Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order launched this week and what a relief it was. The Electronic Arts and Respawn project released to thunderous acclaim and was the Star Wars video game many had hoped for all along. EA has had a terrible track record with its Star Wars titles since Disney signed a 10-year video game licensing deal in 2013.
The infamous Battlefront games were launched by EA – beautiful games that were squandered by loot boxes and pay-to-win mechanics, making the series hugely unpopular with gamers. In fact, Battlefront 2 is largely considered one of the decades’ biggest gaming flops.
The good news is Jedi: Fallen Order could just be what they need to win the favour of gamers once again. This game puts gamers first, offering a complete experience that’s never bogged down by microtransactions and other distractions. EA has done plenty right here.
Good stories build loyalty
Jedi: Fallen Order’s sole focus is to tell a Star Wars story. A young Jedi, Cal Kestis, seeking to rebuild the Jedi Order with the help of friends who were all tormented by the events of Order 66, and want to find redemption, vengeance and hope again.
Unlike EA’s previous outings which were multiplayer only, gamers now get a title that capture the hearts and minds of gamers. Stories stay in our minds. They create powerful associations with the storytellers too – the publishers, which would explain the success Sony has enjoyed over the years.
Sony is a clear example of the value of good storytelling. The studio brings to mind heartfelt narratives from Kratos’ fears of fatherhood, a thrilling Spider-Man adventure, and a grieving father seeking to protect a young girl in a post-apocalyptic wasteland in The Last of Us.
And now, EA can finally be associated with a great story of its own. It’s been a long time coming.
Putting gamers first
Most strikingly, Jedi: Fallen Order is its own self-contained game. You won’t find “surprise mechanics” here; no loot boxes; no in-game purchases. Gamers are loving this. For its $60 price tag, you get a whole game and not access to the foundation of a game that you build with in-game purchases.
The lure of “surprise mechanics” is a tough one to avoid these days. A self-contained game means developers won’t find any alternate means of generating revenue from a title besides its sales. Rockstar is still rolling in cash years after GTA V’s 2013 release thanks to in-game purchases, which was the plan for EA’s previous Star Wars releases as well.
Without these means of revenue, profits depend greatly on the critical performance of a game and marketing to secure and boost sales. It’s much like the good old days of gaming that we know and love, but far riskier venture for developers. Props to EA.
Giving third-party developers ample time
Highly publicised exposés of the falling out between EA and BioWare while working on Anthem shed light on EA’s extremely uptight handling of its subsidiaries. Employees were overworked and pushed to meet tight deadlines despite last minute changes in the Anthem project. The result was a seemingly incomplete game that failed to pick up with gamers.
Many were concerned about how EA would oversee other subsidiary projects like EA Originals, their indie games platform for small developers, and their Star Wars project with Respawn.
Jedi: Fallen Order, which had been in development since 2014, seems to have been graced with ample space to get to grips with the project. Despite usually making the use of their own Frostbite engine mandatory, Fallen Order was built with Unreal Engine 4. EA seems to have loosened its grip, especially after BioWare developers complained about how difficult it was to work with the Frostbite engine. And the result this time was a largely polished game with a clear sense of direction.
Nailing the aesthetic
Star Wars: Battlefront may have had its issues, but it certainly felt like Star Wars. In fact, its authenticity was what drew so many gamers to it. Along with Respawn, the developers painstakingly nailed the look and feel of the Star Wars universe, from the sound of blasters, alarming sirens and the atmospheric music. It’s painstakingly detailed.
This expertise carries on to Jedi: Fallen Order. Planets you visit look like they were taken straight from the films; Lightsabers clash and swing with its iconic hum. A highlight: exiting hyperspace. Just like the movies, the stars draw into focus, revealing the destination planet in a way that’s absolutely Star Wars.
Special mention to Jedi: Fallen Order’s box design. Posters and designs today are often plain lazy, usually a cut-and-paste job of a single character against a boring background. Take a look at box art for games like Uncharted, Tomb Raider or COD: Modern Warfare, they are unbelievably boring. Jedi: Fallen Order draws inspiration from classic Star Wars posters and stands out from shelves of blatantly bland box designs of this console generation.
So, when are loot boxes acceptable?
Jedi: Fallen Order may be a step in the right direction in winning the hearts of gamers again, but whether EA will stick to these self-contained titles is anyone’s guess.
Saying no to microtransactions is surely tough from a business perspective. But given an already steep $60 price of entry, gamers should expect a full experience. If EA are so hard-pressed on microtransactions, perhaps they could take inspiration from Call of Duty: Mobile and lower the price of entry. COD: Mobile is full of microtransactions yet they don’t seem to be receiving much flak.
EA still own the exclusive rights to make Star Wars games for half a decade more, and we certainly hope to see more complete and satisfying games like this. Who’s up for a loot-box-free Battlefront 3?