The most striking moment in Star Wars Battlefront 2's opening stages comes through a simple conversation.
Following a harrowing escape from Endor, the heroine Iden Versio weaves through the debris of the Death Star II, struggling to come to grips with the Empire's defeat.
It's a scene that works on a couple levels: First, it's not a static cutscene. Rather, it puts you at the controls of Versio's TIE Fighter as she makes her way through the wreckage, which immediately makes it more dynamic and interesting. Second, it serves to hammer home the enormity of what just happened: The Death Star II is gone, and you are witnessing the results firsthand.
Star Wars Battlefront 2 is at its best when it peppers in these moments, which helps it to break away from the standard shooter formula and feel a bit more "Star Wars." I've said before that Battlefront's starfighter combat is the best part of the multiplayer. That holds true for the single-player as well.
But even the ground combat segments aren't half bad. The best of them take place on Endor, where Versio arrives with her squad to try and put a halt to the Rebellion's attempt to destroy the shield generator. Unfortunately they arrive too late: Second after stepping off their ship, they look up to watch the Death Star II explode above them.
It's a moment that certainly puts a different twist on the triumph conclusion of Return of the Jedi. In the film, the destruction of the Death Star is punctuated with Lando whooping and Han and Leia smiling up in victory. Here, it's a moment laced with dread, as Versio and her team realize that they are suddenly, utterly alone. They look blindsided by the shock of defeat that they never saw coming.
From here, Star Wars Battlefront II enters a stealth phase as Versio creeps around the Rebel forces gathered near the bunker in an attempt to hijack a TIE Fighter and head to safety. Aiding her is her ID10 Seeker Droid, which can sneak up behind enemies and shock them unconscious—a useful and possibly even overpowered ability that you will be using quite often.
The best thing about this stage is the fact it's, well, set on Endor. Half the appeal of a Star Wars game is what you might call "Trilogy Tourism"—the joy of exploring detailed battlefield from a movie you love. Aside from its excellent starfighter combat, the best thing about the original Star Wars Battlefront was its incredibly authentic renditions of Tatooine, Hoth, and Endor (and Sullust, I guess). That very much holds true in Star Wars Battlefront II's single-player campaign.
While I didn't spot any Ewoks (I'm sure they're around), it was quite an experience to be ducking behind the familiar Endor redwoods—the bulk of Return of the Jedi was filmed in Muir Woods, not too far from my house—and firing at a hijacked AT-ST (maybe the same one that Chewie nabbed during the battle?). It was cool, the arcade-like shooting mechanics made more palatable by the fact that you meant to be a badass commando, and thus able to mow down Rebel troopers en masse.
Thinking about it, it's actually kind of interesting how Battlefront II takes the multiplayer mode's weaknesses and turns them into strengths. When playing online, all the beautiful scenery in the world isn't enough to mask shallow mechanics and unsatisfying level design. But when playing a story-driven single-player campaign, it's a little easier to forgive a lack of depth if the scenery and setpiece design is on point. And from what I've seen, that's very much the case with Star Wars Battlefront 2.
But here's the real question: Is it enough?
But is a Good Single-Player Campaign Enough to Carry Star Wars Battlefront 2?
If what I've seen holds up in the retail release, Star Wars Battlefront II will be a pretty good single-player game saddled with a middling and rather shallow multiplayer mode.
Admittedly, that alone puts it in a better position than the original Battlefront, which was a middling and rather shallow multiplayer shooter without a single-player campaign of any kind, good or otherwise. But a great single-player campaign isn't always enough: Just ask Titanfall 2.
The fact that it's a Star Wars game will help, of course. Star Wars games have a rich lineage going back to the days of X-wing back in the early '90s, and what makes them special is the way that they enrich the universe they depict. Indeed, Star Wars Battlefront II has an advantage over its predecessors in that it's considered "authentic," meaning that it's not limited to the old A, B, and C tier status that defined the old Expanded Universe. For better or (maybe) worse, everything you see in Battlefront II is canon.
That alone potentially makes it worth experiencing, even if it the multiplayer doesn't manage to hold up its end of the bargain. It's also kind of cool to see all the ways that Battlefront II follows in the footsteps of the classic Star Wars games: the shooting of Republic Commando, the starfighter combat of Rogue Leader, the setpieces of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. All of those games were special because they made you feel like you were part of the Star Wars universe, and Battlefront 2 does much the same. Indeed, you could say that it goes further than ever in pushing that feeling.
My main hope is that it doesn't lean too heavily on the established scenery from the movies, instead using it as a jumping off point to tell its own story. What I've seen is promising: a cutscene further down the line shows us Iden Versio's homeworld, and seems to throw her loyalties into conflict. The "Imperial soldier sees the light" storyline is well-worn territory for Star Wars, but classic tropes are what the movies are all about. Battlefront 2 will fight right in.
Star Wars Battlefront 2 hasn't received the best press since its announcement, its most recent beta being overshadowed by the all-consuming loot box controversy that has infected seemingly every triple-A game. But its single-player campaign, at least, is showing promise, suggesting that the sequel is indeed a step forward for the disappointing original. We'll see if that ends up being enough.