In crafting a single-player component for Star Wars Battlefront 2, a developer from DICE told me, the important thing was that it not just be a Star Wars story but a Battlefront story. A Star Wars story may involve a farm boy or a scrapper with hidden Force talents discovering their destiny, but that's not Battlefront. This is a series about the boots-on-the-ground, the average soldiers who get things done within the Star Wars universe.
That's true here, but only just. Its lead character Iden Versio is a member of Inferno Squad, elite Imperial commandos who are just as deadly on the ground as they are in a TIE Fighter cockpit. The conceit grants a variety of gameplay, and gives you a front seat to an original story spanning the time between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens–but she is certainly not an average grunt.
My demo started with an extended story sequence, set early in the game after the fall of the second Death Star. Iden went to see her father, an Imperial Admiral, who chose to "honor" her by allowing her to view a messenger droid from the late Emperor Palpatine. It moved with an otherworldly grace, and the helmet screen became a holographic image of Palpatine's face, telling them to execute Operation: Cinder. (Comic fans will recognize this from the Shattered Empire series.) Iden's father notes the orders are unusual, and she presses for more information, only to have the messenger droid take a threatening posture and inform her that she isn't authorized. The suspicion on her face, and a glance behind her as she's dismissed, imply this is the first step toward a likely redemption arc.
The actual game starts when the fleet is attacked, and Iden rushes to the cockpit of her TIE Fighter to repel a Rebel invasion force. She refers to them as "guerrillas" with disdain, promising they won't get another win so quickly after their victory at Endor. The space combat felt immediately familiar and natural, as I swerved between capital ships, targeted X-Wings and Y-Wings, and even took out a Blockade Runner. The pitch and yaw were smooth and snappy in a way that made the fighter feel extremely maneuverable, which fits the canon of Star Wars to a tee.
The demo then switched to an on-foot segment, after Iden steered her TIE into the landing bay of a Rebel cruiser. This is where I saw the bulk of what Battlefront 2 has to offer, taking down Rebel soldiers with a variety of gadgets and techniques. In the hands-off demo I was shown a stealthy operation, sneaking behind soldiers and killing them with melee, leaving the others unaware. In my own approach to the same segment I was a little less subtle, gunning down enemies with ease and only occasionally making use of my grenade or shock droid.
Iden was a little overpowered at this point in the game for the sake of a press demo–developers tend to take it easy on us–so this is bound to be harder in actual practice. I never felt too threatened, but that also meant I never felt a need to duck behind cover or be especially cautious. Simply strafing while taking out enemies was easy enough, but also probably unrepresentative of the final product. I imagine my guns-blazing approach will require a lot more skill and finesse than I actually gave it.
Once Iden reached the mission's main waypoint, I had to fend off waves of soldiers as my droid assistant sliced (aka hacked) the ship's internal systems. It displayed how traditional multiplayer goals like point-defense can be folded into single-player missions. The demo finished when that goal was completed, with a cliffhanger ending threatening to pull Iden out into the vacuum of space. (She probably makes it.)
It was a fine showpiece for what the campaign can do and how much versatility is afforded by its protagonist. More importantly, it addresses some major concerns from the first game. The addition of a single-player mode itself is a huge boon to those who missed having one in the first game, but more than that, it seems to be doing a Battlefront campaign right. It isn't attempting to use the systems to build another game entirely. Instead, it's taking the on-the-ground approach and giving it a supercharge with a more capable, but not superhuman, hero. Whether it can carry this momentum throughout remains to be seen, but the hands-on demo is a promising start.