Star Wars Battlefront has changed, and so far, it seems, all for the better. Where the original, multiplayer-only game is the most consummately, lovingly released Star Wars theme park outside of a Disney land-holding (albeit one with a limited number of number of rides and attractions, and an ultimate depth of fun perhaps on a par with candyfloss), feels a great deal more like the real thing.
It's not just the addition of a single-player story campaign that does it, though that does already look fantastic, plays brilliantly, and promises an epic, 30-year chunk of serious, currently unknown Star Wars narrative history to boot. Battlefront 2 goes beyond that. This isn't a game simply concerned with filling out its universe with sheer volume. Rather, developer DICE is doubling (maybe tripling) down on the depth and intricacy of ways to inhabit that universe, to really interact with it.
Nowhere does this become more apparent than in the game’s signature multiplayer. Now significantly fleshed out in every area, deepened in its systems, and chiseled into a far more intricate form, Star Wars Battlefront 2's competitive combat is clearly on a mission to overturn all accusations of the lightweight and the shallow that were so long (rightly) leveled at its predecessor.
The change in attitude is immediately obvious from the load-out screen. With four truly distinct, purposeful classes available, Battlefront 2 is clearly a game with strategy on its mind. With its squad-spawn system - which drops players into the battleground as an impromptu unit, with Battle Point bonuses for sticking together - matching the same number in its player cap, Battlefront 2 obviously wants you to find meaningful purpose, and coordinate abilities for the greater good. The randomised nature of squad make-ups might admittedly not always make for the most balanced team-building, but hey. This is still Star Wars Battlefront, with its core mindset of immediate, accessible fun. But it’s certainly now making an effort to balance the hoots with smart shooting.
In my matches - playing an Imperial side - the four available classes couldn't be more separate or complementary in their archetypes. The Assault trooper is your standard all-rounder, all medium-range combat and grenades. Then there's the Specialist, the tricksy sniper class with the trip mines. The Heavy is the slow-moving master of the Gatling blaster and mobile shield. The Officer, meanwhile, sports a relatively weak pistol, but can sound a rallying cry to buff any troops in an immediate radius. If you’re less confident in shooting, but great at support, this is the character for you.
What this comes down to in practice is a distinctly less arcadey experience, where strategy, placing, teamwork, and the timed use of asymmetric abilities are fundamental to the gameflow. No longer will you simply run-and-gun, letting blind luck and fast trigger-fingers dictate your fate. The inclusion of accuracy-boosting ironsights this time around speaks volumes to DICE’s intent, immediately making both the pace of the game and the lining of shots a whole lot more deliberate. Battlefront 2’s weapons still retail the ‘powerful but spammable’ identity of the first-game’s gunplay, for the sake of accessibility - the Specialist, for instance, can still make a pretty good fist of a rapid-fire stand-off if caught out at close-range - but there’s much greater facility for using them with thought and intent this time around, and much greater reward when you do.
As I play more, I discover that the combat model’s newfound purism is further shaped and reinforced by the more physical framework of map design. The Naboo city of Theed in particular might look like a fairly straightforward, urban skirmish-zone on first glance, but once down into those blaster-torn streets, it can be an unforgiving meat-grinder of a place. A picturesque location through and through, but one hiding a great deal of brutality in its layout.
Long, open promenades offer long-range death-by-Specialist to any unwary Assault trooper emerging too quickly from the corner of an enclosed street. Tight alleyways double up as safe flanking routes and godforsaken, multi-kill death-traps if a Heavy happens to control one, or someone has laid booby traps. Cavernous throne rooms hold vital objectives, but are lethal in their openness, should you even make it past the uncompromising choke-point sieges at their doors. To get around challenges like these you’ll need to think a lot harder, work a lot harder, and operate as a tighter team than ever before. It’s not quite Battlefield, in either scale or intent, but the influence of DICE’s other big FPS can be felt through and through. This is a Battlefront with immediate fun, but also the potential for a gratifying amount of longer-term depth.
Even the appearance of enhanced special units and abilities has been made less cartoonish, and entirely more fair and logical. Power-up icons are now a thing of the past, meaning that such rewards are now truly rewards, rather than the product of stumbling upon the right, recently-spawned icon at the right time. In Battlefront 2, a generously accruing pool of Battle Points - doled out as payment for a multitude of in-game actions - will act as currency, dictating the (frequent) availability of an array of bonus load-outs on spawn. And while AT-RT robo-legs, troopers with jump-packs, and Naboo fighters might feel excessive bonuses to have so readily on hand, in practice, each is remarkably well balanced, strategically purposeful, and thoughtfully designed. Extravagant sci-fi wonder toys they may be, but they’re also far too easy to waste in uncareful hands. And besides, this is a Star Wars FPS. Surely the point is to have as much cool, cinematic Star Wars stuff going on as possible, right? No-one really wants to skimp on the X-Wings.
Star Wars: Battlefront 2, then, is a much more gratifying game to play than its predecessor. Surprisingly so, in fact. No longer reliant on the shock and awe of Star Wars authenticity - though providing that in spades, with settings and characters now taking in all three eras - it now provides a different sort of authenticity too. A DICE authenticity. A serious, competitive shooter authenticity. It doesn’t come at the expense of the all-welcoming accessibility the series still obviously craves, but it is most certainly there. As such, there’s no small chance this could finally be the game we’ve been hoping for since that assault on Hoth in 2013.