Despite the 2015 reboot of the Battlefront series being an incredible display of impeccable sound and visual design, fans (including myself) bemoaned the fact that there was no single-player campaign. Thankfully, EA DICE have listened to the fans and Battlefront II will be including a story-driven single-player campaign. The events of the campaign take place at the tail end of Return of the Jedi and finish with the events leading up to The Force Awakens – essentially bridging the gap between the original trilogy and the new Star Wars era.
With Motive studios leading the development of the campaign, this week I had the opportunity to speak to Motive studio producer David Robillard while also getting to play the campaign’s first three chapters. In it, you play as the brand new character Iden Versio, the leader of an Imperial Special Forces group called the Inferno Squad. After witnessing the destruction of the second Death Star and learning of the death of Emperor Palpatine, Iden and what’s left of the Galactic Empire are hell bent on hunting down the Rebels responsible for the capitulation of their once dominant dictatorship. Their first step to getting revenge begins with implementing ‘Operation: Cinder’ – a cryptic contingency plan devised by the Emperor (in the event of his death) to ensure the Rebel’s celebrations are cut short. However, the lack of exposition as to what exactly this contingency entails strongly implies the Emperor’s final wishes may not necessarily have the Empire’s best interests at heart.
Robillard says the reason they decided to explore the Empire’s perspective after the fallout of the events of Return of the Jedi was because, “You saw Rebels celebrating on Endor, celebrating on Coruscant, but what was it like for the other side? They just got totally defeated, their Emperor’s dead, their forces are shattered – we wanted to show what it’s like being an Imperialist trooper in that context”. It’s an interesting approach that harkens back to previous Star Wars games such as TIE Fighter, in which you got to go behind enemy lines to see the inner workings of the Empire.
If you do not want to have any minor plot points spoiled I advise you to stop reading now, otherwise, here’s a breakdown of what my playthrough entailed.
Chapter 1: The Cleaner
When we’re first introduced to Iden, she’s just been captured by the Rebel forces and is being interrogated for information aboard one of their ships. With the impending downfall of the Empire imminent, the soldier questioning her is so arrogant and smug in his approach you could almost confuse him for one of the Empire’s own. Unbeknownst to the Rebels, Iden has intentionally been captured so that she can access and delete valuable intel the Rebel Alliance has acquired concerning the Empire’s whereabouts and their plans for the future. But before she can complete her mission, she needs to break out of the cell she’s being held in. In order to do this, you take control of her floating droid buddy she’s snuck on board. As the droid, you travel through the halls and ventilation system of the ship in search of Iden with the ability to incapacitate any enemies you encounter by channeling the late Emperor Palpatine and delivering an electrical shock. Once she’s been freed, you then assume the role of Iden and must work your way through the ship to where the data is being held. The mission is pretty standard fare and primarily consists of taking out enemies with weapons you pick up along the way, stealth takedowns and your droid’s ability to shock enemies. Combat is explosive, fast paced and satisfying, although, I did feel the stealth takedowns felt a bit lacklustre to execute.
The campaign uses the same upgrade system as the multiplayer mode which comprises of unlocking and crafting Star Cards which provide Iden with new abilities. Although the presence of these cards feels quite egregious in the multiplayer mode, the system feels a lot more at home within the confines of the campaign and feels akin to picking a traditional loadout for your character. The abilities (which operate on a cooldown system) range from unlocking new weapons such as a rocket launcher to having the ability to project a shield bubble that temporarily makes you impervious to enemy fire. In total, you can have four abilities equipped at one time. The components to craft these cards and the cards themselves are located in crates found around levels and are also attained by progressing through the story. The Star Cards you unlock in the campaign can also be used in the multi-player mode.
Upon destroying the data, Iden then escapes the ship in some serious style to regroup with her compatriots to plan their next move.
Chapter 2: The Battle of Endor
The second chapter of the campaign begins with a literal bang as Iden and her squadron bare witness to the Death Star being blown to smithereens while combatting Rebel forces on Endor. I didn’t entirely believe Robillard at the time when he said the events of the campaign “…will affect you no matter which side you’re on” until I saw the pain and anguish that consumes the faces of the Imperialists as their beloved Death Star goes up in flames. It’s a testament to not only the quality of the motion capture technology but the stellar performances put in by Battlefront’s cast. In that moment, I actually felt bad for the Empire’s loss. I know, I’m disgusted in myself as well.
With their greatest weapon having been destroyed, the Imperialists have no other option other than to get off Endor as soon as possible. Unfortunately for them, the TIE fighters they need for their escape are in an Imperial stronghold that has been commandeered by Rebels. Upon reaching the stronghold, a large firefight ensues and Iden and her team are just able to make it out by the skin of their teeth. Weirdly enough, I did not come across one Ewok in the time I spent on Endor. I was very, very glek about that (glek” is Ewokese for sad).
Chapter 3: The Dauntless
After narrowly escaping the clutches of the Rebels on Endor, the Inferno squad make their way back to an Imperial ship while navigating their way through the Death Star debris that now litters the skies. Upon boarding the Imperial ship, Iden is informed by her father, Garrick Versio (an Imperialist Admiral) that the Emperor has also perished. Although the Emperor is dead, a Messenger droid bearing his countenance entrusts Iden and her father with carrying out the aforementioned ‘Operation: Cinder’. When Iden queries her father about the specifics of the operation, the Messenger physically imposes itself over Iden, suggesting the Messenger is more than capable of enforcing the Emperor’s with not only words but brute force if required.
Before the operation can truly get under way, the Imperial ship is ambushed by Rebel forces and Iden is required to hop in a TIE fighter to stave off the swarm of Rebel scum looking to exterminate what’s left of the Empire. From the unmistakable roar of a TIE fighter soaring through the sky to the gratification of pumping an X-wing full of proton torpedoes, the space battles in Battlefront II are still undoubtedly an exhilarating (and sometimes discombobulating) experience. Due to the way in which a TIE fighter is constructed, it is quite get easy to get disoriented as your perspective in the ship can abruptly change when maneuvering your way out of trouble. However, within a couple of minutes, I eventually found myself weaving through the rubble of fallen ships while taking out multiple piloted ships with relative ease.
After disposing of several aerial threats, the larger threat of a massive Rebel ship becomes Iden’s focus due to its intensive firepower tearing up Imperial ranks. In this sequence, you fly right into the hangar lasers blazing destroying everything in sight. Once the hangar has been cleared of hostiles, you then enter the ship on foot to take it down from the inside. The main thing that struck me in this sequence is the fear heard in the voices of the Rebel soldiers as they flee from Iden. Although she’s the only enemy aboard their ship, you hear soldiers screaming things like “IT’S ONLY ONE OF THEM BUT IT’S A MASSACRE!” as they run around in disarray. It’s a telling moment illustrating that even though the Empire is at its weakest, there’ll always be an inherent fear instilled in Rebel soldiers that cannot be extinguished regardless of the political climate.
The chapter concludes with Iden blowing up the ship with some well-placed bombs and taking off in a TIE fighter once again to finish off the remnants of the Rebel ambush.
Chapter 4: A Sneak Peak
Upon finishing the first three chapters, I then got to watch a brief cutscene from Chapter 4 which shed some more light on ‘Operation: Cinder’. After Iden’s Inferno Squad acquire satellites from the Fondor shipyards at the request of the Emperor, she discovers they’re going to be used to destroy her home planet, the Empire affiliated Vardos. What makes this information even harder to digest, is that her father is the one responsible for executing the order. When she asks him why, he states that by purging this planet, the galaxy will remember exactly who’s in control. Despite her protests to not go through with it, the father shuts down Iden with the chilling statement “The Empire is our home!”. I can’t wait to see how the dynamic of the Emperor pulling the strings from beyond the grave plays out and the ramifications it has on the Empire as a result.
From the presentation down to the gameplay, Star Wars Battlefront II is an alluring assault of galactic proportions. Motive have done an amazingjob in creating an authentic Star Wars experience and I admittedly could not wipe the stupid smile off my face for the duration of my playthrough. Whether or not the campaign has the thrusters to go the distance is unsure, but if you’re looking for an action packed adventure with a strong focus on telling a unique Star Wars story, then this may be the Star Wars game you’re looking for.
Star Wars Battlefront II releases on Friday November 17th, 2017 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Microsoft Windows.