It’s hard to imagine a movie franchise better suited to video games than Star Wars. With the films featuring epic space dogfights, more memorable characters than you can shake a lightsaber at and legions of enemies who seemingly can’t aim properly, it’s a brand that fits the medium more snugly than a Padawan’s robes.
Yet, despite that, good Star Wars games have been few and far between. The original Battlefront was meant to change that, with respected Battlefield developer DICE finally giving Star Wars the online shooter treatment. Unfortunately, while it certainly looked the part, a lack of depth and no single player content meant that the initial charm of running around classic locations such as Hoth’s Echo Base soon wore thin.
Thankfully, for this year’s sequel EA has not only given the multiplayer a complete overhaul, but they’ve also written an entirely new Disney approved Star Wars story. Set between Return Of The Jedi and The Force Awakens, Battlefront II’s campaign sees you exploring the Star Wars universe through the eyes of the Empire. We delved into into its action-packed thrills at E3 2017.
The Emperor's last request
Battlefront II’s intriguing new single-player campaign sees you fill the boots of imperial squad commander Iden Versio. The stunningly-rendered demo we played opened with this badass anti-hero striding briskly across the deck of Star Destroyer. As she approaches her father, the Imperial commander, a combination of astounding facial capture and convincing dialogue help this feel like a truly cinematic Star Wars experience. We got goosebumps watching a holographic transmission from Emperor Palpatine as his final transmission from the second Death Star told Iden of a failsafe he implemented in case of his death: Operation Cinder.
Before she can find out more about The Emperor’s revenge mission, a rebel surprise attack sees Iden springing into action. The cutscene quickly switches to an impressive first-person view of her boarding a Tie Fighter, transitioning from cinematic seamlessly into space-fighter gameplay. Tasked with shooting down the attacking rebel fleet, the new and improved dual analogue ship controls make flying feel like a far more natural experience than the solo-stick manoeuvring of the last game.
After making a lot of pew-pew noises and blowing up a few X-Wings, I crash into the hangar of the Rebel’s capital ship, slaughtering the unsuspecting troops within with the Tie’s cannons. Once again, a neat transition sees Iden leaving the cockpit and jumping straight into ground-based gameplay.
Making my way through the ship, it’s difficult not to feel a little disconnected. Shooting waves of Rebel guards is perfectly fun, but the gameplay was more of a shooting gallery than something that had a meaningful story connected to it. Compared to last year's Battlefield 1, this campaign lacked the kind of nuance that would make you care its characters. Still, there's loads left to see from Battlefront II's single-player and it could well pick up after a bit more time in Iden's company.
Much improved multiplayer
While campaign’s gameplay left a little to be desired, our brief look at the game’s multiplayer had us desperate for more. Playing a map from the prequel-trilogy era called Attack on Theed, it was immediately obvious that Battlefront's online has been given a complete overhaul.
As the game's camera soars over the map, it reveals swarms of droid troop carriers descending on Naboo’s capital city. With explosions going off left, right and centre, this cinematic opening perfectly set the scene for the intense invasion to come. Battlefront II offers four different playable classes to choose from: Assault, Heavy, Officer and Specialist. As well as obviously having different weapons and abilities, each class is fully customizable, introducing some much needed depth with a character-based progression system.
As the match kicks off, I charge through the city keeping a close-knit formation with my teammates. As our army of derpy-looking droids dodge a barrage of laser fire, I use the Heavy classes' ability to drop a sentry turret, lobbing grenades at distracted clone troopers as we slowly push the enemy back through Theed’s blaster-scorched streets. Immediately, I’m relieved to find that the guns feel far more satisfying to use than in the last Star Wars Battlefront. This is the step up that so many players were asking for.
Darth Maul destroys all
Where firing blasters used to feel floaty and ineffective, this time DICE has added a welcome layer of heft to each weapon so that each shot you take is weighty and purposeful. Taking a healthy dash of inspiration from Battlefield’s Rush mode, the mode I test - Galactic Assault - sees players’ objectives changing as they progress through the level.
At the start of the game, my team was tasked with protecting a huge tank and taking down the enemy’s gun placements that were pinning us down. Pushing further through the map, mowing down a slew of unsuspecting clone troopers netted me enough battle points to call in the big guns. Spawning as an TKTKT tank, I used its powerful cannon to push the enemy back, allowing my team mates to finally storm the city’s palace. Once inside, we hacked our way through the palace’s defences, tasked with holding different objectives. It was an exhilarating experience, and one that perfectly captured the scope of a Star Wars battle.
Speaking of capturing the essence of Star Wars, hero characters have also been hugely improved. After earning enough battle points to summon him, playing as Darth Maul felt like a wonderful powertrip, controlling less like the last game’s overly fast and floaty heroes and more like the devastating villain that he is.
Star Wars Battlefront II Initial Verdict
Thanks to a level of attention to detail that its predecessor lacked, Battlefront II’s multiplayer actually feels truer to the movies than its campaign. While I only played the competitive portion of Battlefront II briefly, the 15 minutes we spent with it already showcased more depth and rewarding gameplay than I saw in the original Battlefront. That said, the beautifully-made cutscenes of the single-player did hint at a Star Wars story that we're eager to experience.
With not long until Battlefront II's November 17 release, let's hope that its campaign comes good in the end. Even if it might not match the all-new Star Wars storytelling we've seen recently in The Force Awakens and Rogue One.