Greetings from the underworld, where I've spent the past two days playing lots and lots of multiplayer in the final version of Star Wars Battlefront 2.
I have plenty of thoughts on the multiplayer, which I'll share in the my final review (spoiler: I think it's pretty fun, actually), but let's talk about the loot box-driven progression—the controversy that has dogged Battlefront 2 since the beta.
There was justifiable anger around EA's decision to tie character progression to loot boxes. As Mike laid out in his piece from the beta, players are concerned that EA is making their shooter "pay-to-win" by making it easy to quickly level up your character by shelling out lots of money.
EA has responded by putting up a bunch of gates to make it harder for players to spend their way to the most epic of loot—the modifiers that can up your damage output by up to 40 percent (!). In my conversation with DICE during the event, they called the controversy a "healthy conversation" about how fans really feel about loot boxes, and promised to respond to fan feedback through launch and beyond.
The review event was my first chance to get a feel for the progression in something approximating the final release. It wasn't perfect, of course, since everyone was starting together at zero and playing for the same length of time. But it still gave me an idea of how fast I was able to obtain items without spending money.
The short answer: About as quickly as in any other shooter. In the course of about 15 hours, I was able to unlock all three Star Card slots for my preferred class and a handful of solid upgrades and abilities, including a thermal detonator with improved damage. The 2000 to 3000 credits I earned per match was enough to get me a loot box every other game, which in turn contained a random mix of items, some useful and some not (hooray for victory poses, I guess).
Bear in mind that there's a lot to unlock in this game. Every single class, hero, vehicle, and starfighter has their own set of Star Cards with specialized buffs. And I never once unlocked a rare quality card. So it's gonna take some grinding to build up my portfolio—par for the course in shooters these days.
It's important to note, of course, that progression isn't completely tied to loot boxes. For instance, weapons can only be crafted when you hit certain milestones, like earning 50 kills with a certain class. Epic quality Star Cards, where you receive the juiciest bonuses, are likewise unavailable in loot crates.
More importantly, you have to be level 20 to be able to equip epic Star Cards, which will take the average player upwards of 25 to 30 hours to hit. I'm not the greatest Battlefront 2 player by any means, but I consistently ranked in the top half of every leaderboard, and I was still only around level 11 by the end of Day 2. So levels aren't something you can grind overnight.
DICE's final line of defense between the whales and the average gamer is the matchmaking algorithm, which will be tuned to group players with roughly the same gear together. That way new players won't suddenly get thrown together with high-level players sporting epic gear.
All of this serves to keep the big spenders in check, but that doesn't keep it from feeling a bit messy. With cards coming in piecemeal, my characters felt like a confusing patchwork of abilities, and I was never sure what class had access to what slots. I figured out how to craft certain items, but I was unsure on how to craft rare cards. It felt like the kind of system I would see in a free-to-play mobile game—loaded with various kinds of currency and confusing menus designed to make me say "screw it" and drop a hundred bucks on loot cates.
Certainly, DICE and EA have no one to blame but themselves for that. But at the end of the day, it wasn't enough to break my enjoyment of the multiplayer, which feels far sharper and more refined than the original Battlefront. Taken together, my overall impression is that I can probably make a decent dent in Battlefront 2's multiplayer without having to spend money. As I said, my preferred classes and starfighters had some solid gear by the end of Day 2; and while I played more than usual, I wasn't too far off the usual pace for a solid weekend of play.
In that, it seems like DICE has done just enough to make the loot boxes tolerable. But I still have plenty of problems with the system as a whole.
Loot Box Progression is Always Going to be a Problem
The problem with the loot boxes in Battlefront 2 is that they don't have any practical reason for existing outside of the fact that they're a useful revenue stream for EA.
It's easy to forgive Overwatch's loot boxes—annoying as they can be at times—because they are completely optional. They are fun to open, and getting a legendary skin is thrilling, but otherwise they have no bearing on the gameplay. You can safely ignore them.
But like I said, they're fun. That's what makes them a worthwhile addition to the game (they also happen to make Blizzard a ton of money because people just have to have the latest and greatest skin, but that's not my problem). Earning and opening a loot box in Overwatch is extremely satisfying because it's reflective of the time you've put into the game.
Battlefront 2's loot boxes aren't fun—they're a chore. They're part of the grind toward whatever optimal build you're trying to achieve. DICE could have just as easily made it possible to buy every upgrade with in-game currency, but instead they decided to tie it to monetization.
That's the real drag behind Battlefront 2's loot crates—the fact that they're wholly unnecessary. DICE may be putting in safeguards to protect non-monetizers from whales, but they're secretly hoping that you're going to get fed up and drop some cash on loot boxes. It's something I feel every time I crack open another crate for more Star Cards.
So when I say that I'm enjoying Battlefront 2's multiplayer, it's in spite of the loot boxes, not because of them. Like I said: they're tolerable. They aren't there to add to the enjoyment of the game, but to line EA's pockets.
I'll have additional thoughts on the multiplayer (and the single-player campaign) for next week's review. In the meantime, check out our guide to everything we know so far about Star Wars Battlefront 2.