The pitch for Star Wars Battlefront II is mind-boggling. Three major development studios are teaming up to create a deep and nuanced multiplayer competitive shooter set across all three Star Wars film eras. Simultaneously, they are developing a new storyline set from the Empire’s perspective that reveals the events between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. “Ambitious” may be an understatement.
But based on what I’ve seen and played at EA Play this weekend, I think Motive, Criterion, and DICE are going to pull this thing off.
Let’s start with the campaign, which looked gorgeous running on PS4 Pro. In my 10 minute demo, I watched Imperial commander Iden Versio, leader of the elite Inferno Squad, fend off a Rebel attack with lethal grace.
In terms of pacing, action, and overall technical proficiency, this demo was a white-knuckle experience. Caught aboard a Star Destroyer amidst the Rebel attack, Iden hopped into a TIE Fighter and the gameplay seamlessly shifted to an intense outer space dogfight sequence.
After mopping up enemy fighters, the demoer piloted Iden’s TIE Fighter straight at the Rebel cruiser — right into its docking bay! — and melted half the ship’s innards in a hail of blaster fire. Then Iden hopped out to finish the fight on foot in a tense shootout set inside the twisted corridors of the ship. Important note: amidst all these perspective switches, there was nary a loading screen to be seen.
Inside the Rebel cruiser, I got a closer look at Iden’s combat repertoire. Her combat droid is already shaping up to be a deadly asset: I saw it zap Rebel troopers with electricity that could arc between multiple nearby combatants. Other combat droid abilities will be available too, depending on your play style.
Later, I spoke with Mark Thompson, the director of Battlefront II’s campaign, to learn more about how EA Motive tapped into the spirit and energy of the films. “It was this fantastic exercise of analyzing how Battlefront works, and how the Star Wars movie storytelling works, taking those two ideas together and seeing where the crossover is,” Thompson said. “It was one of the most interesting and engaging pre-productions on a project I’ve ever done.”
Campaign demo down, I was ready to go hands-on with the competitive multiplayer mode, which has seen an enormous upgrade over the 2014 game. The large-scale matches — up to 40 players — are a whirlwind of carnage and destruction, and subtly evoke elements found in developer DICE’s Battlefield series.
During my PS4 Pro play time, I played a mode called Assault on Theed, set on Naboo during the prequel era. On the Republic side, the goal was to stop an incoming Droid transport by launching ion cannon blasts, while the Droids were tasked with pushing into the palace throne room to end the match.
A few key observations from my multiplayer session:
- There are four classes to choose from, each with a distinct role in the fight. Officers lurk in the background, boosting nearby teammates and dropping turrets to lay down cover fire. Heavy troopers rely on a tough shield, high hit points, and withering firepower. Specialists snipe and lay traps, while Assault troopers push the frontline and clear rooms with a deadly shotgun-like special weapon.
- Abilities are currently mapped to L1, R1, and a special ability triggered by pressing L1 + R1.
- Star Cards return, but work more like character modifiers, amping or altering a class’s base abilities. Rarer Star Cards will grant larger bonuses.
- The current build was limited to just two weapons per class, but the final game will include further firepower, as well as the ability to install weapon add-ons.
- Summoning Heroes works a bit differently; rather than grabbing a pickup item, you’ll earn Battle Points for inflicting damage on enemies and achieving objectives. Stockpile enough and you’ll be able to spend them on vehicles, elite troopers such as the B2 Super Battle Droid or Clone Jumptrooper, or at the high end Heroes like Darth Maul and Rey, all of which are blessed with unique tactical advantages. The Clone Jumptrooper is an early favorite, capable of extreme mobility and devastating rocket strikes.
All in all, certainly a promising start for Star Wars Battlefront II — it’s definitely a shooter to watch this year. Have questions? Let me know in the comments!