Star Wars: Battlefront 2 is set to have a far more engaging multiplayer than the original 2015 reboot. At DICE's headquarters in Stockholm I had the chance to check out four competitive modes: a chaotic 40 player Galactic Assault game on Naboo, and the recently introduced space dog-fighting of Starfighter Assault. Now, I'd already seen these two demos from E3 and Gamescom, but the Arcade mode's survival mission, and 8v8 Strike mode on Takodana were new. And it's in the Strike mode in particular that DICE's efforts to bolster the multiplayer portion of the game became apparent.
The visuals are still incredible, obviously. The forest of Takodana, for instance, is proudly recognisable from The Force Awakens; a sparser thicket than Endor, but with plenty of room for cover behind rocks and trees. The centre-point is Maz's castle - if you'll remember, the place Rey finds the light saber in the film; a structure of pale stonework and an array of flags that again show DICE's expert ability to capture the tone of a film location. In this smaller Strike mode incarnation at least, the 8v8 setup also means refinements to its core gameplay are easy to spot. It's also, of the four modes, where I had the most fun.
I won't admit to being the biggest fan of the original. Star Wars Battlefront had a lot going for it in its authentic visuals and sound design, but without a proper campaign mode (addressed in this sequel) it lent heavily on its online play to entertain - all of which I found repetitive after a few days. Of course, the series isn't meant to be Battlefield with a Star Wars wrapper, and in this sequel, DICE still steers clear of the physics-based sandbox style of its military shooter. Even so, Battlefront 2 addresses two issues I had with the original's depth, by pinching a few pointers from DICE's sibling franchise - and it's all the better for it.
A new class system is clearly an influence from Battlefield. Between assault, heavy, specialist and officer classes, each offers unique abilities and weapons that sit well with the smaller-scale objectives in Strike mode. The officer, for example, plant turrets with a tap of R1 - and paired with the shield ability of the heavy class, we have an effective combo for defending objective points. Given the right link-up between players, the tussle between rebels and the Empire is now a more satisfying battle of attrition. It shows Battlefront 2 going in a more strategic, teamplay focused direction. I loved it, and consider it a bite-size sample of what 40 player battles in Galactic Assault could be.
Then there's the real hook, the battle points. Again this is new to Battlefront 2: a currency to reward players for kills or passing objectives, spent in between spawns on one-time use classes or vehicles. For the lone wolf it offers something to work toward; wookies or stormtroopers with jetpacks - or even costly hero characters like Han Solo or Darth Maul, if you're happy to bottle points until the end of a game. For the team player it's satisfying too. With this, everyone has an extra incentive to work towards objectives, while still giving everyone their own personal end-game. Better still, the balance feels right, and seeing these signature characters on the battlefield is rare enough to feel special every time.
Taken to an extreme with 40 players, the strategic options are ripe. At the press event, Galactic Assault games on Naboo - the gorgeous palace area from The Phantom Menace - saw an easy win for the team that reserved their points for the final push. The skies above the city felt too barren to justify buying aircraft - but bipedal, miniature AT-STs turned out to be the real winner. Simply put, the defending team sussed out the strength of this unit early on, and as a group, held the palace until the timer clocked out. It worked brilliantly - almost too well - and time will tell if there's a way to counter this tactic in the full release.
Thankfully, DICE offers an easy-ramp-up to the larger battles. Battlefront 2 has more modes than ever, and for most it'll all start with Arcade mode - the perfect place to find your bearings. In my case, taking Darth Maul on a killing spree around a segment of that Naboo palace was a good refresher, again with the option of playing in split-screen with a friend. It's simple stuff, and ultimately, Galactic Assault mode remains the big draw in multiplayer - taking the popular 40 player Hoth stage of the original and expanding the concept to several new maps.
The multiplayer is looking stronger than ever then; a more engaging ride for both the team player and soloist. Even if it's bolstered by some ideas plucked in part from Battlefield, there's still thankfully a sense Star Wars Battlefront 2 retains its own identity. The new story mode, handled by developer Motive, is still something of an enigma right now; a narrative bridge between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens that I'm itching to see play out. On the multiplayer front all is well though. The full release is penned for November 17th, and I'm confident DICE is sending it in the right direction.
This article is based on a press trip to Stockholm. Electronic Arts covered travel and accommodation costs.