This Star Wars shooter has a pretty grim dark side
Star Wars Battlefront II has a lot in common with the Death Star.
When working as intended, both are monsters in their respective fields: the Empire’s death machine delivers massive destruction, while EA's multiplayer epic offers huge amounts of fun. However, where the Death Star had a terrible design flaw that ultimately left it in ruins, Battlefront II boasts something similar: microtransactions.
By giving players the option to use real money to buy upgrades, Battlefront II’s multiplayer has essentially become pay-to-win. Refuse to spend more money, and you’ll suffer the consequences. There is a new hope for the Star Wars shooter though, with EA and developer DICE scrambling to fix these issues by temporarily axing paid-for content. But is it a case of too little, too late?
EMPIRE: TOTAL WAR
Before I delve too deep into the dark side of Battlefront II, let’s talk about the single-player campaign. Fans asked for it two years ago with the original Battlefront, and now DICE has delivered.
Taking place directly after the events of the second Death Star’s destruction in Return of the Jedi, you play as Iden Versio: commander of the Empire’s infamous Inferno Squad. It’s an intriguing premise, but this story quickly turns predictable. For someone who wholeheartedly supported the annihilation of multiple planets, Versio sure is a righteous stickler.
Not that she gets a huge amount of screen time during the four hour-campaign. Rather than following one cohesive narrative, Battlefront 2’s campaign is a disjointed tour around the galaxy that stars Luke, Leia and Han Solo just as much as it does Iden. That’s fine if you want to step into these heroes' shoes for the umpeenth time again, but I was hoping for something more impactful than a series of ever more bombastic set pieces.
While there are a couple of high points during the campaign, including an epic battle on Naboo and multiple dogfights up in space, there were just as many tedious low points to counter. I still can’t get over Luke Skywalker’s mission, where your main objective is to fight back a swarm of alien bugs... yes, it’s as boring as it sounds.
SNEAKING IN SPACE
If a few notes of John Williams’ epic score are enough to awaken your inner fanboy, then DICE has done a magnificent job of capturing that Star Wars vibe. The ‘beep-boop’ of the droids and ‘vroom’ of the lightsabers sound exactly like they do in the films. Iconic Star Wars planets are rich with detail too, as the Ewoks charge through the forests of Endor and sandstorms whip across your screen on Jakku. Aside from a few stutterings and technical hiccups, the visual aesthetics of Battlefront II can’t be faulted, even on a bog-standard PlayStation 4.
Importantly, shooting is just as much fun as it was in the previous Battlefront, with laser fire meaning you don’t need to worry about ammunition. You do now need to fret about your gun overheating, but you can force a reload – a smart addition that gives you something to think about while charging the battlefield.
DICE has also implemented a couple of stealth options into combat, but they feel at odds with the rest of the melee. While you can always take the gunfire approach, there are a couple of levels where stealth feels forced upon you. During a particular siege of an enemy base (no spoilers), opponents continuously respawn after death if you draw them into battle. This feels frustratingly unfair, and so I eventually resorted to charging through the enemy line with my force-field activated just to trigger the next checkpoint - this was neither fun or rewarding.
Iden Versio’s adventure is average at best, then, and certainly not good enough to merit a Battlefront II purchase alone. But the campaign was never meant to be the star attraction here – it’s all about the multiplayer.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE FORCED GRIND
With five different online multiplayer modes, there’s plenty here to keep you hooked for weeks. Chief among them is the epic-scale 20v20 Galactic Assault. Rather than your normal fight to the death, you’re given a number of objectives for each battle, whether that’s taking down a hulking AT-AT Walker, or invading Naboo’s Royal Palace. Completing such objectives always feels like a huge accomplishment, with contests between the two teams often neck and neck.
The introduction of classes – perhaps the sequel’s best new inclusion – adds a lot of variety, too. The Specialist’s sniper rifle means straying from the trenches in Hoth will likely leave a laser burn in your skull, while the tight corridors of the Death Star II are perfect for the Heavy’s combat shield or Officer’s blaster turret.
Varying my loadout gave me a unique experience for a map I had already played countless times, and I still feel there are plenty more power-ups and weapons left for me to play with. Such is the breadth of the customisation that rarely will two players choose identical abilities. Even the basic Assault class will have to make hard decisions. Do you pick the Acid Launcher to discreetly deplete a squad’s health or a thermal grenade for a quick-fire inferno?
Amass enough battle points within a match and you can even pick a more powerful class for your next respawn. That could be a Jet Trooper who can zip across the map with a jetpack, a Wookie Warrior that’s an ultimate laser sponge or one of the more expensive Heroes such as Vader himself, who can butcher his way through rebel armies in-between coughs. That’s right, they’ve scrapped the Hero Tokens – another brilliant improvement.
But here comes the crux of the problem for Battlefront II: the majority of these power-ups and Heroes aren’t available off the bat. You’ve got to pay for them with either in-game currency or the cash you earned at your desk job. Suddenly that Acid Launcher doesn’t seem like money well spent.
BALANCE IN THE FORCE
Battlefront II’s biggest issue – and it’s quite a doozy – is that there’s a massive imbalance between players who own huge collection of Star Cards, and players who do not. Activating power-ups that virtually cut weapon cooldown and health regeneration times in half undoubtedly gives players an overwhelming advantage.
Think you can just grind through and collect these Star Cards without coughing up money? Only if you’ve got no social plans for the next few months. Each match gives you roughly 200 credits, while a Trooper loot crate (which is needed to acquire new Star Cards) will cost you 4000. Work out the maths and that’s 20 matches you’ll need to complete before you can afford one. And then to force-choke you while you’re down, they usually consist of useless cards that just unlock Emotes, Victory Poses or a power-up for a class you don’t even use.
To make matters worse, you’ll be tempted to spend your Credits elsewhere, as you’ll need them to unlock Heroes such as Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker and Chewbacca. Since Vader costs 15,000 credits alone it’ll take an eye-watering 12 hours of play before you have the dosh to buy him. And then you need to spend crafting parts to unlock his very own set of Star Cards.
Even after all that effort, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to use him either, as you need to perform exceedingly well during a match to afford the Battle Points required. After unlocking Darth Vader early on with Credits I earned from completing the campaign, I’ve only been able to play as him once. It’s good to know that hard work pays off.
VICTORY HAS A COST
Fans have already voiced their outrage online regarding Battlefront II's in-game puchases and accused it of adopting a pay-to-win model. As a result, EA made a U-turn by temporarily scrapping microtransactions and issuing a statement to reassure fans they’re working on improving the progression system.
They’ve already reduced Hero prices and temporarily scrapped the ability to purchase loot boxes with real-time cash – but it seems to be too little, too late and I can’t think of any viable solution that would please all parties at this point.
Don’t plan on playing the game religiously or spending real money once the microtransactions become available again? Then prepare for relentless slaughter at the hands of opponents with an arsenal of Star Cards and unlocked Heroes. A weekend after release that gulf is already noticeably wide.
Things only look like getting worse, too. Once microtransactions make an unwelcome return and obsessives reach the triple-hour mark for hours played, it’s possible that it will reach a point where newcomers will be at such a huge disadvantage that Battlefront II will no longer be fun to play. Sure, there’s a matchmaking system in place, but from my experience it did little to prevent over-powered players from joining my game.
PLAY YOUR CARDS RIGHT
Unfortunately, the unbalancing that the Star Cards cause bleed over to the other multiplayer modes. Even the galactic dogfighting of Starfighter Assault is affected, with every spaceship – from the Y-wing to the Millennium Falcon – having a set of unlockable Star Cards that can increase weapon power and boost defences. Still, there’s a lot of fun to be had shooting down rival ships and spinning away from floating shrapnel.
Forget about the imbalance in player power for a moment, and every multiplayer mode is thoroughly enjoyable. Aside from the blockbuster Galactic Assault, my personal favourite was Strike: essentially a capture the flag mode. In teams of eight, you’re forced to work in unity with your teammates, adding a tactical depth that’s absent elsewhere. Most matches were tightly contested and won in the dying seconds - a cause for jubilant celebrations if you’re on the winning side.
There are offline multiplayer modes too, with a co-op splitscreen option for taking down armies of rebels or stormtroopers. Sadly, this is nowhere near as fun as the predecessor's co-op counterpart, feeling more like a shooting gallery than an enthralling wave-by-wave stand-off. Unless you want some practice, you’re really best off sticking to online multiplayer.
STAR WARS BATTLEFRONT II VERDICT
If you’re not bothered about topping leaderboards and simply want a Star Wars experience with an addictively fun online multiplayer, then Battlefront II delivers. Maps are diverse, shooting tight and matches can be exhilaratingly heart-pounding.
At its core, Battlefront II is one of the most fun multiplayer games I’ve played in years –especially since it’s coated in that nostalgic Star Wars charm.
It’s pretty darn upsetting that the flawed progression mechanic overshadows all of this. Now I truly know how the Empire felt when the Death Star blew up in its face – and that’s no thanks to Iden Versio.