[Review] Star Wars Battlefront 2 is a beautiful mess
Beauty is only skin deep
Platform: PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Publisher: Electronic Arts
(Disclaimer: This version of Star Wars Battlefront II was tested on an Xbox One X on a Samsung KS8500 4K TV with HDR.)
There’s so much to like and appreciate with Star Wars Battlefront II (SWBF II), the gameplay itself is smooth, the guns sound authentic to the films and the action is big. When you combine that with the pseudo-impressive Frostbite engine, EA’s prize graphics platform for all its games now, you’re left with probably the most visually stunning video game on consoles. That being said, graphics aren’t everything and when you remove that component, you’re left with a story, game modes, loot crates, and monetization, all of which can completely undo everything positive.
So how does EA’s latest shooter hold up? Let’s break it down.
The Story Campaign:
From the moment SWBF II was announced, we were told that unlike last year, we’d have a new and interesting story to dive into and unlike most Star Wars games, we’d follow a character from the Empire. From the initial trailer, it appeared that this character had no sympathy for the Rebel Alliance and made it quite clear that she was going to crush the Rebels on behalf of the Emperor.
SWBF II puts players in control of Iden Versio (played by the talented Janina Gavankar), the commander of a special team known as the Inferno Squad, together with her team, Versio is on a mission to infiltrate a Rebels ship, remove plans and put an end to their attempt to defeat the Emperor, However, after destroying the plans and making their way to Endor, all hell breaks loose when the Death Star is destroyed right in front of their eyes.
DICE had the opportunity to show us life under the Imperial rule, they had the opportunity to make us sympathize with the Empire. Are they really as bad as depicted in the film? If they are, why are so many people so eager to join their ranks?
Story Spoilers Ahead
Sadly, DICE / EA decided that it wasn’t a good idea to really fulfill that obligation. They simply played it safe and made Versio, and her squadmate/lover, Del Meeko, defected and join the Rebel cause. By copping out and playing it safe, the game’s story broke and then felt generic. It gets worse because it happens early in the campaign, which is only like 6-7 hours long depending on how intensely you play it. Since this game is considered canon in the Star Wars universe, I’m sure Disney/LucasFilm had a lot of input, so I’m not sure where the fault truly lies in the decision to cheapen the experience, but either way, it was wrong.
As for the campaign and how it plays, a few of the missions were cool, though I began to grow frustrated at the number of locked doors, as each one required me to use my droid that was attached to my back. While it was a cool mechanic at first, seeing it happen with every door became monotonous. However, the first major flaw came when the game forces players to play as iconic Star Wars Heroes, like Luke Skywalker. While I’d normally love to play as the force wielding badass, in this story it felt forced (no pun intended), it was almost as if EA/DICE knew you wouldn’t be able to afford him in the multiplayer portion of the game, unless you paid money for him, so this was their opportunity to whet your appetite. It is so self-serving, as it not only allowed you play as Luke and others, it basically teased you and made you want to play as him even more, which to do, would require 60,000 credits. After much outcry from fans, that hefty price tag was lowered to 15,000 credits. EA/DICE made the decision to lower the cost of heroes by 75%, as people in the gaming community grew furious at the time and “ways” it took to obtain these heroes. However, despite the lowering of the hero cost, EA also lowered the amount of credit earned while playing the story and other modes. The situation got even worse when players still weren’t happy with the cost of “pay to win” in which players could spend money to get better players, weapons and star cards. Rumors suggest that Disney’s Bob Iger caught wind of this and instructed the people in charge to contact EA and fix this PR nightmare. So, as of this review, paid content has been completely removed from the game, but it will return after they (EA) find the proper balance.
In any event, the story itself falls part, the ingenuine inclusion of classic heroes feels out of place and overall, it’s just too short. There was a real opportunity here and Versio is a cool character with an edge that I would have loved to have seen stick to her guns.
The multiplayer experience feels roughly the same as the 2015 version, with slight refinements, more maps from the whole saga and more characters or heroes. Returning are Star Cards, which can be won via loot crates or constructed from crafting parts, also from loot crates. As fun as the multiplayer can and should be, it’s hampered down by loot crates. There’s no excuse here, everything is bound together by them and that completely ruins the experience. Battlefront II is unlike Overwatch, where everything obtained from loot boxes is purely cosmetic and they don’t disrupt the game or give players who buy them an unfair advantage. A skin on a character doesn’t change the dynamic of a match. Despite that Blizzard sells TONs of loot boxes and players of the game don’t mind either way. In Overwatch, you’re never forced nor do you ever feel compelled to buy them to keep up, which is a proper implementation of loot boxes if a developer wants to monetize their game.
Battlefront II, on the other hand, was the complete opposite prior to the removal of paid transactions. But even still, while the option to spend money to win is gone, temporarily, the players who play obsessively will earn more and will then have better cards and guns to make their heroes more powerful and thus, uneven. I’d be fine with gun skins, character skins, emotes or new classes, but the fact that players can simply buy upgrades to make their shoots more powerful or shields to take less damage feels cheap, which will only feel cheaper when EA allows people to buy their way to victory using real cash.
BF II finally did what fans wanted so desperately in BF I, they introduced player characters and soldiers from the entire Star Wars film saga. You can finally play as a Battle Droid against a Storm Trooper from Episode VII. Players can also mix and match heroes from any era, so you’ll see Yoda running around on Hoth vs Kylo Ren or see Darth Maul slice Lando down in Endor. Conspicuously absent Obi-WanWan Kenobi, which I’m sure we’ll see added in a future DLC update.
As for the maps in multiplayer, specifically Galactic Assault, there are 11 of them ranging from all of the previous movies, from Episode I to VII. Here’s the full list:
Death Star II
I’m almost positive that we’ll see some maps from the upcoming Episode VIII via DLC before the end of next year. As I previously stated, the game is gorgeous, every single map is extremely realistic. The game’s beauty is also an enemy, because the maps are so detailed and overly realistic, as are the players, that often times you’ll have no idea where you’re being shot from. As you look around, stuff is so detailed you’ll lose sight of players and enemies (especially in lush areas like Endor) and you’ll be dead before you find them. I had this same issue in Battlefield 1. It doesn’t happen on all maps or even all the time, but when it happens, you’ll be beyond frustrated.
EA/DICE finally revamped the hero system, so you no longer have to be lucky enough to find those hero coins on the map in order to play them. However, you do have to pay to unlock them, which as I mentioned is a new mess altogether. The multiplayer experience for me felt solid, it really did. I just can’t help wanting to see how this game would be received and play, had the only unlockable items be skins, characters, and guns, which are achieved by simply playing the game. Sort of like Overwatch, because BF II is a great shooter, it’s just marred by everything else around it.
As for the Star Fighter mode, which was developed by Criterion creators of the Burnout series, made probably the best mode in the game. In fact, it’s a shame that EA doesn’t give this mode its own game. The battles feel epic, the ships all handle exceptionally well and there’s just something about an intergalactic dogfight with the Star Wars theme pumping in the background that gets you going. This is from a guy who typically hates flying games (with the exception of Crimson Skies). Seriously, this mode is a blast, but it just feels like an afterthought thrown in, like they knew fans wanted it, so they tossed a flavoring of details to call it a mode.
The last mode I’ll talk about is Heroes vs Villains. In this 4 vs 4 mode, players will pick heroes or villains of any era to do battle, you can also change your hero mid-match, so you’re not stuck the whole time with one character. When you see Darth Vader, Kylo Ren and Darth Maul walking side by side as the game loads up, you’ll get chills, sadly, the mode is there with a big bucket of hot water to bring you back down. The only way to describe this mode is like giving 8 kittens a snort of cocaine, then speed, while strapping a lightsaber to their paw and locking them all in a minivan. It’s a disaster. Everyone is running around super fast, swinging lightsabers and usually missing and when you die or kill someone, it’s because of luck, not skill. I did this mode twice and said, forget it. As cool as it was to play as these heroes, the mode is so aggravating that you’ll want to just break your controller.
I have no doubt that DICE worked their tails off to make a great Star Wars game and it’s probably in there somewhere, underneath all of that EA corporate monetization crap. The game could be good, the probability is that it never will. Since they started with the loot boxes and people have already paid for some or rightfully earned those perks and upgrades, they can’t be taken out of the game without another massive PR disaster. If you think putting paid loot crates in the game with the rates they were charging were bad, imagine the outcry from players who spend money or coins on things, only for EA to remove them. It would be PR suicide. Because of this, notnotter what EA does going forward, things will never truly improve, in fact, they’ll probably get worse once EA adds paid boxes back in later.
The Frostbite engine, while it’s fantastic for environments, truly sucks for creating people’s faces. The heroes' faces (see Han Solo), not masks or helmets, but human faces, look atrocious. You could also see evidence of this in Battlefield 1 and even worse in Mass Effect Andromeda. It does complex environments and landscapes beautifully, but people, not so much.
As a Star Wars fan, it pains me to say this, but this game is a beautiful mess. It’s great to look at, it plays well but it suffers from some really poor design decisions and a loot box reward structure that has roots to deep to remove. I don’t know where this game will go in the next six months, but if EA makes some serious updates and truly tries to improve the game, then I’ll come back and reevaluate my review score, until then, beauty in this case is barely skin deep.