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Friday, June 21, 2024

Star Wars Jedi: Survivor Has Perfected Lightsaber Combat

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If your childhood was in anyway similar to mine then the phrase “saberrealisticcombat” has permanent residency in your brain. For those not in the know, this is the cheat code that activates dismemberment in 2002’s Star Wars Jedi Knight 2, the long-reigning king of simulated lightsaber combat. Type that string of characters into the command console and suddenly every swing of Kyle Katarn’s humming blade produces a recreation of the cantina scene from A New Hope. But even without the detachable limbs, Jedi Knight 2’s lightsaber – and those in its sequel, Jedi Academy – felt like an unmatched force, until now.

Star Wars Jedi: Survivor has the best lightsabers in any Star Wars video game I’ve ever played. Their pitch-perfect hum, crackle, and hiss are matched by swift and smooth fight manoeuvres that truly convey this elegant weapon’s prowess. And so, after two decades, we finally have a worthy heir to Jedi Knight’s clashes.

To be clear, I mean that in the spiritual sense. Respawn Entertainment’s Jedi games are very different to Raven Software’s Jedi Knight series; rather than shooter/hack-and-slash hybrids, they are rooted in the melee combat rhythms of FromSoftware. If you loved Jedi Knight, there’s no guarantee that Jedi: Survivor is going to ignite your inner kyber crystal. But if you’re looking to once again feel the energetic rush that Raven imbued its lightsaber combat with, then Jedi: Survivor has a Corellian freighter’s worth.

That initial rush comes via the massive improvement that Respawn has made to its fencing fundamentals. While I’m aware that Jedi: Fallen Order was largely admired, I personally found its Dark Soulsian combat quite rough around the edges. It felt slow and clumsy, with protagonist Cal Kestis wielding his saber like a blunt baseball bat rather than a deadly plasma blade. Battles often felt like traded defensive blows rather than the samurai-inspired dances we see in the movies. And so the fact that Jedi: Survivor’s combat is more akin to Sekiro – FromSoftware’s own Sengoku-era Japan swordplay game – means that it's off to a substantially better start.

There’s a stronger emphasis here on parrying blows rather than holding up a static defence, in part thanks to Survivor’s much larger array of blade-wielding enemies. Weapons intercept and push each other away in a form that looks and feels like genuine swordplay. Moves stitch together to create an impressively elaborate spectacle of your own making. To become good at Jedi: Survivor’s swordplay is to choreograph your own Star Wars duel, something I’ve not seen since the days of Jedi Knight.

The stances provide the sense of a Jedi being an incredibly skilled and multi-talented fighter; the very same sense upon which Jedi Knight thrived.


While Survivor’s parry-based combat is a very different beast to Jedi Knight’s approach (which, in comparison, does now feel quite wild and uncalculated), there’s some significant shared DNA in their approaches to how a lightsaber is wielded. As we’ve seen in the films, a Jedi’s approach to swinging a lightsaber radically changes the tactics and rhythm of a fight. In the Jedi Knight games this is represented through three fighting styles; fast, medium, and strong. The former utilises speed to mount an overwhelming offence, while the latter uses slower and riskier – but more devastating – blows to cleave through an enemy’s defence. Medium, meanwhile, channels the classic fight styles that are iconic to Star Wars’ warrior monks.

Jedi: Survivor has an answer to all of these fighting styles through its new stance system, each of which uses a unique lightsaber. The classic single-bladed saber is equivalent to Jedi Knight’s medium stance; a balanced approach that unlocks your inner Obi-Wan Kenobi. Disciplined, flexible, universal. Snap your saber’s hilt in half, though, and you can dual wield blades to unleash a flurry of strikes at lightning speed. That’s your fast style, naturally. As for strong style, that comes via a Kylo Ren-like crossguard saber that’s swung in heavy, violent arcs akin to a two-handed claymore.

There’s more, too; the quarterstaff-like double-bladed lightsaber is perfect for decimating the gangs of battle droids that so often try to surround you in a mechanical pile-on, while the blaster stance pays homage to FromSoftware’s Bloodborne by putting a gun in your off-hand for shots between rapier-like lunges. Combined, these stances provide the sense of a Jedi being an incredibly skilled and multi-talented fighter; the very same sense upon which Jedi Knight thrived.

Of course, Jedi Knight was as famed for its array of Force powers as it was its lightsabers. 2008’s The Force Unleashed famously tried to one-up it in that department, with protagonist Starkiller being able to pull Star Destroyers out of the sky and crumple TIE Fighters like tinfoil. But that OTT approach, alongside its PS2-era God of War-like combat, meant it felt too much of a departure from the power levels of the Jedi we long to emulate. Respawn goes back to tried and true powers for Jedi: Survivor and it works beautifully. There’s a simple thrill in blasting a battle droid off a cliff, or hoisting a squad of hapless Stormtroopers into the air before slamming them back down to earth. The glue that holds all this together is discovering the links between your Force powers and your lightsaber; there’s nothing quite like pulling an enemy towards you and impaling them on your blade in one smooth motion.

But if you have those same Jedi Knight memories as me, perhaps the thing that makes Respawn’s latest such a clear heir to Raven’s games is the way Cal’s lightsaber lops off limbs. There’s nothing quite like rampaging through a group of buckethead Imperials with a white-hot blade, especially when the end result is a pile of cauterised body parts. That thought may sound gnarly, but the absolute absence of detached limbs in Fallen Order is what contributed to its lightsaber feeling much more like a club than a sword. Our very first introduction to the power of the Jedi’s signature weapon was Obi-Wan slicing off Ponda Baba’s arm in the Mos Eisley cantina, and from that moment onwards it has been permanently linked to dismemberment. Luke’s hand, Darth Maul’s lower half, Jango Fett’s head, Anakin’s… well, almost everything. Jedi: Survivor has “saberrealisticcombat” from the moment Cal ignites his weapon for the first time, without the need for a cheat code. And from the moment a Stormtrooper’s right arm went spiralling off into the distance, it was like I was back in 2002 all over again.


Matt Purslow is IGN's UK News and Features Editor.

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