Earlier this year, FromSoftware’s demanding Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice prompted a polarizing debate over whether video games should always have difficulty settings that make them more accessible to a larger audience, or if “hard” games are fine the way they are. Earlier this year Respawn’s lead combat designer Jasen de Heras said that the new Star Wars project was heavily inspired by Dark Souls and Sekiro’s unrelenting and tactical combat style–something that either sounds fantastic or terrible, depending on a player’s personal preferences.
Speaking to PC Gamer this week, lead level designer Jeff Magers gave more details about what difficulty and approachability would mean for the stylish saber combat in Fallen Order. The game will make use of difficulty settings to scale the trial of combat down, or up, depending on the player’s goals–all without taking away the feeling of being a powerful force-wielding Jedi.
“What we needed to get right first was the lightsaber,” Jeff Magers explained during the interview. “A lightsaber is, for me at least, the most exciting thing in the Star Wars universe, and it’s kind of the dream to make a lightsaber game. So we really wanted to nail that lightsaber combat first, which to us meant making it feel like a powerful dangerous weapon, it is. So we started with a Stormtrooper taking one hit, which is difficult in a melee game because a lot of times what feels good in a melee game is hitting a character multiple times.”
The desire to allow the player to really whip their lightsaber around led to the development of an enemy blocking mechanic. The player will have to break the guard of some enemies with a barrage of powerful blows to land a killing strike, while more minor enemies like Stormtroopers can die from a simple light attack. Respawn says they’ve designed the enemies who have guard meters to reflect it by wearing tough armor or having thick hides.
PC Gamer was able to play the last preview gameplay demo of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order before the game’s release, and they report that during their three hours of play the game did require a sense of timing to block enemy attacks and waiting for the proper time to strike back after defending. Adding in Force powers to the rhythm of battle created, in their view, a “deliberate” and mindful approach to the game’s combat.
A major hurdle to difficulty tuning was the lightsaber itself–being essentially a magic sword with few counters, Respawn couldn’t just give enemies an overall boost to their health pools, and making everything killable in one hit might not really feel that satisfying. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order will include four difficulty options, which can be changed at any time during play.
“We really leaned into creating these four difficulty modes, from Story Mode to Jedi Grandmaster, and they’re very different experiences,” Magers told PC Gamer. “But also, we’re gamers at heart. Respawn is gameplay driven. We wanted an experience that the Star Wars fan that grew up playing all these different games can enjoy.”
PC Gamer reports that all the difficulty setting in Fallen Order have the combat mechanics of “Parry timing, Incoming damage and Enemy aggression” active, but the overall balance of these gauges changes with different difficulties. Story Mode has near-empty gauges, and the Jedi Knight setting raises the damage and aggression up to what sounds like a “normal” difficulty level. Parrying becomes more precision-based when the player chooses “Jedi Grandmaster” difficulty, which ramps up enemy aggression and damage to their maximum while tightening the frames on the parry window for maximum Sekiro-style satisfaction.
This way of tuning the challenge should help the player feel powerful and get the thrill of wielding a lightsaber in frenetic combat at every setting. “We wanted it to still feel like a lightsaber, no matter what difficulty mode you’re playing. So one of our core tenants of the difficulty tuning was not changing the number of hit points enemies have based on difficulty. On Grandmaster, you can still kill a Stormtrooper in one hit. What we’re tuning is the enemy aggression. We’re tuning the size of the parry window, the difficulty of these abilities to pull off. There’s a really rewarding mastery loop in those higher difficulties.”
Difficulty options have the potential to be controversial, but more and more games are embracing a story-centric difficulty setting to help appeal to players who want to experience these narratively compelling, big-budget projects without having to devote unavailable time to mastering more punishing styles of play. And “hardcore” modes are there for those who like to sweat it out sometimes, with player bases frequently pushing for more demanding difficulty options for popular games.
It seems especially important for a game in the Star Wars franchise to embrace the spirit of inclusivity, given its massive audience and reach. “Because Star Wars is for everyone,” Magers said. “We want to appeal to a wide variety of players. I want my niece to be able to play this game, because she’s a huge Star Wars fan.”
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is set to release on November 15th for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.