I have a bad feeling…that this game doesn’t deserve that full Star Wars quote.
Let’s get the Wampa in the room out of the way real quick: thanks to the PR nightmare that was its launch, chances are good that both you and I have an opinion on EA’s Star Wars Battlefront II. Normally when I know I’m going to be reviewing a game, I usually will stop reading information and avoid other reviews as to go in with as decently clear of a mind as needed. Battlefront II, however, exploded in such a way that it was impossible to avoid. Even so, I set myself the challenge to give this game as fair of a shot as I could, and I gave Injustice 2 a 9 out of 10 after spending months dunking on its marketing.
I preface with all of that to stress that Star Wars Battlefront II is so undeniably worse than a game with some nasty microtransactions.
Actually, by the time I finally got my hands on the game at all, EA and DICE had made the decision to disable all in-game purchases, so I’ve indeed played the game without them. That having been said, the simple truth is that they were clearly meant to be a major focus. Starting the game up immediately gives a prompt to “open crates” and tiles encouraging the player to jump right into the multiplayer where the “Star Cards” are actually used. Seeing as Battlefront II really wants you to play the multiplayer, let’s talk about that first.
To the credit of DICE as a developer, Battlefront II does have some special magic in the details. A lot of care has gone into the various weapons used by the various soldier classes, creating a tangible sense of heft and response as if all of these laser guns were real. They aren’t too light or too heavy, nor do they just act like what actual guns would; such as in DICE’s Battlefield 1. Unfortunately, this basically only works in the game’s first person mode. Changing into an upgraded character such as a Super Battle Droid automatically turns into a third person view that just isn’t as clean. This gets even worse when playing as any of the more iconic Star Wars characters like Kylo Ren or Luke Skywalker. These “heroes” move like clunkers, swinging their weapons around in ways that remind me more of the original Battlefront II from 2005. Given that heroes are considered by the developers (based on their own comments) to be the core reward players are working towards, they probably shouldn’t function like they did in 2005.
A huge improvement went into the vehicle combat over the previous Battlefront. Starfighter combat is now its own mode and carries with it a much more effective interface and response from the controls. A huge tweak to the UI shows small circles placed just ahead of enemy targets. This allows players to correctly aim ahead in their steering and firing and it goes miles into making the gameplay enjoyable. If anything, if DICE wanted to bust out a new Rogue Squadron, this would make a great base. Each ship from each era is designed to fill specific roles in space combat and they do so similar to how’d you’d expect a real fleet to actually function. Hero ships are also accessible in matches and are thankfully much better in play than heroes on the ground. The only complaint there is any kind of damage paints a corner of the screen red, getting brighter and more pain inducing with each hit, even if the damage is only to the shields.
Maps are also quite well done in that great DICE fashion. They are incredibly dense and lush, encouraging different route taking in each spawn in and give a lot of life. Seeing as a lot of these worlds aren’t ones that the films themselves spend a lot of time with like Kamino. Additionally, they route and feel better than the previous game. Seeing these worlds fully fleshed out and allowing for strategy would normally be the kind of thing I’d trip over myself to play in. Except, as expected, the game is basically unplayable for anyone who hasn’t actually been playing for weeks already thanks to those aforementioned Star Cards, and this is pretty much the last this review sounds remotely positive.
Star Cards are drops that come from Crates, and yes these are what the microtransactions were going to be used for. The cards themselves modify all the classes and characters you play as, giving all sorts of powers, boosts, and modifiers in multiplayer modes. While there also crafting options to get certain upgrades, cards are the more reliable and accepted method, and there seems to be no restrictions on what can be equipped at a time. Cards even govern things like secondary weapons or grenades. Any player who bought an early access edition of the game where microtransactions were active (or folks who are just lucky) basically enter the game with more equipment-not to mention an overall advantage. That’d be bad balancing even if microtransactions weren’t on the table; and EA has indicated they’ll be back before too long. All of this does not bode well for a game’s longevity seeing as this one is probably still wrapped under a lot of Christmas trees. Imagine those people trying to get into multiplayer at all. Depending on when EA decides to flip the microtransaction switch back on, the mental battle where one will have to have to resist buying as many crates to get as many good cards as possible is going to be that much more difficult. The nature of Star Cards and their impact on multiplayer would be enough to discredit a lot, but multiplayer is only one aspect of Star Wars Battlefront II. Somehow, it only gets worse from here, especially if you’re a fan of Star Wars itself.
One complaint many had about the first Battlefront from DICE is that the game was missing a full-scale story mode. When Battlefront II was being shown off at E3 and Star Wars Celebration, the game’s campaign was touted as an in-depth look at the Empire’s side of the Galactic Civil War, from the eyes of a special forces soldier. To tell this story, EA called in another studio, EA Motive, and even hired one of the architects of the brilliant and jarring Spec Ops: The Line to craft the kind of story that would justify the pomp and circumstance. But when I fired up the campaign, I found pretty much none of “Iden Versio’s story” and instead found a trite attempt to patch up little details in the Star Wars canon while trying to sell players a series of books, comics, and more.
Oh, there are hints here and there at what the story might have been: Iden herself is presented first as a loyalist to the Empire and then expected to have that loyalty compromised by what could only be called actual war crimes. The story isn’t given any room to breathe, grow, or even mean anything, however. As far as I can tell, EA took one look at the script and asked why none of the classic series characters are in it, because pretty much every sequence involving Iden and her Inferno Squadron transitions right into elongated sequences throwing the player into the shoes of a not well imitated version of a classic Star Wars character. This is meant to give you a taste of those lauded hero characters, but they play exactly as clunky as in multiplayer. I’d call it the Star Wars equivalent of that trope in the Assassin’s Creed franchise where of course the protagonist knows every single famous person in the time period, but every time this happens Iden is written entirely out of the scenario in favor of using these sequences to tie into or set up already published stories.
That there is the bit that really grinds my gears, too. There’s no rule that says established characters shouldn’t show up in a Star Wars game, but in Battlefront II they don’t really show up so much as breeze through and say “Make sure you pick up Star Wars Aftermath: Life Debt, now at your local bookstore and on Amazon.com!” At first, the callouts were awkward but subtle enough where only someone like me who actually have read or watched some of these supplemental materials would have noticed or cared. But as more departures from the campaign happen, the more weight on the overall game they become. One sequence involving Han Solo exists entirely just to explain how he got some intel to help with the actual plot of the book I just jokingly referred to a couple of sentences ago. See how annoying that is to do even in text?
By the point where dialogue in the game references a mobile game that stopped being listed in app stores in 2016, I mentally began to visualize the next 20 years of my life. Not only was I now foreseeing a new Star Wars movie every year until I die, I was also seeing more and more supplemental material that existed not to tell stories, but to clean up each other’s canon over and over again ad infinitum. Sure, you would see things like that from time to time in the old Expanded Universe stuff, but it was usually just done between writers and was never meant to impact things outside of those specific bubbles. But that isn’t how Star Wars works now. Now, literally everything is both canon and has to tie back into the actual movies being produced. A Story Group exists to keep things from overlapping, but it seems like now we’ve gone full hog and now stories are being used to insert suggestions for other things you’ll definitely want to read next so this whole thing makes sense. Eventually, all of this kind of behavior will reach the point where things in the actual movies will require further material to understand if left unchecked.
I know it sounds like I’m harping on this like a fanboy, but this is a Star Wars game. Without the franchise this game literally wouldn’t exist. The thing that made the first Star Wars film work so well is that the theory behind the writing of the film was to create a large and mysterious universe and then tell a small story about a farm boy. That story does expand and get bigger, but even in the later Lucas films the stories were isolated to themselves to be completed in those films, the connections being the arcs for the characters. So it baffles me that the mission of LucasFilm has apparently become the polar opposite-make a large universe and explain every single detail of it across as many individual and inconsequential entries as possible while screwing over the character arcs if those might get in the way of explaining more unnecessary canon.
For the first time since the Disney purchase, I’m not just hesitant about the future of the Star Wars franchise, I’m downright concerned.
Canon is fine; giving fans like myself smaller stories that also serve to fill in details can be a lot of fun. That modicum of fun isn’t worthwhile if the stories being told aren’t stories themselves. What Battlefront II calls a campaign isn’t a story. It’s a few disconnected moments in a character’s life that never bothers to linger on that character long enough for us to appreciate how those moments shape and change them, almost guaranteeing that we’ll need a book or a comic later that will actually fill those gaps. We don’t even get to spend enough time with Iden to appreciate her own struggles with paternity, and that’s literally the most overused theme in all of Star Wars. How is any casual fan ever supposed to appreciate, much less enjoy, a world like this?
And EA dares claim this to be some deep and thoughtful campaign mode on par with any Star Wars game. The individual moments do not even come close to the stellar campaign released in Battlefield 1, let alone the most average of Star Wars games. How dare Disney trot out John Boyega to shill for this poor example in advertising books? How dare anyone who had decision making power waste the talent and skill of people who actually cared about the game being made, from the campaign to the multiplayer?
Bottom line is that Star Wars Battlefront II ends up being a paint-by-numbers movie tie-in game with way more budget than it needs. The backlash it has received is well warranted, but even if the game didn’t have the microtransactions, there’s plenty to be angered by. Every small highlight has a downside, and there just isn’t anything to truly redeem what EA itself promised to be an apology for its previous attempt.
If I were making decisions at Disney, I’d be shopping this around to literally anyone willing to give some more respect to what is supposed to be, ultimately, a piece of a much larger and beloved universe. I’d also probably tell the Story Group to chill the hell out while I was at it.
Developer: EA DICE, Motive Studios, Criterion Software
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform: PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Release Date: November 17, 2017
Copy rented by reviewer, because I’ll be damned if EA or Disney gets one penny from me for this bantha poodoo.