Star Wars: Battlefront II review
Star Wars: Battlefront II is a mess, but it goes a lot deeper than its hotly-debated micro-transactions. The fan servicing romp through the beloved sci-fi universe is a tangle of soulless plot, sloppy competitive multiplayer, and, yes, an unclear explosion of character progression muddily built on loot boxes. Even among all that, though, there is potential here. I'm just deeply uncertain that it'll ever get its time to shine amidst the constantly shifting in-game economy.
Battlefront II builds off its predecessor—itself based heavily on lead developer DICE's other large-scale shooter series, Battlefield—with more of the same multiplayer modes and a single-player campaign. It's an additive experience, as John Boyega handsomely explains in this oddly desperate-seeming preface video from the beta. The last game caught flak for not having enough stuff, you see. So the solution was to add more stuff!
But “more stuff” doesn’t always translate to “better game.” Take the single-player campaign, which wasn't present in the previous game at all, for example. Publisher EA has touted its plot as an examination of Iden Versio: a Galactic Empire special forces agent who believes in what her employer does—that absolute control through fear is the way to peace. Some of the absolute best Star Wars games have dealt with similar subject matter. Why and how would people fight for the Dark Side in Star Wars' usually black-and-white universe? So the idea of not only fighting for the Empire, but as a boots-on-the-ground soldier with no magical motivations, is intriguing.
“More stuff” doesn’t always translate to “better game.”
That entire concept goes out the window about 60 minutes into the campaign. In its place is a plot twist so predictable that I struggle to even call it that—one you can probably guess just from that vague description. The diversion from the promised narrative doesn't end there, though. Iden's entire character is undercut by a game focused as much on well-known heroes from the Star Wars movies as its lead. You play as Luke Skywalker and Friends for about half the campaign.
Besides completely disjointing the plot, it leaves Battlefront II cover character Iden and her closest castmates laughably little time to develop—sometimes literally. In one particular scene, Iden discusses joining forces with a major movie character. In the next, the words "several months later" appear onscreen and she's talking to the same character, wearing the same clothes, and says "Long time no see." It's rare for a simple camera cut to actually make me burst into giggles, but I sure did that time.
Yet not even the most tortured scene change can measure up to Battlefront II's "ending." Over the course of 15 minutes, characters go from zero implied romantic chemistry, to making out over the Battle of Jakku, to one of them getting shot repeatedly in the face, in the corniest, most cynical DLC tease I've seen for a game since 2008's Prince of Persia. The presumed conclusion is already scheduled and promised to be free, but it doesn't excuse the comically hurried, incomplete narrative Battlefront II peddles in its current state.
It's clear that EA didn't throw its developers' weight behind the story, then. The meat of the game is still its digital action figure clash of competitive multiplayer. But even that feels incomplete, at least at first, thanks to the much-maligned progression system.
There's no rhyme, rhythm, or reason to the third-and-first-person shooter's rewards. Each of four basic character classes—plus the many "hero" units you can occasionally inhabit mid-match—comes knotted behind at least three walls of restrictions. There's your overall player level, for instance, which seems to serve no purpose beyond gating certain levels of particular "Star Cards."
Star Cards are abilities that can be clipped onto soldiers, but only if you have the appropriate card level, plus the aforementioned player rank. Card levels are, in turn, determined by the raw number of cards you have for a particular class of character. These can be crafted or purchased from loot boxes using one of the game's three separate currencies. (At least there used to be three. EA actually removed real-money purchases from the game just before its full release. It's not clear when or if they're coming back.)
Much has been said about the very expensive hero characters, many of which are locked at the start, but it's actually the Star Cards that derail any satisfaction in advancing through Battlefront II's ranks. Since Star Cards and the crafting materials that make them are entirely dependent on loot boxes, there's no sense playing particularly well matters. The fantasy of gradually accruing power—the comfort of guaranteed pay for guaranteed work—is replaced with sheer luck.
Deployed frequently enough, or for enjoyably gaudy cosmetics, that kind of slot machine system can feel like a reward for just playing a game you already enjoy. But Battlefront II ties it into painfully gradual, foundational upgrades: aim assist, turning speed, better shields, etc. So it's impossible to untangle your enjoyment of the thing itself from the whims of the system. Did I get that kill because I outplayed my opponent, or was I just mathematically better than them? Is the heavy class's shield too weak, or do I just need to rank up my Star Cards?
Its beauty is hot and painstakingly ramshackle in the way Star Wars ought to be. Yet the labyrinth of upgrades never lets outside concerns dissolve around that fantasy.
Constant second guessing and the fear of falling behind don't make fertile ground for fun. Battlefront II's overriding promise is to make you feel like you're escaping into the movies. It flings up to 40 players at each other across all the expected haunts: Hoth, Naboo, Kamino, Jakku, and so on. Blaster bolts sing with heat and sparks erupt around scorch marks in all the right ways. Its beauty is hot and painstakingly ramshackle in the way Star Wars ought to be. Yet the labyrinth of upgrades never lets outside concerns dissolve around that fantasy.
The hollow single-player campaign and warped progression might get assuaged in future updates. EA certainly has plans to fill out Battlefront II over time. The game is just already so behind the curve it set for itself that I don't see it being "fixed" anytime soon. If it can play catch-up and clean itself off, it has the makings of serviceable Star Wars escapism. If not, I sure hope The Last Jedi is good, at least.