Standing on the bridge of a Star Destroyer, Imperial squad commander Iden Versio does her best not to look too visibly shaken. After the Empire’s recent defeat at the Battle of Endor, its forces have been left scattered and leaderless, sending her elite commando unit to wait for orders on a nearby planet. Now, it looks like those orders have arrived. Slowly walking across the Destroyer’s intimidating deck, Versio finds herself face to face with an imperial commander – her father.
Flanked by an ominous-looking member of the Emperor’s Royal Guard, the commander coldly reveals that The Empire has a mission for Iden’s squad. In an instant, Emperor Palpatine’s face flickers into life on the Royal Guard’s holographic visor, relaying his last recorded orders to The Empire. Instructed to initiate the supposedly fail-safe Operation Cinder as revenge for his death, a surprise Rebel attack interrupts Iden’s briefing before she can glean any more information. Jumping into a Tie Fighter, she goes to tackle the threat head on.
As far as initial impressions go, this early Star Wars Battlefront II cinematic certainly makes a strong one. Following the fan disappointment surrounding 2015’s multiplayer-only Battlefront, it seems as though EA has decided to make amends, crafting an original story for the sequel that neatly bridges the gap between Return Of The Jedi and The Force Awakens. Thanks to some incredibly impressive facial capture and equally commendable performances from the cast, the whole thing felt remarkably like watching Star Wars on the big screen. While exposition in video games isn’t always as good as we’d like, the cut scenes shown here weren’t just “good for a game”, they actually felt worthy of the Star Wars canon.
Much of this comes from EA Motive being given the freedom to create their own very story. With a script penned by Spec Ops: The Line writer Walt Williams, Design Director Steven Masters reveals that it was important to the team to tell a different type of Star Wars story. “A lot of people are really big fans of The Empire, and there’s a powerful story to be told in that context that we don’t often get to explore in the movies. We wanted players to understand what it’s like to be a soldier inside the Empire.”
With the larger story details still under wraps, the only other story nugget Masters revealed was that the campaign will include appearances from some of Star Wars biggest characters, letting slip that certain heroes from multiplayer will show up, with Han, Leia and Chewie seem to be the most likely candidates.
The gameplay doesn’t seem quite as impressive as the storytelling. After Iden boards her Tie Fighter, the cut-scene switches to her climbing into the cockpit in first person, seamlessly segueing into a player-controlled space battle. Tasked with eliminating the attacking Rebel fleet, the in-ship gameplay feels very similar to Battlefront’s recent PSVR update. Soaring around space dodging incoming fire, emotive chatter over the intercom brought a bit of urgency to proceedings, making the arbitrary marker following exercise feel more meaningful. With X-Wings exploding left right and centre, and the commander ordering Iden to board the main Rebel frigate, players have no choice but to fly their fighter straight into the enemy’s landing bay. Slaughtering the troops inside with blasts from the Tie’s deadly cannons.
Clearing out the hangar feels incredibly similar to what you’d experience in the last game’s multiplayer. Players are tasked with blasting rebels while making their way to the ship’s bridge. Unlike the gunplay in its predecessor, however, weapons feel slightly less floaty, with each squeeze of the right trigger rewarding you with a satisfying weight behind each shot. Yet, while combat still feels fairly fun, it was difficult not to feel as if I was just participating in an offline version of the multiplayer game. Without the constant rumble of Imperial laser fire rocking the frigate, or even any announcements signalling Iden’s presence, there was a further disconnect between the gameplay and the story behind it. Without any hint of a huge space battle going on beyond the player’s surroundings, the level just became shooting enemies in a corridor.
Raising this concern with Masters, he argued that it’s crucial to have the campaign feeling like the multiplayer: “We don’t want it to be a completely discombobulated experience, it’s got to be coherent. Multiplayer provides us with the core of the basic gameplay. Then the stuff that makes a campaign is essentially the enemies that you fight – the AI, the animations. So that is the stuff that we’ve taken from other Frostbite projects and extended from some of the stuff in Battlefront 1, fleshing this stuff out to create a more complete-feeling combat loop.”
Yet, for Star Wars fans patiently awaiting a more in depth single player experience, Masters hopes the cinematic touches throughout will keep the gameplay sections feeling connected to the story. “We try and make sure that there’s always a reason for you to move forward and go into a new environment. We want to make sure that you’re not just always following the objective dot on screen. That’s the core part of good storytelling.”
Although he’s keen to stress the similarities between the two game modes, they’re not entirely without their differences. The main differentiator between this and the game’s multiplayer came in the form of a special single player ability – the imperial droid. With the tap of a button, players can launch a floating Imperial droid to do their bidding, whether that’s zapping foes or interacting with nearby doors or control panels. Masters promises that you’ll unlock more abilities through the campaign, finding yourself armed differently depending on the story situation you’re in.
While AAA video games aren’t always great at telling stories, for many, the prospect of a new, canon Star Wars narrative will be something that’s just too tantalising to ignore. With gamers still waiting patiently for a grandiose single-player adventure in a galaxy far, far away, let’s hope that the campaign’s fun but simplistic gameplay will be varied enough to live up to the scope of the writers’ ambitious tale.
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