Though flawed, 2015’s Star Wars Battlefront captured the large-scale, galaxy-high-stakes battle scenarios from the Star Wars franchise that fans always wanted to experience first hand. With a plethora of modes, quality controls, and a modest but respectable arsenal to draw from, Battlefront truly brought the conflict of Star Wars to life in an online shooter. However, restricting itself to one era, paid DLC that significantly fragmented the audience, a couple of balancing issues, and the lack of a campaign meant it wasn’t the
droids game fans were looking for. Now Dice strikes back with Star Wars Battlefront II, the campaign-toting, back-to-basics sequel that mends many of its predecessor’s issues — while sadly managing to make a whole lot more in the process.
The biggest complaint with the 2015 Battlefront was the lack of a story mode, a complaint Dice heard loud and clear and remedied in Battlefront II. At the narrative’s center (and the center of the box art, wouldn’t you know it) is Iden Versio, the commander of an elite Imperial special forces unit, the Inferno Squad. The tale opens at the end of Return of the Jedi, as Iden and Inferno Squad arrive on Endor just in time to see the Death Star destroyed for the second time. Now she must find her place in an Emperor-less Empire fighting desperately to re-find the upper hand that it’s had on the Rebellion for so long. Unfortunately, the initial intrigue of following a loyal Imperial soldier at the end of the Empire’s reign is wasted when the story dissolves into something far more bland and predictable.
That’s not to say that the campaign doesn’t have its moments. That’s just the problem though — they’re moments, scenes that never quite add up to a whole. Part of this is a lack of a true central conflict. An internal conflict that arises in Iden and other members of her squad is the start of a strong, character-driven narrative from a unique point of view, history told from the perspective of the losers, from the “bad guys.” As soon as the conflict emerges, however, it’s jarringly resolved, and the plot bounds ahead while leaving the player behind. A different conflict ensues, only to be resolved a mission later with little to no fanfare.
Still, saying the plot progresses at a breakneck pace isn’t accurate. Instead, the story makes enormous leaps from one moment in time to the next, making it feel like there are entire chapters missing from the game’s campaign. Context is worked unconvincingly into the dialogue to try to convince the player that proceedings have naturally progressed up to this point, but it’s a clear exposition ruse. Promising, original plot points (like Iden’s internal struggle or “Operation: Cinder”) tend to fizzle out immediately, only to be replaced by new narrative threads that feel like retreads from other Star Wars properties. There’s novelty in being thrown into some new and some recognizable locales, and atmospherically Battlefront II feels like Star Wars — just without a cohesive narrative to actually bind it together. On top of that, random interludes where the player embodies some of Star Wars’ most recognizable heroes that never truly connect back to anything further chop up a campaign that never realizes its potential.
Characterization is equally as fleeting, emerging promisingly in moments when things decide to slow down, only to be reduced to the same sort of expository shortcuts the game tries to deliver as scenario context. Consequently, Battlefront II lacks any weight or emotional resonance, despite its best efforts. Equally as disappointing (considering its initial effort to unmask and humanize some of the soldiers behind the stormtrooper helmets), the game ultimately settles into the same old binary, black and white, good versus evil perspective of the Galactic Civil War that has always existed. In a time when Rogue One took early steps towards painting the Rebellion as anything less than morally white and pure as sheep’s wool, I don’t think it’s asking too much for a portrait of the Empire as anything more than an abhorrent force. In the end, though, Battlefront II contents itself with portraying the Empire as nothing but evil, hardly tapping into the potential of its initial intrigue. All of that said, while the campaign might not be all that memorable, its characters can’t hold a candle to the original Star Wars cast, and the story is sort of a choppy mess, at the very least it’s fun, and a good introduction to the game.
The second of the three major modes Battlefront II offers is the arcade mode, comprised of multiple mini-missions and scenarios categorized as Light or Dark Side that task the player with eliminating AI-controlled soldiers under specific conditions. Those conditions or modifiers in any combination range from strict time limits to using a specific hero, or limit the player with a strict amount of troops, or even to a single life. Each mission also has three difficulties that alter the game modifiers and make more formidable opponents out of the AI.
The arcade offers players a place to experience the game’s different soldier units, the decent range of heroes, and experience a multitude of the game’s locales in a non-competitive environment. While simple, it’s a lot of fun, and honestly reminds me of the 2004 Star Wars: Battlefront or its 2005 sequel in a really great way. In fact, if Dice somehow sees this and expands arcade mode to feature gameplay identical to the original Battlefront across this game’s full maps, I will raise this review’s score a whole number. Hell, I’d double the score if that’s what it took! Dice, how’d you like to be the first game reviewed by Goomba Stomp to get OVER a ten? Think about it.
Like the rest of the present Battlefront II‘s modes, arcade isn’t without its blemishes. For whatever reason (probably to match the rest of Battlefront II‘s horrendous progression system), in-game currency gains are capped after five arcade missions, so that while the mode is a fun diversion, arcade isn’t helping players progress in the rest of the game. Perhaps it was a decision made to prevent players from farming for credits (the in-game currency) as fast as possible, but considering each mission only doles out 100 credits upon completion, and the cost of everything in game is thousands of credits, this is a disturbingly stingy design choice. And while the arcade can be experienced cooperatively, co-op is limited to same console split-screen, an enormous oversight for a fundamentally online multiplayer game that already allows players to party up to experience almost all of the rest of the content together. While this is the least of the game’s issues, it’s still a design choice that lacks foresight (force sight?).
The final and arguably primary category of play in Battlefront II is the multiplayer mode. The multiplayer is broken into five modes, the largest of which is Galactic Assault, where two teams of twenty clash over objectives that shift as the game progresses. A combination of the 2015 Battlefront‘s forty-person modes like Supremacy and Walker Assault, Galactic Assault’s objectives vary by map, vast battlefields from all eras of the films that perfectly capture beloved locales such as Hoth, Endor, or even Theed. For those looking for smaller-scale, more contained objective play, the Strike mode is perfect. Round-based, Strike pits two teams of eight against one another in a best of three bout across equally as iconic — albeit more reigned in — locales. Strike provides just the right amount of focused, objective gameplay, remaining quick-paced and competitive despite being far more controlled, and allows teams and individuals to adapt to enemy tactics and mount a comeback when necessary. I still find myself bouncing between the two modes, easily the standouts of Battlefront II‘s multiplayer.
That’s not to say the other multiplayer modes aren’t fun diversions. Starfighter Assault is the game’s starfighter dogfight mode. While better balanced than its predecessor’s dogfight mode, and providing some much-needed objectives to truly make proceedings feel like a “star war,” fighters’ lack of evasive maneuvers means that when a player has you in their sights, you’ll fare no better than Biggs did against Vader during the trench run on the Death Star. You can’t shake ’em (actually, I think Wedge said that, not Biggs, but for the record, Biggs got dead). Heroes vs. Villains is a fun mode where teams of four go head to head as the game’s cast of heroes. A player on each team is randomly highlighted as the target, and killing them nets your team a point — first to ten wins. It’s a goofy diversion, but good to get a feel for all of Battlefront‘s hero characters. Finally there’s Blast, a ten versus ten deathmatch mode. It’s nothing special, and I’d hardly call it a “blast.” Nothing to see here, move along, move along.
Each mode (minus Heroes vs. Villains) features a new Battle Point system. Landing hits on enemies, netting kills, and playing the objective grants points that can be spent on rewards and upgrades in the match. The system rewards player performance by allowing them to take control of special troopers, vehicles, or even heroes, regardless of era. The system seems fairly well balanced, and only allows a limited quantity of each special trooper type onto the field at once. To maintain balance in the force, smaller modes such as Blast and Strike only feature the elite trooper upgrade options rather than allow players to dominate the enemy’s smaller numbers with their favorite hero or villain. Admittedly, it can be antagonizing to get cornered all alone by a Sith or Jedi as humble foot soldier in the larger modes (Yoda, in particular, can be a pesky, small target, and maybe should be rebalanced), but heroes, vehicles, and all upgrades have been fairly well balanced, and players will have to wield all special troops with quite a bit of care, or risk getting taken down quickly by the enemy’s ranks. It can also be a bit irksome when you’ve finally earned enough BPs to upgrade to a hero, only to see the maximum quantity of heroes already on the battlefield, but sometimes resource management can save a team in some clutch moments. In any case, the system is far preferable to 2015’s Battlefront upgrades, which were randomly scattered across each map.
Perhaps taking inspiration from the original Battlefront series, Battlefront II introduces a class system to its ground-based multiplayer modes. Each of the four basic classes fulfills a specific role, and comes equipped with different guns, tools, and perks. The Assault class is a basic ground soldier, effective at medium ranges. The Heavy is tanker, and has a handy shield and lethal minigun. The Officer can boost a teams health and lay down automated turrets, while the Specialist class specializes in range, stealth, and infiltration. While a welcome addition, the class system isn’t without issues — primarily balancing issues, which unfortunately have been drowned out by the more dire progression system complaints. As it stands, the Heavy class is as efficient as the Assault class at close to medium range, but with the benefit of an energy shield to halt incoming damage, meaning far more survivability. On top of that, Heavy weapons have almost as much range as a Specialist’s snipers, with less need for accuracy due to the higher rate of fire, particularly when in Sentry mode (the Heavy class’ special attack). When playing as a Heavy, I’d frequently be about to lose a gunfight, only to pop my shield and finish mowing down my opponent, safe behind my personal barrier. A relatively high time to kill means Heavies can react to incoming fire, drop a shield to turn the tides of the engagement, or, if fighting a Specialist, simply fire faster and finish them off if the Specialist so much as misses one headshot.
As far as the Specialist goes, the class does have the advantage at really long distances, especially if the player has unlocked a double zoom scope for any of the guns. However, most of these guns don’t have quick rates of fire, and (by design) don’t reward kills for single headshots — or, as is often common in shooters, two body shots. I’ve had countless awkward engagements where I simply missed the headshot and couldn’t put my opponent down before they had reacted and finished me off simply because their gun was far faster and more lethal when landing body shots. Further hampering the Specialist class is the fact that it’s the only class to start with a non-lethal grenade. While a trip mine can be equipped once the proper Star Card has been unlocked, it doesn’t replace the horrendous, near-useless shock grenade, but instead replaces the very beneficial thermal binoculars, which help the class set up in ideal positions to pick off enemies at range.
Finally, the best option for the Specialist in close range encounters is the special ability, Infiltration, which provides a detailed minimap, scrambles enemy radars, and auto equips a three round burst, medium-range blaster for a short period of time. Unfortunately, the blaster feels slow, and has a longer time to kill than most classes’ standard blasters. It can be helpful if the player manages to flank a group of enemy troops, but in a face-to-face encounter, even with Star Card improvements, it often comes up short, making the Specialist’s special hardly a special at all.
Those scruples aside, Star Wars Battlefront II‘s multiplayer content is fun. Unfortunately, this quality content is unequivocally marred by the game’s abysmal progression system. The most natural progression in game occurs as players utilize each of the four basic classes. Those classes can earn upwards of three new weapons, rewarded after earning fifty, 200, and 500 kills respectively. However, EA has managed to botch even that up by allowing players who pre-ordered immediate access to some of the guns, a non-issue if those guns weren’t all indisputably better.
As for the rest of progression, it’s all dependent on loot crates. As individuals play, they’ll earn credits, which can then be spent on an assortment of crates, which grant Star Cards. These cards are meant as customization options which grant new tools, augment existing abilities, improve cooldown speeds of said tools and abilities, and even buff base stats like damage resistance. All Star Cards are tiered, altering their effectiveness. A level one white tier card might provide a new grenade for example, while a level three blue tier card might improve the damage it does, its blast radius, and always improves the cooldown time of the ability. Consequently, players with better cards — received randomly in loot crates and rarely through any matter of earning them — are at an advantage, upsetting the game’s already questionably balanced ecosystem.
Undoubtedly this progression system was designed to promote microtransactions, as initially players were invited to spend real currency on “crystals” that could also be used to purchase loot crates. However, even if EA were to permanently remove microtransactions from the game, the progression system as it stands would be irreparably broken. As mentioned, crates can be purchased with the in-game currency,but doing so is a slow and tedious process that never guarantees players the specific cards they’re seeking. Each crate grants three to four cards: one or two specific to the crate type, one random card, and a card with “crafting parts” (more on those later). For example, the cheapest crate — the Hero Crate — costs 2,200 credits and only guarantees one or two random cards that improve a hero or villain. The most expensive crate — the Trooper Crate — is the only crate that guarantees at least one card to improve the basic trooper classes, costs 4,000 credits, and again, provides a totally random cards, leaving the player no control over what trooper the card will be for, let alone what perk it will improve.
The average game rewards the player somewhere between 100 and 350 credits for roughly fifteen minutes of play. While credits can also be earned through completing career “milestones” (a system that tracks player achievements in game), these returns are pitiful, typically bestowing the player with 100 or 250 additional credits. Long story short, progression in Battlefront II is tedious and left up to a random number generator.
This doesn’t even take into consideration that players will also have to balance their credit spending between hero unlocks, as six heroes must be purchased with in-game credits, including Luke and Darth Vader. Yes, the Skywalkers are locked at the game’s outset. Not helping the matter at all, these characters are all pricier than the most expensive loot crate, costing 5,000, 10,000, or 15,000 credits per character. Even the game’s protagonist, Iden Versio, must be unlocked.
While there’s no shortcut to unlock each hero, Star Cards can be crafted using the aforementioned crafting parts. These parts, also occasionally earned through milestones (though these rewards are equally as paltry as the credits earned in this way), are typically found in loot crates. The lowest-level Star Cards can be crafted using forty crafting parts, a reasonable amount considering that there are forty-five to sixty crafting parts in each crate. The higher tier cards, however, cost significantly more. As a measure of balance, the highest tier of each card can only be acquired by crafting them once that specific class has reached a high level, and costs 480 crafting parts — just another inanely tedious climb. Luckily, the three-tier cards can still be found in loot crates, totally at random, totally out of the control of the player who will probably end up having to grind to a high level anyway to get the card through crafting it.
All that said, Star Wars Battlefront II isn’t all bad. I can’t honestly recommend it, especially since thanks to the worst progression system I’ve ever experienced, new players will be at a continually steeper disadvantage, but underneath all the bullsith (eh?) and greedy mishandling is a really fun Star Wars game. An engaging if terse and sporadic campaign, satisfying arcade mode (Dice, my deal still stands), and thrilling but imbalanced multiplayer make Battlefront II an improvement over its predecessor, and a laudable arcade shooter satisfyingly set in the Star Wars galaxy. Unfortunately, the appalling progression system and unmistakable greed of the publisher tarnishes all of that, leaving it looking less sleek and shiny, and more gross and dirty like Jabba the Hut. Like a Stormtrooper aiming at a named hero, this one just misses the mark.