We're still two days out from Star Wars Battlefront 2's official release date, but that hasn't dampened the loot box controversy that continues to rage on social media elsewhere.
There's been varying degrees of speculation, misinformation, and exaggeration surrounding Battlefront 2's loot boxes—much of it designed to make EA look as awful as possible.
With that in mind, here's an explainer that should help give you an idea of just how bad Battlefront 2's loot boxes actually are.
Alright, catch me up. What the heck is going on? What is all this about loot boxes and pay-to-win?
The short answer is that Star Wars Battlefront 2 incorporates loot boxes: a microtransaction-driven mechanic based around opening boxes that offer randomly assigned awards. Loot boxes have recently appeared in everything from Overwatch to Middle-earth: Shadow of War, sparking debate on whether it's ethical to encourage players to drops hundreds of dollars on what amounts to gambling. Star Wars Battlefront 2 is only the latest example of this now widespread trend.
Why is Star Wars Battlefront 2 getting so much heat if everyone else is doing it?
Other games typically ensure that their loot boxes only contain cosmetic items like special costumes. Star Wars Battlefront 2 goes a step further than Overwatch and its cohorts by incorporating the loot boxes into the actual gameplay. Battlefront 2's loot boxes include Star Cards that offer new abilities and buffs; crafting parts to unlock more Star Cards on your own, victory poses, and emotes. If you have duplicate items, you get a small number of credits back.
There are three different types of loot boxes: Trooper, Hero, and Starfighter. Each yields rewards geared toward a particular element of Battlefront 2. The Star Cards themselves range from vanilla to epic quality, with attendant upgrades to everything from ability cooldown to weapon damage (if you're flying a starfighter). Epic tier boosts can be go as high as 40 percent for some abilities. Every character can equip up to three Star Cards.
This is problematic for a number of reasons. In tying loot boxes so closely to progression, EA is effectively encouraging players to drop money on loot boxes to instantly become powerful. Those who don't are subjected to a rather lengthy grind to get the best equipment.
It's a system that arguably compromises the gameplay by rewarding those who spend money over playing normally. The fans have responded... badly.
Why the heck is EA doing this?
To balance out the free DLC that they're offering throughout the lifetime of the game, basically. Triple-A development is very expensive these days, and even selling millions of copies isn't enough. Every publisher is looking for some kind of additional revenue stream. EA's biggest mistake was tying their revenue stream into the actual gameplay.
So I can just drop $1000 at the outset and instantly become all-powerful then?
You will definitely have a number of advantages, yes. You will get lots of Star Cards and crafting parts, plus a decent number of credits from duplicate items. There have been unconfirmed reports that loot boxes purchased with premium currency are more likely to yield rare and epic cards, but that may be pure speculation. Regardless, you will have a decent headstart over your competition.
There are a couple notable bottlenecks designed to keep monetizers from instantly become all-powerful. First, you can only obtain new guns by leveling up your character and completing in-game milestones. The same goes for modding the guns. The guns arguably make a bigger difference than Star Cards in the long run, especially for the Assault class, though Star Cards are still significant.
Second, you will have to level up your character to be able to use crafting parts to upgrade your Star Cards to rare and epic quality. That won't stop you from equipping the ones you find in loot boxes, but it will make it harder to make new ones.
Hmm, that doesn't sound great.
Yeah, and there are a few more problems on top of that.
For one thing, the rewards are much too low at the moment. You only get 200 to 300 credits per multiplayer match, and individual loot boxes cost between 2000 and 4000 credits. Completing milestones to earn credits helps, but there's definitely a grind. Making matterse worse is this:
The worst part of the game is this: You are limited on credits earned in Arcade mode. “More credits available in 14 hours” pic.twitter.com/8NOTvby2hl— Andrew Reiner (@Andrew_Reiner) November 13, 2017
Shady stuff like this really doesn't help EA's cause.
Star Card slots are unlocked on the basis of how many cards you have; and with new Star Cards being created out of crafting parts found in loot boxes, there's an obvious incentive to monetize. If you don't, you'll run out of crafting parts in a hurry.
The bigger issue is in the endgame. If you play normally, it will take a few dozen hours to reach the point where you can get the best gear, which is pretty typical of shooters these days. But here's the rub: Epic Star Cards are pretty expensive. It will cost you at least 480 parts just to get one card up to the highest tier.
This is where the "pay-to-win" aspect of Star Wars Battlefront 2 becomes most acute. And that's why it's not something that can easily be glossed over.
Is it possible to enjoy Star Wars Battlefront 2 without spending extra money.
I haven't spent any money, and I've managed to get to a decent level after about a week with the multiplayer and single-player campaign. Playing through single-player campaign opens up several loot boxes, with 5000 credits going straight into your pocket once you're finished—good for a couple loot boxes or unlocking Iden Versio in multiplayer.
Having progressed normally by completing milestone challenges and playing a lot of matches, I've managed to get Star Cards for most of the major classes and vehicles, with a few upgraded to uncommon and rare. I've also unlocked new weapons for the Assault and Heavy classes.
I feel reasonably strong, but I'm low on crafting parts now, and it'll be a while before I get more money for loot crates. I'm not yet to the point where I can worry about crafting rare or epic cards, but I'm already feeling the pinch, and I'm seeing other players running around with epic cards. I don't feel powerless, but I definitely feel like I'm at a disadvantage right now.
Sure, if you want to unlock and upgrade every single Star Card to epic tier. I have no idea why you would want to do that, though. I'd say a rough estimate is that it'll take closer to 80 to 100 hours to get epic level loadouts for your preferred characters—definitely steep, but not completely out of the realm of imagination.
What about locked heroes? Can you just straight-up buy them? I heard they're really expensive.
Yes, they are still pretty expensive. This week kicked off with a major firestorm surrounding the cost of unlocking Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, and a handful of other heroes. Before EA altered the price to between 5000 and 15,000 coins, Vader alone was going for some 60k. That's... a lot of grinding given the 300 coin payout per match plus 500 coins milestones.
EA positioned Luke and Darth as prestige characters that you can't just buy. But if you purchase enough loot boxes with real money, the credits earned from duplicate parts will start to add up. It's not particularly efficient, but it is one way that you can unlock heroes using real money.
The larger problem is that saving up for heroes means less money for loot box progression. Moreover, if you don't unlock some extra heroes, Heroes vs. Villains—a 4v4 mode where everyone picks a hero character—feels kind of sad and limited. It's... not a great system.
The single-player campaign is at least loot box free, right? .... Right?
Yeah, the single-player campaign is loot box free.
I know, right?
So this all sounds pretty bad.
Yeah, it's not great. Even with guns being locked behind progression milestones, monetizers still have an obvious advantage, especially in the otherwise excellent Starfighter Assault mode. Star Cards in that mode confer large upgrades to health and weapon damage, giving those who spend money an instant leg up on the competition. EA definitely deserves a lot of criticism for compromising their gameplay like this.
One caveat is that EA has quite a lot of free DLC coming in December. That includes three new chapters for the single-player campaign; free heroes, and rewards for completing multiplayer faction challenges. All of this may ultimately serve to reduce the grind considerably.
Another caveat: The single-player campaign doesn't have any monetization attached. So there is a way to enjoy Star Wars Battlefront 2 without having to spend extra money. And while it has its flaws, it's pretty fun. It definitely put me in that Star Wars frame of mind.
But caveats aside, there's no real way to sugarcoat it: Star Wars Battlefront 2's microtransactions are a real problem. And EA have no one to blame but themselves for the firestorm that has followed in its wake.
Star Wars Battlefront 2 is out Friday.