STAR WARS BATTLEFRONT II Review
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on you, you spineless, blood-sucking bastards. I thought that EA’s 2015 resurrection of the beloved Star Wars Battlefront series would be something to celebrate. It had (has) been years since we last had a good Star Wars game, and with the IP being picked up by EA after LucasArts closed doors on its development studio, there was no reason why that trend had to continue. After all, EA owns Bioware, who developed STAR WARS: KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC, which beyond being hands-down the best of the vast selection of Star Wars games is one of the best video games ever made.
Instead, we got STAR WARS BATTLEFRONT, a title that bears the same name as Pandemic’s 2004 shooter. This reboot was developed by EA DICE of Battlefield fame, and the defunct Pandemic’s once-greatest rival in the arena of big arcade war sims. Its status as a technological marvel aside, this BATTLEFRONT managed at once to be a shell of its namesake while charging up the ass for the full experience. After a year of premium DLC expansions, which tacked on just the minimum amount of content you’d expect to be included at launch, the end cost was $110 for players that wanted the “full” Star Wars experience. (Read: “Full” experience does not include any content from the prequel trilogy.) It was absolute absurdity, but people bought it anyway because there is no known way for a Star Wars product to not sell units by the boatload. Right on cue, we already have a second EA Battlefront game to buy, and if you thought $110 was robbery, you’ve seen nothing yet.
“Watto you talkin’ about?”
But hold on—didn’t EA learn their lesson after the first game? Didn’t they promise to do better? The BATTLEFRONT II presentation at E3 earlier this year certainly gave that impression. For starters, all three cinematic eras of the Star Wars Universe are fully playable in multiplayer, from the prequels to the sequels. There are 11 planets to fight on in the starting lineup, compared to BATTLEFRONT 2015’s pitiful four. There are actual player classes now, and the opportunity to play as vehicles and heroes is now doled as a reward for good gameplay, not random pickups on the field. Most importantly, there’s no season pass! Instead of fragmenting the playerbase, anyone who spends the $60 to pick up BATTLEFRONT II will be able to fight on all the new planets as they are released. So with all of that being said, how is it that they were still able to botch it? The truth is that this BATTLEFRONT II is flawed in so many ways that no matter how many desperate attempts EA makes to save face, they will never be able to redeem a game so rotten to the core.
In terms of playable content, the most notable addition to the package is the single player campaign. This is the big feature that everyone has been clamoring for ever since BATTLEFRONT shipped without one in 2015. To EA DICE’s credit, the “campaigns” of the original Battlefront games were nothing more than instant action bot matches with some voiceover narration recorded over for flavor. Still, it’s an unspoken rule these days that you can’t launch a big budget multiplayer shooter without a tacky, cinematic cheesefest thrown into the works, and this is where BATTLEFRONT II’s core single player mode comes in.
Janina Gavankar is an acceptable reason to join the Empire
Picking up at the climax of RETURN OF THE JEDI, the hero of our story is Iden Versio, a specially trained Stormtrooper who undergoes secret missions assigned to her by her admiral father. The official press release promises an adventure that takes Iden “into a journey across the galaxy to restore order . . . and to crush the emboldened Rebellion.” I wish I could tell you this was an accurate description of the events that transpire, especially since the last time we had a Star Wars game centered around an Imperial soldier was TIE FIGHTER in 1994, but seeing as Iden immediately betrays the Empire and defects to the Rebellion after leaving Endor, I’m going to have to call false advertising on this one. From the fourth mission onward, BATTLEFRONT II exclusively tasks you with gunning down Stormtroopers, similar to pretty much every Star Wars game to come before it.
The story itself is one hell of a hot mess, thanks in large part to the fact that it has no idea whose tale it wants to tell. Half of the scenarios yank you away from Iden to play as various heroes from the films, often at the strangest moments. Iden’s first ground battle for the Rebellion, in which she is attempting to prevent the invasion of Naboo by Imperial forces, opens with her gearing up for a raid with her new allies. It’s only after she runs offscreen that player control is assigned to Princess Leia, whose involvement in the operation is as baffling as it is unexpected. Other scenarios are complete non-sequiturs, clearly intended more as tutorial stages for the multiplayer than sequences of narrative significance.
BATTLEFRONT II’s biggest revelation is that nobody shaves onboard the Millennium Falcon.
In addition to frequently turning Iden into a side character in her own story, BATTLEFRONT II is plagued by a classic case of wearing far more hats than it can balance. As the first official interactive entry of the “new canon,” it tries to retcon elements of the Expanded Universe stories back into the fold, such as KOTOR’s Czerka Corporation and the Empire’s World Devastator superweapons. This ties into the side goal of generating “fan service” which can be used as another excuse for the aforementioned hero missions. Both of these aims are intended to bridge the divide between RETURN OF THE JEDI and THE FORCE AWAKENS by paving over previously established lore, yet aside from showing off a few new toys, BATTLEFRONT II does very little to actually tell us what happens in the aftermath of RETURN. Following the main story’s series of tenuously related battles between the Empire and the Rebellion, the epilogue suddenly jumps forward “decades later,” to an era where the First Order is already thriving, only to end on a sudden cliffhanger. (So much for “spanning the gap” between trilogies.)
The end product is a spastic, scatterbrained trainwreck that does way too much in its abbreviated span while somehow managing to say absolutely nothing new about the Star Wars universe itself. Even if it were even marginally coherent, the campaign would still be bogged down by its bland set pieces, braindead AI, and broken mechanics. Enemies frequently kill themselves by calmly walking into open flames or flying their ships into walls, and are all too happy to run into the open for an easy headshot. Even on the hardest difficulty, Stormtroopers live up to their reputation as terrible marksmen and complete lightweights when it comes to taking a hit. Stealth is clunky, unrewarding, and ultimately unnecessary, as guards will remain unaware of you if you blast their friends from far enough away. Characters often spawn into the game in plain sight, and there were multiple occasions where I was able to inadvertently preempt or even break a scripted segment. If there is anything the campaign does right, it would be its ability to showcase BATTLEFRONT II’s breathtaking graphics, as the in-game visuals surpass even the pre-rendered cutscenes in their impressiveness. Even then, the aesthetics merely serve as a pretty facade for broken foundations, which can be said for pretty much anything relating to BATTLEFRONT II’s design.
Maz Kanata haz enuffa this
I’m not going to drag the multiplayer, at least in terms of gameplay; for all its failings, BATTLEFRONT II really upped its ante in the competitive sphere. Just about everything that irked me about the first game has been addressed. Starfighters now have practical anti-tank applications in ground battles, and their dedicated Starfighter Assault gametype actually features objective driven set pieces, the polar opposite of the mindless dogfights of its predecessor. Blasters are punchier and require a modicum of skill now, especially with the new Gears of War-esque reload system. The breadth of content featured in the locales is almost staggering, which is amazing considering how suffocating the map selection was at launch for the last Battlefront.
More important than any of that is that special Star Wars sauce is still there, which makes matches feel more like greater narratives than the combination of template objectives that they are composed of. The soaring John Williams score, iconic backdrops, and classic weapons and vehicles make each map come to life. This was clearly designed to be the Star Wars game, and for all that does to clutter the single player narrative, it only helps the explosive multiplayer. Make no mistake—BATTLEFRONT II was made for Star Wars fans first and shooter junkies second, so while the gunplay foundations are stable this time around, your enjoyment will theoretically be more reliant on the number of clone trooper action figures you had growing up than your K/D ratio.
Trust me, it was more than two
I say “theoretically” because I haven’t even addressed the Bantha in the room yet. BATTLEFRONT II’s progression path is a wretched hive of scum and villainy unlike any other, one that prevented me from genuinely appreciating my time with the multiplayer. None of the positive aspects I listed matter when they’re gated behind such regressive systems. The “Star Cards” have returned, functioning similarly to Call of Duty’s perk system. Not only do these cards determine the equipment your troopers can carry (for example, you can replace the officer’s deployable turret with an energy shield, or your assault’s shotgun with . . . a more powerful shotgun, if you have the corresponding card), they can also augment your stats, increasing everything from health regeneration to damage output. These are straight buffs, as there are no downsides and only advantages to taking them. I’m not necessarily opposed to this concept—RPG elements have been the norm in shooters the minute MODERN WARFARE introduced them, and if you played any FPS in the last decade that wasn’t a Counter-Strike or Halo title, you don’t really have ground to complain.
What is problematic is how you acquire these cards. While star cards were unlocked as you levelled up in BATTLEFRONT, card drops in BATTLEFRONT II are entirely dependent on loot boxes that are purchased from the title screen. The rarity and number of items received is entirely randomized, and it is entirely possible to draw duplicates of cards you already own. Unlocking crates is a chore in itself, and can be done in three ways: spending credits, spending crystals, and completing challenges. Until recently, crystals could be purchased with real money, but EA decided to “temporarily” remove microtransactions at launch. In addition, many of the playable heroes have now been unlocked for all players, and others have had their prices reduced.
If that sounded like a concession on either my part or EA’s, don’t worry: it isn’t. Earning credits is dependent on time spent in game, not on your performance within said matches, and the credits don’t exactly come pouring in, either. You can spend hours playing only to open a crate containing a small drawn, low level cards, duplicates, or any combination of the three. Since these star cards are the primary means of determining your play style, your ingame experience is entirely up to chance. Want to get that awesome chain cannon that somebody just blew you apart with? There is no guarantee when, or even if, you’ll ever acquire it. While Activision’s recent patent to coerce players into making microtransactions online is insidious in its own way, at least it allows total agency in how a game is played. With BATTLEFRONT II, the extent of the content you may access is entirely up to the whims of fate. I have no doubt that once players are burned out after a few months of slaving away for credits, EA will be all too happy to roll microtransactions back out so players can quickly pay for a better chance of getting the cards they want.
What’s most puzzling about EA’s consumer-hating strategy is that loot boxes can, and have, been done in ways that are both good for business and popular with players. A purely cosmetic drop system a la OVERWATCH would not only prevent gameplay possibilities from becoming as fragmented as they already are, they would be insanely popular with players. Has anybody at EA seen a Star Wars movie? Are they aware of the sheer number of costumes each character goes through in the saga? Instead, appearance customization has been removed entirely for troopers, and the only hero cosmetics at launch are Rey’s THE LAST JEDI costume, a helmetless Kylo Ren, and a bearded Han Solo. “Disappointing” doesn’t even scratch the surface of this downgrade.
“Damn, what could we even sell as cosmetics?” – EA
I want to believe EA when they say they’re listening to the players, but their response to the outrageous cost of BATTLEFRONT was to make the sequel more expensive. I want to believe that BATTLEFRONT II could one day shed it’s pay-to-play format, but this is a freemium cash farm through and through. Credits, crystals, crafting parts, separate player and class levels, and an absolutely wild loot box system are so built into the foundations, determining who can do what, that no amount of patches, backtracking, or apologies will ever be able to reverse the damage that has already been done. BATTLEFRONT II looks pretty, has some great ideas, and is a principal vehicle for one of the most beloved sci-fi franchises out there, but don’t give it the benefit of the doubt. This one is committed to the Dark Side through and through.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend
Reviewed on PlayStation 4, also available on Xbox One and PC.