Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PS4
Reviewed On: PC
Developed by: DICE
Published by: EA
There is a well-known line in the Star Wars movies that applies perfectly here. “You were the Chosen One! You were supposed to destroy the Sith, not join them. You were supposed to bring balance to the force, not leave it in darkness.” Of course, it’s the scene in Revenge of the Sith where Obi-Wan Kenobi faces down his former Padawan and friend Anakin Skywalker, or as he now calls himself, Darth Vader. Still, it’s apt here. While last years Battlefront left a lot of people feeling let-down I still quite enjoyed it despite its issues. I had high hopes for a sequel, and yet EA managed to fall deeper into the Dark Side, taking the beloved Star Wars name with it.
Reviewing this game has proven to be a hell of a challenge. Due to the massive and completely deserved backlash, EA decided to temporarily remove their microtransactions from Battlefront 2 at the last second, meaning at some point they’re going to reappear and alter the game yet again. For now though, we have a shooter with a massive shadow beast looming over it, one which at any time may leap down and begin wrecking stuff by letting players pay to gain an advantage.
Yes, Battlefront II isn’t, or rather wasn’t, a pay to win game but spending some extra cash could certainly net you an edge over your opponents, provided you get lucky. With the option to throw money around removed what we’ve been left with is a clumsy, awkward and downright bloody terrible progression system based almost entirely around the acquisition of crates that contain new abilities or more powerful versions of existing ones with absolutely no guarantee that you’re going to get anything for classes you play or indeed for hero characters you’ve unlocked yet.
So here’s how you move through the ranks of multiplayer and unlock Star Cards, of which each class or hero you play as can equip three that modify their base stats or alter their three special abilities, like how Assault can fire a special dart that highlights nearby enemies or how the officers can bolster friendly units. Basically, each card comes in several different flavors of rarity, and the more cards you have, and the rarer they are, the higher that classes overall Star Card Rank is. This is important because you’re also able to create specific cards you want by spending crafting parts, a resource that’s fairly thin on the ground. Cards can also have their rarity increased this way, but only if you’ve already attained a high enough level. In other words to progress you either have to spend crafting parts to make cards that you might not even want so that you can upgrade the cards you actually want, except by then you’ll probably have run out of parts. The other option is to hope that cards for that class pop up in the loot crates you buy using the in-game currency. And on top of that each class, vehicle and hero has their own Star Card Ranks. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough then to upgrade cards further you’ll also have to be a high enough overall rank.
Not only is it a strangely convoluted system that seems to have left a lot of people scratching their heads, but even without the microtransactions it’s downright painful. Challenges help earn some bonus credits, but other than that matches earn usually 200-400 credits with a trooper crate coming in at 4,000, while unlocking Darth Vader sets you back 15,000, which is actually just 25% of what EA and DICE originally had set in what was very obviously a deliberate design choice to get people to spend cash. Getting stuff is a slog and too often you pop open a box only to find cards for classes or heroes you don’t use or haven’t even unlocked anyway. Getting the best, coolest stuff should feel like an accomplishment, something to be proud of, but this feels utterly hollow and devoid of any sense of achievement. If you get something good out of a loot box, so what? You just got lucky. You could open a hundred boxes and get nothing you want while someone else opens just one and gets something awesome.
But we’ll circle back around to the multiplayer later on.
As a result of criticism DICE and EA opted to include a singleplayer campaign this year, something which I was genuinely surprised by because I personally reckon that if we can have purely singleplayer games then we can also have purely multiplayer ones and shoving resources into something that the company didn’t want to make in the first place is a waste of time and money that could have been used to produce more multiplayer content. Still, a good Star Wars singleplayer campaign had my inner Star Wars nerd quivering with excitement.
You’ll be stepping into the laced boots of Iden Versio, the commander of Inferno Squad, a group of three Special Forces soldiers whose job is to get shit done and get it done yesterday. Taking place between the end of The Last Jedi and before Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a strong opening has Iden being held prisoner by the Rebel forces after having allowed herself to get caught in order to infiltrate the ship and grab some important files. This infiltration, decimation of the Rebels and then escape sets up an intriguing story told through the eyes of the Empire for once, but sadly from there it goes down some predictable routes. I’ve written a whole spoiler-filled piece about why the story never manages to do what it needs to, so suffice to say for now that while there are certainly some highpoints to the story it’s mostly forgettable stuff, although die-hard Star Wars fans will be interested in a few key plot points that tie into the movies.
From a gameplay design perspective, the campaign is fairly standard, although the inclusion of a light stealth element is surprising and welcome. It’s not the focus of the game and nor should it be, but the option to whack a few enemies on the head before opening fire is nice to have. As for the shooting the enemy A.I. isn’t exactly the brightest, leaving battles feeling a bit flat, but on the hardest setting there’s some fun to be had. A few set piece moments and space battles mix things up throughout the measly four-hours it takes to romp through everything, and there are quite a few attempts at fan-service as Iden bumps into famous Star Wars characters. You’ll even get to control Luke, Leia, Han and more during the campaign.
In other words, at just four hours or so the campaign is still clearly taking a back-seat to the multiplayer where EA were obviously hoping to persuade gamers to become payers. So let’s chat about that.
There’s a class system in place now, splitting players into Assault, Specialist, Officer and Heavy, with each boasting their own line-up of guns and special abilities. The Heavy, for example, can activate a forward facing shield to go with his minigun or activate a special mode that lets him shoot constantly without overheating. The Officer, meanwhile, can deploy a turret or boost nearby teammates while fighting with a pistol.
The headline mode is Galactic Assault where two twenty-player teams face off against each other, with one acting as the defenders and the other as the attackers across several objectives. On Hoth, for example, the rebels need to use rocket launchers to stop the incoming AT-ATs or else get pushed back to the hangers, whereas on Yavin the attackers need to take and hold several objectives in order to push the enemy back to the next set of objectives and so on. The catch is that while the defenders have an infinite supply of respawning soldiers to throw at the objective the attackers only get a limited amount, and capturing or completing an objective gives them more, so a quick an effective assault is vital to help set up success for later. This system also allows for some epic moments as the defenders manage to disarm a bomb at the last second or the attackers claim an objective with one respawn left.
Underpinning Galactic Assault is the Battlescore system where you get points for playing the objective, killing enemies and getting assists. These points can then be spent on spawning as a special class, like troopers armed with jet-packs or even wookie warriors, leaping into an aerial or ground vehicle, or playing as a hero/villain like Darth Maul, Luke Skywalker or Han Solo. It’s a system I actually surprisingly enjoyed because getting to spawn in as Darth Vader and tear the enemy team to shreds feels like an accomplishment, especially if you aren’t a top-tier player and therefore have to work pretty had to net the honor. I also appreciated the decision it forces you to make of whether to grab a vehicle or special trooper now in the hopes of helping your team out, or save those points for later.
However, there are some hiccups with the system. Take how the heroes are used in matches; since they cost a lot of battle points only the best players tend to get hold of them, and because there are no timers or anything else limiting how long someone can play as them there were a worrying amount of matches where I saw good players grab a hero early, and then play extremely conservatively so that they could use them for the entire game. This isn’t the players fault, obviously, because naturally they want to muck around as Yoda or Darth Maul, but it does make me wonder if there needed to be a timer for heroes that could be increased by getting kills, encouraging the players to get into the battle a bit more.
Assuming you do manage to get hold of a hero or villain, though, you’ll have a blast without feeling too powerful. Characters like Darth Maul and Luke Skywalker have a special skill that lets them leap forward while spinning their lightsaber, which let me tell you is a bloody scary sight when you’re on the receiving end of it. Other powers like Force Choke and throwing your lightsaber make you feel like a badass when you come hurtling round a corner before demolishing several people, as does being able to block incoming fire, but you’ll quickly learn that hero characters are quite vulnerable. It’s easy to leap into the fray and find yourself getting hit from all sides. In my first hours with the game I completely wasted my time as heroes by confidently charging head before getting promptly smacked around.
But when heroes inevitably collide what we get isn’t an epic duel for the ages but rather a comical battle of wonky animations. There’s still no proper lightsaber combat system, so players just sort of bash into each other using the regular animations. Getting one hit it can all but lock up the opponent, too, so fights often come down to whoever managed to get the first blow in.
The other big mode is Starfighter Assault which follows the same idea as Galactic Assault, again using the Battlescore system to spawn as special ships, in that players are battling it out over objectives, except this time everybody is in starfighters with both teams getting ten players apiece. The flying isn’t radically different from the first game but the one-button evasive maneuvers have smartly been removed and everything just feels a little…tighter. Maybe that’s because Criterion handled development of the Starfighter Assault mode rather than Dice, but the change is good. The inclusion of bots on both sides are also a surprising yet pleasant inclusion as they provide some breathing room so that you aren’t simply dying all the time.
Flying during Galactic Assault, though, is a lot less fun. When you spawn into the map in a fighter or bomber you get locked into a straight path for a few seconds and I often found that by time the player had gotten full control the enemy was already on them. It’s too easy for a team to lock the enemy team down.
As for other modes we’ve got Heroes vs Villains where two teams of four players apiece all get to cosplay as their favorite Star Wars characters and bash the hell out of each other. This one really highlights the lack of proper lightsaber on lightsaber combat, but it’s actually kind of chaotic fun. Then there is Strike which is a smaller objective-based mode for teams of eight players, and finally you have Blast where two teams of ten engage in a straight-up team deathmatch. Both modes are simple and obviously on a much smaller scale, but enjoyable in their own rights, though personally Blast wasn’t very interesting.
It’s map design that holds the multiplayer back as DICE avoid their usually quite open design style, as seen in the Battlefield series, in favor of maps that funnel Galactic Assault players into chokepoints around the objective, turning matches into mosh pits of laser fire. There are very few opportunities to flank the enemy or switch up your tactics, so success tends to come down to whichever team is better at focusing firepower. The only upside to this is that when you die it isn’t typically from behind like it so often is in Call of Duty. With the more limited angles you don’t have to constantly worry about a thousand different potential avenues that enemies could appear from unless a particularly sneaky one manages to get through.
As for the other ground-based modes they just use chunks of the Galactic Assault maps rather than their own unique ones, which feels stupid.
For a little more singleplayer content there is arcade mode where you can embark on a series of twenty challenges, with ten being for the Light side and the other ten for the Dark. These are pretty basic but provide a chance to take some of the locked heroes for a spin. You can also fire up custom matches of either Team Battle using a slightly measly ten A.I. soldiers per side or try out Onslaught, which is basically horde mode with a massive barrage of brain-dead A.I. trying to demonstrate the benefits of lasers for trimming your hair. Frustratingly while you can choose how many reinforcements each side gets and the map and so on you can’t mix and match factions with locations, meaning you can never have the droid army from the prequels running around Hoth or have the Rebels on Starkiller Base. Strangely enough, though, heroes do get mixed, thus we have Darth Vader slicing up clone troopers.
Oh, and sadly you can’t jump into any space battles in Arcade.
So, there’s certainly some complaints about the multiplayer and everything else. It’s all so god-damn frustrating! Because… I actually really enjoy the multiplayer! Like last years game the action is simple and streamlined, and certainly lacking the more open warfare of DICE’s own Battefield series, but the beautiful environments and superb audio design quickly lulled me into a Star Wars stupor, and sometimes it’s nice to just kick back with a Call of Duty-esque shooter where you can run around, shoot some stuff and have a laugh. As a Star Wars fan I was often to be found completely enraptured by the on-screen gameplay, the faithful recreation work of DICE working its magic. Once a battle is in full-swing with TIE fighters and X-Wings dogfighting overhead, AT-AT’s stomping onwards and bunches of troopers running around it’s…well, for a Star Wars fan it’s kind of awesome.
And there is some good news on the technical front. The game is freaking gorgeous with detailed textures, lovely lighting and superb particle effects, all of which combine with terrific audio which faithfully recreates the movies while giving you plenty of information in order to judge enemy locations. And on my rig it all ran on the highest settings at 1440p without dropping below my 60FPS minimum.
I grew up watching the Star Wars movies dozens of times and playing videogames, so it almost physically pains me to see both things tarnished by pure greed. Even with the microtransactions ripped out, at least for the moment, we’re left with a horrible progression system and a multiplayer focused title that lacks content with a bunch of stuff having clearly been left out for future DLC, such as heroes like Obi-Wan Kenobi, Finn, General Grievous, Qu-Gon Jinn and more. There is a lack of maps as well, and Arcade mode could do with being fleshed out further. Hopefully, the forthcoming free DLC will help remedy how thin Battlefront 2 seems to be.
Perhaps more amazing, though, is how a company like EA, who clearly have been somewhat successful over the years, could make some a patently stupid decision. Surely someone with even a slight bit of influence within the company must have pointed out how utterly idiotic the entire system was. And then even if somebody did point out how badly the microtransactions would be received, surely there must have been someone with enough damn intelligence to realize that the progression system is crap beyond words as well.
Talk about a mixed bag, eh? The hovering threat of microtransactions returning is going to be enough to stop a lot of people from buying Battlefront 2, and rightfully so as their inclusion has permeated every aspect of the game design. But even with their removal, the progression is woeful, and the game is held back by other issues, including a general lack of content. It’s hard to believe that Star Wars: Battlefront 2 (2006) has roughly the same amount of stuff as this 2017 release. And yet despite this and the many problems I have to confess that I had a whole lot of fun playing Galactic Assault. I almost feel disappointed in myself for saying it, but I won’t lie. So do I recommend it? Yes. Well, in a few months one the price has dropped, new content has arrived courtesy of the free DLC scheme and EA decides what to do with the microtransactions. Of course, by then the game’s audience may have already moved on, and frankly, that would a second well-deserved slap in the face to both EA and DICE.
But hold on! Wait a sec. Now it gets tricky because I also have to address the fact that while I personally hate the microtransaction system and the progression method built to accommodate it there are also lots of folk out there who don’t give a flying hoot about microtransactions or the whole leveling/ranking up thing. Is it worth it for them? Well, provided you’re looking for a multiplayer shooter rather than a strong singleplayer it may actually be worth a buy. While there’s still a lack of content that should hopefully get fixed through the free DLC, the existing balance issues can be fixed easily and the glitches should also be sortable.
Confused? So I am! Make of this review what you will, padawans. It’s a damn tricky game to chat about.