Sometimes, sequels don't quite live up to the hype of the original, but fortunately for fans of 2015's Star Wars Battlefront, the upcoming follow-up looks to be bigger, better and badder than ever before. Prior to the game's official panel at Star Wars Celebration in Orlando this afternoon, Nerdist had the opportunity to get a sneak peek and go over some of the inner workings of Star Wars Battlefront II. In attendance were EA Star Wars community manager Mat Everett, EA Dice creative director Bernd Diemer, Motive Studios game director Mark Thompson and Lucasfilm creative executive Steve Blank.
For Diemer, a self-proclaimed diehard Star Wars fan who had played the first Battlefront game, joining the team for Battlefront II was an equally exciting and intimidating challenge. "The first game achieved something amazing: it brought me back to 1984. ... It was a picture-perfect recreation of one of my favorite moments from childhood; how do you top that?" One thing that quickly became clear was that a game of this size and scope needed more people to work on it - which is how three studios (DICE, Criterion Games and Motive) came together in a collaborative effort to make Battlefront II an even better game than the original. Motive was brought on to contribute to the story mode aspect, while DICE worked on the multiplayer experience.
Battlefront II's solo story arc follows the narrative of an elite special forces officer named Iden Versio (voiced by True Blood's Janina Gavankar, who also provided a motion-capture performance for the character). A member of a team known as Inferno Squad, Iden witnesses the destruction of the second Death Star from the surface of Endor and vows to avenge the Emperor.
According to the Battlefront II team, the choice to make the main character a member of the Empire was about trying to tell a story that hadn't been told before. Thompson revealed that Motive had started working on the game once The Force Awakens was released, and since there were still so many questions surrounding the world and the time jump after Return of the Jedi they figured it would be a great place to start. The explosion of the second Death Star is framed as a victory in the movie, but the Battlefront II team wanted to depict it as a loss and a means for characters to seek to avenge the Empire. "Let's begin at what everybody thought was the end," Thompson said.
Making Iden a special forces officer was also an important creative decision. According to Thompson, they "didn't want a rank-and-file stormtrooper; [they] wanted someone who could feel like a genuine hero for the Empire. Special forces have a certain swagger and aren't just a regular soldier." But they would also be the kind of individuals who would still be committed to the Empire after the destruction of the Death Star. "People who are special forces have that loyalty ingrained in them," Blank said.
Given that Star Wars films frame the Rebellion as heroes of the Galactic Civil War, the team was interested in finding the heroes the Empire depicts in a similar light: soldiers leading stormtroopers, elite pilots, people kids would look up to as a reason to join the Imperial Academy. "It's a narrative we haven't explored a lot in Star Wars," Thompson added. As for Iden? She's more like a "TIE fighter-commando hybrid," someone who's skilled at leading ground assaults but can also be a kickass pilot when the occasion calls for it. Does she have the potential to become the next Star Wars heroine alongside the ranks of Leia and Rey? Blank certainly seems convinced: "I think she will go down as a heroic character. She comes from a different place and different perspective than we've seen before."
In terms of expanding on familiar territory, the Battlefront II team also worked closely with Lucasfilm in order to create a brand new planet for the game: Vardas. They traveled to real-world locations to get inspiration for the in-game worlds. "We wanted this adventure with Iden to take us through familiar places but also break new ground," Thompson said. "The worldbuilding in Star Wars is incredible but also intimidating. We never describe the Empire as the bad guys; we position Iden as a hero and on the other side of a conflict. We created a planet where citizens could grow up thinking that the Empire is good and the Rebellion is a terrorist organization."
How does the gameplay compare to the original? Thompson says the majority of the story mode is through Iden's perspective, but players will have the opportunity to become an iconic hero character like in the previous Battlefront. "We have a mission where you get to play Luke Skywalker." Heroes from all eras in the game are playable--in addition to Luke, Rey and Kylo Ren were also named as options. In a shift from the first game, heroes were also improved as career options, so players can upgrade them and unlock new abilities. If you want to play as a trooper character, there are also more predefined options this time around: from Rebel soldiers to stormtroopers to Imperial officers to, yes, even Trade Federation droids. (The same career upgrades are also available for vehicles, with improvements available to unlock after enough progression. And you do actually get to ride tauntauns; they're not just for sleeping in!)
Based on the trailer alone, there's a lot to look forward to from this new game - and the amount of detail is completely staggering, but the team behind Battlefront II has been working extremely hard to get it right. "Every pixel on the screen is Star Wars," Diemer promised.
Star Wars Battlefront II will be available for PC, Xbox One and PS4 on November 17, 2017.