Previews

Hands on with Star Wars Battlefront II

Star Wars Battlefront II is no joke, as Saturday’s EA Play revealed. I, like everyone tuning in to the EA Play event, was treated to slightly less than thirty minutes of livestreamed Battlefront II goodness. I eagerly slipped away from my seat to peer over the shoulders of those playing, and even got to watch one player respawn and play a full session as Darth Maul, holding down excited noises the whole time. An hour later, it was finally my time to shine. After standing in line, (and oh what a line it was!) I settled into a small bunker with 19 other new recruits, where we watched a brief informative video about life on the front lines in the clash between the Rebels and the Empire. “This is the most ambitious game we’ve ever built,” a voice proudly proclaimed. While we were not allowed to record our gameplay during this session, I was able to capture a few players in action during the press event itself.

Freshly informed about how to pick the Space Cards, add ons which power up or provide your characters with unique skills, that best reflect our playstyle, our training ended when we were informed that the actual game will feature multiple weapons, but we were currently limited to one. (I blame military budget cuts) We were ordered to exit the bunker and take up our weapons (in this case a PS4 controller and ear protection in the form of headphones), and prepare for battle. We were urged to partner up with the person next to us, and the play area was specifically designed with even numbers in mind, allowing players to advance as partners, covering each other’s weakness and encouraging communication. Unfortunately, the gentleman next to me did not speak my native tongue, nor I his, so we both charged into battle solo.

Assigned to the Clone Army and playing the same battle which we saw in the livestream, I rapidly scrolled between character options, which were rather limited at the outset of the match. I found myself at a distinct disadvantage, as I am chronically terrible at shooters, so I opted for defense cards and chose to play a Heavy, a defensive trooper who specializes in shields, a choice I generally stuck to during respawns. After all, if I’m going to die repeatedly, I may as well do so while keeping the better players alive! The counter ticked to zero and off we went, into the trenches to stop the advancing droid army, attempting to survive long enough to unleash a hellfire of Ion Charges at the advancing tank with the ultimate goal of defending the palace.

The battle did not start out well for us. Our collection of rookie Clone Troopers faced heavy casualties, energy blasts rained down from the sky to annihilate our forces, and the slowly advancing tank managed to land a blow so devastating that it literally launched me half way across the map, and left me flipping head over heels, shedding armor and throwing sparks, before announcing my death. That devastating death was demoralizing… but then I spawned next to Rey.

“I can handle myself,” she confidently announced, lifting my spirits before racing ahead with her blue lightsaber burning bright. Battlefront II respawns players in groups of up to four, and provides extra battle points to those who remain close to their respawn brethren. While this is a great way to earn battle points and possibly unlock a hero, it becomes more difficult as the battle continues and more classes and characters unlock. Because death allows you to switch classes, the game becomes more colorful and complex as the battle progresses, and more powerful and rare reinforcements are called in.

Clone Jump Troopers shoot off into the air at odd angles and amazing heights. Han Solo brags, “Sometimes I amaze even myself!” as he sharpshoots enemies before ducking behind cover. The whirling red doubled-sided saber of Darth Maul is truly terrifying as the Sith Lord approaches at high speed; peeking out behind cover, firing a few blasts, and seeing that Dark Side loving mother fudger drop to his knees is incredibly rewarding, (I may have overheated my blaster firing at his still-kneeling corpse, simply because I could) and resulted in more than one death as the line suddenly surged, overconfident and recklessly forward. The new hero mechanic seems to be tied to how well you play. The more Battle Points you rack up, the more specialized troopers you can unlock, eventually allowing you to unlock heroes, though I’m still not entirely the mechanism that decides which hero you unlock.

Mission objectives change in real time, depending on how your team is playing, and changes are both announced into your ear and written across your screen, making them delightfully difficult to miss. While our battle began with a full on assault of the advancing tank, we quickly found ourselves in a defensive position inside the palace, desperately trying to hold our ground. “Be brave, buy time,” a voice told me. We didn’t have to win, we just had to hold out long enough for the enemy to run out of respawns. This mechanic remains unchanged from the previous installment; each team only has a certain number of resurrections, called reinforcements, and if your team as a whole can simply die less than the other team does, victory can be yours.

All seemed lost after the West Wing fell, leaving us huddled within the East Wing, trying desperately to defend the throne room. Rey wilted before a rain of blaster fire, and poor Han never even made it that far. Boba Fett rained terror from above as AT-RTs seemed to appear from every direction, the phase “Roger, Roger!” forever seared into the fabric of my nightmares. My fellow Heavies and I formed a thin, fragile wall against the invading army, when suddenly the music changed. The screen froze, the sound of blasters faded into the distance, and one word, written in white text, lifted my spirits.

“VICTORY”

My Clone Army brethren and I held the line, repelled the invasion, and stood victorious in this chapter in the war of droid aggression. Reluctantly, we returned our controllers to their holsters, unstrapped our earphones and filed out of the play area, shuffling past a pair of fully uniformed stormtroopers muttering “Move along.” The victory felt hollow without the knowledge of the consequences of our fight, without a glimpse at battle lay just around the corner. I speak with confidence when I say that, for both clones and droids, it’s going to be a very long and very difficult wait for November 17th, 2017, the official release date of Star Wars Battlefront II.

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