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Star Wars Battlefront 2 review-in-progress

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Controversy is difficult to thing to shed, and it’s something that’s impossible to avoid when discussing Star Wars Battlefront 2 in any kind of depth. Microtransactions – or loot boxes as the cool kids know them now – are a fundamental part of the game’s progression system, so the advantage of paying real world money for better gear and abilities looms large.

However, it’s just as impossible to ignore how far Swedish studio DICE has improved on the 2015 original. Battlefront was the most authentic Star Wars game to date two years ago, even if a barebones approach to progression and core multiplayer systems left it feeling a little hollow in places. Not to mention the painful lack of any single-player content.

Battlefront 2 rights these wrongs, and then some. Running on DICE’s frighteningly beautiful Frostbite engine, it’s one of the most graphical accomplished games we’ve seen running on current-gen tech. From the lush forests of Endor to the cold glimmer of space, you’ve never seen Star Wars look this good off of the silver screen.

We’ve now played through the game’s single-player campaign in its entirety, and we’ll be spending some time with its multiplayer over the coming days before we update this review with our final verdict. 

Squad goals

Developed by Motive Studios (the studio built around former Assassin’s Creed exec Jade Raymond), the story campaign offers an experience that’s both authentically Star Wars and consistently exciting. At the same it also makes a convincing case that single-player, narrative-driven games set in a universe of lightsabers, TIE Fighters and Salacious Crumb still have a place in 2017.

Serving partly as a quasi-tutorial for the game’s wider multiplayer systems – enabling you to to unlock and select weapons and Star Cards (which offer access to interchangeable, cooldown-affected abilities) – the short-yet-sweet campaign weaves a canonical story that takes you into the heart of the main saga, through its immediate aftermath and beyond.

The game’s flight handling has received significant improvements since the first game

In the shoes of Iden Versio, a brilliant and coldly efficient commander of an elite Imperial special forces team, you’ll explore a Star Wars universe reeling from the end of Return Of The Jedi. In Versio, we get a female protagonist with depth; a character willing to question the ideals and figures that have helped make her the warrior she is. Hats off to actress Janina Gavankar for making a ‘villain’ likeable for all the right reasons.

In fact, the rest of the cast puts in some decent performances, too – even those doing passable imitations of your favourite Star Wars characters (seriously EA, could you not afford Mark Hamill?). It’s just a bit of shame that there’s very little story to hold it all together. You’ll get to explore plenty of new (and familiar) locales and take part in many an important canonical event, but the campaign never truly manages to rise beyond the objective-based nature of its multiplayer DNA.

There are also some rather bizarre narrative beats that fall painfully flat, mainly due to certain characters making shifts in persona that make very little sense. Since we’re wading into waters infested with spoilers we’ll back away slowly, but you’ll know these moments when you reach them and likely end up scratching your head as much as we did.

X-wing and a prayer

So while the campaign’s core mechanics sometimes struggle to shake off the restrictions of working within the confines of multiplayer, it still offers up a tasty smorgasbord of cinematic moments. Leaping into a TIE Fighter and barrelling into space-based dogfights is probably the closest we’ll ever get to another Rogue Squadron (something made all the more satisfying now that Criterion – the other studio helping out DICE with BF2 – has streamlined the flying model to make it far more intuitive).

There’s an attempt to introduce stealth a few times, too (which simply doesn’t work as it’s simply inapplicable elsewhere), but it’s when Motive combines multiplayer modes in a narrative setting that the campaign comes into its own. One mission sees you flying a starfighter, engaging in dogfights before landing and entering a firefight on the ground. You then leap back into your ship and do it all over again. It’s everything we’ve ever wanted Battlefront to be, it’s just a shame BF2 doesn’t do it more.

Check back shortly for our final verdict on Battlefront 2’s multiplayer modes, and those loot boxes.

This game is currently being reviewed on Xbox One.