Star Wars Battlefront II (2017)
Developer: EA Dice, EA Motive, Criterion
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: November 17th, 2017

When Pandemic Studios first launched Star Wars Battlefront in 2004 for the original XBOX and PlayStation 2, it revolutionized the scale of battles that players could finally experience in the Star Wars universe. With XBOX Live in full flight thanks to flagship titles such as Mechassault and Rainbow Six 3, the industry proved that online gaming was no longer simply a niche notion reserved for the PC audience. It was a natural next step, then, to incorporate the concepts introduced by the Battlefield franchise to the Star Wars license, which already had a strong history on home console platforms. While the initial Star Wars Battlefront (2004) entry had its issues, it laid the groundwork for what gamers eventually received a year later in 2005’s sequel from Pandemic. Widely heralded as a seminal title for the near ending console generation, Star Wars Battlefront cemented itself as a franchise adored by first person shooter and Star Wars fans alike.

                With progression into the Xbox 360/PS3 era, the Battlefront license went dormant, as Pandemic Studios closed its doors in 2009. It was not until 2015 when Electronic Arts rebooted the franchise, as part of what was becoming a trademark trend in the industry. What followed with Star Wars Battlefront (2015) was a highly polished multiplayer experience, but ultimately did not meet the expectations of long-time fans, particularly due to the lack of any meaningful single player campaign. Forward to 2017, and EA has released a sequel with the goal of rekindling the affections of both diehard supporters as well as neophyte fans of the brand. A proper single player campaign has been included, and the narrative declared as canon in the Star Wars universe. Though there has been much controversy surrounding the heavy emphasis on loot boxes in the multiplayer experience, this review will examine the single player campaign and its subsequent DLC expansion, Resurrection.

                Chronologically, the events of Star Wars Battlefront II take place in-between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, with players taking control of an Imperial Soldier by the name of Iden Versio. Portrayed by actress Janina Gavankar (voice and likeness), Iden Versio is a member of “Inferno Squad”, and the campaign primarily focuses on her story arch. The presentation of the single player campaign is stellar, as is becoming customary for EA. Gavankar does justice to the main character, bringing her to life and engrossing the player into her story. While the narrative may not be as captivating as modern single player classics such as The Last of Us or Horizon Zero Dawn, for a first person shooter campaign, the amount of thrilling moments and self-contained vignettes feel appropriately stitched together. The story does not overstay its welcome, clocking in at around 7 hours, and the narrative does well to hit the expected beats without disrupting a proper pace.

                As a “triple A” developer, Electronic Arts ensured that its teams at EA Dice, EA Motive and Criterion had all of the required resources to deliver a tremendously polished product. The graphical presentation of Star Wars Battlefront II is its greatest strength, and it can be argued that its visuals are unrivaled on this generation of consoles. From lush natural environments to gloriously structured Star Wars locales, the capabilities of the Frostbite Engine are on full display. All of the key elements a true Star Wars fan would desire from a videogame experience are delivered in exquisite fashion. The lighting effects and contrast between planetary set pieces versus spatial combat sequences allows the gamer to momentarily suspend disbelief that they are a participant in this universe. Star Wars Battlefront II undisputedly succeeds as a technical marvel, and proves that developers can continue to push home consoles to their limits, approaching photo realism even in a fictional story. 

                Not to be outdone by the graphical prowess, the audio production is just as superbly produced. All of the recognizable orchestral scores of the Star Wars franchise are included, and the sound effects of a light saber, blaster, or X-Wings are precisely reminiscent of the films. The newly introduced characters in the single player campaign are portrayed with commendable performances, particularly by Gavankar (Versio), TJ Ramini (Del Meeko), and Dan Donohue (Shriv Suurgav). The story also includes the presence of many well renowned characters from the universe, in glorified cameos. Unfortunately, the original actors and actresses are not reprising these roles, and while the stand-ins do an admirable job, it is jarring at first to hear voices you cannot immediately recognize associated to characters that are synonymous with the franchise. Nonetheless, the audio elements of Star Wars Battlefront II deliver overall, and reinforce that from a technical standpoint, the title was a labour of love.

                When Star Wars Battlefront (2015) garnered much criticism for the exclusion of true single player content, it was primarily driven by fans’ disappointment that such a well crafted game would be denied the opportunity of showcasing a “triple A” single player Star Wars experience. Star Wars Battlefront II finally delivers the single player campaign gamers have been clamoring for. While the substance of the campaign is slight in comparison to the hefty offering provided by the multiplayer options, it still suffices as an enjoyable adventure through Star Wars lore. Yes, the campaign may feel like a glorified training tutorial for the multiplayer, but most single player first person shooters suffer from this fate. Is the game worth diving into only for the single player? That depends on what you value. If you’re looking for an in depth and expansive single player experience, this is not going to fulfill those expectations. However, if you’re searching for free-flowing and steadily paced Star Wars action, this campaign is more than worth the time.

The first person shooter mechanics support the overlying theme of Star Wars Battlefront II: it’s polished. As an alternating option with EA’s Battlefield franchise, it is evident that the developers are endeavouring to meet the pressure of the license. A wide array of weaponry options are available to the player, from standard mid range to close or far range play styles being accommodated. Unique abilities are also included, that players can choose to equip and swap out throughout the campaign, which enables different strategies to be deployed to cater to the requirements of a level’s objectives. More abilities and perks are unlocked as the player progresses through the campaign, and this reflects elements of the loadouts that would be seen in the multiplayer experience. The shooter elements cannot be faulted, as they satisfyingly fulfill enjoyable science fiction tropes.

The highlight of Star Wars Battlefront II is the vehicular combat. Long time fans of Star Wars games will recall the glorious days of Factor 5’s Rogue Squadron series and its tight X-Wing flight mechanics. After the studio’s premature demise, having gone defunct in 2009, it left a void for Star Wars fans who particularly appreciate flight combat dedicated titles. It is a treat that Battlefront II honours the legacy of those beloved past titles, delivering the incredible adrenaline rush of those space combat settings. Well renowned for their work on the Burnout franchise, Criterion have showcased their expertise with the space sequences of Battlefront II. Whether it be the iconic X-Wing or TIE Fighter, the ships respond and react with perfect fluidity to the player’s control. Being able to maneuver through realistic flight battles never gets tedious, and remains excitingly fresh to the very end. The campaign spreads these sequences expertly from one another, leaving the player craving more.  

                A gripe that can be levied against Battlefront II is the inclusion of certain portions of the campaign that place the player in the role of the cameo superstars. It is a thrill to be able to play as these indelible characters, however the execution is lacking in comparison to the rest of the game. For a title whose greatest strength is its polish, these segments feel clunky, and it is evident that the mechanics were just not as thoroughly fleshed out. Though the main gameplay allows for seemless switching between first person and third person perspective, this works for the shooting mechanics, but not as effectively for these forced third person action levels. Once the lustre of playing as the cameo characters wears off, the tedium of clearing these sections sets in, and disrupts what is otherwise an excellent single player campaign.

The story of Battlefront II’s campaign is captivating from start to finish. The conclusion of the main campaign and the Resurrection DLC finely ties a bow on all of the introduced character beats, and plants the seeds for the events of Force Awake in a clever manner. Iden Versio is a particularly welcomed heroine lead for the video game space. Any Star Wars fan owes it to themselves to drop into this campaign. It successfully delivers a technical marvel and is a triumph for fun Star Wars action. Just don’t expect a revolutionary in depth experience, and instead take it as a thrilling roller coaster ride through a galaxy far, far away.