If the Assault on Theed battle is anything to go by, Star Wars Battlefront II is on track to fix the flaws that stopped 2015’s Battlefront from being a properly great game. I played through Assault on Theed twice, defending the palace on Naboo from the army of droids looking to reclaim the throne room, and the level is phenomenally well paced.
In Assault on Theed a giant troop carrier slowly rolls towards the palace: someone has strapped guns to an angry tortoise, and it’s coming for you, motherfuckers. The clone troopers must defend the palace, gradually falling back, while the droid army pushes forwards and protects the troop ship.
The progress of the battle is so well balanced that each playthrough consistently has two or three tense moments where it could go either way. The troop carrier can only be stopped by enough cumulative hits from ion disruptors, but they’re scattered across the map and you’re rendered effectively defenseless while you lock on and fire. In the early stages of the battle it’s easy to get in a few hits, but the troop ship doesn’t stop until you’ve destroyed it entirely. Its progress is terrible and inexorable. The droid army will arrowhead its way in, pushing its respawn line forwards, and everything becomes a more desperate fight. I aimed my disruptor for the final hit, but at the last moment the palace was breached. ‘Too late, too late’ will be the cry!
Yet the further the droids go, the more they’re bottlenecked in by the map design. As the front line pushes back and further back, eventually all the way to the throne room, the droids are naturally squeezed through the main doors, vulnerable to sniper fire and grenades, but smarter players discover the side routes that bring them around behind the snipers, which gives the droid army enough time to breach. Each side has four different troop classes that best serve the fight at different points, and in different ways. Snipers work well covering bottlenecks, assault troops can nip around and harass enemies in open battle, while heavies move slower but lay down suppressing fire a treat.
Assault on Theed recalls the best maps of Battlefront, but with unexpected moments of cover and opportunities for surprise flanking that feel extremely Battlefield. Every so often you run into a cargo crate, usually at the same time an enemy has used it to try and get behind your lines. The ornamental fountains, box hedges and gazebos at the front of the palace are a nice contrast with the combatants crouching behind them to angle their guns. I ran towards a heavy gunner to back him up and he was hit directly by a rocket, exploding before my eyes. That man had a family.
A new game comes with a shake up of the points system. When you spawn in you can be grouped with a random bunch of up to four players spawning around the same time, and working with them — staying near them — will boost your score. You can use points to purchase bonus troop support, but you can only access higher tier reinforcements like becoming a rocket troop, or heroes like Rey and Darth Maul, if you’ve earned got enough points to purchase them. It’s an incentive to push, as well as a tactical consideration: your team could probably use some covering fire from a fighter jet, but at the same time you only need 500 more points to play as Han Solo, and that would be really cool for you.
Combined with streamlined, easy-to-read menu screens, so far Battlefront II has the right ingredients to support new players who are just in it for the lightsabers, whilst rewarding those who want to seriously master the game, assessing the flow of the battle and choosing the right class and weapon combinations accordingly.
While I didn’t get to see any of the new single player campaign, the Assault on Theed map sets the bar very high in terms of quality. If EA Dice can maintain that across the board, even without the addition of the single player story, Star Wars Battlefront II is set to be a winner, and one with more staying power than its predecessor. But that’s still a big if. Don’t get cocky.
Star Wars Battlefront II is out on November 17 2017 for PS4, PC and Xbox One.