After two years of waiting, we finally approach the release of Star Wars: Battlefront II by Dice. Those of you already submerged in open beta most certainly noticed that the sequel feels like a different game in many ways, from a nod to the class system introduced in the original Battlefront series to alterations in the Star Cards system. For any consistency that is here to find, we have lush, yet not-so-much-changed visuals from the 2015 ‘reboot’ and a more Battlefield styled gameplay. There is more order, more balance, noticeably more effort put into level design and even the menu seems more fluent, with its elements speaking to each other in a more accessible and player-friendly manner. However, there is one element missing overall: the simplicity of presentation.
The 2015 Battlefront, released by EA, heavily relied on skills plus a substantial amount of luck. Players were more or less equal, and the additional arsenal they got depended on their performance, bound to level and the unlocked cards. But, there was also pure randomness of pick-up bonuses scattered across maps. It made you move around praying to stumble upon a Hero Token or orbital strike; it prepared you to use whatever you got as a sudden asset, even if it seemed a blessing in disguise at best. In addition, freely roaming across a map was an appealing chance to take, as you had a clearer understanding of where the enemies are, and the more arcade-like level design allowed you to set yourself in an advantageous position easily.
And by the Force, do I miss this plainness. It was all about exploiting whatever you were given by the game and having fun: there was a lot of room for playing with new weapons and experimenting with the cards set without having to take a while to calculate which class is better and what loadout will complement it the most. Rather than a game, Battlefront II felt more like a training simulation of an actual scenario that I would face after deployment in a galaxy far, far away.
The gameplay embraces the militaristic crucials of objectives, suppression of the other side and nearly proving the evolutionary point: the strongest survive. It’s no leisure time anymore, this is a battle. A battle where units vary not only in their special abilities but also health stock and where they are more difficult to make out in the terrain (especially if you’re on the First Order’s side on Strike). But most importantly, there is very little you can do as a single unit: the gameplay has a strong groups-oriented focus and practically forces you to stand by your teammates to earn more Battle Points. Exploration? Playing around? The absence of a feeling that there is only right and wrong positioning? Forget about that. And for that level of density and gravity of collective accomplishment, it’s not rewarding enough.
The rewards part is also concerning. Loot boxes are now, as your grandma would say, ‘the latest thing, darling’. Battlefront II joined the trend in exchange for free DLC, and while the latter is good news for sure, the ‘crates’ system dangerously flirts with pay-to-win. Containing tangibly handy elements, like craft materials or Boost Cards, they infix at least a promise of superiority over similarly skilled opponents. For a game that feels more balanced and bound to combat excellence, this is a questionable move, to say the least.
Of course, there is an element of shock in being exposed to something with visible traces of what you love, yet no mercy for a player’s freedom. After all, it’s only public beta, a reduced version of a rich experience to come. But so far I mostly found myself going to the same strategically correct spots, begging the game to be a bit less strict and perfectionism-inducing. Battlefront I was the ‘Hey, don’t hit me yet, I want to try one thing’ with your friend on Mortal Kombat Trilogy. Battlefront II is MKX, where you must learn your character’s inputs and combos and how to trigger X-Ray Brutalities by heart. And I am not sure this change is 100% for better.
The game is set to be released November 17, 2017 and can be pre-ordered from the official EA website.