Is it time to fully embrace the dark side?
Fulfil the wishes of the late Emperor Palpatine and destroy the Rebel Alliance. That’s your job in Star Wars: Battlefront 2’s campaign, which is set immediately after the events of Return of the Jedi.
To achieve it you take on the role of Iden Versio, a seemingly cold-heart weapons expert flanked by a droid companion that lives neatly tucked away on her back. She’s a member of the Empire’s Inferno Squad special forces unit and is everything you’d expect from a Star Wars baddie, from harbouring a love of dark clothes to delivering dialogue in a husky voice – as you can see from the first campaign trailer for Star War’s Battlefront 2.
The original Battlefront came without any kind of campaign mode whatsoever, so to put you straight into the boots of the dark side has come as a surprise for more than a small number of the universe’s fervent fan base. If you object to killing the allies of Luke Skywalker and company then you’re in for a tough ride as within minutes of the campaign starting Versio has gun drawn and Rebel lives ending.
“There’s a quality of pacing, variety and visuals that speaks to the skill and talent of the design and production teams”
She begins as a captive in the giant Invincible Faith cruiser, one of the gems in the Rebel Alliance’s fleet. Her imprisonment acts as a tutorial in how to operate your droid as you use it to navigate through air vents, hack computer terminals and locked doors and to deliver an electric shock to anyone in your way.
With Versio released you’re free to add her suite of core abilities to your arsenal, which include stealth takedowns, a louder and more direct melee attack and, of course, the use of guns. This might be a Star Wars game in aesthetic and narrative, but the interaction options differ little from what we’ve seen out of Battlefield or any number of other shooters.
That’s not to say that what I’ve played failed to make an impression, though. There’s a quality of pacing, variety and visuals on offer over the course of the three early missions that EA allowed me access to that speaks to the skill and talent of the design and production teams.
Generally speaking, for a game to be of genuine interest it must either do something new or do better that which we’ve already seen before and Battlefront 2 most certainly has the potential to achieve the latter.
A mission on Endor, for instance, in which you witness the destruction of the second Death Star from the planet’s surface, has you carving a path through densely packed forest in a bid to reach and liberate a small base containing the TIE Fighters that you need to get back into space.
Endor is drawn in such a way as to make it feel like an open-world environment, whereas in fact it’s almost entirely linear; the trees only a few rows beyond the main path being inaccessible.
Via a combination of objective markers and the movement of your squad I’m being guided through this arena in a regimented fashion, but it’s being done in such a way as to instil a sensation of freedom along the way. In reality you have no freedom at all when it comes to determining your own path, but the level design is of a calibre that helps you suspend your disbelief for at least the mission’s running time.
First-person shooters tend not to be especially good at hiding the boundaries that lock you into their worlds, but what little I’ve seen of Battlefront 2 up to now hints that it might represent one of the better examples of hiding its limitations.
Genuine freedom doesn’t exist in any game in that you’re only ever capable of doing what the game will allow, no matter how expansive that might initially seem. The trick that ‘open’ games play is that they’re good at hiding their boundaries and constantly refocusing you on what they will allow. Battlefront 2’s campaign looks to be a linear game that has skilfully employed this kind of open-world tactic.
In large part this is achieved through how busy the campaign is. There’s a huge amount of dialogue being spoken by you, to you or in hearing range of you as you’re fighting, giving the impression that you’re part of something much grander than it would otherwise seem.
Objective markers pop up frequently and you’re given every opportunity to use grenades, stealth, your drone’s electroshock stun attack and weapons ranging from standard pistols and assault rifles to rocket launchers and sniper rifles.
“There is a sense that we’ve seen and done this dance before – but it’s served up with such flair and precision that it’s difficult to not be swept along for the ride”
In a way not dissimilar to what is seen in the Halo series, an officer that provides stat-boosts to their troops and can deploy defensive turrets sometimes leads enemy squads. This gives you a reason to think tactically about many of your skirmishes, although on the game’s standard difficult the presence of an officer posed little challenge.
During more intense moments, and especially when locked in close-quarters combat, Versio’s set of special abilities can come in handy. She can deploy a shield that temporarily protects her from damage, for example, or toss a gadget that disables enemy weapons for a limited time. Again, though, unless you’re playing on a higher difficult level these are optional luxuries rather than essential tools.
Alongside being adept in ground combat, Versio is no slouch when it comes to operating large machinery. A lengthy sequence involving flying through the wreckage of the Death Star 2 and defending surviving Empire ships from Rebel bombing runs takes place with Versio in the seat of a TIE Fighter.
Again, you’re not free to explore beyond the invisible limits of the map but the visual design is such that you feel as though you’re moving through the expanse of deep space. Controls and combat options are largely the same as those seen in the original Battlefront’s multiplayer, with your standard gun flanked by more powerful missile options for taking down stubborn opponents.
Here, then, as in the missions featuring first-person shooting, there is a sense that we’ve seen and done this dance before – but it’s served up with such flair and precision that it’s difficult to not be swept along for the ride.
The big question is whether this quality of presentation is of a high enough calibre to keep us entertained and interested for the entire length of the campaign. Versio’s position as both protagonist and member of the Empire holds enough novelty value to overcome any initial concerns, but she will need to demonstrate an interesting character arc for us to stay interested.
I’d be very surprised, for instance, if she remained definitively in the baddie camp for the entire duration of the plot. Whether or not that’s a good thing is up for debate. Star Wars is so dedicated to the idea of good versus evil that it might be nice to fully embrace the power of the dark side…