With a trailer coming out of Star Wars Celebration, the hype can officially begin: Star Wars Battlefront II is coming. The release of a new triple-A Star Wars game is naturally going to be a major event, but with Battlefront II it’s something more; it’s a chance to get things right.
The 2015 Battlefront was definitely a success commercially, but while it posted strong sale numbers the game was lampooned heavily by the fanbase for its lack of depth, online focus and heavy reliance on DLC-based content, with players wanting a full experience forced to fork out a $50 on top of the $60 game price to get all the maps and characters. Thankfully, based on everything said since and the new details revealed at Celebration, it sounds like Battlefront II may fix the franchise and return it to its mid-2000s glory.
The original two Battlefronts games are still regarded as some of the best Star Wars games ever produced. Putting players in the down-and-dirty battles across the Clone Wars and Galactic Civil War, the 2004 and 2005 releases endeavored to make generations of imagined playground fights real and succeeded with honors. You truly were a trooper in the midst of war, able to shape the conflict while still just a cog in the machine.
Here’s the thing: with that ethos in mind, Battlefront 2015 isn’t a bad game. In fact, in many respects, it’s a great game. It plays incredibly well fundamentally and while card-based upgrades aren't for everyone, offers a carefully balanced set of weapons and power-ups that allow players to adapt their chosen play style. And that’s saying nothing of the visuals; ever since announcement the game has been sold on how it gorgeously recreated Star Wars locales and this is one area it didn't disappoint in.
The problem is that the game fundamentally didn’t have enough content. The story of pretty much every Star Wars fan picking up the game is that they send two hours in awe of its graphics, another eight dutifully playing through every map, then ditch it in favor of something with actual substance. There’s a bevy of game modes, but they all circle the same basic structure and offer little replayability. Here’s a dive into why it was such a let down and how it looks like the sequel will fix that.
A Proper Single Player Experience (Not Just A Story)
The biggest complaint leveled at Battlefront was its lack of a proper single-player campaign, although that misses the bigger picture. Yes, both original games had a campaign, but even wth the sequel's attempt at a proper story, they were still just a series of battles with loose canon-definition. In the past, people have rarely played Battlefront for a deep narrative experience. What they have often is for a strong offline package; in addition to its campaign (which did provide a good few hours of entertainment), Battlefront II (2005) boasted Galactic Conquest, a tactical game where players tried to occupy planets on the galactic map in turn-based moves before battling for control, and Instant Action, a hub similar to online where players could simply dive into any battle they chose.
This is where Battlefront 2015's failure is glaring; when it came to offline, all it had on release was a series of one-shot training missions and a basic wave-survival mode. This was later updated eight months on from release with Skirmish mode, the offline version of typically online modes Walker Assault and areal battles. That gave a minor sense of longevity to the game from offline players, but aside from coming when most people had given up, it was still incredibly consolatory (especially as it didn’t include any of the DLC maps). Crucially, it ultimately was more like just playing an online game – NPCs even had fake gamertags – rather than true Star Wars immersion.
All of this is, of course, pretty standard for modern games. In the decade between Battlefront's internet speeds increased astronomically and affordability meant people became more accustomed to playing online rather than split screen. And as Battlefront is being positioned as a biennial alternative to EA’s wartime Battlefield series, then going in this direction is to be expected. But that’s no excuse for such a slack approach (especially when a proper story had been in development only to be pulled for time).
Thankfully, EA seems to have heard this (it’s hard to miss millions of voices crying out in terror); this time people may actually come for the narrative. The story mode is at the front of the advertising and rather than just being a tech showcase for the online, it's got real purpose; we'll follow a squadron of Imperial troopers from the desctruction of the second Death Star all the way through to The Force Awakens, seeing how the Empire became the First Order and experience the heroism of the conventional bad guys (the previous sequel also had the player as an Imperial, but actual commentary was slight). Although its true length and depth is presently unclear, that focus promises it being something approaching a complete experience.
Beyond that though, they're going a step further and offering something previously unexpected: split screen. Like back in 2005, you'll actually be able to play Battlefront with a friend in the same room. It's classic gaming making a welcome return, but also hints at something bigger. The announcement didn't make clear what other offline play would be available beyond the story, but the fact you can do single-system multiplayer of standard maps indicates we'll probably get single-player instant action too; they’re unlikely to keep so much of the game’s content behind a wall with the paltry Skirmish as a consolation. This all makes Battlefront II something worthy of putting money down to play without even looking at the multiplayer. That's what online-only games often miss and what EA has hopefully learned.
A Galaxy Of Possibilities
Offline play is only part of the pie though. What made the first two Battlefronts so addictive was something bigger, more intangible; the sense of scale and possibilities. Battlefront 2015 definitely recreated the Star Wars galaxy faithfully, looking absolutely incredible and using dynamic scoring and sourced sound effects to make it feel like you were there in the midst of battle. But it was almost like being in a replica – the limits of the game were ever-present.
The original had 16 maps, while the sequel upped the numbers to 19 and added space battles and heroes. They conveyed the breadth of the mythos, making the galaxy feel limitless and - especially in Galactic Conquest - your actions of seismic importance. Beyond that, they covered both The Clone Wars and Galactic Civil War, a move that essentially doubled the amount of game and allowed for some mashup dreams – being a clone defending a base from droids on Yavin IV was so simple, yet so fun.
The new game only had four planets. Yes, each of these had different maps, but each was locked into a singular game type and were thus incredibly honed in on a single gameplay style. Even with backdrops that adjusted based on your success, victory never felt more than the end of a sport game. The DLC expanded this eventually with each pack vastly increasing the number, but that’s a problem in-and-of-itself and they still had the same overall problem; it’s a vacation in the galaxy, not a fully immersive experience. This distance is actually evident in some of the gameplay mechanics that, while subtle, alter the experience; instead of being able to dive straight into an X-Wing or AT-ST, you need to collect a timed power-up then respawn. It’s a barrier. When you have a series built on the illusion of its story being a small pocket of this massive world, to have such clear limits is a major detriment.
We know less about how Battlefront II will address these elements due to the focus of the panel, but we can glean a fair bit. Obviously there are the much-hyped multiple eras, which immediately increases the scope, and based on the trailer the number of planets we'll see from launch is also expanded. Suggestion goes further; the presence of Taun-Tauns in the Hoth footage suggests a hop-in-hop-out vehicle in the game's code, while the fact there won't be a Season Pass for DLC may point towards the full scope of the game being available from the start. Individually these aren’t deep-set changes, but they already address some of the core issues.
The problem, of course, with predicting improvements here is that this "feel" we're discussing is rather abstract and hard to truly convey. Thankfully, EA are going about it in the most promising way. They've got Criterion Games working on the project, a company that by their own admission are about the atmosphere of a game. They are the major new addition to the cross-company team and are working on the pure gameplay elements (as opposed to story). Having already worked on the X-Wing VR mission and Battlefield Hardline, they know the core aspects of this specific type of game - both Star Wars and combat-based - and thus may be the absolute best team for the series.
Battlefront 2015 was a flawed game. As surface-level fun it may have been, it lacked the spark that made the franchise such a landmark in Star Wars gaming – and fans weren’t quiet about it. After patching up some of the biggest holes, it looks like the sequel is directly addressing the biggest concerns. We won't know how impactful these updates actually are and to what degree everything out of Star Wars Celebration was just posturing until November 17, but it's a very promising move and suggests Star Wars gaming - which is atypically great for a licensed franchise - is heading on the up.
Here's hoping when Battlefront III comes around, we're all simply expecting the refinement of greatness, rather than the fixing of even more issues.