What is Operation Cinder and how is it meant to squash those filthy Rebels?
Star Wars: Battlefront II brings back the fantasy, wish-fulfilling online action that the 2015 game nailed so well, but it also fixes a major drawback of that earlier game: the lack of a story mode.
The original Battlefront went without a Star Wars tale, because “very few people actually play the single-player on these types of games,” EA
courageously foolishly said at the time. This sequel fixes that error. More importantly, it puts you in the combat boots of an elite Imperial soldier, Iden Versio.
In our first, hands-on look so far at the campaign, we meet Iden at an early stage of her adventure. Emperor Palpatine recently bit the big one over Endor, and the Empire is in shambles. Iden returns to Vardos — her family’s home world and one of the few remaining safe havens for her kind — to pick up new orders from her father, an admiral in the Imperial navy.
It’s here that we learn about Operation Cinder. Admiral Versio bestows Iden with the dubious honor of meeting a very special messenger: a humanoid droid, draped in crimson and wearing a Daft Punk-esque helmet on which the departed Palpatine’s face is projected.
Operation Cinder is his final order. The ultimate target is a matter of great secrecy — the droid actually threatens Iden when she asks — but the tasks leading up to that target promise to be “unusual,” according to the admiral.
The Battlefront II story is meant to serve as a bridge between the events of Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. It’s been strongly suggested that you play a role in — or, at the very least, bear witness to — the birth of the First Order. How Cinder fits into this puzzle remains to be seen.
Character performances are an immediate standout in these early glimpses into the story. Iden’s voice and performance capture is provided by Janina Gavankar — you may remember her as Shiva from The League. The digital likeness is nearly perfect, to the point that you feel a living performance breathing through this virtual construct on the screen.
The small chunk of game I got to actually play included a space battle around an Imperial shipyard, after the Rebels stage a surprise attack. The wish fulfillment vibe that the first game nailed so well is in full effect once again as you weave through space in Iden’s T.I.E. Fighter, dodging around familiar Star Wars cruisers and into the cramped innards of the besieged shipyard during a dogged pursuit.
The battle shifts gears when Iden flies her attack fighter directly into the hangar of a Rebel cruiser. After blasting everything in sight to clear a landing zone, she sets down and marches off to take out the guns that are causing most of the shipyard’s damage … from the inside.
The “boots on the ground” side of the game is immediately reminiscent of the previous Battlefront, though Iden has a few special toys of her own. A new droid — which looks like a pint-sized Imperial probe droid — can be dispatched to electrocute one or more targets in a small area.
The droid also serves as a sort of technological skeleton key; when there’s a door or a computer panel you need to access, the little machine is your means to make that happen.
After boarding the ship, Iden fights her way through the tight corridors of the Mon Calamari cruiser. It’s a surprisingly interactive play space that applies Star Wars logic in cool yet unexpected ways. In one memorable exchange, I ducked through a door to take cover and smashed the control panel right beside it. In the next instant, the door came crashing down, cutting me off from the enemy fire I’d been trying to evade.
Battlefront II is also built with an eye toward letting players make their own strategic decisions. For this mission, I saw two distinct paths: the direct, guns blazing approach or the sneaky approach. Though it’s also worth mentioning that both choices still end with a firefight.
This is Star Wars, after all.
Battlefront II leaves a great first impression. It’s just as gorgeous as its predecessor, if not more so; it taps into fan favorite corners of the fiction in ways that the 2015 game didn’t; and, perhaps best of all, it gives you a story-driven reason to gun down armies of Rebel scum. There’s a reason that old T.I.E. Fighter space combat sim was so popular.
That said, it’s important to remember that I’m only talking about a tiny slice of the game — no more than 10 or 15 minutes. There’s a long history of multiplayer-focused games with seemingly taped-on story modes that feel more like training wheels for online gaming.
While I didn’t get that sense from what I played of Battlefront II, it’s happened often enough in the past that you should go in with both eyes open.
The Star Wars: Battlefront of 2015 was a letdown for all the things it didn’t have. We know Battlefront II is out to address those criticisms, at least in part. The only thing I can say after a 20-minute first look: I’ve got a good feeling about this.