Star Wars Battlefront II is the first full story told through a video game in the new canon. How does this medium suffice for Star Wars storytelling today, and is the game worthwhile beyond the story it tells?
When Electronic Arts (EA) and its development subsidiary DICE announced there would be a single-player campaign in Star Wars Battlefront II, their followup to their first Star Wars licensed outing, 2015’s Star Wars Battlefront, there was great excitement. The first title had mostly only a multiplayer mode and contained minimal if any story outside of a few loading screens and a tie-in novel by Alexander Freed. But, this was in the days before The Force Awakens had been released, and Lucasfilm was keeping plot elements closely guarded. Now, the build-up to The Last Jedi is on and much of the post-Return of the Jedi era of the Star Wars universe has been increasingly fleshed out over the past two years.
Star Wars Battlefront II is a mix of first-person and third-person shooter gameplay that built off the model that its first series entry set up. It delivers an expansion to a gameplay style markedly already different from other games in its genres with its “star card” special moves and battle points. It also delivers a story mode that serves a role in the greater Star Wars canon, setting the game out as more ambitious than perhaps any video game tie-in before it.
Note: The article is an in-depth review of Star Wars Battlefront II, including all plot details. For more articles on Battlefront II, click here.
Suiting Up In Inferno Squad
Battlefront II had a mass marketing campaign for months leading up to its release. Anyone who intended to purchase the game who knew there was a plot, whether an enormous Star Wars fan or a casual observer, knew it was about Imperial special forces. Everything from the box art to the commercials to the convention panels to the prequel novel by Christie Golden made that quite clear. The game itself, however, did not to get that memo. The menacing Imperial special forces concept did not last long in the campaign and it felt like a major disappointment at first when that premise was dropped after the first act was completed. Fortunately, the disappointment was not permanent. Battlefront II may have misled its customers, but it still left them with a satisfying single-player experience.
The single-player campaign begins its first several missions with only subtle exposition. The relationships between Inferno Squad’s three members are glossed over at best. Cutscenes early on show slight but professional resentment over her command from Gidian Hask towards the main character Iden Versio while there is a much warmer relationship between her and their third partner, Del Meeko. Overall, they are portrayed as true believers in the Imperial cause, but Iden and Del are clearly more jovial in their work than the strict, business-only Hask.
It is well-known that Iden Versio is the daughter of her commanding officer. But, as the plot progresses and she begins to hold disdain towards him–and his commands to bear witness to the desolation of their home planet Vardos–there is little evidence why her character would react this way. As a cutthroat Imperial special forces officer–even with the range of emotions she shows herself capable of displaying towards her enemies and her partners–Iden does not strike a player as one who would defect against her orders as easily as she does.
With the luxury of hindsight, and having read only the beginning of Christie Golden’s Inferno Squad book, it is surmisable that it was simply the overwhelming heat of the conflict and the forced participation in the destruction of her home. This mixed with Hask’s insubordination against her set Iden over the edge. In truth, Iden did not necessarily choose to become a traitor. The Empire turned on her the moment she shot Hask. But the ease with which she settled into the idea of abandoning the Empire seemed at this point in the plot to be somewhat far-fetched. As the story went on and Iden spent time working with the New Republic her voiced opinions gave indication she knew the Empire had been weak. She knew that rule by fear was destined to fail, but this was not portrayed to satisfaction concurrently with her struggles.
The Galaxy At Large
While the main character of Battlefront II may have suffered from perhaps the least character development in the game, every other character encountered, old and new, was portrayed wonderfully. Every single time one of the heroes of the original Star Wars trilogy came on screen it was an utter and unexpected delight. Having then the opportunity to play as those most beloved characters was all the more wonderful. Playing through the beginning of the game killing Rebels indiscriminately was painful. While it is done all of the time in the multiplayer modes, it has an added layer to it when it is in the service of a plot. This made the first appearance of Luke Skywalker and R2-D2 that much more amazing.
The same can be said of Princess Leia, Han Solo, and Lando Calrissian. Each of their appearances were not merely cameos. They served as full opportunities to develop their characters, even forty years after their first introduction. Luke saving an Imperial just because he asked gives so much depth to his quest for knowledge about the force and how to use it after the Battle of Endor. Lando gets an excellent opportunity to show he truly was invested in the Rebellion after repenting for his betrayal at Cloud City. Leia gets to show both her military and political prowess as she leads a battle to save Naboo and then noticeably changes her moniker from Princess to Senator over the course of the time-hopping story. Even Han with a majestic beard gets a chance to show the audience what he is up to, how he knew Maz in The Force Awakens, what his relationship with Leia was shortly after Endor, and what his priorities are when it comes to the New Republic, namely freeing the Wookies and Kashyyyk.
Several name-drops add some fun too, such as Admiral Rae Sloane of Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy and X-Wing pilots Snap Wexley and Wedge Antilles. The Rebel’s U-Wing transport ship, as introduced in Rogue One, also appears throughout the game, cementing its retcon into Star Wars lore. The other new characters introduced in Battlefront II, namely Hask, Del, Garrick Versio, and Shriv each have plenty of time to shine as well, especially Del, whose rescue by Luke becomes a powerful turning point in his character and the entire game.
Overall, the plot itself is not especially rich. The notion of a few turncoats joining with their former enemies to defeat the hand that once fed them is a well-trodden territory. It was shocking at first more so because the viral marketing provided an entirely different preconception of the plot than it was the twist itself. This led to feeling cheapened and disingenuous for much of the game. But, where Battlefront II did succeed was showing players first-hand many of the key components to the Galactic Civil war after the Battle of Endor.
A Tie-In to All the Tie-Ins
Star Wars Battlefront II was not an original story. It was an original plot with original characters that serviced a larger story. This story has been in the process of being told over the past two years and will continue to be told for at least the next two. This is not a bad thing. If a player of this game has never read any of the Star wars material produced since 2015, the battles they participate in will be completely new to them. If the player is already familiar with Operation: Cinder from the Shattered Empire mini-series from Marvel Comics, or the Battle of Jakku from any of the novels it has been described in, it still provides an opportunity to experience it all from a first-person point of view through characters with partially-to-mostly fleshed out motivations that the player can sympathize with.
This means of storytelling feels farcical. The only true revelations in the grand scheme of Star Wars are that the Rebel fleet almost didn’t fall into the famous trap at the Battle of Endor, how Operation: Cinder acquired its satellites, and that a couple of highly skilled Imperials defected to the Alliance and helped them win the war. This should not stand in the way, though, of a plot that is likely the first entry point into the vast new canon for countless players. Each plot point has the opportunity to encourage players to go out and read more about some of the events they found most interest in from the importance of Sullust to the Galactic Civil War to why Iden would disobey her father so easily and beyond.
The end of the campaign does what all too many stories today do. It takes the player several decades into the future to play as Kylo Ren as he ties the game into the ongoing trilogy of Star Wars movies. He is seeking out Lor San Tekka in order to acquire the map to the missing Luke Skywalker a la The Force Awakens. While exhilarating and tragic, this epilogue intentionally left open the plot to be picked up again by free downloadable content that will arrive the day before The Last Jedi releases in theaters. The ending is cryptic and intriguing but generates ire as it clearly is meant to make the player wait impatiently to find out what it all means for not only Kylo and Iden but for the entire galaxy. In the end, to an extent, it felt like the romance between Iden and Del was made to further the plot rather than the plot having furthered their relationship. But, the epilogue and ensuing furthering of the story make it feel more acceptable.
Of course, what makes Battlefront games so popular is their massive multiplayer battles. Battlefront II featured at launch far fewer game types than the previous release, but what is offered still provides plenty of variety between huge Galactic Assault games, medium-sized team deathmatch type modes, and smaller hero-based games. The main draw is certainly the Galactic Assault that allows up to forty players to compete in objective-based firefights in each Star Wars era. What sets the gameplay of Battlefront II apart from other modern shooters is ample.
There is not ammunition, only overheating which serves as the barrier to endless firing alongside an active reload mechanic induced by not manually cooling down before overheating. There is minimal cover and only a very basic crouching mechanic that makes much of the gameplay about either sniping from afar or barging in guns blazing with your best dodging skills and maybe a shield. Additionally, respawning in Galactic Assault can sometimes lead to long walks back to the battlefield, but it is better than the thoughtless respawning errant in 2015’s Battlefront. Another new mechanic in Battlefront II is the battle points. The battle points system is also a welcome change over the randomly spawned tokens strewn across the map in Battlefront as a means of playing as heroes or controlling vehicles. The number of points necessary to wield this power is fair, they accumulate at a pace that feels on track with how well the game is going, and it feels great when you do turn them in for some heavier firepower.
What sets Battlefront II apart from its contemporaries is its star card system. Star cards are what give each player the customizability in Battlefront II that modern shooters are expected to have. While new weapons can be unlocked for each of the four playable classes by accumulating enough kills online, it is these large number of unlockable star cards and abilities that can diversify how players play. None of these unlockables necessarily make players overwhelmingly more powerful than others. Even new players can feel comfortable with their basic setup in their ability to succeed in battle in any mode.
The means of acquiring star cards and the interface for actually doing so are somewhat confusing. With so many unlockables and a button upon unlocking new ones that bypass the normal menu, it can be confusing to understand exactly how to equip what you want, when you are able to do so, and whether it will even be worth the while. There are three different types of currency acquired by several different means including playing games online or in-game achievements that contribute to a player’s wealth and progress towards opening new loot crates to unlock new abilities. The barrier to new crates is not especially high, feeling exciting when opened, even if the contents are confusing when first beginning to understand the game’s intricacies.
The Crinkled Wrapping Has a Bow On It
Gorgeous is an adequate word to describe Battlefront II. Every cutscene is filled with high quality visuals, even on the smallest screen and the weakest console. The scenery in the campaign and multiplayer alike is much more vibrant and full than the game’s predecessor. The variety of worlds and environments is broad enough to keep play entertaining for hours. The battle cries of the Rebels and often female stormtroopers have this very Rogue One feel to them, making the battles seem so real and so enthralling. The load times, while not immaculate, are much more reasonable than Battlefront‘s were. In the campaign, the limitation of running during certain segments really works well to force the player to stop and observe what is around them, take it in, and listen to the conversations the characters are having. Yet, the game is far from perfect in its presentation.
The captioning is too small to be read easily from a distance and the objective markers appear with great delay and in non-obvious parts of the screen if at all. The menu screen is dark and leaves much to be desired. Dogfights in the campaign often feel very low risk with minimal reward. The greatest threat is often the player’s own self and crashing as opposed to the enemy fighters. Yet, it is still great fun and unlike the feeling of any other modern dogfighting mechanic. The reticle often blends in with the backgrounds, making it difficult to see where one is shooting and the mouth movements in cutscenes do not line up perfectly with the words coming out of them enough so that it is jarring. When Garrick Versio speaks, an attempt to portray his age comes off as just an awkwardly lit, crudely animated, and honestly lifeless face. The textures, like all the characters, are incredible when close up. Nonetheless, there is something that feels wrong. While his character is meant to be heartless, it appears as more of a defect than an intentional decision.
The overall presentation of the games is strong. The music feels quite Star Wars, using classic cues at just the right times and never feeling too repetitive when set on loop. The HUD is mostly intuitive, though the action button is sometimes wonky and the droid controls are forgettable. The heroes’ somewhat clunky movements from the third-person vantage are more endearing than offensive. When shot, enemies indicate well how much health they have remaining, but there is no realism to the way they stand unrattled by the damage. What’s more, enemy AI on the farther side of a firefight may have clear shots at you, but do not take them when in other shooter games they well might. This is a minor detail, but it alters dramatically both the difficulty and immersion. In all, the presentation is simultaneously stellar and imperfect.
Rebellions Are Built On Hope
Star Wars Battlefront II is a video game marred by meager delivery compared to the potential it had. Yet, it is blessed with a still captivating single-player and an improved multiplayer experience that encourages long-term commitment without setting up overwhelming barriers to that desire. Taken for what it could have been, the game has the potential to somewhat disappoint. But, as is more valuable, taken for what it is, Battlefront II is a strong first attempt at Star Wars storytelling in video games in the modern age of Star Wars. It is also a fun massive multiplay online experience that breaks up the pace from other current shooter franchises. Hopefully, EA or any future Star Wars video game developers and publishers will heed the responses to this release positively and build an even greater experience in the future. For now, Battlefront II is a well-intentioned and mostly positive experience that will continue to engage and captivate audiences for some time to come.
Ten hours were spent playing Battlefront II for this review. All images were captured on Xbox One. Battlefront II is available now on Xbox, PlayStation, and PC. Purchase here.