Tuesday, December 5, 2017

'Star Wars Battlefront II' Story Review

By: Dominic Jones

When it was announced at Star Wars Celebration last April that the sequel to 2015’s disappointing Star Wars Battlefront would feature content from all eras of the Star Wars saga AND a story mode (both of which were lacking in the first game), the response from Star Wars fans was elation.  While the general opinion of the game has been eroded by controversy surrounding some less than popular decisions by developer EA (micro-transactions and whatnot), the game has still made quite the impression on the Star Wars community.

With the game having been out for a little while now, I wanted to take some time to examine the story of Battlefront II and how well it works as an installment in the Star Wars saga.  This is not a gaming review, so I won’t be talking about gameplay mechanics or micro-transactions, or anything else related to how the game itself works.  There are plenty of great reviews out there that cover that stuff, written by people who are more qualified than I am to talk about it. Instead, I want talk about the story alone.  And yes, this will contain spoilers, so if you haven’t played the game yet (or watched the cutscenes on YouTube)--and want to be surprised when you do--stop reading now.

Battlefront II makes a strong impression right off the top, introducing us to Inferno Squad, an elite special forces unit in the Imperial military.  The first mission sees Inferno Squad’s leader Iden Versio captured by the Rebel Alliance, or so we think.  Writers Mitch Dyer and Walt Williams do an excellent job at establishing Iden’s abilities, and we quickly learn she let herself be captured so that she could retrieve a key piece of information that the Rebels don’t yet realize has fallen into their hands.  The information Iden is retrieving is the Emperor’s plan to lure the Rebellion to Endor only to surprise them with the full might of the Imperial navy.

I bring up this first mission for two reasons; first, because of how well it introduces us to Iden and, by extension, the other members of Inferno Squad.  And second, because it demonstrates the way Battlefront II was able to successfully weave itself into the fabric of existing stories in interesting and meaningful ways without compromising the integrity of those other stories.  By having the Rebels come so close to discovering Palpatine’s trap only to have Inferno Squad steal back the information, Dyer and Williams manage to emphasize the skill of Iden and her colleagues in a way that doesn’t feel like it takes anything away from Palpatine’s actions in the films.

Battlefront II does this a lot, telling its own story on the edges of pre-existing Star Wars storylines and interacting with them only when it makes sense (mostly).  The game doesn’t cover tons of new ground in Star Wars history, as the trailers might have had you believe.  (It was implied in the trailers that the game would cover a larger portion of the history between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, with scenes such as Iden giving a speech on Starkiller Base--which doesn’t actually happen).  Instead,  Battlefront II stays mostly within the relatively safe time period between the battle of Endor and the battle of Jakku.  This means the game finds itself crossing over with stories featured in the comic book series Shattered Empire and the Aftermath trilogy of novels.  Again, Dyer and Williams do an excellent job of including Easter Eggs that reward fans who have read the other series, while maintaining an emotional core to the story that is not reliant on outside knowledge.

At the At the centre of the Battlefront II story are the bonds between Iden Versio and her fellow Inferno Squad members, Gideon Hask and Del Meeko, as well as Iden’s interactions with her father, Admiral Garrick Versio.  While these relationships are hinted at in the introductory mission, it’s in the game’s second mission--set during the battle of Endor--where they are fully established.  The strength of Battlefront II’s story rests entirely on the strength of its characters, especially Iden and Del.  Their struggle to find their place in the new, post-Palpatine galaxy is what carries the story.  Yes, there are fun appearances from iconic, legacy characters, but those also serve to further Iden and Del’s story, thus escalating the drama of the narrative. 

The turning point in the story comes a few missions later, when the Empire chooses to wipe out the population of Vardos, Iden and Del’s home planet, despite it being a loyal Imperial world.  Their hesitance to comply puts Iden and Del at odds with Gideon, Garrick, and the rest of the Empire.  Faced with the reality of the Empire’s actions, Iden and Del choose to disobey orders, save some of the population, and defect.  Gideon, on the other hand, chooses to remain loyal.  Inferno Squad is permanently fractured.

The defection of Iden and Del defect was not a twist I was expecting and I was pleasantly surprised by it.  I hadn’t even really considered it as a possibility, partially because the trailers implied that we would see Iden join the First Order.  It was probably for the best that the twist did because it kept the game focused on the story of its principle characters, rather than spend too much time on filling in the gaps in Star Wars history.  Plus, as a bonus, this twist opened up opened up some fun moments of interaction between the Inferno Squad members and some iconic, legacy characters in non-confrontational settings.

The unexpected nature Iden and Del's rejection of the Empire does not mean it was unearned.  Looking back on the game’s early missions, both Iden and Del make comments about their displeasure with different aspects of the Empire.  So when the Empire showed its true face on Vardos they were already primed to question its motives.  If you take Christie Golden’s prequel novel, Inferno Squad, into account, it becomes all the more believable.  There were times when reading that novel I found myself wondering if Iden and Del might defect (Del more so than Iden).  Don’t believe me?  Check out the spoiler section of the review I wrote of the novel back in August!  I’m not claiming to have been completely right--shortly after bringing it up back then, I wrote off the possibility of either of them defecting--I mention this now only to point out how well the novel serves to set up the game’s story.

Another relationship that the novel Inferno Squad did an excellent job setting up was that of Iden and her father.  In the book, Garrick appears mostly as a cold authority figure in Iden’s life, one with little affection for his daughter outside of her ability to serve the Empire.  At the end of the novel, we get a brief glimpse at his softer side.  The game picks up with their relationship in a slightly (emphasis on slightly) better place than in the novel.  But they are soon at odds again over the Empire’s destruction of Vardos, which ultimately leads to Iden’s defection.  Interestingly, Garrick never really sees Iden’s choice as any sort of personal betrayal.  Perhaps he realizes that the Empire’s time is coming to end.

We get a better sense of this during Iden and Garrick’s final meeting during the Battle of Jakku.  Iden, now fully committed to the New Republic, makes a last ditch effort to rescue Garrick aboard his crashing star destroyer.  In this moment, Garrick transforms from the cold authority figure of the novel and most of the game to a tragic character.  In his final moments, Garrick is unmasked as having fought for the Empire not because he believed in it, but only because he knew no other life.  In his own way he praises Iden for getting out, telling her “you deserve to live in peace.”  It’s a heart wrenching goodbye between father and daughter.

In addition to adventures with the new characters, Battlefront II also gives us a chance to check in with some legacy characters and see where they’re at in the period immediately following Return of the Jedi.  Generally, the appearances are done very well.  The characters have meaningful impact on the game’s main story of Iden and Del, while also giving it a sense of weight and importance in the Star Wars mythology.  With one exception: Han Solo.

There’s nothing wrong, per se, with the Han Solo mission in Battlefront II.  It gives players a chance to explore Maz Kanata’s castle, an area that didn’t get very much attention in The Force Awakens.  And it was a lot of fun to see Han and Maz interact in this era, given their history (and future).  But Han’s impact on the story of Iden and Del is non-existent.  There is nothing about this mission that adds to the story outside of the excitement of playing as Han Solo. Granted, this is a video game, so perhaps that’s to be expected. But when compared to the other legacy characters it feels like a missed opportunity that Han has no real place in the game’s story, unlike Luke, who plants the idea in Del’s mind that there are alternatives to fighting for the Empire.  Or Lando, as one of the few Rebellion generals who would be willing to accept Iden and Del into their ranks because he knows what it takes to reject the Empire.  Or Leia, who serves to show how the Alliance leadership treats its people as compared the Empire.  But Han is just there for the sake of having Han Solo in the game.

My main criticism of the story of Battlefront II is its pacing.  The game starts and ends strong, with moving character moments, plot twists, and intrigue, but there are sections in the middle that lack any significant forward momentum (like the Han Solo section).  It’s hard to get too worked up about this, though, because it is a video game after all, and story has to be factored into the larger equation which includes gameplay.  Because of this, all the missions are approximately the same length, with the result that some of the missions feel like they’re given more time than they’re worth.  For example, while it would be ludicrous to suggest that the mission to save the Imperial shipyards at Fondor is just as important as the Battle of Jakku, nevertheless Battlefront II gives the same screen time to both.  Another problem is that some of the missions don’t really contribute much to the overall story.  The Fondor mission is one example;  Lando’s mission to Sullust and Han’s mission are others.  Had this story been told in a film or a novel, this would probably not have been an issue, but at the end of the day the story had to serve the gameplay experience--which resulted in a  narrative that was stretched rather thin in some places.

A couple of other quick points I want to touch on before wrapping things up.  First, I have to say that the dialogue for Luke Skywalker was perfect.  Dyer and Williams  did a superb job at capturing Luke at this point in his life.  He comes across as a character who is at peace and full of hope, which seems just right and yet bittersweet considering where he seems to wind up (“I only know one truth: it’s time for the Jedi to end”). 

Second, Shriv is a fantastic new character.  He  first appears when Iden and Del surrender to the Rebellion after escaping Vardos, and reluctantly becomes part of their new team.  Shriv steals every scene he’s in with his sarcastic humor, making him a great new addition to the Star Wars galaxy.

Finally, let’s talk about the epilogue with Kylo Ren.  While it was cool to see Kylo interact with Del, still ultimately Kylo’s appearance here felt somewhat perfunctory.  With The Last Jedi coming out next month, it’s clear that the makers of Battlefront II wanted a tie in with the new film, but the manner of Kylo’s injection seems a bit contrived.  And the fact that the scene deals with Kylo searching for Lor San Tekka is also kind of underwhelming at this point.  We know Kylo finds Lor, but unless we’re actually going to learn something about either of them, the search itself isn’t of much interest. 

What made this scene work for me was not the Kylo Ren appearance, but rather the reveal that Gideon is still alive and now a part of the First Order.  His final scene with Del was brilliantly written and executed (pun intended).  It made this whole epilogue mission worth it.  Now, instead of looking forward to a showdown between Iden and Kylo in the upcoming free DLC, what I’m really excited to see is the reunion of Iden and Gideon.  Given how it played out between Gideon and Del, a scene with Iden promises both high stakes and high drama.

And, no I don’t think Rey is Iden and Del’s daughter.  Come on, people.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the story of Battlefront II.  I went in expecting a history lesson on what happened between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens.  Instead, I was treated to an emotional story about how two people faced with tragedy and an uncomfortable truth chose to do something about it.  Iden Versio and Del Meeko are worthy additions to the Star Wars pantheon of great heroes.  Is the story perfect? No, at times it suffers from the restraints of its medium.  But it’s still a fun ride mixing classic locations and characters with new ones that feel every bit as important as the icons.

You can follow me on Twitter: @DominicJ25

This article is an opinion piece and represents the views of the writer, and not the entire Star Wars Underworld organization

Follow The Star Wars Underworld on Twitter @TheSWU for more updates about this story and other breaking Star Wars news.


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