I’ve been quite public about the fact that God of War Ragnarök was my favourite game of 2022. I raved about it extensively in a written review, podcast, end-of-year lists and, even, an emotional personal essay.
But it also suffered from one of my absolute biggest pet peeves in games — characters blatantly spelling out puzzles for you. Spend a few too many seconds figuring out where to throw Kratos’ Leviathan Axe and your companion immediately blurts out the solution. Worse still, there wasn’t even an option to turn this off. A similar — and arguably stranger — issue was present in PlayStation’s other big 2022 exclusive, Horizon Forbidden West, in which protagonist Aloy won’t stop monologuing no matter what you’re doing.
Much to my surprise, then, is the fact that Respawn’s Star Wars Jedi: Survivor has deftly avoided these issues. Released on April 28th, the sequel to 2019’s acclaimed Jedi: Fallen Order sees Cal Kestis face off against a mysterious new threat in the Galactic Empire. By most accounts, it’s an improvement on the original, offering better exploration, more varied loot and expanded combat options. But what I’ve low-key appreciated the most about it in my 10-ish hours so far? The way it takes a step back and lets players do their thing.
From the start, you’re asked if you want to turn hints on, and you can toggle this at any point thereafter. That right there is a huge step up from a lot of the hand-holding we’ve seen in recent AAA games. But as a nice added touch, enabling them still doesn’t mean you’re immediately given clues if the game recognizes you’ve spent a while on a puzzle. Instead, it will still ask you via the D-pad whether you want a hint. It’s a smart way to give you wiggle room for any specific puzzles that might arise to stump you without having to toggle hints repeatedly in the settings.
“…the real highlight is simply going off the beaten path to see what new enemies, areas and items you’ll find that way.”
It’s a simple thing, to be sure, but it feels so refreshing. More often, lately, we have games constantly bombarding you with dialogue that disrupts the flow of your gameplay. In many cases, it’s not even giving you a chance to solve a puzzle yourself, like in Ragnarök. But even something like EA Motive’s Dead Space proves annoying at times by having the rare NPC ally constantly rush you to get a move on when you’re simply trying to read a lengthy document you picked up. It’s a big reason why Elden Ring‘s hands-off approach resonated so strongly last year with people. Players loved exploring The Lands Between without being inundated with hundreds of little icons and markers on a map. Better still, though: Jedi: Survivor gives the player control. Assistive features like hints can prove especially useful for those with disabilities, so I’m happy they’re available for everyone. All that’s needed, though, is to make them fully optional, like in Jedi: Survivor.
I’ve also appreciated how Respawn’s more laid-back design philosophy extends to exploration. Graciously, Survivor‘s areas are significantly bigger and denser than those found in its predecessor, yet still feel manageable since they’re decidedly not fully open-world. In other words, they feel purposeful, rather than expansive for the sake of it. More importantly, though, Respawn doesn’t bury all of this under traditional icon-heavy maps or other navigational markers.
While you can use your BD-1 droid like binoculars to set points of interest, the real highlight is simply going off the beaten path to see what new enemies, areas and items you’ll find that way. At no point was I prompted to do so by Cal (who’s mercifully less talkative than, say, Aloy) or even in-game text. Even the sidequests are welcomely vague; often, you’ll be tipped off to something mysterious in a particular area, and you have to work your way there. That sense of discovery is lovely, and I’m so glad the game doesn’t lessen that impact through excessive dialogue.
Of course, I’m not even halfway through the game, so it’s possible things worsen later on. But so far, this gameplay loop of Cal, BD-1 and a rotating cast of NPC allies going through fascinating and exotic Star Wars locales has been an absolute blast, in no small part because the game is letting me take it at my own pace. I’ll have more on Jedi: Survivor in the coming days.
Image credit: EA