When Star Wars: Battlefront was released two years ago, it received a lot of praise for the way in which it faithfully recreated props, vehicles, and worlds from the original film trilogy, but it took a hit when it came to the lack of a single-player campaign. With the sequel, EA hopes to change that, and this morning it offered a glimpse at what players can expect when Battlefront II arrives on November 17th. The single-player mode certainly looks like it will be heavy on narrative and world-building, but more importantly, it’s embracing a perspective that’s never really been tackled in the film series before: the point of view of the Empire.
A team-up between EA DICE, Motive Studios, and Criterion Games, Battlefront II will let players take on the role of Iden, member of the elite Inferno Squadron, who Motive game director Mark Thompson described as a “TIE Fighter [pilot] / commando hybrid” with an array of special skills and leadership abilities. The narrative itself kicks off in the final moments of Return of the Jedi, when Iden — having just taken down some Rebels on the forest moon of Endor — looks up in disbelief as the second Death Star is blown to pieces. At that point she decides to avenge her fallen Emperor, with the game’s ensuing story serving to fill in the gaps between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, which took place some 30 years later.
“We’ve heard a lot about the heroes of the Rebellion,” Thompson said during a press briefing, “and we wanted to give the Empire heroes in that same era.” That meant creating a character that would have grown up in a place where the ideology of the Empire was not only acceptable, but appealing. In the game, players visit Iden’s own home world, which Thompson described as “an Imperial utopia,” where someone could grow up believing that Darth Vader and the Emperor were only focused on strength and order, “and would see the Rebels as a terrorist organization.”
It’s an interesting switch to the way the Empire and the Rebels have been previously portrayed, and given that the storyline is being created in close collaboration with the Lucasfilm Story Group, all of it will be considered canon within the new Star Wars universe. It’s an old storytelling adage that everybody thinks they’re the hero of their own story — even classic villains — and while Battlefront II appears to be exploring that idea in the most literal sense, it’s a sentiment that has seemed to creep into much of the new Star Wars material that Lucasfilm has been generating. Rogue One was full of characters that used questionable means to fight for just causes, and in yesterday’s trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi it appears that Luke Skywalker himself might be struggling with the complexities of a moral universe that goes beyond the “good guys vs. bad guys” dynamic the original trilogy was built upon.
The single-player campaign of Battlefront II won’t limit players to just the Imperial point of view, however. Comparing it to the way the films jump from scenes focused on Luke or Leia, to ones focused on Vader or Grand Moff Tarkin, Thompson explained that the game itself will also switch perspectives. One moment that was called out in particular was an encounter with Iden during which players will take on the role of Luke Skywalker, while they will play Kylo Ren in another. Droids will also play a vital role, with Iden having a droid sidekick to help her with various tasks along the way.
While all of the new narrative additions are welcome, Star Wars: Battlefront was a multiplayer game, and EA DICE has revamped that aspect for the sequel completely. Instead of focusing just on the original trilogy of films, the new game’s multiplayer mode will span the entirety of the film franchise, from the prequels all the way up to the newer films. As first shown in the trailer that leaked earlier this week, characters like Darth Maul, Rey, and Kylo Ren will all be playable, with an upgrade system integrated so players can level up the various “hero” characters, rather than having them serve as static creations invoked for a bit of one-off action.
That same thing will apply to the standard trooper characters that players can utilize, which will run the gamut from Phantom Menace-era battle droids, to Imperial officers, to First Order Stormtroopers. Much like the existing weapons upgrade system, items that a player unlocks along the way will carry through while playing in different environments and missions, though DICE creative director Bernd Diemer pointed out that players will also be able to choose different classes for their characters when building them up. Visually, the troopers will change depending on the era of a given mission. It’s a way of giving even a multiplayer mode a degree of narrative continuity, so members of the First Order aren’t fighting alongside troopers from the Clone Army.
And while no gameplay footage itself was shown, Diemer stressed that the new multiplayer mode was designed with an actual narrative arc in mind as well. “At its heart, it’s a hero’s journey,” he said, explaining that players could become heroes not just by taking on the role of established franchise characters, but by turning the tide of battle in a final moment, or by downing a vehicle at the last possible moment. What that looks like in execution remains to be seen, but it certainly indicates that DICE is well aware of how monotonous the previous installment became, no matter how many DLC expansion packs were shuffled out.
Starships and space
Another weakness in the last Battlefront was the vehicle handling and space missions, and EA appears to be tackling this issue by adding Criterion Games to the creative team. Criterion was the group behind the X-Wing VR Mission expansion, and while their work was mentioned only in passing today, it’s clear this is another section of gameplay that’s received attention. Vehicles will be able to be unlocked, upgraded, and modified in line with the rest of the game mechanics, and hero ships like Boba Fett’s Slave I and the Millennium Falcon will also be in rotation.
Judging from one of the images shown, it also appears the game will be taking extensive visual cues to make sure it fits alongside the various films. One image of the Falcon skimming the surface of a lake not only featured the rectangular radar dish seen in The Force Awakens, but its low angle shot of the ship skimming off the surface of the water looked straight out of the J.J. Abrams playbook. (And did I mention that there will be rideable Tauntauns in the game? Because there will be rideable Tauntauns.)
Taken as a whole, it’s obvious that EA knows what the weakness of Star Wars: Battlefront were, and is aware of what players have been asking for. Thus far the news is promising, but we still haven’t spent any time with the game, seen gameplay footage, or gotten a sense of what the gameplay mechanics and vehicle handling will be like — all problems that revealed themselves pretty quickly once people started playing Battlefront in 2015. But just from a narrative and storytelling perspective, Battlefront II has the opportunity to break some really interesting ground in the Star Wars canon itself. We’ll just have to wait until November 17th to find out if the developers have pulled it off.