I’m really upset at Star Wars Battlefront 2, but not for the reasons you would expect. I’m mad because the marketing material for this game depicted a story of angry Imperials fighting for revenge after the destruction of the 2nd Death Star. Preview coverage conversations I had with CGMagazine’s Editor-in-Chief, Brendan Frye, on our weekly podcast made me think that the story would focus on humanizing the Empire. In preparation for this deep introspective, I created a ton of jokes based on the current social-political climate, like “Jawas will not replace us”, and now they will all go to waste. I can’t use them because during development Star Wars Battlefront 2 was struck down, and has now become far more pedestrian than you could ever imagine.
Before I start talking about the problems that Star Wars Battlefront 2 processes, it is fair to point out that even on my launch PS4 the environments of this game are jaw-dropping. The item density gives the various levels a lived-in feeling, and most of the vehicle/character models are top grade. The music and sound effects toss you into the deep end of the Star Wars universe, and immediately take you to a galaxy far, far away. The voice acting and motion capture are great as well, and many of the people picked to play iconic roles sound like the original actors. I’m also positive that they actually got Billy Dee Williams to reprise his role of Lando Calrissian. I could not find an acting credit for the role, but I did confirm that he played Lando Calrissian in 2015’s Star Wars Battlefront without a credit.
The gameplay mechanics in Star Wars Battlefront 2 are also another reason to come to the table for a big bowl of futuristic first-person shooting (3rd person if you can figure out how to change the camera angles). The movement of the characters/ships does not always feel natural, but they do feel tight and responsive. The maps are laid out in such a way that they feel like they are also part of the action, and not just something to be played on. The game allows you to war in the stars on 40 player servers with foot soldiers and big vehicles together on the same map. You can also play a mode that puts everyone in the cockpit of a ship to relive your favourite memories of 1994’s Star Wars: TIE Fighter. If you don’t want vehicles at all there are modes that pit the foot soldiers of one galactic army against another. If you just want to swing a lightsaber the Heroes vs Villains mode pits Star Wars characters that you can actually name against each other, and yes many of them carry light sabers; also, one of them is Boba Fett.
That said, the person who I want to give the most credit to is whoever decided that the objective text that pops up on screen during the campaign should be extremely passive-aggressive. As with many games, text will pop up on screen to tell you what to do next, but in Star Wars Battlefront 2 it will often tell you off as well. To be honest, I am more worried about ruining these passive-aggressive gems than I am about the plot of the campaign.
That’s because the story is not the deep introspective of the dark side that you were expecting. All of that is quickly tossed aside for a plot that feels like it was taken from a Saturday morning cartoon. I’m sure that sounds like I am being overly negative towards the game, but it is an honest attempt to explain the tone of the story. Saturday morning cartoons are simply the only other media I can think of with antagonists that are evil for the sake of being evil. At one point a conversation about spreading fear so that they are feared actually happened. Sadly, there was a chance that this subject matter could have been interesting. The story of Star Wars Battlefront 2 could have included an antagonist who was torn between what was right and his duty to a cold uncaring master. Unfortunately, the bad guys were evil for the sake of being evil until the very end.
Strangely, this does not make the antagonist that different from any other character in the game since no one has much of an arc. After years of fighting and killing for an Emperor that they never meet, the protagonist suddenly wakes up and realizes that what they were on the wrong side. Roll credits. Yes, I know I am being facetious, but I am not entirely wrong either. Star Wars Battlefront 2 ditches the main characters as often as it can so that it can go play with the characters from the big budget movies. This happens a bunch of times, and as a result, none of the characters in the game get that much done. It’s also hard to argue that there is a better Star Wars experience than walking around a cantina as Han Solo, but it leads one to ask ‘why not just focus on Han for the whole game instead?’
Despite being an odd choice, I doubt that the story is going to be anyone’s biggest complaint because once again EA is taking a swing at micro-transactions. To be fair, micro-transactions are not an easy problem to solve, and EA is at least experimenting with different ideas; however, this experimentation turned Star Wars Battlefront 2 into a tragic test subject once someone decided to link loot boxes to actual game progression. There are obvious examples of this, like how these loot boxes contain buffs (represented as collectable cards in the game) that give you advantages over those who don’t have buffs. There are also more obtuse examples like how every class/hero/ship can have up to three different slots to hold buffs, but you can only use the other two slots after you’ve collected a specific number of cards for that class/hero/ship. To make things clear, this has to be done for each class/hero/ship individually.
Why is this a problem you ask? Well due to the way the game is set up, you become a more powerful competitor based on how many cards you have. Now toss in the fact that everyone can buy as many card-filled-loot-boxes as they are willing to pay for, and it is possible—and probable—for those who buy a lot of loot boxes to have an unfair advantage over the rest of us; and while I can’t prove it, I have to admit that I have seen some very high scores in the early days of the Star Wars Battlefront 2 multiplayer.
If that wasn’t bad enough, there are a number of really odd progression requirements in Star Wars Battlefront 2 for unlocking stuff in the game that you have already paid for. You might have heard about this since the big public conversation revolves around the 15,000 in-game credits per character—at least at the time of this review—that you need to unlock Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker for use in multiplayer. What’s even crazier about this is that after you unlock Vader or Skywalker, you have to earn another currency—which is handed out and completely reclaimed on a per round basis—to play as those characters. All of this is also dependent on someone else in each individual round not picking Vader/Skywalker when you finally get enough credits to play as Vader/Skywalker. Geez Motive! If you didn’t want me to get your precious Star Wars action figures dirty, why did you even put them in the game to begin with?
In the end, Star Wars Battlefront 2 is an amazing looking first-person shooter that plays well but one that comes with a lot of baggage you are going to have to deal with. I didn’t even get to mention that half the objectives involve guarding someone who is hacking a console. Also, map markers often don’t show up so you become lost easily, there is some frame stuttering that isn’t constant but chronic, and NPCs often glitch on walls and other objects. While a lot of time, money, effort, heart, and skill went into making this game, too many bad decisions made it through the planning process. As a result, the single player story feels unfocused, and hard to track. The progression of the game elements that are not affected by loot boxes can feel unfair at times, and the way that micro-transactions are part of your progression ensures that unfair status. If that doesn’t bug you, the rest of this game is certainly worth your money; however, I think a very specific person is required to truly enjoy what this game has to offer.