Star Wars Battlefront II campaign preview: Fire away

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I got to spend roughly three hours checking out the Star Wars Battlefront II single-player campaign thanks to the folks at Motive Studio in Montreal.

With so many Star Wars video games showing the heroes save the day as a rebellion force, every time players get to see the Empire or dark side at force is like a breath of fresh air. For better or for worse, you need that kind of variety in such a vast universe LucasFilm has created. When I learned that Star Wars Battlefront II would feature a single-player campaign that showed the Empire at its weakest moment (after the death of the Emperor) and where they go from there had me intrigued.

I had got to see how that turns out. For the most part, it’s quite intriguing.

EA flew me out to Motive Studio in Montreal this past Monday to demo the first three playable levels in Star Wars Battlefront II, showing off three different focuses of gameplay. It felt very much like a demonstration of protagonist Iden Versio, the variety of level types available to the player as well as a pristine ability to make “the bad guys” well-rounded as characters.

The prologue starts things off with a tried-and-true evil plan; the “Getting Caught Was A Part Of My Plan” plan. Stuck in a cell, Iden calls upon her backpack-sized imperial droid to navigate its way to her cell and unchain her. It didn’t dawn on me until I snuck past a Rebel alliance member walking down a hall and using a shocking stun on another that I thought, “Hey, this is a very unusual start to a Star Wars video game!”

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The development team at Motive Studio spoke about three pillars that hold up Star Wars Battlefront II, with one of them being about creating “Star Wars fantasies.” By setting up the player with the cold, pensive and adaptive Iden Versio, an Imperial Special Forces member of the Inferno Squad, we get to see a highly-skilled soldier work their magic.

After gaining control of Iden, she controls like she would any hero or villain would. The Star Wars Battlefront II campaign, from top to bottom, plays like a multiplayer game, meaning players won’t have to re-learn an entirely different set of mechanics. As Iden navigates her way through the Rebel space station en route to an outer space extraction via escape pod, she smokes all combatants with the same efficiency and within the same level design parameters as the previous game.

Star Wars Battlefront II
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As the second mission opened to the Battle of Endor, we finally see the first moment where Star Wars Battlefront II bridges the gap from Episode VI and Episode VII of the cinematic space saga. This spoke to the second pillar of game development for this game, offering a variety of experiences to the player. Endor offers a setpiece-to-setpiece flow to it, with Iden and fellow members of the Inferno Squad encountering different Rebel regiments.

It begs for a run-and-gun style of fast-paced action, but playing the level back briefly for the second time, I could take out the first two squads of enemies with stealth takedowns instead.

It plays quite like a Star Wars experience mashed up with the adaptive waist-high cover shooter of a Naughty Dog game, representing the best bet for an authentic single-player action-adventure title of its type for quite some time. It begs for a run-and-gun style of fast-paced action, but playing the level back briefly for the second time, I could take out the first two squads of enemies with stealth takedowns instead.

After taking down AT-STs and waves of temporarily victorious rebels, the third Star Wars Battlefront II campaign mission is where the story starts to build its legs. Iden answers to Admiral Versio, her father, with direct commands from the Emperor before his final moments. “Operation Cinder” is in full effect, with the target of the Empire’s brute force unknown.

Star Wars Battlefront II
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Escaping Endor takes players into space, with full navigational control of a TIE Fighter ship for multiple-target space battles. The third pillar of the Star Wars Battlefront II campaign is how gameplay is built on multiplayer experiences, and there’s no better representation in the defense of the Imperial Dauntless ship and the offense against the impeding Rebels.

This third and final mission I got to experience combined everything you can expect from the campaign, including dogfighting, stealth, hordes of enemies of various types (basic grunts, heavy soldiers, various space races such as Twi’lek) and a combination of wide-open maps and narrow corridors. EA always kept me on my toes, and navigating through the wreckage of the Death Star was a marvel of engineering might and visual design.

I found the campaign serves as an excellent counterbalance to multiplayer.

The story beats hinted at the stereotypical anti-hero mentalities, relying a bit too hard on material personal to Iden Versio to drive conflict from a story standpoint, but the cutscenes in the game’s campaign look quite marvelous. It’s clear that the fine-tuning of the campaign is nearing its end, though, as there was an odd animation or two that made it seem like the bug-squashing process hadn’t quite been finished yet.

From a functional gameplay standpoint, I found the campaign serves as an excellent counterbalance to multiplayer. The use of sporadic boxes that alter your weapon loadout was a nice touch, as it gave the player options to switch out sniper weapons, repeaters, three-shot bursts and other guns to match the scenario. There is a logical progression to each chapter, rather than a multiplayer map with a combat situation thrown into the mix.

Star Wars Battlefront II
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If anything negative outright stood out, it would be the walking animations for Iden when crouching. She can often look like she’s crab-walking around when sneaking, which effectively de-incentivizes a legitimate gameplay strategy. It becomes quite distracting when trying to take out an enemy and you look like you’re about to pop a squat.

That aside, I’m quite enamored with the campaign Star Wars Battlefront II sets in motion. How exactly Motive Studio plans to showcase the 30-year timeline after Return of the Jedi from Iden’s point of view remains to be seen, but I’m hoping that the brand new environments created strictly for the campaign take advantage of the unknown for the multiplayer user going forward.

Next: E3 2017: Star Wars Battlefront 2 hands-on preview

EA provided travel accommodations to Motive Studio in Montreal for the purpose of this preview. Click here to read our coverage policy.