around this? Either using non-lethal takedowns, or using stealth to just sneak past enemies altogether. Surely, pacifism and not fighting at all is more important to the Jedi code than killing Stormtroopers, honourably or not. But where would be the fun in that? With properties such as Star Wars, video game flexibility plays an important role: the ability to keep everything canon and logical to the franchise while also just making a fun action game with great gameplay. And for the most part Respawn has managed to do just that. While stealth doesn’t just feel like a mechanic that could be in Jedi: Fallen Order, it feels like it’s actively missing from its core DNA, the explanations I’ve explored are just headcanon. Respawn simply chose for stealth to not be a part of the game, likely to put more effort into the “thoughtful combat”, and despite the hole it leaves the game is fantastic so I can’t complain too much. And hey, there’s always the sequel.
Have you been playing Jedi: Fallen Order? Do you feel that stealth is a missing component in the game? Let me know in the comments and be sure to geek out with me about TV, movies and video-games on Twitter @kylebrrtt.