When Star Wars: Battlefront was rebooted in 2015, fans of the franchise were delighted. It was the first Star Wars game in years, and it was being developed by one of the most acclaimed first person shooter developers in the industry (DICE).
So it was even more heart breaking when gamers realized it was nothing more than a glorified tech demo. Sure it boasted stunning visuals and impeccably loyal sound design, but this glimmering outer shell was hollow within. No single player campaign, multiplayer only, but not even a robust multiplayer. The repetitive skirmishes lost their charm after just a few matches. There was a noticeable lack of game modes, maps, and playable characters. Most insulting of all was a season pass which included virtually the same amount of content as the base game.
EA seemed to believe that they could charge $60 for a bare bones experience, taking advantage of the nostalgia and hype around a beloved franchise.
After a considerable amount of backlash, both fans and EA hoped 2017’s Battlefront 2 would rectify those issues. A single player campaign written by Walt Williams (Spec Ops: The Line), a more robust multiplayer mode, and a significantly larger amount of content to explore. It was going to be a real Star Wars game.
So I’m genuinely disappointed to say, that they fell short, again.
Star Wars: Battlefront 2 is not the Star Wars game we deserve or want.
I barely need to mention the multiplayer, which has created a global uproar due its scandalous microtransactions and poorly implemented progression system. Even when all the drama is stripped away, it still feels shallow and monotonous.
The arcade mode seems tacked on. Play as classic heroes and by the number soldiers, in maps of minuscule proportion, supported by unbalanced combat. The game will then penalize you for playing split screen, telling you that you can’t earn any more points for 11 hours. This system seems built for a free to play mobile title.
A Great Narrative Driven Star Wars Game.
The games campaign is its only true talking point. Sure it has its issues. The story is not as advertised. This is not a new perspective on the empire. Whether it be EA or Disney, it seems someone was too scared to explore such uncharted territory. Instead it quickly pulls a 180 and transitions into another tale of the rebel alliance.
Yet it does not deserve the criticism it has received. This is the most visually stunning and cinematic gameplay experience you will have in 2017, and one of the most engaging narrative based shooters I’ve played recently. Ignore the critics who show an abysmal amount of interest in Battlefront 2’s campaign. It is well written and well-acted. Sure it isn’t deep or profound, but neither are any of the films. They all boil down to a hero’s journey. With a galactic war here, political struggles over there, and a little bit of romance sprinkled on top. We don’t love Star Wars for its narrative intricacies. We love it because of the grand universe George Lucas crafted around a relatively by the books story. Battlefront 2’s campaign feels just as genuinely Star Wars as any of the movies.
Familiar faces like Han Solo, Kylo Ren and Luke Skywalker aren’t shoehorned in. Their involvement makes sense within the story of the Inferno Squad and helps diversify the gameplay.
I don’t mind short single player games, but if this had been stretched out into a 10 – 12 hour standalone experience, unconnected from the loot box controversy, this could have been a marvellous and well received Star Wars game.
The Death of Visceral Games and What Their Project Tells Us About The Future.
However Battlefront 2 can’t get a free pass for its issues just by having an admirable amount of polish. Despite a satisfying single player experience, this sequel opted for more instead of better. It’s close to being a game, and arguably calling it a tech demo could be viewed as harsh and unreasonable, but it is safe to say that it is not what fans wanted from EA or this beloved franchise.
Yet there is still a silver lining that can be gleamed from Battlefront 2. It shows us the potential of what a Star Wars game could look like on current gen hardware. Battlefront 2 is a shallow overall experience, its visible lack of depth evoking a feeling of tedium relatively quickly. However it looks and feels exactly how it should. It shows us that with a larger focus on story or a more complex gameplay loop, a Star Wars game could be tremendously successful. By looking into which other studios are tinkering away on this franchise, I know there is still hope. So let’s explore the possibilities.
Let us first take a look at Visceral. Both to summarize their demise, but to also examine how their work in progress may lead to other exciting titles.
Many were judgmental and grief stricken upon hearing of Visceral games closure. The team behind Dead Space and the writer behind Uncharted had been working on a narrative driven action game set in the Star Wars universe – that is until EA unexpectedly shut the studio down on October 17th 2017. However, it is not as clear cut as the masses would believe. Whispers of the games rocky development had been swirling for months, with Visceral quietly bleeding employees for some time.
The projects vision pivoted several times. Originally Visceral was approached to continue development on the Boba Fett focused Star Wars: 1313. After declining that offer they set to work creating an open world title focused on a group of unruly pirates who plundered other ships within the Star Wars universe. When Amy Hennig joined the studio things changed once again. What is commonly now known as project Ragtag, told the story of a squad of Han Solo-like criminals within an Uncharted inspired linear action game. With ambitious hooks such as 5 playable squad members. Each character had their own traits and abilities, and a “sabotage” style approach to combat. They could hack aspects of the environment to distract, kill, and toy with the emotions of enemy A.I. These were all concepts that proved too ambitious for this small studio.
There is blame on both ends of the spectrum. According to several ex Visceral employees, EA asked too much of the studio. EA demanded they make a game that outsold and was critically received better than Uncharted 4, but lacked belief in Hennig’s vision, and constantly questioned why familiar characters and force related tropes weren’t being included in the game. They also diverted just under half of Ragtag’s staff to Battlefront 2’s single player campaign.
But Visceral also had its own short comings. Many of the staff were not adept at using the game engine, Frostbite, Hennig seemed to lack trust in her team and clashed with them frequently, and the studio itself was situated in San Francisco. San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities to live in in the world. For a full account I recommend you read Jason Schreier’s breakdown of events.
A Destiny Style Star Wars Game Has Real Potential.
However, it isn’t all doom and gloom. EA Vancouver is taking over the project, although admittedly starting from scratch. They are instead choosing to create an open world action game. Perhaps they will implement elements of the story or gameplay Visceral envisioned. Perhaps a fresh pair of eyes can make their concepts work, although it will doubtfully be exactly what Hennig planned. I share Visceral’s story because there could be hints at what EA Vancouver’s eventual Star Wars title might include.
There are also rumors that EA Vancouver’s game will feature similar elements to Destiny and other shared world shooters. Before you get up in arms about EA trying to shoehorn in micro transactions and multiplayer over single player, think about it. You may start as a rebel or a storm trooper or a smuggler. Choosing the faction of the war you want to side with. Like in Destiny, you explore various environments across several planets. You take part in public events like bringing down a Rancor or AT-AT. Instead of the Warlock, Titan and Hunter classes, you could eventually choose a Jedi, Sith or Bounty Hunter Class. You would level up your abilities, whether they be force powers or bounty hunter sabotage techniques, like those planned for Ragtag. You could even rework Hennig’s script to fit the campaign of this shared world action game.
That doesn’t sound half bad to me. In fact that sounds like a truly intriguing Star Wars experience, enjoyable for the player and profitable for EA.
Star Wars: 1313 and Force Unleashed Live On.
EA also recently acquired Titanfall developer Respawn, who have been working on a Star Wars title for some time. Now Visceral may have declined to work on Star Wars: 1313, but Respawn could offer a spiritual successor to the unreleased title. Respawn have demonstrated that they know how to create a gripping single player campaign and robust multiplayer, within the Titanfall franchise. If you really think about it, Titanfall’s jet pack and wall running traversal, futuristic weaponry, and Titan combat, would fit well into a Boba Fett game. Just switch out the Titan for Slave-1. So with the success of their own I.P. and the obvious hype that surrounded 1313, EA may have trusted Respawn to take this direction.
With the confirmation that the Titanfall franchise will continue (in the probable form of Titanfall 3), it may be simple minded to think Respawn would make two very similar games. One of them their own I.P, the other connected to the Star Wars license. God of War 3’s director Stig Asmussen is leading the charge on Respawn’s Star Wars project. EA has also announced that the game will be a third-person action-adventure game. Perhaps Respawn were looking to make a title similar to Visceral’s Ragtag and EA had more faith in Respawn’s vision than Visceral’s, or considering Asmussen’s God of War heritage, could we receive a modern Force Unleashed styled game. At this point, with so little information, it’s hard to tell.
Hope is What Keeps the Rebellion Alive.
Despite the shaky year Star Wars and EA have collectively endured, there is still hope for this franchises place within the games industry. Star Wars: Battlefront 2 like its predecessor is not the Star Wars experience we deserve. Some like myself may even refer to it as a glorified tech demo, but the limited amount that is there, and the pedigree of studios that also have an opportunity to create something with this license, gives me hope for the future. The hope that sometime soon, I will experience a truly amazing Star Wars game.
The Magic of Nintendo: How Mario and Zelda Connect us to Our Inner Child
Nintendo is special. Many excellent developers depend upon story or progression systems to entice engagement, but not Nintendo. Nintendo games captivate because of their immediate charm. There is no need for a payoff. The games, themselves, are enough: they elicit feelings, hard to find in adulthood. Through intrepid discovery, playful presentation, and unfiltered whimsy, the best of Nintendo connects gamers to their childlike selves.
The heart of any great Nintendo game is discovery and no encounter encapsulates this better than Breath of the Wild’s Eventide Island. First, finding the island requires genuine gumption. Found far from Hyrule’s shore, the island is only clearly visible from other islands, and even then, it’s only a speck in the distance. Reaching the island requires players to brave the open ocean and head towards something … that could be nothing. Then, upon arriving on the beach, a spirit takes all the player’s gear, including clothes and food. Link, literally, is left in his underwear. From there, players must make clever use of Link’s base skills in order to steal enemy weapons and make traps. The scenario creates a marvelous sense of self-sufficiency brought on by one’s own desire to discover. The player comes to the island purely of their own choosing, tackles the sea, and then overcomes obstacles without the aid of their strongest tools. The game turns players into plucky children who are discovering they can take care of themselves.
The intrepidity of Breath of the Wild and other Nintendo greats mirrors the feelings Shigeru Miyamoto, the father of many Nintendo franchises, experienced as a child. “I can still recall the kind of sensation I had when I was in a small river, and I was searching with my hands beneath a rock, and something hit my finger, and I noticed it was a fish,” Miyamoto told the New Yorker. “That’s something that I just can’t express in words. It’s such an unusual situation.” In sequences like Eventide Island, players don’t just understand what Miyamoto describes, they feel it: Apprehension gives way to exhilaration as the unknown becomes a place of play.
Nintendo’s intrepid gameplay is often amplified by playful presentation with Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island being the quintessential example. The game’s visuals, defined by pastel colors and simple hand-drawings, appear crayoned by a child while the celestial chimes that punctuate the jubilant soundtrack evoke shooting stars. The overall effect cannot be understated. It takes the surreal and turns it real, allowing players to interact, tangibly, with imagination.
Even if one removes the presentation and gameplay from Nintendo’s masterpieces, an unabashed creativity remains that bucks norm and convention. The arbiter is fun; reason and logic have no say. For instance, Super Mario Odyssey’s Wooded Kingdom, takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting akin to Nier Automata. Players explore the metal remnants of a civilization that has become a lush home to robotic beings. However, unlike Nier, the dark undertones of the past have no bearing on the game or those who inhabit its universe. The post-apocalyptic setting is just a fun backdrop. It’s as though a bunch of children got together, began playing with toys, and one of the kids brought along his sibling’s adult action figures. There is no attention paid to the context, only unfiltered imagination.
When they’re at their best the creators at Nintendo invite gamers to come and play, like a parent arranging a play date. Pulled along by joyful gameplay that expands in unforeseen ways, players desire to play for the sake of play. It’s a halcyon state of being: No messy thoughts or contradiction, just joy.
‘Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind’: An Utterly Shameless Cash Grab
Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some other trash.
In the 15 year long history of DLC, we have seen some really shameless displays. The notorious horse armor incident of 2006 and a notable day one DLC for the ending game of a trilogy notwithstanding, few companies have had the utter audacity to offer so little content for such a high price point. Enter Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind.
Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some social media nonsense for people who really hate themselves. That’s really it, that’s what you get. Honestly, Square-Enix should be utterly embarrassed by this DLC.
It’s been one year: 365 days, 8760 hours, 525600 minutes, or 31556952 seconds, since the release of Kingdom Hearts III. Let that sink in as you begin the meat of Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind. Think of it as the extended version of a movie you really like… you know, the kind where they add 4 minutes to the 120 minute runtime.
Yes, Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind, really is that cynical. I’m not kidding when I tell you that the game literally starts with an exact cut scene from the base game, and a cut scene that happens to be available from the theater mode of the main game that you’ve already bought if you’re playing this DLC. Yes, the introduction to this new content is… content you’ve already seen.
In fact, that’s kind of the sticking point here: most of what you get for your hard-earned cash is footage you’ve already seen, and battles you’ve already fought, and story you’ve already experienced, just with slight alterations for context. Remember back in the 2000s, when we were super obsessed with prequels? This is like that, except even more egregious.
Generally I’m not so unforgiving as to call a company out for a forthright cash grab, but that’s absolutely what Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is. There’s just no other way to put it. You might find someone in the marketing department for Square-Enix who would disagree, but being a company that has faced just these sort of allegations for their last two major releases, Square-Enix either doesn’t read the news, or doesn’t care what people think of their products.
Square-Enix was roundly accused of shipping unfinished products in the case of both Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III — their two most high profile releases of the last decade. I personally gave mostly positive reviews of both games for this very website but if you want ammo to suggest that this company is deliberately trading on the nostalgia and passion of its fan base in order to make financial headway, there are few examples you could draw from that are as obvious as this DLC.
Look, maybe you’re a really big Kingdom Hearts fan. Maybe you just really wanted to know what the context was for that cliffhanger ending in Kingdom Hearts III. Maybe you just don’t do much research before you buy something. Or maybe… you just really trust this company for some reason.
Hey, I’m not judging… hell, I bought this DLC for $40 same as anyone else. I oughta be honest that I’m not reviewing Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind as some holier than thou critic, talking down to you from my position of privilege. No, I’m an angry consumer in this particular case. I’m a person who spent enough to replace a flat tire on my car, or buy my family dinner, on a game that is clearly playing off of my love for a franchise, and using it to bilk me out of money in a method that is so clear, and so concise, that those involved in the entire endeavor should be totally embarrassed for their part in the creation, marketing, pricing, and distribution of this expansion.
Yes, fans had their complaints about Kingdom Hearts III. “Where are the hardcore boss battles? Where are the Final Fantasy characters? Where are the secret areas? Where are the hidden plot developments?” Still, to address these particular complaints by hammering a few minutes or seconds here and there into already existing content is truly like spitting in the faces of the people who have built the house you’re living in.
I haven’t sat in the board rooms at Square-Enix and I haven’t been in email chains about the planning of projects at their company but what I can say is that there is something rotten in Denmark if this is what passes for a satisfying piece of content for the wildly devoted fans of a hugely popular franchise in 2020. Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is literally, truthfully, and succinctly, the worst piece of DLC I’ve ever purchased.
10 Years Later: ‘Mass Effect 2’ is An All-Time Sci-fi Classic
Mass Effect 2 didn’t just nail the formula for a successful sequel, it tied together one of the greatest science fiction tales ever.
Mass Effect launched in 2007 as the boldest science fiction project ever conceived for consoles. The complex mythology, history and the many alien races, each with their own political/religious beliefs offered a depth rarely seen in the medium. Only a game as ambitious as Mass Effect 2 could not only match the pedigree of such a massive project but surpass it in every single way imaginable.
Released 3 years after the original, a full decade ago, Mass Effect 2 set the benchmark for not just sequels but for science fiction gaming as well. Few sequels are able to overcome the weaknesses of their predecessors with such perfect accuracy while also doubling down on what made them good in the first place.
The first task that fell to Bioware was to refine the combat. The original game had more of a strategic angle to it but that strategy meant the game was constantly stopping and starting, stuttering the action and ruining the flow of the game. By streamlining the combat into more of an action RPG experience (emphasis on action), Mass Effect 2 created a much better sense of tension in battle sequences. Aiming, using techniques and issuing orders also flowed more smoothly with these changes.
Another major change was the removal of the Mako, an exploratory rover the player drove around alien planets with. While a novel idea, the Mako often lead to aimless wandering as the player sought out resources on the many planets of Mass Effect. Instead of driving to their destination, players were now warped directly to the area they would be exploring. Resource collection was overhauled as a result.
While few players will talk about the thrill of spinning a globe around and aiming a reticle in order to collect resources in Mass Effect 2, the simple speed by which this process was streamlined offered a hefty margin of improvement over the original game. Resources that might have taken a half-hour to collect in the first game could now be found in 1/10 of that time. Resource collection, while a vital part of the game, was never meant to be the time sink it was in the original Mass Effect, and by speeding up this process, Mass Effect 2 allowed players to get back to the meat of the game: doing missions and exploring the galaxy.
Of course, these aren’t necessarily the most significant changes that players will recall from their time with Mass Effect 2. The story and character roster were also expanded considerably from the first game, and these are without a doubt the biggest improvements that this sequel is able to mount.
While Mass Effect had seven playable characters, Mass Effect 2 expanded that to twelve. Not only was the amount of characters an improvement, though, the quality of the characters on offer was also much stronger this time around. A full nine new characters were introduced for players to utilize in combat, strategize with and get to know throughout the game. Among them were badass assassin Thane Krios, dangerous convict Jack, morally dubious Miranda Lawson, and hivemind robot Legion.
In fact, the cast of Mass Effect 2 is so good that it has rightfully become a benchmark for the creation of a compelling cast of characters in RPGs, and video games, in general. The sheer diversity on display in the looks, personalities and movesets allowed for the cast is awe-inspiring, and this is without even considering the trump card that Mass Effect 2 flashed throughout the experience of playing the game.
The monumental suicide mission to raid the Collectors’ base and save humanity is the impetus for the entire plot of Mass Effect 2, and the reason for which the player is recruiting the baddest mother fuckers from all over the galaxy in hopes of success. It isn’t just a suicide mission in name either, many, or even all, of the cast can die during the completion of this mission, adding a layer of suspense and finality to the final stage of Mass Effect 2 that few other games can match.
To this end, players were encouraged to get to know their crew through loyalty missions specific to each cast member. By undertaking these optional missions and completing them in a way that would impress or endear themselves to the character in question, players were able to ascertain the unquestioned respect and loyalty of that character, ensuring they wouldn’t go rogue during the final mission.
Still, even passing these prerequisites with flying colors wasn’t a guarantee for success. Players also had to pay attention to the strengths and weaknesses of the characters when assigning tasks and making split-second decisions. Who you would leave to recon an area, repair a piece of equipment, or lock down a path, could make the difference as to who was going to survive the mission. Further complicating things, the characters you wanted to take with you to final branches of the mission might be the very people best suited for these earlier tasks.
“Mass Effect 2 isn’t just one of the greatest science fiction games of all time, but one of the best science fiction experiences in any medium, full stop”.
Getting everyone out alive is a truly Machiavellian task, requiring either a guide or multiple playthroughs in order to get it precisely right. To that end, my feeling is that it’s better to go at it honestly the first time around, dealing with the requisite losses that this experience entails. After all, it isn’t really a suicide mission without a couple of casualties right? Even with all of my preparations and foresight, I lost Tali and Legion in the final mission, but for the fate of the human race, these losses were an acceptable cost.
Even outside the strength of this fantastic cast and the monumental undertaking of planning and executing this final mission, there were other key characters and elements introduced as well. The Illusive Man, voiced by the great Martin Sheen, emerged as a necessary evil, saving Commander Shepard from death but asking morally complex decisions to be made as the cost of doing business. The relationship with, and the choices the player makes, in regard to The Illusive Man have far-reaching consequences for the remainder of the series, and as he emerged to become a primary antagonist in the final game of the trilogy, the considerations to be made were vast and insidious by their very definition.
With so many factors working in its favor, Mass Effect 2 is the rare game that is so perfectly designed that both its predecessor and sequel suffer by comparison as a result. While the improvements of ME2 make it hard to go back to the original game, the scope and ambition of an entire cast that could be alive or dead at the end of the journey also neutered the third game, causing many of the best characters in the trilogy to be excised from the final leg of the trip.
Truly, Mass Effect 2 isn’t just one of the greatest science fiction games of all time, but one of the best science fiction experiences in any medium, full stop. Like The Empire Strikes Back before it, Mass Effect 2 is the best exemplar of its universe and what makes it compelling and worthwhile in general.
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