Star Wars Battlefront II
Three studios join forces to take on the biggest IP in the galaxy
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