Star Wars Battlefront II should launch on November 17, 2017, and given the fact that it shares a launch window with Star Wars: The Last Jedi, you can pretty much guarantee it's going to be a hit. Many people thought the same was true for the first game in the rebooted franchise, though, and a combination of simplicity and lack of content saw its player base dwindle fast.
Battlefront II looks as though it's gunning to rectify that, adding a full-blown story campaign, more ways to play, and an all-new Starfighter Assault mode, developed by a separate studio – Criterion, known for the Need for Speed racing games. You'd hope a studio that specializes in vehicular games might be able to make Star Wars Battlefront II's space combat a lot more rewarding, and if my early impressions pan out, it looks like they might have nailed it.
Dripping in authenticity
The first thing I noticed when I went hands-on with Starfighter Assault was the authenticity. The first game also did an incredible job of recreating the sights and sounds of the Star Wars universe, but Battlefront II looks set to be a step above.
Every action you take with your starfighter, whether it's a Y-Wing bomber, a TIE-fighter, or a hero ship like the Millennium Falcon, produces authentic sounds and visual effects. Your thrusters rev up as you accelerate, and each laser blast and explosion sounds as incredible as it does in the movies. Boba Fett's seismic charges are a particular favorite.
The authenticity extends to actual gameplay, as Starfighter Assault draws on events in the movies to shape its battles. Each Assault map comes with different stages for both the Rebels and the Empire, some of which have you navigating the insides of much larger craft, working as a team to take down much more dangerous foes.
Criterion and DICE certainly nailed the audiovisual fantasy of being a starfighter pilot, but how does it feel as a game?
In space, everyone can apparently hear you scream ...
Criterion tried to emphasize team play in Starfighter Assault mode, granting bonus points for staying in formation and team-based objectives that are far easier to overcome when working with friends.
Many of the objectives revolve around dealing enough damage to a specific weak point on a ship, or defending that weak point if you're on the opposing side.
Battlefront II's starfighter combat simply feels much better than the previous game. Weapons feel punchier, the ships feel like they've got more weight, and the skill ceiling seems to have been dramatically increased.
Many of the mechanics are familiar, with up and down on the left joystick controlling acceleration, and rolling is the on left and right. It's not as complex or skill-heavy as something like Battlefield's aerial combat, but it strikes a happy medium between accessibility and ability. I was able to pick up and play Starfighter Assault without any sort of tutorial, coming in from the previous game, and I suspect that was intentional.
The first Battlefront had a few instant maneuvers you could pull off by hitting the d-pad, but they seem to be gone in this new version.
Instead, you pull off the aerial acrobatics yourself, having full control of the yaw and pitch of each craft. Dodging a missile can prove an incredibly tricky affair, however, and the on-screen indicator is a little difficult to interpret at first. There will undoubtedly be more room for players to improve their skills when compared to the previous game, which was a little simplistic.
Each starfighter comes with unique customization opportunities as well in Battlefront II, allowing you to tailor your playstyle. My Y-wing bomber was equipped with a tracking ion cannon, allowing me to slow nearby enemies. This helped with locking heat seeking missiles for explosive kills.
There are no hero pickups this time around or floating repair power-ups, shattering the immersion with arcade-style spinning tokens. Instead, you must self-repair using your an onboard droid, which comes with a hefty cooldown to manage. As for hero ships, like the Millennium Falcon or Boba Fett's Slave-I, sometimes you're simply awarded the opportunity at random.
The hero ships still feel a little overpowered to me, but there's tuning to be done. Also, most of the players at Gamescom were new to the game. It's quite possible that a team working together could easily make short work of the hero starfighters, in a similar fashion to the behemoth vehicles in Battlefield. We'll just have to wait and see how it pans out.
Aiming with the left trigger gives you greater precision over your shots, lowering your speed and zooming in. This feels particularly awesome when in first person view, from inside the cockpit. Closing in on a damaged enemy to get the finishing blow feels fantastic, as you work together with your allies to complete the mission objectives, and ultimately win.
I've got a good feeling about this...
Star Wars Battlefront II is still in active development, and while my hour-long playtest with Starfighter Assault isn't enough to make a real judgment call on the game's overall quality, the signs are overwhelmingly positive.
I jumped on the original Battlefront straight after getting back from Gamescom, and the difference is far bigger than I initially thought when I went hands-on with the sequel. Rebuilding the systems from the ground up was exactly the right call, and roping in Criterion to build it appears to have elevated the experience as a whole, allowing DICE to focus on the core ground war experience.
We hopefully won't have to wait long to find out for sure, because Star Wars Battlefront II is expected to hit shelves on November 17, 2017, for Xbox One and PC for $59.99.
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Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!