When Disney gave Electronic Arts the exclusive gaming rights to Star Wars, the company took the brand almost literally. EA's first take on the Battlefront franchise was little more than a war among the stars -- filled with the sights, sounds and characters of George Lucas' iconic space opera but completely devoid of story. The result was a gorgeous title that felt a little incomplete. With Star Wars: Battlefront II, EA is changing that. This time, narrative is key.
We knew that much when EA revealed Battlefront II at Star Wars Celebration back in April. The game's teaser trailer showed Iden Versio, an imperial pilot, standing on the forest moon of Endor, watching the second Death Star explode at the end of Return of the Jedi. It had a dark tone, revealing the story of a villain hellbent on revenge -- but that's not how actually playing the game feels. Settled behind Versio's eyes during the game's E3 demo, I didn't feel like an imperialist oppressing the freedom of a justified rebellion; I felt like a hero at war with a band of cowardly terrorists.
It's a strange feeling. For decades, Star Wars fans have been told the Galactic Empire is faceless and objectively evil -- but the game's campaign is built around set pieces and characters that lend it the sense of adventure you would expect from a hero's journey.
Our gameplay demo saw Versio climbing into a Tie fighter to defend her ship and protect her friends, roaring out into the void to take out X-Wings in a chaotic, epic space battle. After saving a few wingmen, the player finds her way into the landing bay of a Calamari Cruiser, clearing the deck with a few rounds of blaster fire and landing to infiltrate the enemy ship.
Along the way, Versio and her squad exchange tactical info, chat and call for help, driving the narrative forward as the battle unfolds around the player. This fun, exciting, story-driven campaign is also distracting. I know the Empire are the bad guys, but at no point in my demo did I feel like taking out an enemy squad of rebels was the morally wrong thing to do. I wasn't the bad guy; I was a patriot defending my way of life. As a Star Wars fan who has always prided himself on his loyalty to "the light side," it was a feeling that took me by surprise.
That doesn't mean I'm a convert, by any means (down with the Empire!), but the short demo's ability to make me sympathize with another point of view was impressive. Removed from the lead character's tunnel vision, I know she's on the wrong side of the war -- but the game tells the story of a person raised in a very specific dogma. From her point of view, she's doing the right thing. She's a good person -- and the game's E3 demo did an excellent job lending that perspective to the player.
Ultimately, my time with the game was brief, but it left a strong impression. Beyond using a narrow narrative to help the player sympathize with the franchise's "bad guys," the game's story mode served as a seamless tour of Battlefront II's game modes, revealing a single-player campaign that smoothly transitions the player from ground combat to deep space dogfighting without a second thought.
That alone was fun and exciting, but it's the hook of the game's story that has me excited for Battlefront II. Nobody thinks of himself as "the bad guy" in his own life story. I can't wait to see the hero Versio sees herself as when the full game hits stores in November.
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