WARNING: This post contains spoilers for the single-player campaign of Star Wars Battlefront II.
Star Wars Battlefront II’s single-player campaign is a terrible disappointment. Despite all the risks EA took with lootboxes, they chose to take no risks with the story mode.
Battlefront II’s campaign had promise to be different. You play as Iden Versio, an Imperial officer during and after the Battle of Yavin. Her story is an interesting role reversal for Star Wars: we could see what life is like in an Empire that’s collapsing. Why are Stormtroopers still fighting? Well, they truly believe they are the heroes, and they have interesting stories to tell.
I would love to play a game with those ideas in it. However, that game does not exist. Star Wars Battlefront II drops all of those ideas within 90 minutes. After that comes a very predictable plot twist that makes the game the typical good vs. evil story. There’s even a doomsday weapon, because there is no Star Wars anymore without doomsday weapons. Ultimately EA did not the make the game they advertised. “Avenge your Emperor” says the marketing. You do nothing of the kind.
They could not commit to the characters or the concept. Instead they shoved in cameos and undercut their story to bring us the usual Star Wars status quo. Battlefront II is not just a bad game, it represents everything wrong with modern-day Star Wars media.
A Sign of the Times
Modern Star Wars feels very insecure with being Star Wars. Every new story relies on old characters and old imagery to prove to fans that this is the Star Wars you remember and love. Star Wars Battlefront II tries to tell a story from the Imperial perspective. This plot offers a darker story with difficult morals. It’s a bold concept. But it’s too bold. Star Wars does not sell bold, it sells nostalgia. Battlefront II was in the awkward place of trying something new in a franchise that’s terrified of “new.”
Since its purchase by Disney, Star Wars has been looking backwards, not forwards. The Force Awakens was a near-remake of the 1977 original. LucasFilm has been willing to meddle with films or even fire directors to keep on company tone. If you stray too far, you will suffer the fate of Solo’s directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. This is not a franchise that is willing to be experimental or weird anymore.
We should not have been surprised that Star Wars Battlefront II dropped its story premise so early in the campaign. Kotaku’s Jason Schreier’s reporting on the cancelled Visceral Studios Star Wars project show us that EA’s higher ups are uncomfortable with a new take on this universe. That game would have been a gritty crime story unlike anything we have seen in Star Wars before. But EA didn’t understand the concept and kept asking for Chewbacca and lightsabers. It seems with Star Wars Battlefront II they got everything they asked for.
Repeating Rogue One’s Mistakes
Star Wars Battlefront II has the same problems as last year’s film Rogue One, only worse. Rogue One offered a new take on Star Wars featuring Rebel fighters with questionable morals. But Rogue One by the end is back in familiar the territory of good guys, bad guys, and the Death Star. At least Rogue One could have weirder characters and complex visuals. Battlefront II is made almost entirely from rehashed planets and weapons.
The hero of Rogue One, Jyn Erso is very much like Battlefront II‘s Iden Versio. They’re both strong, independent women. It’s great that Star Wars is full of female protagonists, but it keeps repeating the same mistakes with them. These characters don’t quite fit mainstream Star Wars, yet they are shoved into mainstream Star Wars stories. By the end of both Rogue One and Battlefront II you’re left with a vague sense as to who either woman was. They do not have arcs as much as sudden jerks sideways towards standard morality.
Cameos Undercutting the Story
Rogue One had a small problem with unnecessary cameos. Star Wars Battlefront II has a giant cameo problem. After an hour of playing as Iden, the next level suddenly switches to Luke Skywalker. Luke then disappears as suddenly as he appeared. A third of Battlefront II is made up of these fan service stages with characters from the movies. On Naboo you play as Leia while Iden is standing over to the side, a spectator in her own game. Han Solo‘s level barely even connects to Iden’s story at all.
What all this proves is that Iden Versio is not important. She is so unimportant that even Lando can kick her to the side for 40 minutes. It also tells us that the story we are being told is not really important either. It is just a frame for a “greatest hits” collection of Star Wars characters and moments. Not a single movie character has reason to be in Star Wars Battlefront II. However, nostalgia literally beats originality.
Star Wars Cannot be Weird
There was talent behind Star Wars Battlefront II. This game was written under the narrative direction of Walt Williams, who previously wrote Spec Ops: The Line. Spec Ops is a damning look at tactical war shooters and an allegory for the War on Terror. It was one of the most transgressive games of this decade. However it seems it is actually easier to subvert America’s foreign policy than it is to subvert the much more sacred world of Star Wars.
Once upon a time Star Wars games could have taken the risks that Battlefront II does not. Star Wars: TIE Fighter in 1994 actually stuck to its Imperial premise the whole way through. In that game you lived in a culture of whispers and dark conspiracies. It was fun being evil. In 2005 the original Battlefront II featured a level where you take part in Order 66 and attack the Jedi Temple. I cannot imagine a Star Wars game ever doing anything like that again.
Modern Star Wars needs to be a safe product for infinite sequels. Staying safe means staying well within nostalgia. With that kind of attitude, EA will never write a Star Wars story as interesting as TIE Fighter and definitely will never approach Spec Ops: The Line. Star Wars Battlefront II is a bad story, but it is exactly what you should expect from a franchise that cannot dare to be weird anymore.