The Empire Strikes Back: Everything We Know About Star Wars Battlefront II
Nearly every major bit of media based in the Star Wars universe has focused on the Rebellion's fight against the evil Empire, or its successor, the First Order. This fall, EA studios DICE, Motive and Criterion will show us the other side of the coin in Star Wars Battlefront II. This fall's shooter sequel invites inside the inner ranks of the Empire as it attempts to push back against the Rebellion in the wake of the Battle of Endor.
Aside from a few novels and comic books, Lucasfilm has largely portrayed the Star Wars universe from the side of the victors in the Galactic Civil War. Part of the reason narratives like that of Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca's Darth Vader have been so appealing --- in addition to being well done --- is that they show us a side of the story often left untold. Even in the recent Aftermath trilogy from Chuck Wendig, the primary perspective is from that of the New Republic, with but a smattering of Imperial plotlines woven throughout.
That's what makes the concept behind the narrative of Star Wars Battlefront II immediately interesting; the whole game is portrayed the wrong side of history. While the political climates across the globe might give a bitter tint to that concept now, in the scheme of the Star Wars saga, it's an area ripe for new storytelling ideas. Where normally we'd cheer along with the rebels and the oppressed at the destruction of the second Death Star, it's harder to imagine being in the shoes of someone devastated by the idea their whole belief system has just collapsed. Battlefront II is the perfect place to explore events like those that have happened within Star Wars canon through a different lens.
Battlefront II puts you in the uniform of Iden Versio (played by Janina Gavankar), commander of the elite Imperial unit, Inferno Squadron. These soldiers are more than your standard Stormtroopers or TIE pilots, Inferno Squad's members are specialists in every aspect of the Imperial military. While they aren't quite souped up like Halo's Spartans, dropping Inferno Squad in the middle of an encounter can heavily sway the odds in the favor of the Emperor and his agenda. As we saw in the reveal trailer, the battle on Endor beings to sway back from the Rebellion just as the Death Star II explodes magnificently in the skies above.
The destruction of the (second) ultimate battle station only furthers Inferno Squad's resolve. Soon after, Commander Versio sets off on a mission that will apparently last for some 30 years, as the events of Battlefield II firmly sit in the same timeline as Aftermath, and go beyond all the way to the creation of Starkiller Base in the pretense to The Force Awakens.
That sense of determination was instilled in Iden Versio at a young age, as her father was an Admiral in the Empire, and a well-respected one at that. We'll get more of Versio's backstory this July in the novel, Battlefront II: Inferno Squad, from Christie Golden. That novel was written in tandem with Motive's narrative development team, and will explore not just Versio's past, but what the Inferno Squad was up to in the four years before the Battle of Endor. It's playing such an important part in the formation of Iden Versio that Janina Gavankar would converse with Golden to learn more about the character to flesh out her own performance in motion capture.
EA's studios are hoping when all is said and done with the story, they've created someone equally as memorable as Rey or Leia Organa. That is a tall enough task to start with, let alone in trying to present their equal on the villainous side of things. Of course, it's true any side of war has heroes and villains alike. Propaganda posters need young, charismatic faces to lure in new recruits after all. Still, it's hard without knowing more about Iden to root for a character that so willingly exclaims, "Hope cannot save them!" when speaking towards a side of the conflict we've been rooting for since 1977. Given how much time and effort appears to have been put into making Inferno Squad more than just bad people you happen to play as in Battlefront II, we're inclined to give Motive, DICE and Criterion the benefit of the doubt. For now.
All that said, Iden will not be the only playable character in Star Wars Battlefront II's campaign. The trailer shows off Luke Skywalker in his best Jedi Knight blacks, along with Kylo Ren wreaking havoc throughout Starkiller Base. At certain moments in the story, the perspective will shift to Battelfront's Hero characters, giving us a chance to experience what they were up to between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. DICE hasn't commented on just how many of these cameos we might see, but stepping into the shoes of these more familiar characters will serve to break up the pace of Battlefront's more traditional shooter elements.
Where Heroes were a strong selling point for the multiplayer last time around, they'll play an even larger part in Battlefront II. Heroes (or Hero Vehicles) won't just be limited to power-up icons you can find on the map. Instead, players will have the ability to earn the right to turn into a Hero by performing certain actions in a given match. This should even the icon-camping playing field just a bit, and should mean more Heroes hitting the field of battle than in the first game. That's good because Hero characters have been built to be more physical in the sequel. Their presence will actually feel more important, and you should theoretically see them on the field of play longer than in the original Battlefront.
Like player characters in the first game, Heroes will also be upgradable in Battlefront II. For example, everyone will get the default Luke Skywalker, but as you use him more and more, you'll earn the right to unlock new and different abilities. Customizing certain Heroes to suit your playstyle makes tremendous sense, and should provide more variation in the kinds of Lukes you encounter in multiplayer matches. Then again, once devout players discover the "ultimate" build of a character, you'll probably end up seeing them more and more. Hopefully that will take at least a few weeks rather than days per character to uncover.
Speaking of those Hero characters, in addition to Luke and Kylo, Rey, Yoda, and Darth Maul have all been announced as appearing in the final game. DICE wants Battlefront II to encapsulate all eras of the Star Wars saga, including the prequels and everything in between. Heroes from any era can play in any map in the multiplayer component, but that won't be the case in the story mode obviously. Still, to think of matching Yoda up against Kylo Ren or Rey against Darth Maul is enough to start salivating at the potential match-ups we'd otherwise never see beyond the fan fiction forums. That's not even considering the idea of the same character from different spots in the timeline. Last Jedi Heroes are part of a pre-order incentive, so one has to wonder if Scavenger Rey would be able to hold her own against a potential Jedi Rey.
There will also be... wait for it... space battles. No longer will all your aerial encounters be limited in their scope to planetside encounters. While the reveal trailer doesn't feature any actual gameplay, you do get a sense of what Battlefront II is hoping to accomplish with its space combat. If you happened to play any of the virtual reality experience Criterion developed for PSVR last holiday, that should give you a clear idea of what to expect. However, you can clearly ascertain the battles in Battlefront II will be larger in scope and scale, particularly given that Hero Vehicles will also return. Only the Millennium Falcon and Slave I were mentioned, but there is hope that more famous spacecraft will take to the skies in the sequel.
Like Heroes, the signature ships of multiplayer can be upgraded in some way, too. The developers on hand at Star Wars Celebration were very tight-lipped about what that would mean, but it's not outside the realm of possibility to imagine being able to add better shielding or larger munitions to your ship as you progress. The Hero Vehicles from the first Battlefront had the bare minimum of unique abilities, so seeing more added in the sequel regardless of what they might be is good news. How those upgrades will transfer from era to era remains to be seen --- Jango's Slave I is much different than Boba's --- but it's something DICE and Criterion are promising, so we'll just have to wait and see.
Upgrades carrying over is something regular soldiers and troopers will have, too. There will be multiple classes to choose from when playing Battlefront II, but all of your work leveling up a given class in Separatist army won't be lost when the map changes over to something featuring the First Order. DICE is hoping this encourages players to learn the ins and outs of all the classes, and make team-based play more significant. Not leaving loadouts to the Star Cards also means every match should be more balanced (theoretically). It also means that if you've leveled up a given class or soldier enough, you could potentially hold your own against a Hero character. That was almost unheard of in the first Battlefront, and again serves to the match balance that was at times lacking in the 2015 game.
We're still a long way away from getting the whole of what Star Wars Battlefront II will be, but based on everything we've learned so far from DICE, Motive and Criterion, the fans have been heard. An actual single-player campaign is coming, and one that will be canon to the rest of the universe; multiplayer is adding space battles, more Heroes, and expanding beyond the original trilogy to include all nine existing films; and choices in what kind of character you want to play will matter. More about Star Wars Battlefront II should be coming in just a few months at E3, but we're much more optimistic about this title's longevity already.
Star Wars Battlefront II will be out on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on November 17.