Even after I had the chance to play Star Wars Battlefront 2 with 39 other players in a huge event space, it's the time I spent alone with the game in a small meeting room that left the biggest impression.
Battlefront 2 finally brings a proper single-player story mode to the series, telling a key new slice of Star Wars narrative from the Empire's point of view. If my short time with the game is any indication, solo-minded Star Wars fans have a lot to be excited about.
My demo began by introducing main character Iden Versio, an Imperial special forces officer tasked with fighting back against the Rebel Alliance in the wake of the Empire's defeat on Endor.I was immediately struck by how lifelike the cinematics were — motion-captured actors like Janina Gavankar and Paul Blackthorne looked like real people thanks to some impressively nuanced facial animation.
Shortly after being asked to carry out "Operation Cinder," a contingency plan created by Emperor Palpatine in the event of his demise, Versio and her crew find themselves under attack by Rebel troops. The action transitioned seamlessly from cinematic cutscenes to playable gameplay — one minute Iden was rushing to her TIE Fighter, the next minute I was piloting it.
Space combat has been tweaked extensively from the first game, thanks to some help from EA's Criterion studio. Steering felt more natural, and while the game's canned escape maneuvers have been cut, the new movement controls allowed me to create my own once I got the hang of things. After blowing up a few X-Wings, it was time to board a Rebel transport and kick off my favorite sequence of the whole demo.
The on-foot segment allowed me to utilize Iden's companion droid, which can be used to open doors, hack computer terminals, and, most importantly, shoot electric bolts at Rebel soldiers. The droid opens up a ton of strategic possibilities. Getting mowed down by a deadly turret? Just order the droid to take it out while you hunker down in cover.
Iden's droid (which doesn't have a cute nickname — EA Motive says that wouldn't be very Empire-like) feeds into the greatest strength of Battlefront 2's campaign: the game's incredibly open-ended. A member of the dev team played the mission tactically, taking out a room of Rebels with stealth take-downs and surprise droid kills. I, on the other hand, entered that same room guns blazing and blew a ton of stuff up. Both approaches worked.
Of course, campaign is just half of the game — I also got a taste of Battlefront 2's epic 40-player Assault on Theed mode, which pits Battle Droids against Clone Troopers in the gorgeous palaces of Naboo. The game introduces some very welcome changes, such as the ability to earn vehicles and special characters by racking up battle points rather than by sheer luck.
It was nice to finally have all eras of Star Wars represented again, especially when it came time for Rey and Darth Maul to face off in a totally-not-canon lightsaber duel. The Theed Palace map was absolutely stunning, and felt lived-in thanks to the hordes of fancily-dressed Naboo citizens that were fleeing the chaos in the background.
The previous Star Wars Battlefront was a gorgeous, fun and painstakingly authentic Star Wars shooter that was disappointingly low on interesting content. EA seems to be fixing that problem and then some — not only will Battlefront 2 offer a ton of variety out of the gate, it will also get a whole bunch of post-release characters and vehicles for free. I look forward to blowing up more Battle Droids and uncovering the rest of Iden's story when the game hits PS4, Xbox One and PC on Nov. 17.