Feature: Battlefront II's single player is still the best thing about it

The traditional post-release cycle of hot-takes would dictate that I explain why I dislike a game that everyone else loved (Why Super Mario Odyssey Is Actually The Worst Mario Game Ever Made), but in this instance we’re showing some love to a game that was on the receiving end of a lot of hate in a display of reverse hot-takery (hot-fakery?). 

To be clear, the hate that Star Wars Battlefront II received was not entirely unwarranted, since the microtransactions were jammed into the game’s Star Card progression system as elegantly as someone mashing chicken nuggets into the disc drive of your actual fucking Xbox, except for the purposes of our metaphor they’d also demanded a tenner for every nugget. My position on loot crates pivoted from ‘it’s fine if it doesn’t really affect the game’ to ‘yeah fuck that, we need better ways to sustain AAA development’ right around the time I realised how much pre-teens love spending money on FIFA Ultimate Team and how much parents love not having to supervise their pre-teens every waking hour. And I don’t want to defend loot crates themselves. So I’m not going to. 

Though it’s a much lesser crime than potentially luring teens into spending their savings on digital baubles, the loot crates issue also overshadowed that the dev team – many of whom may in fact not have gotten into games development with the sole intention of one day angering those who play them and ruining a beloved franchise – managed to make a fairly decent Star Wars game. This especially includes the single player, which treads a tightrope across the different epochs of Star Wars and manages to safely get over. More or less, anyway.

Creating a single player campaign for a Star Wars game in 2017 is a pretty hard task, because you’re being compared to not only a bunch of new Star Wars films (and the old films, and all the books and stuff Disney says don’t count now), and some very good old Star Wars games, but also the Star Wars games that never were and whose cancellation were publicly mourned for what we imagined they could have been. Untested by such trivial things as ‘reality’ and ‘existing’, these games will always be perfect in the starfields of our imagination. 

Battlefront 2 new screens

Battlefront II’s single player isn’t perfect (but then, other than snowflakes caught in a tiny kitten’s whiskers, what is?). The levels where you play as heroes like Luke, Leia or Lando stick out from the rest of the story and feel awkward, as if some executive somewhere was constantly yelling ‘We don’t need art! We need pictures of Darth Vader!’ at the story team. There was also a weird kind of mid-season break before the DLC came out which made the single player too long by exactly the amount of time it takes you to complete the Kylo Ren mission set decades after the first chunk. But around that the Battlefront II single player tells a good, authentically Star Wars-y story, and carefully echoes themes you see in the old Lucas era trilogies as well as the current crop of Star Wars: The New Class outings.

Our hero is Iden Versio, leader of the Empire’s elite Inferno Squad. Starting the game from the point of view of a Stormtrooper is a bit disorientating, and in my preview I wondered if the shift adds unnecessary complexity to the simple good vs. bad binary of classic Star Wars. But if we compare it to the more recent films – and perhaps you’ll appreciate being warned that I am a The Last Jedi liker – this actually reflects the direction Star Wars as a whole is heading. There’s still good and bad, but we’re learning that bad people can do good things and, shockingly, good people can also do bad things. One of the most striking moments in 2016’s prequel-and-a-half Rogue One was dashing rebel ne’er do well Cassian explaining why he couldn’t give up when defeat seemed near: ‘We’ve all done terrible things on behalf of the Rebellion. Spies, saboteurs, assassins. Everything I did, I did for the Rebellion.’ 

The existence, in Battlefront II, of entire planets that are chock full of civilians loyal to the Empire is a reminder that the Rebellion is one side of an actual war entailing massive losses of life on both sides, which later comes back around in The Last Jedi when we visit a giant casino full of arms dealers who profit from selling ships to both teams. We also have Benicio del Toro’s self-serving rapscallion character in The Last Jedi, who demonstrates that taking a neutral stance is impossible, as your lack of action will still benefit one side – he is essentially what Han Solo would have been if he’d actually left with his reward instead of returning to help the Rebels at the end of A New Hope. But Han Solo came back. So Han Solo’s alright.