Star Wars Battlefront II
Developers: EA DICE, Motive Studios, Criterion Software
Platform: PS4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
A review by Ryan M. Holt
EA obtained exclusive rights to the Star Wars franchise shortly after Disney purchased Lucasfilm and shut down Lucasarts. Since then EA has published two Battlefront games from DICE, the creators of the legendary shooter series Battlefield. Star Wars Battlefront II released this past week, generating a huge controversy around the game. What lead to this, and is Battlefront II worth playing?
While the title of this game is Star Wars Battlefront II, it is actually the fourth Battlefront game. The first two titles we made by Pandemic Studios and published under Lucasarts on PC, Playstation 2, and the original Xbox. When the Disney/EA deal went through they kept the name, but rolled back the numbering of the series. The first Battlefront under the EA banner was released in 2015, right before The Force Awakens hit theaters. It felt very much like a Battlefield game with a Star Wars skin. However, EA’s Battlefront was only set during the original trilogy timeline, where as the original Battlefront games spanned both the prequel and the original trilogy.
Furthermore, the game only had twelve multiplayer maps at launch and not every map could be played in every mode. Four more maps were added with DLC, but it splintered player groups into haves and have-nots. Adding insult to injury, there was no single-player campaign, only a lackluster arcade mode where you could fight against not-so-smart AI-bots. Battlefront was considered successful because it made a lot of money, but gamers didn’t really consider it a success.
The inevitable sequel had everything to gain from its little brother’s mistakes. All EA had to do was make sure it was bigger and better than the low bar it set in 2015. Battles across all three trilogy eras? Check. Eighteen maps to play on? Check. Full fledged single-player campaign mode? Check. No DLC to splinter your player base? Check. Battlefront II was poised to be one of the greats of 2017.
But then they added loot boxes.
There are dozens of think-piece articles breaking down the controversy of the addition, ranging from gaming focused enthusiast sites like Polygon, all the way to national news organizations like The Washington Post and CNN. Loot boxes have been controversial additions to gaming for about ten years. They are a staple of a free-to-play ecosystem. Incredibly, successful games like League of Legends are built on the backbone of free-to-play economics.
So why and how do these boxes cripple Battlefront II?
First, it creates a power vacuum between player power. Want to have thermal detonators that have a large blast radius? Grind out roughly thirteen, 20-minute matches for a chance to pull that card. Or, pay real world cash for a chance to pull that card without the time sink. On top of that, each card has four ranks, so you might pull the lowest rank card when you open a box, or the highest ranking card. Your overall multiplayer power is based on luck, and players who buy boxes in bulk will have an tactical advantage over those who don’t.
Oh, and those who pre-ordered the game had access to the game a week before it came out, giving them the chance to gain loot to their hearts content, long before the masses even had the opportunity to install the game. This system was met with so much bad press that EA disabled the ability to purchase crystals, the currency that can only be used to buy crates, hours before the games official launch.
That doesn’t fix the system though. Hours of grinding for a set of random tactical advantages cripples enjoyment. Do you normally play a sniper? Well, the loot crate you just opened contained cards for the heavy class, not the sniper. That is a whole lot of time you just wasted for an upgrade for a class you don’t even play. Want to play as Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader? Get ready to grind credits for that too. They aren’t too expensive, assuming you don’t spend any credits on loot boxes as you save up.
On top of all of this, there is even further splitting of content as your rewards are divided up into Trooper crates, Starfighter crates, and Hero crates. While this gives you the option to focus on one area of the game you like, it still feels like a chore for those with an itch to collect everything, especially for the unique units like the Millennium Falcon or Rey. If you put all of your efforts and time into one specific hero, hopefully you get sorted into that particular side in the battle.
So What About the Single Player?
While the multiplayer is a convoluted mess of currencies and frustration, anyone can jump right into the single-player campaign. The story follows Iden Versio, a member of the Imperial Special Forces unit Inferno Squad, from the Battle of Endor all the way to the Battle of Jakku. Iden is played by Janina Gavankar (True Blood), and she gives on hell of a performance. This is accomplished by employing some of the best motion-capture technology in the business. You really feel like she is a part of the Star Wars universe. There are some great moments in the campaign that help bridge the trilogies, but ultimately the story ends up feeling like a big budget fan fiction. There are parts that absolutely sing, and parts that fall flat.
The best parts of the campaign are when you are in Iden’s shoes, shooting down enemies from a far and using a small Imperial probe droid to shock enemies into submission. It gives Iden some unique abilities instead of the standard Star Wars fare of Force Push and Lightsaber throw, and is a welcome addition to the canon. The one gripe with it is the droid feels lifeless compared to the other robotic friends from a galaxy far, far away. Iden constantly barks out commands like “Droid, slice that!” or “Droid, need a shock!”. I found myself desperately wishing for Iden to give my new little buddy a nickname, just to imbue some personality into the character.
As Special Forces, Iden is proficient with nearly every weapon in the Star Wars universe, excluding lightsabers of course. The missions in which you get to take control of any number of Star Wars vehicles stand out above all of the other missions, particularly the space combat ones. Battlefront II has some of the best dog fighting out there, and the campaign is firing on all cylinders when you are are weaving in and out of super structures like space station where Star Destroyers are built. Honestly, this game just level me longing for the days of Rogue Squadron.
The low points of the game are when you are forced to take control of the hero characters we have played with a million times. I have played as Luke Skywalker in so many different games that it is no longer special, especially given how unwieldy he is in Battlefront II. His particular level has him swinging his lightsaber around blindly fighting… insects. That’s right. You get to play as Luke Skywalker, but the game has you fighting against bugs. Not Stormtroopers, not AT-AT’s, not TIE Fighters, but fricken bugs. Adding insult to injury, the voice actors aren’t very good, with only Billy Dee Williams voicing his character in the campaign. (Daisy Ridley does provide the voice for Rey, but she is only in Multiplayer.) Also, who in their right mind thought it would be a good idea to give Han Solo a beard?!
Sadly, the campaign ends right as the story starts picking up. The full story mode takes only six-ten hours to complete, and there are only a small handful of levels that offer replay value in the from of collectibles. Unless you are a sadist who has to play through on every difficulty, there is no reason to revisit the story, even with its cliffhanger ending.
Skip it. Battlefront II was built for a very small subsection of gamers: huge Star Wars fans and multiplayer junkies. If you don’t fit that very specific demographic, there are loads of things that detract from the experience. Love Star Wars, but don’t like multiplayer? The single player only lasts six-ten hours, and the arcade mode is pretty bare bones. Love multiplayer, but don’t care for Star Wars? There are better games out there with a more robust, and fair, progression system. While EA has promised that they are listening to fans and want to make changes, they would have to change quite a lot to make this package worth it.