Few series have lineages as storied as Star Wars, which can be a burden for every new project that attempts to pull from its universe. For decades, Star Wars games have tried to retell the stories from the movies or diversify and explore the outside periphery of the galaxy far, far away. The story campaign of Star Wars Battlefront II charts a middle ground between the two, teetering on the edge of the movies we know and love without being directly involved.
The last Battlefront game that released in 2015 alongside The Force Awakens was a multiplayer-only affair that focused on back-and-forth battles across Star Wars history. However, one of the major complaints from fans was the lack of a single-player campaign, prompting EA to bring a high-budget campaign for the sequel.
Developed by EA Motive, the studio headed by former Assassin’s Creed producer Jade Raymond, the campaign puts the player in the shoes of Iden Versio. As a lifelong servant of the Empire, she has dedicated to the cause of wiping out the Rebel Alliance as commander of the Inferno Team. When the game starts, Iden is captured by the enemy and has to remotely control her backpack droid to free her. From there, she’s one blaster rifle and a hundred Rebels away from escaping the ship.
The prologue mission introduces you to all the basic game mechanics. Iden can use her droid to zap enemies into unconsciousness, which is good for stealth approaches. This skill requires a cooldown that can be lessened by killing enemies or making headshots, so Iden can’t avoid fighting for long.
After she makes her escape from the rebel frigate, Iden meets with her team to discuss the Empire’s counter-offensive on Endor. The then game leaps into the future to the forest moon just before the climactic moment where the Millennium Falcon blows up the Death Star as Iden and the rest of the Inferno Team try to fight their way back to their command post. Interestingly, some of the firefights here can be skipped, if you are feeling too moral to shoot some celebrating Rebels from the grassy knoll.
While the larger space of Endor does not quite have a Halo-like quality of tackling encounters any way you see fit, there is a lot less linearity to the level design than in the cramped hallways of the prologue chapter. You can sneak around the enemy, attack from behind, or lead a group of pursuers into a small enough space where you can take them all out with a grenade.
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Iden commandeers a TIE Fighter and heads into space, looking for her Admiral and father to reconvene. She finds his ship being bombarded by Y-Wings, forcing her into a space battle. The full space battles lack the strategic element of 1994’s TIE Fighter, but they are as fast and frantic as you would hope. Chasing an X-Wing through the remains of exploded Death Star as you both weave through debris is exciting and leaves you gasping at every near miss.
The chapter ends with Iden receiving posthumous orders from the Emperor, who left one final mission for his subordinates and was maybe better at predicting the future than people gave him credit for. The goals of the mission aren’t clear, but the objectives are, and Iden is more than willing to rebuild the empire that she believes is a force of good in the world.
The third chapter starts with a slightly more involved space battle, allowing Iden to dock into enemy ships, shoot up their bay, and then proceed to their main computers on foot.
Battlefront II’s story campaign is likely the best Star Wars has ever looked in video game form. During some moments I squinted and was unable to tell the difference between the game’s cutscenes and the movies themselves. Space battles are visual treats, and I occasionally found myself being so distracted by what I saw that I crashed into the broad side of a Star Destroyer.
I ultimately walked away from Battlefront II wanting to play more of the campaign, but also hoping that the rest of it becomes more interesting. I worry that Iden’s story will follow too many familiar tropes of confusion, redemption, and eventually rebellion, which would be disappointing if it does not subvert expectations. The gaming landscape has had Titanfall II and Doom’s campaigns since the last Battlefront released, so Battlefront II's campaign has big shoes to fill if it wants to impress when it releases on November 17.