The first time we meet Iden Versio in Star Wars Battlefront II, she’s in handcuffs, glumly looking down at the floor as smug and self-assured rebels try to break her resolve on the eve of their assault on the second Death Star in the Endor system. They know she’s an incredibly dangerous person, from the Empire’s infamous Inferno Squad, but what they don’t realise is that she’s exactly where she wants to be.
With the purchase of Lucasarts by Disney and the revival of the film franchise, the expanded universe that had been created in books, comics and video games through the 80s, 90s and 2000s was effectively thrown out. “Goodbye Kyle Katarn, and nice knowing you Admiral Thrawn,” they said, but as big a shame it is to lose these characters, the new films being set 30 years after the end of Return of the Jedi and all of this space having been now vacated means there’s a lot of freedom for new stories to be told. That’s where Star Wars Battlefront II comes in, as Motive Studios and Lucasarts have collaborated to create just such a story, looking to follow on directly from the end of the original trilogy and fill in some of the gap that the films have left.
So we have the creation of Inferno Squad, a special forces unit set up after the fall of the first Death Star to try and hunt down the Rebels and prevent the same kind of military catastrophe from befalling the Empire again. Iden is the kind of character that puts a lot power in the hands of the player. She can turn her hand to pretty much anything in combat, whether it’s stealthy wet work, battling through a firefight, flying a Tie Fighter, or single handedly assaulting a Rebel cruiser. It’s almost amusing to see the Rebels scurrying away from her, in fear, as you tear through a ship’s corridors as a killing machine that’s perhaps even more effective than Darth Vader at the end of Rogue One.
It’s fascinating to step into her boots and view the Star Wars universe from the perspective of the bad guys, but as you might expect, she not a caricatured evil villain cackling with laughter as she cuts down her enemies. She’s doing her job, for one thing, but there’s more than a few opportunities to see that she and her compatriots are normal people as well. We’ve seen that Stormtroopers aren’t just automatons before, as Finn fled The New Order in The Force Awakens, but we see that from a different angle in this story, with a clear camaraderie and light banter between Iden and the rest of Inferno Squad after a successful mission, or cracking wise during action cutscenes in an amusingly cheesy fashion.
However, it’s also clear that she has a moral compass, and as the Empire’s contingency plan kicks into action after the death of the Emperor – would you believe that they’ve got another doomsday weapon to fall back on? – you can feel that she’s struggling, even as she follows orders and starts to question the tactics being employed. It doesn’t matter that those orders are coming from Admiral Versio, her father.
Following orders is not a problem, regardless of how the odds are stacked against you. There’s an almost complete parity between how this first/third person shooter plays online and within the story, with a single main weapon augmented by a trio of Star Card abilities, items and abilities, that you can swap out to suit your play style. By default there’s an impact grenade, a scan ability to highlight enemies and a charge up long-range Pulse Cannon, but all of these can be replaced. You could reduce damage taken, earn health on melee kills, add a temporary shield, swap to disruptor grenades or thermal detonators, and so on. Additionally, for the single player, you’ll find a further heavy weapon such as a rocket launcher or three-shot grenade launcher, boosting your ability to go up against, say, a captured AT-ST.
There’s a width to the level and encounter design, so that you can tackle objectives how you see fit. Aided by a little Imperial Droid that lives on her back – VZ-626, an ID-10 tactical droid that can zip off to stun enemies – stealth is very much an option, but so too is sniping from a distance or simply heading into the fray. Naturally, the Star Cards let you tweak Iden’s abilities to assist those styles of play.
She’s equally at home dogfighting in a Tie Fighter, cutting down Y-wings on a bombing run, battling against X-Wings, and more. What’s neat is that these battles can seamlessly shift to the combat on foot; one great moment had Iden simply fly into a hangar bay and let rip, before hopping out for a single trooper boarding action. It’s the peak of excess and over the top action, which makes it kind of brilliant in a way.
It’s just as great to see the efforts to which EA and Lucasarts have gone to rectify the omission of a meaningful single player from Star Wars Battlefront, giving Motive Studios the license to create this new story within the universe that will sit alongside the films. It keeps the same underlying gameplay from the multiplayer side of the game, but this looks set to be a bit more than a throwaway action romp, with interesting characters and a new perspective into this eternally popular galaxy.