Despite the extreme amount of negativity that has swirled around Star Wars Battlefront II leading up to its release, it’s a game that I wanted to like. In the spirit of impartiality, I entered my time with BF2 ready to judge it on its own merits, rather than view it through a kaleidoscope made of bile and hatred that the rabid denizens of the Internet are handing out for free on every corner. When EA/DICE did a backflip more radical than the young kid with a rat’s tail that just asked you to hold his beer at a 21st bash by completing removing microtransactions (reportedly under pressure from the big wigs at Disney), a small fire of hope was ignited within me. But unfortunately, with a campaign whose gameplay is blander than a cardboard box filled with All Bran, and a multiplayer component mired in poor level design that features one of the most baffling and ill-conceived progression systems I have ever encountered, there really isn’t much to love here.
Parking the Star Destroyer ended up being more difficult than anticipated
Like Titanfall 2, BF2 seeks to right the wrongs of its predecessor by including a single-player campaign. Spanning a 30-year period that straddles the Star Wars canon from Episode IV: A New Hope right through to Episode VII: The Force Awakens, the campaign is primarily played from the perspective of Iden Versio, commander of the elite Imperial unit known as Inferno squad. By whatever means necessary, Inferno squad’s raison d’être is to take down the Rebel scum who seek to wrest control of the galaxy from the Empire (with events picking up in the same period as A New Hope). Like the recent films, the game tries to give a human side to the bad guys, who are made out to genuinely believe in the Empire’s cause and their struggle against the Rebellion.
Iden Versio herself is quite likeable as a protagonist; she’s smart and strong willed, and just as willing to solve a situation by clever strategy as throwing down with brute force. But herein lies the great tragedy with the campaign: it just isn’t believable. Even taking into account the Empire’s God-tier brainwashing skills, I just couldn’t get down with the idea that a woman as intelligent as Iden would be so blind to the fact that the Empire (especially as they are represented in the game) are really just the power-hungry arseholes of space. Despite the excellent voice acting and motion capture and the fact that the main characters have some authentic human quality to them, it feels like our antiheroes of the Empire have found themselves trapped in a garbage compactor filled with overly trite narrative ideas and then unceremoniously crushed by its weak execution. The problem is that despite its uber-high production values, BF2 fails to tell a tale with much nuance.
There is most certainly one thing that the game gets right though, and that is in its stunning and authentic visuals and pitch-perfect sound design. I’d go so far as to say that this is one of the best looking games I have played on console (running on a vanilla PS4). The sounds of frantic laser fire causing terrified Ewoks to scatter or X-Wings raining down fire on a Star Destroyer feel like they have been ripped straight out of one of the films, and it really helps to transport you into the Star Wars universe. The lush and varied environments pop with near photorealistic detail and lighting, and the fact it clips along so smoothly at 60 fps is nothing short of miraculous.
But as pretty as the game is, the campaign gameplay ends up being incredibly one-dimensional, with some fairly and basic and uninspired first-person (or third-person) shooting gameplay dragging things down considerably. For some maddening reason you can only carry a single main weapon, so it’s basically pick up a weapon (or have one foisted upon you) and have it out in a series of bland shooting galleries. There are a few abilities at your disposal like using a drone to shock enemies or deploying a turret, but going to beautiful and exotic locations and killing the same repetitive enemies (who seemed to have been programmed with suicidal AI as well) quickly loses its shine. There are a handful of sections where you’ll take control of iconic heroes such as Luke
This is my serious face
Skywalker, Han Solo and Lando Calrission and gain access to their unique abilities, but it just doesn’t carry well gameplay-wise. Does anyone member laying waste to wookies as Darth Vader in the prologue to The Force Unleashed? This guy members. Give me more of that.
Despite the excellent voice acting and motion capture and the fact that the main characters have some authentic human quality to them, it feels like our antiheroes of the Empire have found themselves trapped in a garbage compactor filled with overly trite narrative ideas and then unceremoniously crushed by its weak execution.
The uncanny X-Wing
Wait, we’re not the good guys?
While the campaign is simply mediocre, it’s really in the multiplayer that things take a turn for the bizarre. There are a lot more planets, levels, weapons and abilities to explore and unlock compared to DICE’s original Battlefront, but the progression system at the centre of it is a hot mess. There are four basic classes in the main multiplayer modes that have their own specific weapons and abilities, and the thrust of bothering with the multiplayer is unlocking Star Cards. These can bolster current abilities or weapon handling or grant completely new abilities within a class. These Star Cards can be obtained from dreaded loot boxes which can be purchased with in-game currency called Credits, or if you don’t fancy your chances with gambling then you can specifically craft them with a separate in-game currency called Parts. To gain access to more powerful cards you have to raise the level of your class, which would sort of make sense if you increased a class’s level by spending time playing that class – but sense is not a concept that BF2’s multiplayer offering subscribes to. You can only level up a class by collecting Star Cards, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve put a thousand hours into playing the Assault class, you must get on your knees and intone the sacred chants before RNGeesus and hope that Star Cards for your class of choice drop, and not one of the other three.
But it’s not just the four classes whose abilities and battle prowess are affected by Star Cards, it is everything. Every single special trooper, hero, starship and hero starship has a crazy amount of cards to collect, so the chance you’ll actually get cards for the class you care about are slim. The amount of times that I purchased a Trooper Loot Box only to receive some terrible and useless emote for a hero I hadn’t even unlocked or didn’t care about was incredible.
While Star Cards won’t magically make you good at the game, they absolutely confer significant gameplay advantages. A person with more Star Cards can have any number of powerful boons compared to the newcomer, including faster reloads, faster health regen, more effective grenades and greater explosive resistance (to name but a few). The Star Cards system is not a progression system that rewards time invested, but rather a ridiculous slot machine that by its very design is completely unbalanced. The fact that the developers even for a moment entertained the thought that having optional microtransactions to purchase these loot boxes was a defensible idea is inconceivably audacious and offensive. Even though they disabled microtransactions prior to release after deafening backlash (which is good considering there is no parallel universe in which this system could be considered equitable), everywhere you care to look you can see the echoes of the aggressive and greedy practices that were intended for this title. It feels like a ploy cooked up during the fever dream of a neon-clawed demon named Gamblor, and I am beyond elated that the incredible amounts of heat EA/DICE have received will spur the heavy-hitters of the AAA space to take a break from swimming in pools of hundred-dollar bills and gamer tears to take a look at how they operate.
Ignoring Star Cards, how does the multiplayer actually play? The answer is… poorly. While the same visual and audial flair of the campaign is beautifully replicated in the multiplayer, and the gunplay is fairly solid, the majority of the modes suffer from vast imbalances in objectives and some woeful level design. BF2’s marquee mode Galactic Assault for instance, a large-scale asymmetric multi-phase 20 v 20 battle, is so heavily
Storming the gates
Heroes vs Villains is a standout
skewed against the attackers it’s almost comical. The same goes for the smaller 8 v 8 objective-based Strike mode. I spent many hours with these modes, and in all my games I only once saw the attackers win. It doesn’t take long to realise that whatever the objective in these modes (escort the tank to the palace, steal the data cache, capture the points), at some stage they will always come to some sort of ludicrous chokepoint, where the 20 attackers have no choice but to throw themselves against the 20 encamped defenders and die in an endless and pointless cycle until their inevitable defeat. This sort of gameplay should be the poster child for the ugliness of the compressed skill gap, where anyone can feel like a beast because they managed to kill a bunch of enemies whose only choice was to come through one of two narrow entryways.
Even though they disabled microtransactions prior to release after deafening backlash (which is good considering there is no parallel universe in which this system could be considered equitable), everywhere you care to look you can see the echoes of the aggressive and greedy practices that were intended for this title
SW2 does feature a more classic team deathmatch mode called Blast (a 10 v10 mode), and while it does away with the imbalances of the objective-based modes, it falls victim to the same awful level design. Maps seem to actively encourage players to bunch up and meet at central points, and battles quickly descend into overly frenetic shit fights rather than skilful battles. The spawns in this mode are also some of the worst I have ever witnessed (and this is coming from a Call of Duty veteran), flipping wildly to the point you have no idea what you’re likely to encounter immediately after respawning. It’s entirely possible and quite common to spawn directly in front of or behind an enemy, or even on top of a freshly-thrown random grenade, and it is maddening.
Duke it out in space
It’s not all bad though, a 4 v 4 Heroes vs Villain mode which allows you take on the role of many different heroes from every era of Star Wars is a standout. It’s as shallow as a puddle of blue milk fresh from a bantha’s teats, but hurling your light sabre at Rey as Darth Maul or flipping around as Yoda while you carve up Han Solo is dumb fun. Starfighter Assault is also a fairly cool arcade-style dogfighter, but its objectives are just as lopsided as the other objective modes on offer.
Star Wars Battlefront II is a confused game that took both the gargantuan Star Wars licence and gamer’s patience for obnoxious microtransactions for granted. It looks and sounds the part, but its story execution isn’t worthy of the brand, and its terrible multiplayer progression systems ought to be taken out behind the barn, shot and buried in an unmarked grave. The only good thing to come from this game is that it seems to have finally united consumers rallying against unscrupulous business practices in full-price AAA titles. Funnily enough, EA/DICE’s actions might just have unintentionally brought balance to the Force.
Reviewed on PS4 (screenshots from PC version)