Star Wars: Battlefront II has been in the headlines a lot due to its controversial loot boxes, EA’s greed, DICE’s questionable design and more. In amidst everything, though, the story has gotten largely overlooked which is surprising as in the greater Star Wars story it contains some important bits of information. So, with SPOILER WARNINGS in mind I wanted to take some time before my full review of the game to explore Battlefront II’s campaign story, what it gets right, what it gets wrong and all the stuff in the middle.
Things start strong as we’re introduced to Iden Versio, the commander of Inferno Squad, an Imperial special forces unit operating around the time of The Last Jedi onwards, giving us a glimpse into the time between the original trilogy finishing and The Force Awakens. Our introducing to Iden is as she’s being held prisoner by the Rebels, having allowed herself to be captured in order to infiltrate their ship and destroy Imperial plans. Stealthing and blasting her way through the ship before evacuating via shooting herself out of an airlock only to be picked up by Inferno Squads ship her introduction paints her as a badass leader of a badass squad.
It’s great because we rarely get to see the Imperial point of view in the Star Wars galaxy, and Iden, along with Del and the unlikable Hask, aren’t portrayed as being evil, rather as soldiers fighting for what they believe to be the side of good, just like the Rebels. Inferno Squad witnesses the destruction of the Death Star and the untold deaths it must have caused, and mourn both the life lost and the loss of such a huge and important undertaking.
Predictably, though, Battlefront II opts to go down the standard route of having Iden and Del defect to the Rebels, and that’s where our problems begin. Now, while switching sides to the good guys is something we’ve seen already the concept still leaves plenty of space to play with seeing things from the Empire’s point of view for a while before then dealing with the gradual disillusionment of Iden and Del, their abandonment of the Empire, joining of the Rebellion and gradual integration into the Rebel Forces. Except Battlefront II refuses to ever take the time needed to do these things correctly.
It barely feels like you’ve gotten started before Iden and Del are suddenly shaken by something the Empire does and decide to get the hell out of dodge. Given that they are both members of Imperial special forces and therefore presumably pretty die-hard loyalists it’s hard to imagine that they’ve not seen the Empire do some dodgy crap before, and indeed have probably been part of some of it given their roles within the army. The Empire’s decision to basically terrorize innocents in order to regain some semblance of control is a horrible move and certainly could have acted as the catalyst for Iden and Del’s decision to abandon the Empire and their former friends, but more build-up to the moment was needed. We barely get to know Iden and Del, we see almost nothing of their life and relationships within the Empire and then suddenly they’ve abandoned it. These two have spent their whole lives fighting for the Empire, yet the moment they choose to leave all that they’ve ever known comes across as hollow and emotionless.
Now, imagine this was given more time to breath. Not only do we get to see Iden and her squad in action but we also get to learn about their friends and daily life within the Empire. Not only would this provide an interesting insight into the Empire itself but it would make Iden and Del’s pivotal decision to leave mean so much more. After all, turning your back on the very thing which has defined your life is no easy thing.
It would also mean a chance to build Iden’s personality as she comes across worryingly like Jynn Erso from Rogue One, by which I mean largely lacking in anything that truly defines who she is. Truth be told she feels like a victim of a writing team trying desperately to appease a certain demographic by having a “strong” female lead characters that completely forgot to make her an actual person in the process with strengths, flaws, desires, hates and motivations of her own.
Del favors a bit better, largely because his own defection is given more meaning by his obvious love for Iden and due to his face-to-face meeting with Luke Skywalker, yet another sequence that feels like it needed a little more time. Del being trapped when he meets Skywalker provides such an intriguing moment afterward when he asks Luke why he helped him, and Luke replies that while the other troopers gave him no choice but to fight Del did give him a choice, and so he chose the path of peace. Del later returns the favor when Luke calmly asks to keep a compass, and when Del asks why he should allow Luke to keep an artifact he is tasked to destroy Luke simply says, “Because I asked you.” It’s a strong moment for Del, his beliefs rocked as the things he was told about the Jedi turn out to be, at least in the case of Luke, entirely wrong, and then his world is further altered by the idea that the Emperor can use the Force and has ties to the Jedi and something darker.
In contrast, Iden never gets a moment like this. She never gets to have that moment where she realises things aren’t as they seem.
Hask suffers the same fate. As a member of Inferno Squad we basically know nothing about him, and no camaraderie or even respect is set up between him, Iden and Del, which makes his role as a villain feels weightless. When Iden and Del decide to abandon the Empire Hask remains loyal, and it should have been a perfect opportunity further everyone’s character as a once rock-solid team is broken apart by their beliefs. For Hask it could have been a moment of sympathy as he feels betrayed by his squadmates, unwilling at the time to attempt to stop them before growing cold toward them, and eventually hunting them down. Instead what we get out of Hask is a generic douchebag who simply brands them traitors and tries to kill them on the spot. A potential brilliant moment of conflict is wasted.
Once Iden and Del leave the Empire the game’s 4-hour campaign continues to be a problem. In a whirlwind, they suddenly end up helping the Rebellion before time jumps forward by several months whereupon both Iden and Del are complately trusted, valuable members of the Rebellion who are on very friendly terms with Princess Leia, Han Solo and more. Not once is there any time given over to the emotional punch of Inferno Squad leaving everything they knew, including their friends and family, or of them now actively killing those they once served alongside. We don’t even get to see them integrate into the Rebellion, as instead they’re immediately forgiven for the colossal amount of damage they personally did against the Rebellion before being thrown straight into an important mission. Only Scriv, arguably the best character in the game, shows some distrust, but even then he quickly becomes a member of the squad and their friend.
Once again, then, time is the game’s biggest problem. With such a short campaign it’s even crazier that the developers give us missions where we control the likes of Han Solo, Leia and even Lando instead of focusing on their own creations. It’s an obvious attempt at fan-service which I’m not even against, but for these missions to work the campaign needs to be at least twice as long, that way Iden, Del and Hask’s story gets time to breath while also allowing fans like me to get cool moments with classic characters. Instead, we get shoehorned in segments at the cost of the story.
It’s bizarre because Battlefront II actually includes a few plot points from The Force Awakens. We, of course, have the mysterious compass that Luke claims for himself which could very well be what he used to find the last Jedi temple. More importantly, though, and again I must remind you of stories, is that the game’s end strongly suggests that Iden and Del are the parents of Rey. As Iden and Del share their first kiss on Jakku no less, the very planet Rey is on at the start of The Force Awakens, we suddenly jump several decades ahead to none other than Kylo Ren hunting down a much older Del before attempting to mentally destroy him in order to discover the location of the map leading to Luke Skywalker’s last known location. Not only does this scene explain why Kylo arrives on Jakku at the start of Force Awakens but we also get to see Hask murder Del. In this final moment we get an obvious setup for some DLC but we also get Del pleading for Hask to leave their (he and Iden’s) daughter. While it’s never specifically mentioned that the child is both Del and Iden’s and that she is indeed Rey, the way the child’s name is carefully avoided, the presence of Kylo Ren, the timing and Del’s link to Luke Skywalker all point toward the two members of Inferno Squad being Rey’s parents.
It’s a pretty big moment as the mystery parentage of Rey was a huge talking point after the Force Awakens was shown with fans debating if her parents would be existing, major characters within the lore like Obi-wan Kenobi or if was actually just a red herring and ultimately didn’t matter. As it turns out, it seems to be somewhat in the middle with Disney presumably wanting to avoid the predictable route of Rey being yet another Skywalker or something of that sort while still giving her interesting parents. By opting to flesh her heritage out in a game Disney can have the best of both worlds; they don’t have to dedicate a portion of the film to showing Inferno Squad’s exploits and can instead just give a quick run down, while giving fans who play Battlefront II some extra context for Rey. Of course, the downside is that something which felt like a pretty big plot element for the new movies could end up leaving a lot of fans feeling like it got sidelined and that they have to go and pay to play a game in order to fill everything in.
It’s certainly a strange decision to have this plot point resolved in a game, but then the entire of Battlefront II’s campaign is a pretty strange decision. It wants to be a part of Star Wars canon, introduce wholly original characters, fill in a fraction of the timeline between The Last Jedi and The Force Awakens, let you play as iconic characters AND somehow do all of that in about four hours. If anything deserved a nice lengthy campaign it’s Star Wars, especially if the intention is to have it in canon with new characters and events that do impact the new movies.
Not everything is a dud, though. Just like the rest of the game the production values are superb both in terms of the level of detail in levels and in the cutscenes which include wonderfully rendered faces, animations, and environments. It looks, sounds and feels like Star Wars through and through, and as a fan I can’t help but appreciate getting to fill in some more of the universe, such as seeing the battle of Jakku that was only previously hinted at in The Force Awakens. And while Iden might lack personality her voice actor, as well as everybody else, does a great job with what they have.
Ultimately it feels like there were much grander plans in place for the entire campaign and that so much more time should have been given over to exploring these potentially great characters, their abandonment of their entire life in favor of the Rebellion and their relationship with Hask.
But that’s what could have been, rather than what we have. In the end as much as Battlefront II’s storyline intrigues me as a Star Wars fan it also leaves me feel disappointed with how it was handled. It has many failings, but the biggest is that it’s a victim of yet another half-assed campaign that came as a direct result of DICE and EA attempting to appease criticism that last years Battlefront had no singleplayer. Because of that we have a short campaign with levels that use multiplayer assets, and sitting amidst this is a story that feels like it came from people who genuinely wanted to tell a compelling Star Wars tale that would add to the universe but who were also forced to cram it into a measly four-hour campaign.
Still, if you’re a die-hard Star Wars fan it’s at least worth hitting up Youtube to watch the cutscenes.
Inferno Squad deserved better.