Star Wars Battlefront II has a few things in its favour in comparison to Star Wars Battlefront – a lot more maps from the get-go, no need for a Season Pass and a single-player campaign mode which I will talk about here. I’ll do a separate post about the multiplayer game-play of Star Wars Battlefront II when I’ve had a proper good blast on it.

Much has been written about the ‘gambling’ aspects of the loot crates, the Reddit campaign against the developers’ original progression and hero unlock system, and the controversial but greatly welcome reverse of the cash-grab mechanics of the multiplayer, so I won’t go into the details here. Suffice to say at this stage that I have found the game amazing fun to play in all modes and in a lot of cases a marked improvement on the first iteration. Haters gonna hate, no matter how good the actual gameplay is.

The campaign in Battlefront II is set mostly in the time period between the events of Episode VI: Return of the Jedi and the Empire’s last stand at the Battle of Jakku long before the rise of the First Order and the events of Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

In the campaign prologue ‘The Cleaner’, we find our main character, Imperial Special Forces commander Iden Versio, held aboard a Rebel Mon Calamari star cruiser and being interrogated for secret codes to unlock an Imperial transmission. Once she is alone in her cell, she activates her little spider droid, and the first player action we get is to play as the droid and stealthily find your way to Iden’s cell, zap a few Rebel scum along the way, and free her.

It turns out Iden has allowed herself to be captured so she can delete the transmission and keep the Emperor’s plan for the Battle of Endor under wraps. Playing as Iden, you get to blast your way through the corridors of the cruiser, order your droid to ‘slice’ doors open and electrocute some more Rebels, erase the message (by holding down the square button for a while – there’s a lot of square button pressing to be had all through the campaign) and escape  from the ship in a dramatic cut scene. As you’d expect, with such big expectations from Star Wars fans, all the cut scenes are very high quality and in keeping with the franchise’s visual language.

Iden is picked up by the Corvus, Inferno Squad’s ship. Iden confirms the mission’s success with agents Del Meeko and Hask, the other members of Inferno Squad. There’s a new Star Wars novel which tells the story of Inferno Squad before these events by the way, if you’re interested in Star Wars books.

Mission 1: ‘The Battle of Endor’ has Iden and her squad on the forest moon. It reminded me fondly of hours spent on the Endor level of Battlefront. After a bit of a laser battle with rebel troops, the squad witnesses the second Death Star exploding above them. Inferno Squad beats a hasty retreat, as the forest moon is overrun by plucky rebels, and use some conveniently parked TIE fighters to escape.

The Corvus is attacked among the debris of the destroyed Death Star II during the escape, but you destroy the attacking bombers. I found that it was these spacecraft battles which were the highlight of the campaign mode.

Iden meets up with her father, Admiral Versio, on his flamboyantly named, and predictably ultimately doomed, star destroyer the Eviscerator. He confirms that the Emperor Palpatine is dead. A spooky messenger droid issues the Emperor’s final command – to initialize Operation Cinder – via a cool looking holographic helmet display, but doesn’t give too much of the details of the operation away to Iden.

In Mission 2: ‘The Dauntless’ Iden is sent to an Imperial shipyard to protect Moff Raythe in his star destroyer Dauntless which is central to Operation Cinder. A Rebel Star Cruiser attacks, but Iden and Hask board it and fight their way to the controls of its ion cannons. You then have to get back into your fighter and blow up the clamps that are keeping the star destroyer docked in the shipyard which can be a test of your flying skills if like me you tend to prefer the first person shooter levels of the multiplayer game.

In Mission 3: ‘The Observatory’ you play a grim looking Luke Skywalker exploring the planet Pillio. You get to flex your force powers which haven’t changed a great deal from the first game and take down some pretty dumb AI Stormtroopers. He finds Del from Inferno Squad who was sent to destroy one of the Emperor’s hidden bases. Goodie-goodie Luke, possibly detecting the good inside Del, rescues him from being stuck in some bug amber.

There then follows one of the worst sections of the game – mind-numbing button pushing while a load of bugs (recalling the Flood from Halo) try to attack Del while he disables the base’s defences. There’s a bunch of junk in the base but Luke finds a mysterious looking compass (perhaps Captain Jack left it there) and then lets Del destroy the rest. Del’s encounter with the Jedi leads him to question his life as a tool of the Empire.

Before Mission 4: ‘The Storm’ we see that Iden isn’t going to stay a baddie for much longer either, having seen what Operation Cinder actually entails. Inferno Squad are sent to Empire-friendly planet Vardos, in order to retrieve an Imperial VIP before the planet is rendered inhabitable by the Cinder satellites’ storms. Iden and Del try to evacuate a bunch of frightened civilians, but Hask tells them they are traitors to the Empire.

You then have to guide Iden with Del in tow through the Imperial buildings and troops (including a pesky AT-ST) to escape off world. This includes hijacking and getting to use the cannons of an AT-AT in a beautifully lit piece of action with plenty of eye-candy explosions.

In Mission 5: ‘The Outcasts’ the duo find the Rebel Alliance. General Calrissian gives them the choice of helping stop Operation Cinder, or leaving and making new lives for themselves. Thankfully the campaign continues with Iden and Del choosing to pilot their X-Wings to the space around Naboo where the Empire has deployed Cinder satellites. You have to take them out, save some Rebel ships from attack and have a thoroughly good dogfight with a bunch of pesky TIE fighters.

In Mission 6: ‘Royalty’ Del helps Princess Leia Organa protect the people on the ground in Naboo’s capital by reactivating the Planet’s defences. You get to play Princess Leia and mess about with her abilities including the big squad shield that she has to deploy to protect Del boy while he’s fiddling with more controls. There are so many controls that need fiddling with in this single-player campaign! Leia’s pistol makes a very satisfying ‘pew pew’ noise.

I found the AI of the Stormtroopers quite lame again until the last section where you have to fall back to the steps of the Palace. Once the Ion Pulse fires, the Imperials are defeated – funny how the Rebels’ weapons are okay or perhaps they’re notoriously good at melee attacks so the Stormtroopers give up. I thought it was quite nice to reference Queen Amidala who had the canon installed to protect against droid armies prior to the Clone Wars.

In Mission 7: ‘General Distress’ you get to play an oddly bearded Han Solo on Tadokana the familiar setting for Maz’s castle in The Force Awakens. Again I flashed back to another game – this time Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens with the tedious parts collection and build inside the castle.

This game section wasn’t much better with some tiresome Assassins Creed style conversation (yup the square button again!) and some lame walking and talking without the if-you-run-they-run dynamic of Assassins Creed which left the Imperial defector I was trying to find standing on one side of the busy interior while I stood at the door waiting for him to catch up. The data that Solo finally gets hold of, after some shooting and the great opportunity to pilot the cumbersome feeling Millennium Falcon, reveals Imperial operations on Bespin and Sullust.

In Mission 8: ‘Under Covered Skies’ Iden and Del go to Bespin in their X-Wings. We see some giant gas generating jellyfish type creatures (reminding me of an Iain M Banks book called The Algebraist). The dynamic duo want to try and capture Iden’s dad but they fail miserably and then have to steal a cloud car to escape Stormtroopers. While they are at it they blow up a fuelling station taking down three star destroyers in the process. It’s probably the easiest of the flying sections to complete. Bespin looks amazing.

In Mission 9: ‘Cache Grab’ you get to play as Lando who, with his wisecracking Duros sidekick Shriv,  investigates an Imperial weapon factory on Sullust. He decides to destroy the factory by releasing the lava which powers the plant. Problem is there’s a bunch of angry Stormtroopers to get through while finding the controls (yup more controls) and also while trying to escape.

You get to drive an AT-ST (much the same as Battlefront) and then it looks like you’re toast as the lava rises and starts melting the legs of the stranded AT-ST, but you get a lift off your Rebel buddies.

Mission 10: ‘The Battle of Jakku’ is a mixture of flying your X-Wing and landing to help out Rebel ground forces on the desert planet Jakku. There’s a tricky defence mini-mission in which you have to use the aerial bombardment goggles to rain down destruction on a couple of AT-ATs (I was hoping to pilot a speeder and do the lasso style takedown, but it wasn’t to be) while some AT-STs wander about ineffectually.

The other ground mini-mission (yes there’s only two – which seemed a bit rubbish really) is a fairly simple infiltration job into a downed star destroyer which is launching TIE fighters from its guts. You have to shoot your way in, plant some square buttons… I mean detonators… and then fight your way out again. There’s no issue around landing your X-Wing it happens automatically for you and there’s plenty of weapon crates knocking about to pick up useful stuff.

In Mission 11: ‘Until Ashes’ the Imperial fleet and the Rebel fleet have a final battle in the atmosphere of Jakku. You get to pilot an X-Wing and dogfight against Hask. It can be a pretty tricky task if you aren’t quick to use your R2 unit to fix damage to your ride and don’t concentrate on putting Hask down as quickly as possible.

Iden wants to try and rescue her father aboard the Eviscerator, so she crash lands on the upper surface of the star destroyer and works her way through the defences until she finds a place to get inside the hull. She meets up with daddy-Versio but he typically tells her that he will go down with his ship. He tells Iden to escape and live a new life.

After a bit of running through explosions and whatnot, she uses an escape pod and is found by Del after the battle. There’s a bit of romance which will have the kids making puking noises and there should be an ‘iris out’ during the scene where Shriv, Iden and Del survey the familiar devastation of Imperial wrecks on the surface of Jakku, but there isn’t.

Mission 12: ‘Discoveries’ is set decades later, Del is captured by the First Order on the planet Pillio. He is in the Corvus, which he has been using as a cargo freighter. Kylo Ren uses his Force powers to interrogate Del, in order to find the location of the map leading to Luke Skywalker – the McGuffin of The Force Awakens. This mission is all wobbly looking and revisits sections of maps previously visited in the campaign, and as a result seems tacked on to the end by the developers who maybe realised that the total play time for the campaign isn’t that much better than the much maligned campaign modes of the later Call of Duty games.

You get to play Kylo Ren scrapping it out with anything that moves in a bit of a boring hack and slash session while listening to the dialogue. After your bit of fun with Kylo, Hask reappears – rumours of his demise have evidently been greatly exaggerated – he’s even more of an asshole than before, if that’s possible, and we learn that Iden and Del have had a daughter. Hask kills Del. He warns Gleb, the spider-faced VIP he saved from Vardos, that the Republic must not find out about ‘Project Resurrection’, orders her to bury the dead and leave the Corvus as bait to lure Iden out of hiding.

So the campaign leaves us with a couple of major loose ends – (1) what’s the significance of the compass Luke finds and (2) what is ‘Project Resurrection’ and (3) why did Hask mention it to Gleb if it’s so secret… lol…?

All told, I enjoyed the flying bits of the campaign a lot more than I expected, the balance between spectacle, action and humour (mostly from Shriv) was true to the Star Wars films, and the story was pretty engaging. Unlike for the multiplayer modes, I wasn’t overly particular about weapon or ability loud-outs for the single-player campaign and found it wasn’t overly taxing as a FPS. Also at times it felt just like a series of demos of the hero characters of the game stitched together into a narrative and I preferred playing as Iden than any of the other familiar heroes.

I also didn’t pay much attention to the collectibles on each map, but there are some. If you’re a completionist you can replay any mission you want from the menu and search them out – get that square button ready. Finally, I was disappointed that the Iden Versio character was not unlocked for multiplayer gameplay on completion of the campaign. *Shakes fist at DICE*!!

First Order Stormtrooper Image: (c) Adam Greaves (from a ComicCon in Birmingham)