This November, Star Wars Battlefront II will improve on its predecessor with a character-driven story mode, and Electronic Arts wants you to know about it.
That messaging dominated the game’s big reveal before thousands at Star Wars Celebration last April – not only with a plot-focused trailer and game developers from DICE and EA Motive on stage, but also with author Christie Golden there alongside them to discuss her tie-in novel for nearly 10 minutes. EA, Lucasfilm, and Del Rey seem to value Star Wars Battlefront II: Inferno Squad as essential lead-in material to the plot of the game.
But should you?
What follows is jam-packed with spoilers from the novel
Inferno Squad starts things off with an engaging first chapter that eases us in with familiar territory, but with the twist of recounting the events of the Battle of Yavin from a perspective a TIE fighter pilot. And not just any TIE pilot – this is Iden Versio, whom you've already met if you've seen any Battlefront II story trailers so far.
Golden paints an incredible picture of everything going through Iden's head during this iconic space battle. Iden views the rebel assault as a fruitless final gesture of defiance before the Death Star destroys their base. Oblivious to the true threat posed by the X-wings and Y-wings, she questions commands that fall outside of her own assumptions (and is – even in her mind, rightfully – reprimanded for doing so). Moments later, when a blinding flash of light brightens the space around her, she assumes the Rebellion has ended with the obliteration of Yavin 4 ... only to soon find herself dodging Death Star debris as one of the battle station’s handful of survivors. I absolutely hope to play this mission in the game from Iden's perspective, even if just as DLC. It’s fascinating.
After the incredibly introspective nature of this action-packed sequence, the story continues its focus on the cerebral with the action shifting from epic battle to low-profile espionage. If you've ever wondered what a Mission: Impossible movie set in the Star Wars galaxy would be like, the rest of Inferno Squad fills that bill with the precision of a shot from Boba Fett's EE-3 carbon rifle … if coupled at times with the faulty aim of a stormtrooper's E-11 blaster.
By the end of chapter three, Admiral Garrick Versio (yes, that's Iden's father – can't have a Star Wars protagonist without some daddy issues) has established Inferno Squad. Led by Iden, the four-person unit represents the best of the best the Empire has to offer and exists with the purpose to find – and eliminate – the sources of information for leaks being used against the Empire.
Outside of Iden's excellent opening chapter, nothing exposes us to the greatness of Inferno Squad's "best of the best" other than Admiral Versio’s own exposition, and that's a shame. Though Golden does do a commendable job of creating Palpatine-level intimidation whenever the admiral speaks, I would much rather have experienced these great accomplishments than have been told about them. What exactly did Iden's longtime friend (and friendly rival) Gideon Hask do to earn his Crimson Star? What's an example of Seyn Marana's eidetic memory and ability to speak 29 languages benefitting the Empire? And what have Del Meeko's engineering smarts actually brought to the table? We don’t know – we just know they're the best at those kinds of things.
We do, however, get an excellent early example of the team's capabilities during a brief but engaging covert operation involving a corrupt Moff, with mentions of other successes involving internal Imperial affairs to follow. But soon enough it's time for Iden's unit to engage with an actual enemy, and that's when we realize Inferno Squad is less a video game prelude than it is a Rogue One sequel.
No, we're not delving into the further adventures of Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor – that would make a real short story for a tale set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. Rather, Golden takes us back to the remnants of Saw Gerrera's Partisan movement, now a splinter cell known as the Dreamers. It seems not all of the Partisans died from the "mining accident" that annihilated Forrest Whitaker's oxygen-deprived revolutionary and all of Jedha, and even with less than a dozen members, the Dreamers' guerrilla attacks across the galaxy are becoming quite the thorn in the Empire's side.
Admiral Versio tasks Inferno Squad with infiltrating the Dreamers and learning where their information comes from. He presents a plan to believably insert each of the four members to the team, which ironically represents the most unbelievable part of the otherwise entirely enjoyable story. Versio’s master plan leaves so much to hunches that he thinks might play out – especially when it comes to his daughter’s role in the whole thing – it all feels way more narratively convenient than fiendishly clever.
In addition to questionable, forced recruitment plots, Admiral Versio also delivers the novel’s most questionable, forced dialogue. As though apologizing for the lack of actual battlefronts conveyed by the book's title, he equates Inferno Squad's overall mission of espionage to be "a particular front in this battle that I have suggested be addressed." And Inferno Squad’s name? He declares it "a promise to the rebels" – odd reasoning for a covert operations team that shouldn't be known to exist by anyone if it’s doing its job.
Once Inferno Squad gets firmly established within the Dreamers, doubtful plot points leave the picture, and Golden proves her strength at creating engaging, likable characters who really shouldn't be likeable at all. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy a hardened Imperial like Iden as the book’s protagonist, but Golden does a tremendous job of staying true to the cold exterior we've seen in game trailers so far while also conveying to the audience that she’s a human being, too. A gut-wrenching scene with her mother illustrates this very well early on, and Iden's humanity particularly shines through in the scenes where she interacts and bonds with a Dreamer known only as the Mentor.
Likewise, other members of the team develop convincing relationships with Dreamers that make you legitimately wonder if Inferno Squad will have the heart – or lack thereof – to eliminate them all once they've acquired the information the Empire seeks. I found the flirtation between Seyn and Sadori delightful, only superseded in charm by the friendship of Del and Piikow that centered around their shared curiosity for all things mechanical.
By the end of Inferno Squad, I had enjoyed the story told, and especially the characters involved. But the Battlefront gamer in me wanted more. At least one epic battle would have been nice, but the novel really lacked a sense that it will do much of anything to enhance my enjoyment of the game. Yes, I have a better idea of what makes Inferno Squad's members tick … but we’re also still four years from when we’ve been led to believe the game starts, with the destruction of the second Death Star. A lot happened in only a few months within the pages of this novel, and it seems reasonable to assume that even more would come to define the group’s dynamic – maybe even its membership – in the years to follow. I guess not?
Your enjoyment of Inferno Squad may come down to what you most want from it going in. If you're looking for an enjoyable story told from the Imperial perspective that shows you, hey, there are human beings inside that stormtrooper armor, you might get a lot out of it. But if you just can't wait for the game’s story mode because you know its cutscenes will feed into the epic, galaxy-spanning battles that have come to define Battlefront since 2004 – and I don't see this book existing without that impetus – just read chapter one. Maybe a couple more if you're curious how the team comes to be in the first place. Everything after that? Worth checking out, but I'll be very pleasantly surprised if it does much to enhance your experience with the game. And I do hope I'm wrong about that.