Before we get into the real meat of this review I’d like to pause for a moment and say a few disclaimers. Firstly, for those who may not know, this game was designed and created top to bottom by DICE, Criterion and Motive. When I refer to developers, know that I am not referring to EA – the publisher who designed an aggressive progression model and imposed it on their developers, leading to nothing but a savage release day across the world.
I’d also like to say that, for the majority of this review, I will not be discussing EA’s marketing practices or how incredible it has been how we gamers banded together and fought for change. We’ve all watched the YouTube videos by now and I won’t waste your time harping on about things you already know. This a game review and not an industry analysis piece. It’s important to remember that clear distinction as we proceed. In the last segment of this review I will discuss Battlefront II’s loot box progression system but only how it affects the game’s mechanics. Again – this is a review and not an opinion piece.
Lastly, I’d like to take this chance to remind everyone that yes, lootbox economy is bad. I completely agree that it is the most dangerous thing to established AAA gaming that we have to contend with. Yet, unlike the protest score you will find on Metacritic, the game developed by DICE, Criterion and Motive is not automatically awful because of a monetisation system forced upon them by their publisher. Let’s bear these points in mind as we review – and only review – Star Wars: Battlefront II.
If you grit your teeth and bought Battlefront II, for sheer love of Star Wars as I did, you’ll sit down and watch the opening cinematic, feeling that warm glow of Star Wars familiarity sinking in. You see the world design, hear the voice acting. You know this is all about the fall of the Empire after the collapse of the Death Star II. Not only is it fantastically designed from the get go, but it’s also Star Wars canon. With that, for better or worse, Battlefront II’s campaign begins feeling like Star Wars at its best.
But does that feeling last? We should hope so with the campaign lasting only around five hours. If you play a lot of videogames and love Star Wars, you’re better off putting the game on the highest difficulty. Over the course of that five hours, DICE does its best to tug on every one of our nostalgia heart strings, allowing us to play not only as Iden Versio but also as Luke, Leia, Han…. and the list goes on. It’s a lot to cram into just five hours and even though we know and love these characters, within the game itself it’s just not enough time to experience a satisfying character arc for each. It feels like DICE’s next effort after Battlefied 1’s War Stories. Yet it also displays that DICE have a ways to go before really nailing a good blueprint for story telling. Thinking back to their previous title, Mirror’s Edge 2, that is pretty clear to see.
Some may argue, jumping from one hero to the next throughout the campaign would feel jarring and disjointed. In DICE’s defence, it certainly does not. Cleverly, character switchovers follow the same cinematic and narrative string so we never feel thrown in for the sake of it. With the exception of Luke but we get a slow panning camera from the ground up. And he speaks, which is more than we can say for The Force Awakens.
The campaign, in a nutshell, is simple. Don’t expect The Last of Us standard of play when experiencing its story. Iden Versio makes a decision halfway through the game that laughably pivots her arc (the only one with any real depth) in completely the other direction. The choice she makes should be so earth shattering but it ultimately falls flat through poor delivery of the moment. It could definitely have been handled better. Yet it’s important to bear in mind that the events of Battlefront II’s campaign, if poorly told, are absolutely essential to your knowledge of the Star Wars timeline.
We’ll witness the erosion of the Empire, still acting on Palpatine’s final orders. Even though he’s dead, his influence and sheer evil intentions for the galaxy remains firmly in play as the Rebels fight on, post Death Star II. We’ll also find out first hand how all that wreckage ended up on Jakku in a battle scene that proved one of my most memorable Star Wars moments ever in gaming.
So it goes without saying – don’t expect to have your skirt blown up by Battlefront II’s campaign. What I can assure you of is just how Star Wars it really feels. Thanks to the incredible skill of the developers, world design is unbelievably spot on and if anything, you’ll enjoy exploring areas from the movies as a result. That’s the most important part for the story. Sure, some bits will have you screwing up your face and shouting “that’s dumb” at the screen. But ultimately, it’s a blast. With that said, it is honestly a shame that so many Star Wars fans will miss out on what the developers have crafted for them because of the damage EA has done to the title.
When 2015’s Battlefront released it got hammered by the fan base for being so lacklustre in content. It didn’t even have battles in space! After years of discussion surrounding an anaemic set of release day content and paid updates, DICE has delivered. Battlefront II has arrived with far more content in comparison to its predecessor. We now have all three eras from the Star Wars trilogies to battle in. A particular highlight is the Separatist attack against the clones on Kashyyyk (yes it has three ‘y’s in it).
Players will now have a choice of four different weapons for each of the four classes. We’ll also get map specific variation in vehicles to unlock. These are no longer floating logos to get lucky with. When the player makes enough points, they can hop into a vehicle in the sky or on the ground to press their advantage. Alternatively, they can save those points and get savvy with a hero, each of which have distinct skills and abilities. As far as classic boots on the ground combat goes, think the tried and true push and pull of taking positions on Battlefield 1. Typical of DICE, movement and handling is the best in the industry.
The real crowning achievement of Battlefront II however, is its space combat. This part of the game was designed by Criterion and experiencing just how well they nailed this only makes me hungry for another Burnout game. Make no mistake, of the variety of ships from different eras at our disposal, not one of them are cheap copy and paste jobs. You could go for a bomber class with the Separatists and then with The First Order and your ship abilities will differ entirely. What this means is that the Starfighter Assault mode has depth. It has more depth and more to learn than anything Galactic Assault offers.
Matching up in quality when compared to boots on the ground, is Starfighter Assault’s effortless prowess in dealing with ship handling. In my experience of the Beta, I was a little worried that twisting was assigned to the left stick, also used for turning. A slip of the thumb would lead to unwanted space-o-batics. Although, after I wrapped my head around how the game wanted me use the controller, I realised how this has become the best Star Wars space sim available on the market today. In areas laden with floating debris, I’d try to lose a ship on my tail with fancy flying. That one pilot that had been pestering me for the last five minutes, just couldn’t stick with me and knowing I had out-flown him was incredibly satisfying.
Aside from this, all we really have is simple attack and defence. One team attacks objects to keep pushing to victory and the other tries to prevent their success. It’s quite simple but frankly doesn’t need to be any more complex as the handling is so sublime, it’s outright good fun.
Graphics And Sound
DICE’s hallmark Frostbite Engine really finds its feet in Battlefront II. I say that because, in the case of Mirror’s Edge 2, DICE tried to apply its power to a massive open world. On top of other issues in that game, the power of Frostbite stretched out for so long between load screens and led to frame rate drops, bad textures and even out of sync cutscenes on consoles. While the settings of Mos Eisley, Endor, Yavin 4 and all the other lovely Star Wars places are huge (as per the massive maps we’ve come to expect after Battlefield 1) the pristine offerings from Frostbite perform far, far better.
Be it in the campaign or one of the multiplayer modes, every item, every wall, every character looks the part. Lighting is incredible with not a single flickery shadow or cutoff. From the familiar Death Star klaxon to the incredibly satisfying guitar slam of Fett’s seismic charges, all this visual prowess is complimented by true Star Wars sounds. DICE had access to the official movie library of sound effects to really make Battlefront II feel as Star Wars as possible. In doing that, frankly, they succeeded. This little deal also shines through in a constant barrage of classic Star Wars tunes ranging from the prequel trilogy to that riling jingle we hear as pilots race to their ships to take on Starkiller Base.
Lootbox Economy And What It Does To Battlefront II
In this review so far, we have learned that overall, everything is going well. We have great mechanics and handling for the player. That player will be treated to the highest budget of Star Wars quality in gaming today. It looks nice. It feels nice. Until eventually, no matter how avid a Star Wars fan you may be, an evil green cloud gathers on your menu screen. There, in the evil green cloud, we see “Get More Crates”.
“Get More Crates” – The one phrase that EA was hoping would make hundreds of millions in the years following Battlefront II’s release. As you may be aware, we cannot currently spend any money on Battlefront II’s microtransactions. Reddit saw to that beautifully. So what we’re left with is a game system which has been fleshed out for the entirety of its development with microtransactions in mind – which has no microtransactions. After the evisceration of this game system, how does Battlefront II hold up?
It now has to hold up to the scrutiny of everyone who plays it as they realise, regardless of whether they would spend or not, the system is rigged. Battlefront II’s progression system is torturously slow and of course, that’s no mistake. What it means for the rest of us, now slaves to a system that simultaneously exists and doesn’t exist, is that we just have to play a metric shedload of this game. What for? To literally be better.
Battlefront II’s Star Cards, despite discussion around the web, are absolutely pay to win little stickers to wear on your virtual self. The very nature of that flies in the face of honest, fair competitive play. The beating heart of what makes online PvP great has been replaced with this Star Card system that allows your soldiers and your ships more health. Perhaps you’ll get more damage or a larger blast radius on your grenades. Is this fair? Hell no. And it couldn’t have been a stupider move on EA’s part.
If you buy this game a year after release, frustration is guaranteed. Release day buyers will annihilate you everytime, not because they’re better at the game. They’ll grin as they watch you die over and over for the sheer fact that they’ve had the game for longer. As a result, Battlefront II’s sales have not only been doomed from the get go, but also in the future. And the only way EA can fix this is by turning microtransactions back on. Which brings us full circle back to square one. In stark contrast to this twisted ball of yarn of a problem is Titanfall 2. I have been playing that since release day (it’s an incredible multiplayer experience and you should definitely complete your life by buying it) and I’m not any better or worse than my opponents. They haven’t been punished with a handicap for maybe buying the game a year after I did. If they have skill they’ll do fine. As a result, each match will be infinitely more enjoyable as they check the scoreboard and know they get top position for one reason alone. Skill.
Battlefront II doesn’t care if you’ve played shooters for years. It doesn’t care if it’s your first shooter. All it cares about is if you bought the game on release just to keep up. If you hadn’t, well open up your wallet because by then the microtransactions will be back. Battlefront II doesn't respect you. The depth at which the variations of pay to win in Battlefront II stab at the core of why we play videogames is mind boggling. When I see EA CEO Andrew Wilson and his evil face saying “when we designed this game we had one mantra all the way through. The player comes first”. He now sits proudly as one of the top videogame liars next to Peter Molyneux and Sean Murray.
Normally, I would say the lootboxes in this game do not have a say in its final verdict. Yet, this is not a normal situation. When the Star Cards they produce reward you with things that make you an unfair player on the battlefield, as if you used cheat codes, they absolutely play into the final score you see below.
I honestly do feel for the guys at DICE, Criterion and Motive. It's clear to see how tirelessly they worked at this title. The game THEY made is spectacular Star Wars through and through. The game EA produced is corporate greed through and through. As a result, what could have been crowned the best Star Wars game ever made is now just another Star Wars game. Genuine Star Wars canon will float by unnoticed for many as they boycott an otherwise content rich game. More is on the way with free DLC building on the campaign, introducing new multiplayer maps, vehicles and heroes. But will anyone still be around to play them?
EA took one step forward with public relations in the area of free DLC and, with a big pile of money they didn’t need potentially behind them, they took a huge leap back. They may as well be a university graduate burning their degree.
|+ Authentic Star Wars to the max||– Lootbox economy pervades the entire game|
|+ Important campaign for Star Wars fans||– Get the game now or don't get it at all|
|+ Second to none handling||– Ridiculously grindy progression system|