A few weekends ago I bought into EA’s premiere origin access program to play the Anthem VIP demo (more on Anthem later) and gained access to a large back-catalogue of EA games as an added bonus. One of these freebies is Star Wars Battlefront II, a game that released into so much controversy in 2017 that I avoided picking it up. I enjoyed the first game but the multiplayer-only gameplay put me off after maybe two weeks. I didn’t download this game to try and elbow my way into the multiplayer over a year after launch though, I did it for the campaign.
Upfront, I’m a fan of Walt Williams’s work, which includes the game Spec Ops: The Line, and his autobiographical novel Significant Zero. I went into this campaign with an open-mind, knowing that he had written for the project, and I had every intention to give it the benefit of the doubt. I was going to look at the campaign as its own experience, separate from the controversial multiplayer.
There were two moments that hooked me for this game. The first is the cutscene just after the first mission. Iden Versio has just shot herself out of a rebel airlock and been intercepted by her ship, the Corvus. The crew banters with one another in a way that instantly humanizes them. We’re first introduced to Iden as a prisoner, whose ice cold determination helps her to escape. She’s a killing machine. But at home with her companions, we get a much fuller idea of her character, and the characters of her squadmates Del and Hask. The second click comes when inferno squad is on the surface of Endor, taking out squads of rebel fighters through a combination of stealth takedowns and gratuitous explosions.The action pauses for a moment and the camera pans upwards to the sky where (spoilers but not really) Iden and her team watch the Death Star explode. That moment for me felt extremely powerful. We as fans understand what happened in that moment but we’ve never seen it from this perspective before. In this context it’s terrifying, your army’s biggest asset has just been eliminated. You’re confused, and now you’re alone. It hooked me.
This is where I’m going to introduce my theory (with the best meaning and no intention of offense) that this campaign operates like a really good fan fiction. A fan fiction where all of your favorite characters and some memorable OCs mingle and interact. The ‘fic’ aspects of the story made it all the more enjoyable for me, and I’ll keep bringing it up as we go.
Before I move on from the Endor level I want to take a moment to talk about the NPC dialogue. The imperial soldiers you run into aren’t silent assistants. One of my favorites was
Stormtrooper: “We weren’t expecting special forces.”
Hask: “That’s the point sergeant.”
In another, the rebels had commandeered imperial walkers and were using them to hold off a squad of stormtroopers. As inferno squad you use your plot armor to blast your way through. As the walkers fall a stormtrooper yells: “Even with superior firepower the rebels can’t win!” which plays really well for irony considering the empire’s biggest “firepower” is still visible as a flaming wreck overhead. So I’m immersed, so far the game has supplemented the main films in an interesting way with some OCs who I really give a shit about.
*Campaign Spoilers* from here on out
Inferno returns to a limping empire to implement “Operation Cinder”, the emperor’s final command before his demise on the death star. However, during the next level we play as Luke Skywalker who runs into Del Meeko, trapped by some of the local flora. Jedi good guy helps Del because Del doesn’t “force him into self-defense murder”. There are some great lines in here about “why did you help me”, “because you asked”, “why would I let you take that”, “because I asked” that I liked. None of this gruff “I need you but after this we’re enemies again, I don’t make friends” type of stoicism. We see Luke’s character as this empathetic and wise dude and we see Del respond with a newfound open-mindedness and understanding. Luke leaves him with “you have a choice to be better”, not playing into the black and white of empire and rebellion, but suggesting that each of us makes choices to be better or worse every day. Am I reading my own life into this? I sure am, but we all do. Luke’s outlook on meaningful choice is important to the story being told, despite the linear narrative. I mean books and movies are also linear narratives so I don’t see that as a hypocrisy, they’re still telling a story about the choices people make in the face of forces greater than themselves.
Now let’s talk about dogfighting. It felt like 40% of this game put you in the cockpit of a spaceship to fight against other spaceships. I’ve yet to meet a ship-to-ship combat game that I really enjoyed, and this game is no exception. It wasn’t bad but I preferred the ground combat by a wide margin. So the fact that every other level was ship-to-ship fighting was iffy. The one level where I didn’t mind it involved Iden landing inside a rebel ship and single-handedly mowing her way through the entire crew. That felt cool enough to justify shooting down a whole squadron of x-wings.
Back onto the fanfic train. Iden and Del jump ship and turn themselves into the rebellion, alerting them to Operation Cinder. Rather than throw them in jail for slaughtering hundreds of their fellow rebels, Lando gives them a second chance (fitting), and brings them onboard as Danger five and six. There’s plenty of great banter in this level, especially with the introduction of OC Shriv. Del refers to Iden as ‘commander’ to which Shriv cuts in “she’s not a commander in my unit!” Oh and this dogfight takes place over naboo, that planet that only existed in the prequels.UNTIL NOW! Danger squad makes their way to the surface where (fanfic, fanfic) Del (who was an imperial commando like two minutes ago) is assigned to protect princess Leia. You know. The leader of the resistance? Totally cool, but like a very exciting scenario to play in. And in a video game like this one, I don’t mind stretching my suspension of disbelief this far. I only wish that they would have talked to one another about Luke, since he saved Del’s life. Like “I met this jedi”, “oh that’s my brother, what a guy!”
Essentially, after that, more game happens for a bit and then we get to the two moments at the end of the game that I loved. The first is the battle over Jakku, in which you have a hand in felling the star destroyers we see half-buried in the sand in the opening of the force awakens. The level itself features some neat switching between air and ground combat but it’s the significance of the battle that hit home for me. The second is the end of Iden’s arc with her father. The Star Wars movies tell the story of a family: the skywalkers. This game tells the story of the Versios. The narrative is framed by Iden’s relationship with her father and there is a satisfying end to it. And a happy ending! And then a DLC hook. Fuck you DLC hook.
I played the DLC as well, it creates a satisfying end for characters in the main campaign but far enough in their futures to justify not including it in the main content. And (spoilers) I know Mr. Williams prefers to kill off his characters canonically to prevent them coming back in a hackneyed future way. Overall I thought the campaign was a vibrant and well-told story with great gunplay, gorgeous graphics, and a little too much flying.