I used to dream of playing a game like Star Wars Battlefront 2 when I was growing up. A fan of TIE Fighter and Dark Forces, all I wanted was a game that found a way to combine the two.
LucasArts' Battlefront games were excellent, but they were limited by the technology of the time. EA's first stab at the series was a misfire. With Battlefront 2, they've finally nailed many of the elements needed to turn Star Wars into a hugely enjoyable multiplayer game—one with a decent single-player campaign to boot.
But as evidenced by the ongoing controversy surrounding Battlefront 2's microtransactions, there are caveats. And not all of them have to do with loot crates.
A Brand New Star Wars Story
As a long-time fan of Star Wars games, I find Battlefront 2's single-player campaign hugely exciting. It introduces a new character, Iden Versio, and tells a brand new story in the Star Wars universe. It reminds me of the way LucasArts would carve out their own section of the Star Wars universe, often contributing large sections of lore that would find their way into the expanded universe.
It starts out on a strong note. We're introduced to Versio, an Imperial Special Forces agent who allows herself to be intentionally captured, then subsequently wreaks havoc on a Rebel cruiser en route to busting out. We see the destruction of the Second Death Star through her eyes, and we get a really neat space battle in which she flies right into a Rebel hangar and lets loose on the X-wings and Y-wings waiting to take off.
It's an awesome sight to behold, and everything that 14-year-old Kat could have dreamed of in a Star Wars game.
As the campaign continues, we're given the opportunity to pilot pretty much every major vehicle in the Star Wars universe, including at least one that isn't even in the multiplayer mode. It's at its best when treating us to massive setpieces—the sort that only Star Wars can pull off. It leans heavily on the space combat, which EA Motive correctly realizes is the best part of Battlefront 2.
While these battles are definitely the most exciting part of the story, they can nevertheless feel clumsy at times. The levels, which are meant to feel open and expansive, lack a sense of flow, and I often found myself wandering up to the stage boundaries while trying to find where I was supposed to go next.
Your mileage will likewise vary when it comes to the gunplay. The previous Battlefront was dogged by the popular perception that it was "arcadey," and while EA has made improvements to aiming and other mechanics, the sniping in particular is still extremely forgiving. One thing that's kind of cool is that the customization makes its way over from the multiplayer, so you can decide whether to make Versio a sniper, a heavy, or something in between. And no, there are no loot boxes in the single-player.
My biggest problem with the campaign is that the ways it's marketed is a tad misleading. Star Wars Battlefront 2 is ultimately more of an ensemble story, with heroes from across the Star Wars universe popping in for chapters of their own. The story that unfolds ultimately serves to connect Return of the Jedi with The Force Awakens, with Versio and her companion Del Meeko often making way for more familiar faces.
The resulting story feels disjointed in the way that it leaps from setpiece to setpiece without any real buildup to the final battle. It keeps some of the core conflicts from getting the screentime they deserve, and it sidelines Versio, who is an interesting character in her own right. I wish that EA Motive would have had the courage to keep the spotlight squarely on Versio for the entire story.
Interestingly, the end of the five hour or so campaign doesn't mark the end of the story itself. As highlighted in Battlefront 2's Season 1 announcement, EA will be releasing free story DLC in December that continues her story. I know that I'm keen to see what happens next, if only because I happen to like Versio.
The best thing I can say about Battlefront 2's campaign is that it nails that "Star Wars" feeling, and its large-scale battles are impressive. It's also a bit of missed opportunity, though, and that's what keeps me from rating it higher.
Regardless, you should play it. For all of you concerned about loot boxes and grinding, the campaign awards you a large number of credits and loot boxes just from finishing the missions, with 20K credits being awarded for finishing the story [Update: It's only 5K now that the hero costs have been slashed].
The message EA is trying to send, of course, is that you should play the multiplayer. And that is ultimately the core of what Battlefront 2 is all about.
On the Battlefront
EA has clearly learned a lot from the original Battlefront. Battlefront 2 is far sharper than the previous game; and as a consequence, it's much more fun to play.
The highlight is undoubtedly Starfighter Assault—maybe my favorite multiplayer experience of 2017. Building on the already strong foundation of the original game, Battlefront 2 evolves Starfighter Assault from a large-scale furball to a massive multi-part battle featuring objectives, capital ships, and huge numbers of A.I. ships.
It's an absolute blast—a true joy for an old-school Rogue Squadron fan like myself. It's so cool to battle over the oceans of Kamino; around an Imperial shipyard, and through a droid control ship. I understand that not everyone is gonna agree with me on this front, but I would personally buy Battlefront 2 just for Starfighter Assault. If you like Star Wars starfighter combat, it's that good.
Galactic Assault is likewise much better now. It retains the scope of the original game, but is now far more balanced between the attacking and defending sides. Every map features multiple phases, often starting with a large-scale battle before moving indoors for close-quarters combat. The battles are often very close, and it's far less repetitive than the previous game, with maps spanning planets from the prequels, the original trilogy, and The Force Awakens.
Heroes aren't as overpowered as before, but they still have the potential to wreak massive havoc in the right hands. Happily, finding them is no longer a matter of pure luck. Instead, they can be purchased with Battle Points earned during a match, which can also be used to open up vehicles. That can be frustrating for players who struggle, but also immensely satisfying for those who manage to open up Darth Maul or Rey. Personally, I live for the moment when I get to go crazy on an enemy army with Yoda.
Battlefront 2's multiplayer is rounded out by traditional deathmatch, a more focused attack and defend mode, and Heroes vs. Villains—a four per side mode in which each player controls the hero character of their choice.
Going forward, EA will be running periodic online events, with free characters and items being unlocked on the regular, which should solve some of the long-term engagement issues from the previous game.
On the whole, it seems as if EA has gone over the original game with a fine tooth comb and improved it in just about every way. I still think it could use a traditional control point focused Conquest Mode; but with Galactic Assault and Starfighter Assault being as fun as they are, the need doesn't feel as acute as before.
If that was all there was to the story, Battlefront 2 would get a strong recommendation from me. But of course, it isn't.
Let's Talk About Loot Boxes
As I alluded to earlier, there has been much furor surrounding Star Wars Battlefront 2's loot boxes. In tying them so closely to the progression, EA has opened themselves to accusations that anyone willing to pay will be able to instantly create an overpowered character.
EA has no one to blame but themselves for this. For better or worse, Star Wars Battlefront 2 is always going to be "the loot box game" now. No matter how much they try to mitigate it, they've crossed a red line: you simply don't tie loot boxes to gameplay in a premium $60 multiplayer game. You just don't do it.
And let's be honest: There's some truth to the "pay to win" narrative. It's not as acute as some make it out to be, but it's still a very bad look for EA.
Basically, here's how it works: Every character class, hero, and vehicle has their own set of Star Cards. Star Cards grant stat improvements and new abilities, with the idea being that you can create a customizable loadout to suit your preferences. So if you want to build a super defensive bomber with extra health, you can do that. If you prefer a shield to a turret, you can equip the relevant Star Card.
Star Cards are found in loot boxes along with emotes, victory poses, and crafting parts—the latter of which can be used to craft any Star Card of your choice. Once you unlock a Star Card, you can use crafting parts to upgrade it up to Epic tier, which can offer very desirable buffs to cooldowns, health regens, and damage.
It'll take you some time to get to that point, though. Epic tier cards can't be equipped until you hit level 20, which takes a while to reach. Once you're there, it costs a cool 480 crafting parts to upgrade.
So here's where some of the concerns are overblown: Guns have the largest chance to affect the balance, and they can only be obtained by completing in-game milestones. Epic cards can't be obtained in loot boxes, and matchmaking will be tuned to keep new players away from those wearing top-level gear. You also get plenty of rewards from completing the campaign and simply playing normally.
Now here's where it gets dicey: Once you hit level 20, upgrading your Star Cards to Epic costs a lot of crafting parts, which can only be obtained through loot boxes. This is where the temptation to spend will be the strongest. Moreover, EA is also selling a $15 "starter pack" containing 1500 units of premium currency and three rare-quality Star Cards that are nearly as good as their epic counterparts.
I'll be honest: I've seen a lot worse. I am a Madden player, after all. The Star Cards make a difference, but not so much that they ruin the balance of the game. And as I said before, guns are more important in the long run.
But EA is also deserving of criticism for introducing loot boxes in the first place, and they have no one to blame but themselves for the firestorm that has followed.
Does Star Wars Battlefront 2 Overcome the Controversy?
I've been having a lot of fun with Star Wars Battlefront 2; but in the long run, I'd be remiss if I didn't highlight its problems.
The loot boxes are simply unnecessary. There's no reason to include them except for profit. If they have to be in the game to account for the free DLC, then they should be cosmetic only. Full stop.
The campaign has its moments, but its pacing feels disjointed, and it doesn't follow through on its focus on Versio. There are also some pretty noticeable bugs in the Xbox One version, including weird flickering and triggers that fail to activate because one Stormtrooper is suddenly invincible.
Just today, EA was forced to quickly slash the cost for unlocking Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker from 60,000 credits to a much more manageable 15,000 credits. This was the right move on their part, and their quick response is admirable, but it reflects some of bad decisions EA has made to this point. The grind to unlock them was simply too intense in light of how stingy Battlefront 2 is with credits (which, after all, are used to acquire loot boxes).
But lest I sound too negative, the core of Battlefront 2 works. Starfighter Assault is a delight. Galactic Assault's maps have both the scale and focus that the original lacked. And my god, this game is gorgeous. The characters, vehicles, and environments all look incredible.
Battlefront 2's good qualities have been obscured by the neverending loot box saga, but they shouldn't be forgotten. It's just a pity that they aren't front and center where they should be.
There a lot of confusing menus. There are markers indicating that you have new items and milestones, but they can be easy to miss. Missions sometimes lack navigation markers, which can make it hard to know where to go next.
Battlefront 2's sound effects are very much in keeping with the movies. As you might expect, the music is excellent as well. You can never go wrong with the Star Wars soundtrack.
Star Wars Battlefront 2 looks amazing. Its environments, vehicles, and characters all look great, and they are all very faithful to the Star Wars universe. It's a treat to look at.
Star Wars Battlefront 2 is one of the most enjoyable multiplayer games of 2017, especially if you like Star Wars. It's also more flawed than it should be. Battlefront 2 doesn't deserve to be wholly defined by loot boxes, but it's inescapable given the impact they have on some of the core modes. This is why you don't tie gameplay to microtransactions.