Since the very first Star Wars movie arrived on the silver screen some 40 years ago, a common theme which has threaded through the series has always been the struggle between light and darkness. Perhaps nowhere in the Star Wars franchise is that conflict better allegorised than in Star Wars Battlefront II; where the seemingly looming spectre of in-game purchase meddling threatens to engulf the brightness of the core game which, arguably, has come on leaps and bounds over its 2015 prequel.
Let’s talk about loot crates and in-game credits
A passing glance at the swirling maelstrom of press surrounding the launch of Star Wars Battlefront II reveals a depressing theme; EA’s attempt to offset the lack of a traditional season pass and DLC business model with pay-to-win progression boosting purchases has backfired horrendously. Quite unlike Blizzard’s Overwatch which only allows real-life money to be spent on cosmetic purchases, Star Wars Battlefront II permitted folks to dig deep into their pockets in order to buy premium currency which can in turn be used to purchase loot boxes containing skill and ability enhancing Star Cards.
Or, at least it did until this past weekend when EA unceremoniously yanked the ability to purchase the premium in-game currency with the somewhat odious promise to reinstate it when it “once they’ve made changes to the game”. This U-turn when coupled with EA’s insistence that “change will be consistent” for the game in the foreseeable future, means that, as a critic, trying to review Star Wars Battlefront II with the sole aim of trying to accurately mirror the consumer experience at the time of writing, is like trying to catch smoke (Snoke?) in a mug (so apologies if you receive Star Wars Battlefront II as a holiday gift and it barely represents what I have scribbled here).
It’s perhaps somewhat telling that one of the first things you see in Star Wars Battlefront II is a loot crate. In a game that is crammed to the hilt with spectacular heroes, powerful villains, epic battles and everything else that is infinitely more interesting than opening a loot crate, it seems like EA has lost sight of why people were interested in Star Wars to begin with; much like how George Lucas did when he thought that folk would wet their pants about trade disputes in The Phantom Menace.
As it is, the encroaching shadow of the loot crate remains; players can earn crates both directly and the credits needed to buy them from playing the single-player and multiplayer modes, while additional rewards can be earned by completing a number of condition-specific challenges. Layering this overwrought progression system yet further still are the crafting parts that can be used to upgrade the Star Cards that you receive from these loot crates, which in turn provide boosts to various ability and soldier class types. The problem here however, is that the Star Cards you receive are utterly random which makes seeking out a progression path for your trooper or hero hugely frustrating simply because it’s the (bad) luck of the draw controlling whatever cards you get next.
Likewise, the credits which players can earn may also be used to unlock various powerful heroes from a number of different eras in Star Wars lore, such as Darth Maul, Han Solo and Rey to name just a few. The problem is, after the initially sizeable burst of credits that the game rewards you with for completing the single-player campaign, the credit amounts that the game rewards you for completing challenges and rounds of gameplay thereafter are a bit stingy and as a result, unlocking some of these heroes can seem like an unsightly grind – especially after you’ve already handed over $50-$60 for the game to begin with.
Though the credit system is frustrating based on the grinding involved, in real terms however, the effect that the loot crates have on the multiplayer gameplay isn’t quite so earth-shatteringly awful as some folks might make out. Indeed, I can honestly say that even with only a very basic set of Star Cards and spending precisely zero dollars when the game allowed me to, I was more often than not finishing in the top 4 places on my team and can say that I’ve not met somebody with a collection of Star Cards that can stop them from being killed by a headshot or done in by a flanking manoeuvre.
In its current form then, Star Wars Battlefront II hardly feels like the unfairly wallet weighted turd spectacle many assumed it would be, though the mere presence of the loot crate system even without the pay-to-win connotations still grates because it simply feels like too many artificial and random barriers being put up to progression where none previously existed. There are simply many different and better ways to do this.
Taken on its own merits Star Wars Battlefront II’s multiplayer is actually good, really good
Peer beyond Star Wars Battlefront II’s off-putting loot crate and credit system however, and a wholly enjoyable and frequently thrilling online multiplayer shooter that has a real love for its source material soon reveals itself. Taking place across three different eras of Star Wars, the Star Wars Battlefront II’s multiplayer experience actually manages to bridge the gap between movie spectacle and sophisticated FPS beats that the original Star Wars Battlefront couldn’t quite manage.
For those worried that EA DICE might have sacrificed the baseline glitz and spectacle of the previous game, allow me to assuage your concerns. Every map that you play on in Star Wars Battlefront II has a cinematic quality to it that taps directly into your Star Wars fanboy node. Whether you’re rushing through the elevated treehouses of the Wookie homeworld of Kashykk, engaging in guerrilla warfare on the dusty streets of Tatooine as numerous Jawa scatter and ships soar overhead, or charging through the frigid wastes outside of Starkiller Base, DICE have done a stellar job of making Star Wars Battlefront 2 both look and sound like the Star Wars universe that so many players are familiar with.
At a base level the gunplay simply feels much better than the previous game too, with smoother animations, improved feedback and a sensation of combat that errs much closer to that of the Battlefield games than the limpness of the previous Star Wars: Battlefront. Likewise, the addition of Battlefield style class and role types also helps the game feel much more solid as a result; offering real variety to the proceedings as players choose classes and soldier types that best suit their style of play.
A similarly considered approach is also taken with how the various hero and vehicle units figure into the returning Galactic Assault multiplayer mode, too. Rather than collecting hero and vehicle units on the field as you did in 2015’s Star Wars Battlefront, this year’s game has players earning Battle Points by killing the enemy and completing objectives which can then be used the next time you spawn to take control of any number of special units, heroes or vehicles. All in all it’s an effective system not least because it actively encourages players to do well and follow the objectives whilst providing tangible rewards for doing so.
Though the objective focussed Galactic Assault is probably the multiplayer mode that you’ll spend the most time on, other modes also fare well and deserve your attention too. The returning Blast and Heroes Vs Villains modes largely work the same as before (though the latter is definitely improved by the larger roster of special characters to choose from) and both provide simplistic though entertaining thrills. The returning Starfighter Assault on the other hand, is given a massive overhaul with extra mission objectives, a range of different environments which both allow it to finally cement that Star Wars feeling of taking part in an epic space conflict, rather than just floating about the place and occasionally blasting things as you did in the previous Star Wars Battlefront.
Conversely, faring a little less well is the Arcade mode which can be tackled either solo or via split-screen local multiplayer with a friend. Here, the objective is painfully and boorishly simple; you must defeat waves of enemies within a certain time limit and, really, that’s pretty much it. To say that this mode falls flat and that Star Wars Battlefront II wouldn’t be any worse off with its omission, would be an understatement to say the least and as such your time is much better spent elsewhere.
A mostly entertaining and surprising single-player campaign
For all the nips, tucks and wide-ranging improvements that EA have wrought with the multiplayer component of Star Wars Battlefront II, it’s really the addition of a brand new, canon-hugging single-player campaign that represents this sequel’s biggest stride away from its predecessor. Set just before the end of Return of the Jedi, Star Wars Battlefront II’s single-player campaign is initially told from the perspective of one Iden Versio, the leader of an elite Imperial unit who must escape capture and take the fight to the rebellion.
It’s captivating stuff to be fair, as the writers allow players an intimate and unusual look into the fall of the Empire after the events of The Return of the Jedi, all the while providing surprises by frequently shifting the focus away from Iden Versio to other, more established and prominent characters from Star Wars lore. Unfortunately, some of that goodwill is lost in the campaign’s finale which is horrendously open-ended and rather than concluding on a proper note, instead points players towards the game’s multiplayer mode – hardly a fitting end to an otherwise enjoyable campaign.
Mechanically too, though perfectly ‘fine’, the single-player campaign in Star Wars Battlefront II rarely overachieves. Indeed, though the various FPS, third-person adventure and Starfighter combat sections provide variety, they do little to really surprise or innovate, instead electing to follow that well-worn and years old template of stitching together bite-sized sections of spectacle stuffed action with equally spectacle stuffed cut-scenes.
Certainly, we need not look too far from Star Wars Battlefront II to see another EA title that has an innovative and bombastic single-player campaign in Titanfall 2; undoubtedly showing that such feats of quality in story driven FPS campaigns can certainly be achieved. All the same, though the single-player campaign of Star Wars Battlefront II might lack the verve and sheer inventiveness seen in Respawn’s most recent shooter, it remains an entertaining and bombastic affair that deftly captures the excitement and thrill of the Star Wars universe.
When you have what is arguably one of the better Star Wars titles in recent memory, the conversation shouldn’t be dominated by the bean-counting and cynical nastiness of its premium monetization mechanics, and yet owing to poor design choices in that regard, that’s what we have as EA have utterly lost control of the narrative surrounding Star Wars Battlefront II.
Despite their retraction of real-life purchases from the game, Star Wars Battlefront II also still remains far from perfect too, as an uneven set of multiplayer modes, overly grindy loot crate system and a poorly concluded single-player campaign all conspire to take the sheen of what is otherwise a decent sequel.
All the same, the improvements seen here over the original Star Wars Battlefront are both stark and considerable, and when coupled with a mostly enjoyable single-player campaign and deeply rewarding multiplayer, Star Wars Battlefront II proves itself still reliably capable of providing Death Star sized amounts of fun on a frequent basis.