Star Wars Battlefront II: A Wretched Hive

This review contains spoilers for the single player campaign portion of the game.

It should be difficult to make a bad Star Wars game. While there have been some real bangers over the years, for every Obi-Wan or Force Unleashed II you can’t go far without bumping into a Republic Commando, Knights of the Old Republic, and X-Wing Versus TIE Fighter. And yet, here we are. DICE’s Battlefront II showed a whole lot promise when I saw it demo at this year’s E3. It addressed the first game’s shortcomings with a more robust multiplayer experience that very much wants to play alongside big boys Call of Duty and Battlefield. Bringing the entire project down the Sarlaac pit is ruin caused by loot boxes, the latest iteration of publisher meddling. Loot boxes significantly undercut the fun of the game through its system of grinding and spending in-game money on randomized perks. Thanks, Overwatch!

To its credit, Battlefront II offers more value than the 2015 game. Apart from its expanded multiplayer content, DICE created a new chapter in the Star Wars saga that paints a clearer picture of what happened to the Empire after their defeat on Endor. Iden Versio is the leader of Inferno Squad, an Imperial special ops group introduced in the novel Battlefront II: Inferno Squad. After witnessing the destruction of the Emperor’s space station for a second time, she becomes part of Operation Cinder, a last ditch effort by the Empire to consolidate power and reassert control. While the game introduces a “from the enemy’s eyes” perspective, I’m sad that DICE couldn’t commit to the theme. In true Star Wars fashion, Iden sees the error of the her’s and the Empire’s ways and defects to the New Republic. This leads her to serve under General Leia Organa as they prepare to face the Empire’s last stand at Jakku. Instead of Iden, I would have much rather played as Hask, one of the other Inferno Squad members. An Imperial loyalist, he doesn’t truck with Iden’s traitorous thinking and ends up confronting her during the Battle of Jakku. I think the story would have benefited by following Hask as he madly pursues Iden across the galaxy.

The campaign is more than just plopping characters into a cordoned off portion of pre-existing multiplayer maps. You’ll bounce from planet to planet, several of them are exclusive to the campaign (now, at least), as operators for and against Operation Cinder. While fortune favors the brave, the campaign incorporates stealth sequences that, like the recent Wolfenstein games, don’t really matter. You’re going to be shooting Rebels and Stormtroopers regardless if you get the drop on anyone, so the mechanic seems largely pointless. The missions themselves follow along the lines of “go to X, capture/kill objective, rush to Y, defend as you wait for extraction.” The campaign does a good job of mixing things up from time to time. On foot sequences tend to lead the way to seamless transitions into starfighter dogfights in or outside the planet and back again. Some levels even have you play hero characters like Luke Skywalker and Han Solo.

The campaign doesn’t shy away from big, grandiose Star Wars moments. You’re never far from danger’s epicenter as explosions and screaming soldiers make loud noises all around you. This goes to show that if Battlefront II does anything right, it’s the production values. The game is a complete and total spectacle across single and multiplayer. Everything oozes Star Wars’ distinct science fiction style and the sound design, lifted directly from the films, is extraordinarily top notch. It’s a shame, then, that the campaign can’t muster the excitement to match its impressive visuals. There’s nothing to distinguish Iden Versio from any other Imperial Agent turned Rebellion hero. On the other hand, I want an entire game dedicated to the cynical, dry humored Duros named Shriv. He’s the best thing about the campaign. The game ends with a climactic battle over Jakku but the story flops to the ground with a thud. In a recent update, DICE revealed additional campaign content is coming to flesh out the ending and show the rise of the First Order. I honestly doubt it will fix what ails the campaign. After all you’re bound to completely forget about it before the December update rolls out.

The multiplayer component does a much better job at capturing the ebb and flow of warfare. Spanning both the prequel and original trilogies, up to forty players will be cast as either the Rebellion and Grand Army of the republic or the Confederation of Independent Systems, Galactic Empire, or the First Order. Cherry picking from familiar locations from the movies, Galactic Assault features both sides duking it out for control over objectives. If the defending team can prevent the enemy from advancing across the battlefield, be it capturing a point on the map or triggering some event, the game ends in their favor. As an example, on Kamino, the Battle Droids have to destroy a Clone archive and then capture two landing pads. On Naboo, the Clone Army must stop CIS forces from storming Theed Palace. These matches can be fun, especially as you get down to the wire. In one particularly game, I spent over twenty minutes in overtime, trying to do my part in a hair raising last stand against the enemy. Starfighter Assault uses a similar formula but sets the skirmish in space. From a gameplay and production value standpoint, I found this to be the best experience in multiplayer. You’ll pilot X-Wings and A-Wings, or TIE-Fighters and Vulture Droids, to blow up shipyards, ambush Republic ships, and destroy a First Order battleship from the inside out. I’ve been having the most fun with this part of the game simply because of how fun it is to fly Star Wars spaceships.

Galactic Assault and Starfighter Assault are the top, headlining modes for Battlefront II. Rounding them out are modes introduced in the 2015 game. Strike offers objective based gameplay for eight players and Blast emphasizes close combat with smaller, more concentrated maps. Arcade can either be a solo or online co-op affair made up with pre-fabricated scenarios or custom matches where you can specify all sorts of parameters. And then there’s Heroes versus Villains, an inoffensive mode in which players pick from a roster of characters like Boba Fett, Darth Vader, and Kylo Ren and fight it out.

With so much content being offered on the Battlefront platter, I honestly expected to have more (if not as much) fun as I had with 2015’s Battlefront. Unfortunately, fun was found to be in short supply. The fault lies in a terrible progression system that is confusing at best and grossly ill conceived at worst. The antagonism that has plagued Battlefront II’s release are Star Cards. In the 2015 game, Star Cards were progression and credit-based rewards that gave players access to new weapons and gear, like guns, explosives, and character traits. Those looking for an additional challenge, and have something to show for their time spent playing, Jabba Contracts offered specialized gear to those that worked for them. The Star Cards in Battlefront II were designed to take advantage of a microtransaction scheme that just so happened to be shut down a day before the game’s worldwide launch.

What Star Cards do this time is to provide class specific bonuses that could be upgraded by spending credits and scrap. These cards can improve the time it takes to heal, boost starship engine and weapon power, affect cooldowns and other advantages. The problem with these cards is how they are acquired. Instead of rewarding the player the chance to unlock cards when they reach a certain level, like the first game, they must used credits earned from a match to buy loot boxes. Presented with three different pricing tiers (why are Trooper Crates almost double the cost of Starfighter and Hero crates?), these boxes provide a random number of assorted cards such as emotes, credits, scrap, victory poses, and upgrade cards. Character classes are limited to the number of Star Cards they can equip which is based on their Card level, which is completely separate from your Character level. Card levels can be only increased by spending scrap to unlock a class’ cards. Classes do not share cards across each other which means you’ll have to collect enough scrap for each class in order to unlock and upgrade everything. And because scrap can only be earned from loot crates, well, you can see how the whole damn system is a total mess.

Sound confusing? It is. Pointless? Absolutely. I swear, most of my play sessions felt like I spent more time micromanaging classes than playing the actual game. The number of hoops you have to jump through to upgrade your character feels like it was designed around grinding for credits in order to grind for loot crates in order to grind for scrap. Before launch, you could spend real money to purchase crystals and additional loot crates, when led to a revolt over the game’s “pay to win” system. Those crystals have been temporarily removed until DICE can figure out a way to monetize the game without being ugly about it (spoiler: there’s no way to accomplish this). So, as of this writing, players have been put on a more even playing field as all of them earn cards through a credit economy. Outside of the multiplayer game itself, there is no sense of accomplishment. There’s no warm, fuzzy feeling that comes from earning something at different levels. Instead, I get really angry over having to buy loot boxes to advance my class. It’s grade-A bullshit.

Adding further insult to injury, hero characters like Luke and Vader are locked behind a credit paywall and some of their prices are pretty exuberant. Darth Vader alone cost 60,000 credits before it was reduced to 15,000 in light of the backlash. Putting them behind a paywall is dumb considering most people likely come to Battlefront II for the chance to play as Vader. Furthermore, locking them out negatively affects Heroes Versus Villains. The first (and only) match I played put me on the side of the Rebels. After the rest of the team made their choices, I had to pick between Han Solo and Lando Calrissian because those where the only characters unlocked. The other team? Their deck was stacked with Darth Vader, Darth Maul, Boba Fett, and Kylo Ren. The resulting match was a total monkey fuck. My characters didn’t stand a chance against force powers and their blaster blocking lightsabers. Balance just goes right out the window.

Star Cards and locking out heroes seriously hurts any enjoyment. Any time I found myself getting remotely excited about Battlefront II, the loot crate and needless grind were there to trample on my joy. The loot crate system is a cancer that ruins the entire product. With the damage done, there’s no way Battlefront II can ever walk away from being one of the most ill produced disappointments of the year. It sucks for DICE but if they have to suffer so that loot boxes get a permanent black eye, then so be it. Loot boxes can be done right–just look at Overwatch. They limit their little gamble boxes to cosmetics, not game changing upgrades and bonuses.

Avoid Battlefront II until it goes on sale or EA/DICE rights their sinking ship.

Title: Star Wars Battlefront II
Developer: DICE, Criterion Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Genre: Action, Multiplayer
Price: $59.99 (Standard), $79.99 (Deluxe)
Console: PlayStation 4, Xbox One (Reviewed), PC
Purchased or Received for Review? Purchased Deluxe Edition (Digital)
Where to Buy: Amazon, Origin, PlayStation Network, Xbox Live

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