The obvious concern I had for Star Wars Battlefront II’s single-player campaign was whether the much-requested mode would simply be a tacked-on, obligatory addition to the epic shooter’s multiplayer feature presentation. What I didn’t anticipate was that I’d come out of the preview event I recently attended at EA Redwood Shores feeling that Battlefront II works better as a single-player game than it does as a multiplayer game.
I got to play through the first three missions of Battlefront II‘s campaign the Monday after dabbling in the multiplayer beta, which left me with the same impression as the first Battlefront: it was a competent, cinematic shooter with beautiful graphics and gameplay mechanics that achieved the goal of making feel like a disposable stormtrooper without going so far as to be empowering or engaging in a way that made me want to keep playing. How, then, do you translate these mechanics into a single-player campaign whose sole purpose is to make you feel like an elite, grade-A bad-ass stormtrooper?
As it turns out, all you have to do is throw in a few stealth mechanics, give your elite trooper character a handful of cool special abilities, weave a truly interesting narrative through-line, supply waves of disposable enemies, and then leave everything else alone.
Battlefront II’s campaign centers around Iden Versio, commander of Inferno Squad, an elite group of Imperial soldiers who you can tell are elite because their uniforms are slickly obsidian instead of an easily spottable shade of white. The campaign opens—on the Star Wars timeline—near the beginning of Return of the Jedi, though of course Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie’s adventure is all the way in the background of Battlefront II’s campaign (at least, during the missions that I got to play). Iden is being held captive aboard a rebel starship and the Rebellion, ever the good guys, are prying Iden for information in the nicest, least torturous way possible. There’s no force-choking on this ship, thank you very much.
Soon, Iden is left alone in a room, tied to a chair, and this is where the campaign (besides the stellar writing and equally stellar acting) immediately begins to set itself apart from the game’s multiplayer component. Iden voice-activates her faithful droid—which is halfway across the starship being prodded by a Sullustan rebel engineer—via the microphone on her nearby helmet. The droid wakes up, and suddenly you’re controlling a droid and incapacitating said Sullustan engineer with your handy-dandy shock wand before making your way back to Iden through a series of vents and control rooms, where you can choose to shock more rebel soldiers or avoid them altogether.
Eventually, Iden is reunited with her droid, and this is where the game’s first real stealth gameplay comes in. The rebels might have been conveniently stupid enough to leave a highly dangerous covert operative from the Empire fully suited up with her high-tech helmet within reach, but they weren’t so stupid that they’d leave a blaster in the interrogation room. This introduces you (as Iden) to your first and arguably most useful special ability: you can send your drone out to any enemy and stealthily (or not so stealthily, if you happen to be in a firefight) shock them to death. Of course, Iden eventually finds a blaster and this is where the single-player more resembles the multiplayer, in that you’re firing, either in first-person or third-person, iconic Star Wars weaponry in the direction of disposable enemies.
The thing is, these core gameplay mechanics, which were designed primarily for a somewhat casual multiplayer experience, are actually way more fun when you’re utilizing them during well-designed missions and epic, varied set-pieces. While these same mechanics can make you feel like the useless, anonymous soldier you’re supposed to be role-playing as in multiplayer, they make you feel like an utter killing machine in single-player. Mowing down Rebel soldiers with a wide variety of weaponry (including a new automatic blaster with an explosive secondary that became possibly one of my favorite guns in any shooter ever) makes Iden feel exactly like the elite, highly trained soldier she’s supposed to be.
One aspect of the game that developer Motive, who handled production of the story mode, changed for the better was the pacing of the gameplay. During both the first and second mission—which takes place on Endor the moment immediately before and immediately after the second Death Star is destroyed—the player is given time (and a nifty scanner that reveals the location of all enemies in the area, even through walls) to assess the battlefield and decide how they want to approach the situation.
“We had to make Iden adaptable in terms of gameplay,” the campaign’s game designer May Ling Tan told me at the preview event. “All of her droid abilities were created to figure out what made the most sense and most useful to the player, and they needed to be adaptable to the play-style of the player. Not everyone will want to play the missions stealthy. Some will want to just go in with a shotgun and take down the enemy forces, and the droid needed to be able to adapt to that as well.”
This design decision played out beautifully when I was on Endor. At one point, I made my way through a Rebel squadron like a sci-fi ninja, sending out my drone to shock one soldier as I snuck up on his buddy and took him out simultaneously, before blowing the rest away with a grenade and a carefully placed explosive round. At another point, I rocked a shotgun with the (potentially O.P.) ability to recharge after every kill and mowed down an entire force in mere seconds. It was more fun than I’d ever had with Battlefront’s multiplayer.
Another reason that Motive landed on featuring an elite stormtrooper is that it allows the player to take part in all three of the main Battlefront pillars: shooting, hero-ing, and flying. Iden is as adept at flying TIE fighters as she is at shooting Rebel soldiers. The third mission I played put Iden in the seat of a TIE fighter as she blasted X-Wings and transporters to dust amidst the suspended remains of the second Death Star. Not only was the mission engaging and fun, but it’s good practice for Starfighter Assault, which is arguably the game’s best multiplayer mode.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the story driving the campaign is (so far) probably one of my favorite Star Wars stories in recent memory. Flipping the script, Motive puts you in control of an Imperial soldier who truly believes in what the Empire was trying to achieve, which was its own version of balance, justice, and order. What the story does so well—and what Janina Gavankar, who plays Iden Versio, is so good at portraying—is that there are real, human reasons behind why Imperial forces are fighting for the Empire. These aren’t just bad guys who revel in being bad, and they aren’t all mystical hermits with superpowers (i.e. the Sith), but rather soldiers and citizens who have seen the good that the Empire can do for the galaxy. This, according to the campaign’s game director Mark Thompson, is the core and the heart of Battlefront II’s story.
“It was never the intention to re-educate people or to try to convince the world, especially Star Wars fans, that the Empire was good and the Rebels are bad, because that just isn’t true,” Thompson told me. “It would be disingenuous to the legacy that Star Wars has. What we wanted to do was to make the Empire more personal.
“In the movies,” he continued, “everyone is wearing a uniform that dehumanizes them. They’re thought of as legions of stormtroopers rather than individuals, and the high commanders were always stuffy, British officer types who sit on the deck of starships far, far away from conflict. All we wanted to do was to connect on a human level with somebody in that situation, to figure out, when you take off the helmet and meet the person and understand them and look in their eyes, who are they? Where do they come from? What do they believe in? Why do they make the decisions they do? What do they feel about the Empire?”
What I felt about the Empire, after playing through the first three missions of Battlefront II‘s campaign, was that I would be more than happy to sign up for Inferno Squad.
Star Wars Battlefront II is launching on November 17th for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.