When E3 rolled around this year, I was genuinely surprised at the approach EA was taking with Star Wars Battlefront II. It was already well-known that DICE would once again be heading development, but I don’t think anyone saw the announcement of free DLC coming alongside a full campaign. I was cautiously optimistic, but with EA there’s always a catch, and that catch came in the form of microtransactions. The controversy has been and gone, leaving nothing but an air of dread around the uncertain future of Battlefront II, but there’s still traces of its presence found in its online component. Controversy aside, Battlefront II has made many changes, but it ultimately feels like one step forward, two steps back.
EA made a valiant effort to market Battlefront II’s campaign as one of its significant factors, and after the monumental success that was Titanfall 2’s campaign, I thought a similar approach would’ve been taken. Set in between Episodes VI and VII, you play as Iden Versio, the commander of an elite group of troopers fighting for the Empire called the Inferno Squad. The Rebel’s have fought back and destroyed the second Death Star, and the Empire is scrambling to retreat, regroup, and rethink strategies. Iden and her squad are thrown into the middle of this, but it’s never handled particularly well.
All of the missions feel disconnected from one another, especially in the latter half, and it never really feels like there’s a strong sense of direction when it comes to objectives and the motivations of the main characters. The Inferno Squad is a very cookie cutter, stereotyped, and all-around uninteresting group. It doesn’t help that when the plot does try surprise you, it fails due to how predictable its twists are. It’s probably not the Star Wars story you’ve been waiting to play, and while it does fill the gap between movies, it’s an average fill at best. The first few missions are enjoyable as they try toying with mechanics involving Iden’s droid and explain the seemingly important idea of Commanders and stealth, but it’s not long until the game devolves into a shooting gallery scattered with Starfighter and Hero levels. The campaign’s length ultimately works as a double-edged sword because of this. Clocking in at around 3-4 hours, it doesn’t drag on, but it certainly brings down its value. Overall, it feels dull, uninspired, and very average.
After playing Battlefront II’s multiplayer beta in October, I was far from satisfied with where it was going, and it quelled what little interest I had in it to begin with. Thankfully, it’s seen some changes since then, making it more enjoyable to play as a whole. You could describe my first few hours with Battlefront II’s multiplayer as adrenaline-inducing, fast-paced, and down to the wire when it comes to who won what, but the key words in that sentence are “first few hours.” Once I messed around with all the game modes, I found no reason or push to return to the fight. As satisfying as victory is on the large scale that Battlefront II presents, it’s brought down by a lack of meaningful progression and the remnants of an economy that was essentially pay-to-win.
Battlefront II’s most prominent multiplayer mode is Galactic Assault, a 40 player game mode taking place on massive, sprawling maps with multiple objectives. The sheer size and scale at first is mind-blowing, and the 11 maps feel varied, unique, and span across the entire chronology of Star Wars. These maps are sectioned off and made smaller for the other modes in the game. The alternate game modes involve Heroes vs Villains, Starfighter Assault, Blast, and Strike. Starfighter Assault is loads of fun if you enjoy the vehicular combat, Blast and Strike are great for smaller, more fast-paced game modes, and Heroes vs Villains is a good opportunity to test out the different heroes, or just get a chance to play them if you don’t usually get to in other game modes, which is another area Battlefront II has seen changes.
Instead of pickups being scattered across the map, heroes, villains, and vehicles are used by accumulating Battle Points as you play and by spending them on your desired power-up. The one problem with this system is that unless you play consistently well, it’s hard to get your hands on the role of a villain or hero, and even if you do, there’s no guarantee that someone else isn’t occupying that character already. Rewarding players for skill is definitely understandable, but this is teetering on the edge of being difficult for casual players to obtain these bonuses. That aside, some tuning is needed, only because some of the heroes and villains feel superior to others.
Battlefront II’s final big element is the returning Arcade Mode, but much like the rest of the game, there’s an attempt to overhaul it. Instead of it being a clear cut survival mode, it takes numerous scenarios from each movie, some where you play as the Rebels, others where you play as the Empire. These can be played solo or cooperatively with another player, and all of them are short, sweet, and enjoyable in both formats. There’s no real incentive to replay them after unless you want high scores, but I’m surprised that it held my interest for as long as it did.
Playing any of these modes will net you experience points and credits, though the ultimate goal is to obtain Star Cards – the core component of Battlefront II’s progression system. To obtain Star Cards, you’ll either have to randomly pick them up in loot crates, which you’ll purchase with credits, or craft them using Crafting Parts, which can be acquired by completing challenges, or, again, via loot crates. Even though the ability to buy currency with real money has been disabled (for now) and the economy tweaked to be less grindy with lower costs and greater rewards, the entire system still perpetuates an unbalanced playing field. Simply put, the better the cards you have, the bigger the advantage you’ll have. Whether this framework was originally designed to be exploitative and pay-to-win, no one can say for certain, but it’s left a sour taste in many player’s mouths and still needs a lot of work. There’s also a distinct lack of cosmetic customisation, something that was present in the first game, which is also extremely disappointing.
If there’s one thing Battlefront II gets right, though, it’s that it feels damn good to play. Every weapon feels satisfying to fire, the controls are tight, and it really feels like a DICE game with a very high level of polish. And speaking of things DICE do well, the game also looks absolutely gorgeous. It’s filled to the brim with Star Wars charm and captures the look and feel of the universe effortlessly, much like the first game did. It’s another technical achievement for DICE and firmly secures their position as some of the best when it comes to technological finesse. I’d say that includes the sound, but the sound deserves its own recognition because it’s amazing. The sound effects are so authentic, whether it be the high-pitched blasters of Star Fighters going off or the silent hiss of the ventilation systems on weapons. It’s all excellent, and the soundtrack is no exception to this either, with full orchestral themes playing in the background to really get you going.
Like many, the Star Wars franchise is dear to me, so I’m disappointed EA let their plans for monetisation and a rush to meet deadlines get the better of them with Battlefront II. While there’s some fun to be had in Battlefront II’s multiplayer and arcade modes, there’s no denying its story and mission design is lazy and uninventive. The game is full of Star Wars charm, expressed by its well-designed maps and excellent production values, but it’s ultimately let down by a lack of incentive to keep playing and the very system that’s supposed to let us live out our far-fetched Star Wars fantasies. The life of this game now depends on where EA goes from here – and yes, there have been steps taken to rebalance the economy, and free DLC is a good start – but inherent mediocrity limits them when it comes to players who want something that’s more than a one and done Star Wars adventure.