Battlefront II Knows Good Star Wars Games—It Already Was One

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When Star Wars: Battlefront II launches this November, it’s going to have steep competition—not from its fellow holiday releases, but its decade-old namesake. The original Star Wars: Battlefront II, which came out in 2005 (and was the sequel to a game that in turn set up a 2015 franchise reboot), was pure fan service, welded to a set of cleverly tuned game systems that borrowed liberally from some of the best multiplayer shooters out there circa 2005. Fans, myself included, hold it up as the Platonic ideal of a multiplayer Star Wars game.

The most exciting thing about the new version of Battlefront II is that it seems to agree.

Revisiting the original Battlefront II now, 12 years later, it feels in many ways like just an average multiplayer shooter, copying the mechanics and rhythms of the ultra-popular Battlefield games and pasting them into space. Yet, the game pulled off that command-V with “match destination formatting” enabled—and did so with such love that it managed to transcend its pedestrian shortcomings. Its vision of Star Wars was broad and accessible, yet contained all the hyper-detailed devotion of the nerdiest Wookiepedia reader.

Even better, Battlefront II was the ultimate set of Star Wars action figures: Any fight across the cinematic franchise could be re-enacted, remixed, and reversed. The game’s substantive Galactic Conquest mode let you play out the films’ major conflicts like a board game, moving fleets around the galaxy and engaging in strategic matches in order to take control of planets and the hyperspace lanes between them. Even the messy sprawl of the saga’s Clone Wars became an epic setpiece.

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The game also sported a robust, clever singleplayer campaign that followed the 501st Legion—those elite clone soldiers of the Republic who go on to serve as Darth Vader’s super-evil special forces division. (At least, that was the story before Disney wiped out the Expanded Universe.) In it, you serve as a veteran clone throughout numerous engagements, your goals slowly becoming more and more sinister as the Republic falls and rises again as the Empire. It’s great stuff.

It’s also exactly why 2017’s Battlefront II has me cautiously thrilled. It implements all of those ideas in one way or another. All the eras of the films are back, the Clone Wars as available for your dust-ups as Hoth or the Death Star, along with new settings based on the post-Return of the Jedi era that began with The Force Awakens. Space combat, a thrilling part of the original that was mostly missing from the 2015 Battlefront reboot, is back. The inane upgrade system of the reboot, which focused on “Star Cards,” a set of collectibles that we’re fairly certain did not feature into the Rebel Alliance’s original strategies to take down the Emperor, has also been ditched in favor of what seems like a more natural system of progression.

Most exciting, there’s a singleplayer campaign. In the absence of the 501st, we’ve got Inferno Squadron, a completely canon set of Imperial Special Forces troopers who keep fighting long after the second Death Star falls. Star Wars games have a long legacy of telling interesting stories about the bad guys—you could play a Sith in the Knights of the Old Republic roleplaying franchise, and many did—and a modern Call of Duty-style campaign is a good fit for the shoot-first-ask-questions-never stylings of the Empire.

When Disney rolled back the history of the expanded Star Wars universe, fans worried that they would fail to take lessons or inspiration from the amazing wealth of stories and experiences built with Lucas’s toys in books, comics, and games. 2015’s Battlefront felt like a confirmation of that fear; it focused so singularly on the original trilogy that it failed to properly reckon with what would be most engaging, or what fans might want out of a new Battlefront game. It’s far too soon to tell if Battlefront II will be any good, but at least it seems like it’s finally taking inspiration from the right places. May the Force be with it.

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