Star Wars Bat­tle­front II

Three studios join forces to take on the big­gest IP in the galaxy

EDGE - - CONTENTS - Developer Pub­lisher For­mat Ori­gin Re­lease Cri­te­rion, DICE, Lu­cas­film, Mo­tive EA PC, PS4, Xbox One Canada, Swe­den, UK, US Novem­ber 11

PC, PS4, Xbox One

DICE’s Star Wars: Bat­tle­front – con­fus­ingly, the third Bat­tle­front game – ar­rived on the eve of Star Wars’ resur­gence as the world’s dom­i­nant pop­cul­ture jug­ger­naut. It launched in 2015 a few weeks ahead of The Force Awak­ens, pro­vid­ing an ac­ces­si­ble, if shal­low, mul­ti­player FPS tied to an as­ton­ish­ing-look­ing tour through the con­flicts of the orig­i­nal cin­e­matic tril­ogy.

The most com­mon com­plaint di­rected at it con­cerned its per­ceived paucity of con­tent. Lu­casArts’ orig­i­nal Bat­tle­front games had fo­cused on mul­ti­player, but spanned both movie trilo­gies, and pro­vided an open sand­box for play­ers to col­lide armies, ve­hi­cles and he­roes as they wished. This new it­er­a­tion, by con­trast, hemmed the player in far more, on fewer maps, and stuck a pre­mium pric­etag on its season pass and ex­pan­sions.

Bat­tle­front II seems to have been de­signed to an­swer those crit­i­cisms at ev­ery step. Its an­nounce­ment at the Star Wars Cel­e­bra­tion in Or­lando took the form of a string of crowd­pleas­ing re­veals. It will have sin­gle­player. It will, in mul­ti­player, fea­ture maps, characters and ve­hi­cles from ev­ery cin­e­matic tril­ogy – in­clud­ing the lat­est one. There will be space bat­tles. There won’t be a season pass.

“The first game is a first step,” ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Matt Web­ster, who is also the gen­eral man­ager of Burnout cre­ator Cri­te­rion, tells us. “So step two be­comes [a mat­ter of] build­ing on top of some­thing. Clearly there was a lot of pent-up de­mand for a Bat­tle­front story and a sin­gle­player cam­paign. We also wanted to ex­press our love for 40 real-world years of Star Wars. The first game was step one; step two is a gi­ant step to cover the enor­mity of what Star Wars is.”

The suc­cess of The Force Awak­ens – the sense that Star Wars is ‘back’, to the ex­tent that it ever re­ally left – is re­flected in the way that Lu­cas­film is in­vest­ing deeply in the fran­chise in ev­ery medium it can reach.

Bat­tle­front II’s vastly ex­panded scope stems from an aware­ness of the po­ten­tial breadth of the au­di­ence. “Our fans come from al­most four gen­er­a­tions,” Lu­cas­film se­nior direc­tor of fran­chise man­age­ment Dou­glas Reilly says, “with very dif­fer­ing points of view: which movies they saw in the­atres as a kid, which things they grav­i­tate to­ward the most.”

The big­gest cheers in the au­di­to­rium were for Darth Maul and early art of the pre­quel planet Kamino, with jet­pack­ing clone troop­ers fight­ing bat­tle droids and Jedi starfight­ers clash­ing with Jango Fett’s Slave I in the skies. These are fans for who the pre­quels were ‘their’ movies, de­spite the mis­giv­ings of older sec­tions of the au­di­ence. EA and Lu­cas­film are tak­ing on the chal­lenge of build­ing a game for ev­ery part of that au­di­ence at once.

“In the last three or four years, we’ve been tak­ing the ap­proach that we want to tell dif­fer­ent sto­ries to dif­fer­ent au­di­ences in dif­fer­ent me­dia,” Reilly says. “If you keep telling the same story with the same tone and the same aes­thetic, it’s go­ing to be­come very trite and very dull very quickly.”

Achiev­ing that breadth within a sin­gle project has meant adopt­ing an am­bi­tious dis­trib­uted de­vel­op­ment plan. While the se­ries is DICE’s to over­see, the Swedish stu­dio is fo­cus­ing on mul­ti­player ground com­bat. Sin­gle­player is be­ing han­dled by Mo­tive, the Mon­treal-based developer founded by

As­sas­sin’s Creed pro­ducer Jade Raymond. While shar­ing its fun­da­men­tals with mul­ti­player, the cam­paign has a much more spe­cific fo­cus. The story, co-writ­ten by Spec

Ops: The Line writer Walt Wil­liams and former IGN re­porter Mitch Dyer, fol­lows an Im­pe­rial spe­cial-forces unit, In­ferno Squadron, in the af­ter­math of the Bat­tle of En­dor. As Im­pe­rial loy­al­ist Iden Ver­sio, you’ll hunt down the re­bel­lion in a cam­paign that spans the 30-year gap be­tween the end of the orig­i­nal tril­ogy and the events of The Force Awak­ens.

“Our whole idea was to re-hu­man­ise some­thing that’s been de­hu­man­ised: the Stormtrooper in the hel­met,” Mo­tive game direc­tor Mark Thomp­son says. “They have a number, and they’re part of a le­gion, but you never know who they are as in­di­vid­u­als. That was an in­ter­est­ing idea for us.” Thomp­son cites the mo­ment in The Force Awak­ens

“There was a lot of pent-up de­mand for a Bat­tle­front story and a sin­gle­player cam­paign”

“When we look to games it’s an op­por­tu­nity to tell a dif­fer­ent story than the movies”

when a trau­ma­tised Finn rips off his Stormtrooper hel­met as an in­spi­ra­tion, although Ver­sio’s jour­ney is dif­fer­ent. Af­ter re­act­ing with hor­ror to the de­struc­tion of the Death Star, she will re­main a Stormtrooper.

“It’s very in­ter­est­ing to see a story told from the Em­pire’s side,” Reilly says. “We don’t get that very of­ten. When we look to games and other me­dia it’s an op­por­tu­nity to tell a dif­fer­ent story than the movies. We don’t want to make movie games. We want to give our fans an in­sight into the sto­ries and characters that they might not see on screen.”

DICE is mak­ing changes to Bat­tle­front’s fun­da­men­tals with a view to adding depth, both match by match and over the course of the player’s time with the game. Classes, ab­sent from the 2015 Bat­tle­front but a sta­ple of the orig­i­nal games, will re­turn. Cus­tomi­sa­tion of gear and skills will work on a class-by-class ba­sis but also ex­tend to hero characters, which in­clude Yoda, Darth Maul, Rey, Luke Sky­walker, and Kylo Ren (the lat­ter two will also be playable in one-off mis­sions in sin­gle­player). He­roes are de­scribed by DICE cre­ative direc­tor Berndt Diemer as “more phys­i­cal”, im­ply­ing DICE has taken note of the crit­i­cism lev­elled at the floaty, dis­con­nected feel of the pre­vi­ous game’s spe­cial characters.

Space com­bat, no­tably ab­sent from the ini­tial re­lease of 2015’s Bat­tle­front, will be pre­sent in Bat­tle­front II from launch. Ve­hi­cle play is be­ing han­dled by Burnout and Need

For SpeedS vet­eran Cri­te­rion, which built the speeder­bike­speed sec­tions of the orig­i­nal game be­fore­be­for work­ing on PS4 Bat­tle­front free­bie

X-Wi X-Wing VR Mis­sion. “Our his­tory is very much in and around cars,” says Cri­te­rion man­ag­ing di­rec­tordi­rect Matt Web­ster, “but on the sub­sur­face­subsu it’s very much around game­feel and fan­ta­syfa ful­fil­ment that just hap­pened to be ex­pressedexp by a car. It’s a nat­u­ral tran­si­tion to take­tak that into a starfighter or a speeder­bike.”

Cri­te­ri­onCr prom­ises smoother ve­hi­cle han­dling­han­dli for Bat­tle­front II along with a greater sense of speed. For DICE’s part, ve­hi­cles will be in­cor­po­rated into mul­ti­player in a more sub­stan­tial way. As with your trooper and hero characters, your starfight­ers will have their own un­lock trees and up­grades. DICE also hints at a re­source sys­tem that will re­place the orig­i­nal’s ve­hi­cle-grant­ing powerups. Dur­ing a match you’ll earn points that can be cashed in for up­grades, ve­hi­cles, or a turn as a hero char­ac­ter. Hope­fully this means less time spent rac­ing against your team­mates for a shot at fly­ing an X-Wing.

There’s some war­ranted scep­ti­cism as­so­ci­ated with the prac­tice of spread­ing de­vel­op­ment of a block­buster game across mul­ti­ple studios, but in Bat­tle­front II’s case the fact that each developer has a spe­cific fo­cus helps to jus­tify the ap­proach. “Game de­vel­op­ment is very much a col­lab­o­ra­tion now,” Web­ster says. “Dis­trib­uted de­vel­op­ment has been a thing for a long time, ac­tu­ally.”

“And it’s just go­ing to get big­ger and big­ger,” Thomp­son adds, “as games get big­ger and big­ger.”

The fourth part­ner in Bat­tle­front II’s cre­ation is Lu­cas­film it­self, which acts in an ad­vi­sory ca­pac­ity on ev­ery as­pect of the game. De­sign­ers from each stu­dio are in daily con­tact with Lu­cas­film, in­clud­ing the fran­chisedi­rect­ing story group. “We’re the con­nec­tive glue, both cre­atively and de­sign-wise,” Reilly says. “Every­thing comes through us.”

At this early stage, Bat­tle­front II is demon­strat­ing the up­side of cou­pling broad­rang­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion to the vast re­sources that the Star Wars li­cence af­fords. How well each part of this am­bi­tious whole gels to­gether is the next ques­tion it will have to an­swer: even so, a game that at­tempts to do too much and falls short is likely to be bet­ter­received than a game that sets re­al­is­tic goals for it­self and charges play­ers through the nose for each ad­di­tion be­yond that.

Above all, it marks the de­ci­sive end of Star Wars games’ time in the wilder­ness. Its scope sug­gests a level of con­fi­dence that hasn’t been as­so­ci­ated with the se­ries since the can­cel­la­tion of Star Wars 1313 in 2013.

Bat­tle­front II is an ex­pres­sion of the free­dom and power that comes with find­ing your­self in the surg­ing cen­tre of the main­stream.

Be­ing partly a holo­gram stands in for the Bat­tle­field tra­di­tion of be­ing partly on fire for this year’s round of EA-shooter promo art­work

DICE plans to place more em­pha­sis on team­work for Bat­tle­front II, with the in­tent that a co­or­di­nated team of regular troops has a shot – al­beit a small one – at tak­ing out the likes of Darth Maul

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