A long time ago in a galaxy far away (well, in Florida last weekend, but it still is quite a journey) we attended the Star Wars Celebration where EA properly lifted the veil from Star Wars Battlefront 2. It's set to feature a campaign that spans from the end of Return of the Jedi and up to The Force Awakens, and is also rejigging multiplayer in line with many of the requests from players of the original.
There's plenty more, and I sat down with Lucasfilm creative executive Steve Blank, single player game director Mark Thompson and Criterion's Matt Webster, who is helping overlook the multiplayer, to see what I could find out from them.
How linear will the campaign be? Will it be something like Battlefield 1's War Stories or is it a full linear story with beginning middle and end?
Mark Thompson: Without getting into too much detail that I will get in trouble for... We take all of our cues from how to tell a Star Wars story working with Lucasfilm story group, analysing the movies, breaking down the beats and flow of Star Wars storytelling. So yeah, it is a continuous story with a beginning, middle and end and you follow Iden's journey for 30 years from the end of Jedi up to the Force Awakens at Starkiller base. It isn't a discrete set of missions or separate War Stories like Battlefield 1, you do follow Iden through this journey whilst from time to time, switching sides and playing from the perspective of one of the iconic heroes because again that's just part of Battlefront's DNA. Sometimes you're a Trooper, sometimes you're a pilot and sometimes you're Luke Skywalker with a lightsaber.
And the heroes you can be, it's not just the Rebellion, right?
Mark Thompson: Well, we've confirmed Kylo Ren. I'll say no more than that!
You've got a female protagonist. Unfortunately there's a subset of people on the internet who get a bit vocal about female protagonists and who might think you're catering towards a certain ideology. Do you think these people are going to be more receptive to Iden because they are used to Rey and Jyn from the films?
Mark Thompson: My personal belief is it's just about it making a good character, I don't care about anything else. If the character makes sense to the story, if the character belongs in that universe then everything else is unimportant. Does it feel right for this story? Does it feel right for Star Wars? Is that character interesting and relatable, is it someone we can connect with? Those are the important things, everything else is unimportant.
How hard was it to make a relatable character when they side with the Dark side of the Force?
Mark Thompson: The movies focus on the Skywalker saga and they tell a very specific story from the rebel's perspective. If you look at other storytelling that has gone into what it's like to be an imperial, like Alexander Freed's Twilight Company novel that was part of the first Battlefront game - there was an incredible chapter in there about a Stormtrooper who was coming back from a fight and just getting into some of the details that you don't see in the movies, like where and when you can take off the helmet and what it means to be in and out of uniform and how she was a different soldier. It was just incredible to read that and it was quite inspiring. That's a super interesting place for us to start exploring character and story.
One thing I noticed about the trailer is that a version of the Emperor features in it, which is strange considering it's set after his death.
Steve Blank: That's actually a direct lift and a direct reference from the comic book Shattered Empire which does take place after the destruction of the second Death Star. That character's called The Messenger and is actually a contingency of the Emperor's that he leaves in the wake of his death to still give orders to very upper echelon members that are left from the Empire. So that's one of the great examples of how we're connecting this and threading it through to the existing storytelling that we've been doing to help lay the groundwork for what's happened between those two periods of time.
I'd like to talk a little about the droid buddy that Iden has. How will it work in the moment-to-moment gameplay? Is it something that will be used for hacking or combat or stealth, or a variety of these things?
Mark Thompson: Without being specific, again that's the kind of thing that's much more interesting to show off and play rather than just talk about, but from a high level it's kind of what separates Iden from the rank and file Stormtrooper, it's what makes her part of Special Forces because you know, the Empire is known for its technological prowess and so giving her this combat ready droid gives her a greater range, a greater reach, more versatility, more flexibility.
The idea is that it will be just like everything that DICE is doing with the multiplayer to make the customisation and personalisation that you can do to be an expression of your play style. We want to capture that same spirit in the single player campaign and the the droid is one of the ways through which the players can express their own personal style of play and how they choose to engage with a combat scenario for example.
One of the biggest fan requests for Battlefront 2 is the return of Galactic Conquest mode. Have you thought about bringing that back? Will it be in? If not, why not?
Mark Thompson: The thing about the Battlefront fanbase is that there are lots of requests for lots and lots of different things.
Matt Webster: That'll be one that we'll leave for another day.
Mark Thompson: Yeah, I don't think I could identify the one greatest ask among all of the asks.
Matt Webster: No. There's lots of voices asking for lots of different things.
Can I just clarify that the story is 100 per cent canonical with the films?
Mark Thompson: We don't say say the word canon because Steve gets...
Steve Blank: I get an allergic reaction to that word! But no, it is 100 per cent authentic to the Star Wars stories that we're telling, all the new work that we're doing, all the new novels and comics like we mentioned the integration of Shattered Empire and that Messenger figure. This is now part of the lore, this is now an authentic and established part of those Star Wars stories and that Galaxy.
You mentioned that all eras will be coming to multiplayer. What I didn't hear mention of was Rogue One or Star Wars Rebels. Will those feature in any way?
Matt Webster: We are covering prequel trilogies, original trilogy and new trilogy so those will be the locations that we'll have fun in.
Will we get to see Jar Jar Binks? Will he be a hero? Or maybe a villain?
Steve Blank: [laughs] Ohhhh...Only time will tell!
Matt Webster: Yes, that's a great answer Steve, thank you!
Multiplayer wise you mentioned there was going to be classes, can you elaborate on how those will work?
Matt Webster: There's four Trooper classes and they are ones that are easy to understand from a play point of view and they form relatively conventional setups, you know, range or firepower. One of the things that they give us is that ability to facilitate team play, which is such an important part of DICE multiplayer. So we think, when you've got the Heroes, when you become one of these iconic heroes it's such a game changer, it's a real power trip and that's really exciting and it's a huge differentiator I think for Battlefront. Having Troopers being able to play together, they can match a hero and so it just begins to have that sort of rock paper scissors setup to allow us to have these awesome battle moments.
How are you approaching the load outs for these classes? Will you be removing Star Cards and going for a different approach?
Matt Webster: We're going to go into specifics at another time. What we can say is there is customisation and progression inside the Trooper classes, inside Heroes and inside Starfighters. So whilst they have clear lines of class types, there is customisation within those and the manner in which we'll give that opportunity to the player we'll reveal at a later date. And similarly to the function of becoming a hero - rather than a blue pick up we've got a different system.
The resource based system?
Matt Webster: That's what I was talking about, yeah.
Why did you decide to get rid of the blue pick ups?
Matt Webster: Because when you become a hero it's such an awesome moment, but it was becoming a brief experience for the lucky few, or people were just hunting and hanging around the spawn locations for tokens. So we wanted to expand the hero play within a battle, we wanted to increase that scope but also have a better system for players to be able to become a hero than just picking up a token.
You did mention the resource system would also allow you to turn into vehicles. Does that mean there will be no seamless ground to vehicle transitions in the game?
Matt Webster: No, there will be. But that was referencing particular types of vehicles.
OK so I'm presuming then you mean smaller things like rideable Tauntauns will have seamless transitions then, like the Speeder Bikes on Endor?
Matt Webster: Yes, along those sorts of lines.
But other vehicles will be?
Matt Webster: Will be different [laughs].
Will you be having any of the original cast members in to provide voices for the Heroes? Some of them sounded a bit off last time.
Mark Thompson: Time will tell! [laughs]
Oof, the media training is strong with you guys...
Mark Thompson: Yeah, well it's the first beat, right? You know...
Alright, that's fair enough. I noticed in the concept art that it showed Jango Fett chasing Obi Wan over Kamino. Are those...
Matt Webster: Yes, those are hero Starfighters. When it comes to space battles which are being made at Criterion along with all the vehicles, the reason space battles are so exciting is because you have these epic moments within Star Wars but it's not just space moments. We have some space moments and we have moments of low atmosphere combat, both featuring the hero ships.
What are you bringing to the space battles to make it more than just flying around in circles above a Star Destroyer?
Matt Webster: We'll go into that detail around EA Play, but it comes from taking care about and prioritising feel and that fantasy of space combat and how we set up the different classes. So the different Starfighters, there will be something analogous to classes within the Starfighters and also the situations by which we enable those battles will have much greater opportunity for those things not to happen.
One of my stand out moments from EA's first Battlefront was the VR mission. Will be seeing any more VR missions in the future?
Matt Webster: We are not talking about VR at the moment for Battlefront 2. That's a story for another day...
This article is based on a press trip to Orlando. EA paid for travel and accommodation.