"The new game begins with the now familiar opening story crawl, which explains that the leaders of the nascent Rebellion are on the run from Darth Vader. Vader's TIE fighter arrives on a rain-swept stilt-city on Kamino, site of a vast Imperial cloning operation. In a hidden facility, Vader reveals that Starkiller is a clone -- or, at least that's what the Dark Lord says -- constructed from the genetic information of the original. The clone has undergone intense training to once again carry out Vader's bidding. But the imperfect clone is haunted by a past he has strangely inherited.
"In particular, he's haunted by visions of Juno Eclipse. You'll remember she was his love interest in the first story," said Blackman. "He can't get her out of his head. It's so strong, he can't even bring himself to strike out at a holographic image of her." This prompts Vader to declare the cloned Starkiller a failure. Enraged, the apprentice breaks free from the cloning facility, and then attempts to flee Kamino by stealing Vader's fighter -- which is where the game opens.
The fugitive Starkiller next voyages to the bridge-world of Cato Neimoidia (seen in Episode III and The Clone Wars). The world is run by an Imperial baron who has built an enormous arena for blood sport. Starkiller knows that General Rahm Kota, a Jedi survivor from the first game, has been captured and forced to fight for the baron. "Starkiller goes there to rescue Kota, and he ends up fighting his way through basically the equivalent of a Star Wars casino," said Blackman. "This is very much like a giant pinball machine for players. They will be able to go in there and create lots of destruction amid lots of color and noise."
Starkiller eventually enters the arena to free Kota, who has been fighting against monsters for a solid week. Incensed, the baron unleashes his biggest champion yet: the titanic rancor-killing gorog, "If you saw our announce trailer we did last year, that was the creature in that," said Blackman. After being liberated, Kota summons Starkiller's old ship, the Rogue Shadow, but despite his hopes, Starkiller does not find Juno in the cockpit of the ship. Kota has lost track of her as the Rebel fleet has scattered.
"Kota sees in Starkiller an opportunity to turn him against the Empire," said Blackman. "He wants to use Starkiller as a wrecking ball and go on the offensive. Starkiller wants none of it at this point. He just wants to be reunited with Juno. Through their argument, Kota accidentally lets slip the name 'Dagobah,' which has special meaning to all of us as Star Wars fans." When happens to Starkiller on the obscure bog planet, though, will have to be revealed at another time.
Dagobah is not the only connection The Force Unleashed II has to The Empire Strikes Back. Revealed today for the first time is that Boba Fett plays a small but pivotal role in the story of the game. A cinematic scene shown to the audience features Vader hiring Fett to track down Starkiller. "We wanted to make sure we didn't just shoehorn characters in because we like them as fans," stressed Blackman. "We were very careful to stay true to Boba Fett's character."
Starkiller will be going on a very personal journey throughout the story, in search for answers and indeed his very humanity. "We wanted to build upon the tension on whether or not he is really a clone," said Blackman. "Early in the game, Vader tells Starkiller that he is one, but when Starkiller is reunited with Kota, Kota casts doubt on it. He says it's impossible. That for us was the piece that cracked the story. The notion that Starkiller was a clone was very polarizing for us on the team -- some loved the idea, some didn't so much. So the decision to take that tension and make it part of the story makes for, in my mind, a more powerful story."
Beyond the narrative overview, Blackman also described specific game mechanics and enhancement in The Force Unleashed II, all the while playing through a demo of the game's earliest levels on rain-drenched Kamino. He said LucasArts took to heart the feedback from avid gamers concerning the first game, and really concentrated on making this new one a superior experience.
A new gameplay mode has been dubbed "Run for your life" moments, which underscores the fact Starkiller is less an enforcer this time around and more a fugitive. The game will focus on navigating Starkiller from some impending menace, all the while fighting off enemies and interlopers.
Starkiller now brandishes two lightsabers, which not only helps to instantly visually differentiate gameplay from the first game, but opens up a brand new fighting style. "It allows him to attack much more quickly," said Blackman.
All the favorite Force powers from the first game are back, joined by several new ones: even the Jedi Mind Trick is unleashed. When enemies are subjected to it, they may find themselves compelled to leap off the nearest bridge or attack their nearest ally. A key new ability is Force Fury, an amped-up time-limited unleashing that enhances all Force abilities. "In Force Fury, you could use Force grip to literally crush an AT-ST," said Blackman, "and all of your lightsaber combos suddenly become ranged attacks. You'll be able to take out a whole group of stormtroopers with just a handful of lightsaber moves." A Force Fury meter tracks how much potential you contain to use the power, but Force Fury is also not an all-exhaustive attack. You can cancel out of it at any time, preserving some of your ability for later use.
Enemy AI in The Force Unleashed II is now more varied and nuanced. Although the over all number of enemy combatants is fewer than in the first game, the diversity of the challenges the enemies pose is richer. This, among other things, serves to vary the gameplay.
"One of the criticisms we got about TFU was that it was all sort of one-note," admits Blackman. "If you had to pick one note, we picked the right one, with non-stop over-the-top combat all the time, but we really wanted to break up the pacing in The Force Unleashed II." To that end, the sequel will include more story moments, puzzle elements, and tactical puzzle play such as figuring out the best ways to use your Force powers in order to take out your enemies.
The source article at SW.com includes an image of Blackman from his presentation as well as some concept art.
In addition to the write up, the main site provides a new video documentary titled "A Hero Unleashed" that was displayed at SDCC.
And how about some cinematic video of Vader and Boba Fett in TFU II, courtesy of USA Today (via EUC)...
UPDATE: If you're looking for more coverage from The Force Unleashed II's presence at San Diego Comic-Con, Joystiq has a nice write-up, with game screenshots, from the panel. Check out a little taste below but make sure to click here for the full article.
"As he showed troopers sliced, diced and Forcefully obliterated, Blackman noted that the development team has worked to diversify enemy AI. Player feedback from the first game criticized the different types of enemies for all acting the same, so LucasArts has created separate AI behavior for almost all of the enemies in the sequel. Of course, this also goes for the new enemies, of which Blackman introduced a giant walker equipped with a shield and a Carbonite gun. To defeat the menace, Starkiller must first use his Force power to rip off the shield, and then take on the vulnerable walker while dodging its freeze ray blasts."