Battlefront II's campaign shows why DICE needs a new Bad Company
Even before its tumultuous launch this month, DICE’s new version of Star Wars: Battlefront II was having its share of problems. Many players who were justifiably disappointed by the first game were skeptical ever since Battlefront II’s announcement and that negative sentiment only worsened as it got closer to release. Disney’s odd but welcomed decision to restore online services to the original Battlefront II further invited comparisons between the two versions, and cast an even larger shadow over DICE’s game. Worse still, the beta and early access builds were roundly criticized for their aggressively monetized loot boxes and compromising progression system.
But there still seemed to be a silver lining for Battlefront II - something that fans could look forward to despite the rest of the game’s apparent issues. That silver lining was the single-player campaign, a playable Star Wars story which was supposed to expound on the lives of an elite team of spec ops troopers in the Galactic Empire. An alternative tale that should have explored the methods and motivations of the Empire from the inside, with characters that could have had concrete reasons for their actions - and eventually questioned their dogma. It could have been the most intriguing Star Wars story in years.
Simply put, it isn’t. Star Wars:Battlefront II’s campaign is a letdown in almost every respect… almost. In spite of all its failures, the campaign also reminds us of what DICE is truly good at when it comes to storytelling, and it shows why the studio should return to a series that made the best of those strengths. But to understand what Battlefront II’s story gets right, we have to address what it gets wrong.
The problems with the six-hour single-player mode come from its underdeveloped characters, a contrived, disjointed plot, and the painfully bland mission design. The story follows Inferno Squad, a special forces unit formed by the Empire in the wake of the first Death Star’s destruction. Iden Versio is both the commander of the squad and the daughter of an Imperial Navy admiral. This was already an interesting premise, supplemented by a prequel novel that was released before the game - but the game seems utterly afraid to embrace the dark side that it bases itself on.
Versio and her squad are rushed through major events and plot beats using time skips and obligatory guest appearances by other, more famous Star Wars characters. The story is desperate to steer Versio away from the Empire, her father, and her former motivations at the earliest possible convenience. Without spoiling anything, a single arbitrary event seems to invalidate her “lifetime of imperial training” and miraculously erases her hatred for the Rebel Alliance, causing her and her squadmate Del to defect to the rebel side. The game wants to inject yet another untold “hero of the rebellion” tale into Star Wars canon, but its lack of characterization and its own mission structure stops it from being a very effective.
Battlefront II’s campaign missions are a predictable mash of stop-and-shoot encounters, ill-conceived stealth sequences and functionally identical space battles, even when you transition to playing as one of the classic Star Wars heroes. There are a handful of genuinely impressive set pieces (the audiovisual presentation is the highlight of the entire game), but it all ends up feeling like a Star Wars-themed amusement park ride that just ticks all the boxes of a linear first-person shooter.
However, the writing and objectives in some of these missions are where we start to see DICE putting its best foot forward. The rays of hope in the campaign come from its humor - things like a Star Wars fanboy stand-in following Han Solo around, rattling off facts about starfighters. Or a mission about Iden and Del attacking some refueling star destroyers in a weaponized cloud car. Moreover, the writing in these moments shows what DICE is good at in storytelling: applying levity to serious situations.
DICE once built an entire game around this strength - a game called Battlefield: Bad Company. The story about a group of mismatched misfits forced to be the U.S. Army’s cannon fodder in a fictional war with Russia could have been just as self-serious as the majority of Battlefront II, but thankfully, it wasn’t. It was an unabashed comedy of errors, following the destructive antics of Marlowe, Redford, Sweetwater, and Haggard as they got themselves into deeper and deeper trouble and then had to literally blast their way out of it.
Between their constant banter (Sweetwater asking Haggard what it was like to date his cousin) and ridiculous tactics (single-handedly invading a neutral country in pursuit of gold), Bad Company created a dynamic of witty absurdity that set its cast apart from the gruff badass super soldier trope that is so common in the military FPS. The writing and characterization weren’t the only things that broke the mold, either. The game’s missions eschewed the cover-filled hallways of other FPS games in favor of open spaces and improvisation. Destructible environments, vehicles, and plenty of explosives fed into the game’s themes of nonconformity, and made the campaign pretty damn fun too.
Sadly, DICE hasn’t made a campaign on par with Bad Company since the game came out. Even Bad Company 2 went down a more generic FPS route, as EA increasingly tried to wrest some market share from Activision and Call of Duty. But with the ongoing debacle surrounding Star Wars Battlefront II, EA and DICE should seriously consider returning to the Bad Company series - not only for old fans, but for themselves.
Battlefront II shows that at least some of the writers at DICE are clearly capable of comical writing, and that would be one of the primary ingredients to making a good new Bad Company game. Another would be the power of the Frostbite 3 engine, which Battlefront II also shows off in spades. Players have been clamoring for a return to the originality and humor of the series for years, and the upsides of Battlefront II’s campaign indicate that it would be possible if EA and DICE were willing to try. Public goodwill is something that both companies are in desperate need of right now, as the fallout from the game’s disastrous launch doesn’t look to be getting better.
At the very least, putting some weight behind a new Bad Company game would reconnect with old fans and give EA and DICE the chance to prove that they learned some lessons with Battlefront II. It’s certainly better than spending time trying to shoehorn microtransactions back into the game.