Editor’s note (November 16, 2017 — 5:47 PM PST): EA has removed all microtransactions and have started measures to overhaul the progression systems. This review was written prior to the game’s November 17 launch, and will be updated over the next few days as we spend more time with the game’s modified systems.
If there’s one thing that Star Wars Battlefront II accomplishes well, it’s the feeling of being in the universe of the legendary film series. Serving up the greatest hits of all things Star Wars, the follow-up to DICE’s 2015 multiplayer-focused game presents a package that features a greater breadth of content, including an admirable single-player campaign. But the game overall is weighed down by an overbearing and convoluted progression system that doesn’t value the average player’s time, obscuring an otherwise solid Star Wars experience.
Set across the backdrop of the entire Star Wars saga–encompassing the prequels, the original three films, and the new trilogy–Battlefront II’s online modes and single-player offerings expand the scope of its galactic battles to feature more variety in its locations. From taking part in aerial dogfights above Kamino to raiding the Death Star II and escaping before its destruction, the sequel puts its campaign and 14 multiplayer maps set across the 40-year history of the series to good use, showing a clear difference in aesthetics and tone from one time-period to the next.
Unlike the first Battlefront, the sequel contains a narrative-driven single-player campaign. Set during the twilight of the Galactic Empire after Return of the Jedi, the story sows the seeds for the First Order in The Force Awakens. You take on the role of Iden Versio, commander of Imperial special-forces outfit Inferno Squad. She normally works to undermine Rebel forces with wet-work missions and other forms of espionage. But after the destruction of the second Death Star, her loyalty to the Empire is put to the test when an increasingly desperate Imperial army takes drastic measures to ensure its future.
While the brisk 4-5 hour campaign features some strong writing and performances from its cast–with some standout levels that show off the visual luster and diversity of locations within the universe–the potential of its Imperial point-of-view soon becomes lost. Falling into some rather predictable twists, the story eventually turns into a familiar by-the-numbers Star Wars adventure, where the good guys and bad guys are clearly defined, and with a lead up to the final act’s confrontation that’s signposted from a mile away.
On occasion, the campaign will switch things up with levels that feature familiar faces in entirely different scenarios, adding some moments of levity to the story. The downside of these missions is that they often veer into pure fan-service territory, leaving Iden Versio–who proves to be an interesting character with her unique view on the galactic struggle–standing in the shadow of more-established characters. This is made worse by an abrupt ending that teases future updates to the campaign, instead of delivering a strong conclusion for its hero’s journey. The campaign does a decent job of showing the internal strife within the Empire’s ranks, even allowing you to explore an eerily sterile and oppressive Imperial civilization on Iden’s homeworld of Vardos. But it falls a bit short of making it a remarkable journey for its characters.
Outside of the campaign and massive multiplayer battles, there are side-modes that offer some interesting diversions. The Arcade mode makes a return, featuring themed levels where you battle AI bots as classic Light and Dark side characters. While it isn’t a particularly deep mode to dive into, with each mission offering increasing tiers of difficulty for better rewards, it can be fun to try out the different heroes against increasing numbers of enemies. Moreover, the fan-favorite Heroes vs Villains mode makes a return. Cutting out unnecessary filler, players can choose their unlocked characters–such as the rocket wielding Boba Fett, to the unstable Kylo Ren–and compete in 4v4 battles in over-the-top and ridiculous fashion. Heroes vs Villains will be the mode to unwind and cut loose with, away from the chaos of the epic conflicts.
Battlefront II’s main attraction is its expansive multiplayer content. From the 40-player conquest battles in Galactic Assault to the smaller, infantry-focused skirmishes in Blitz and Strike, there’s a greater variety of multiplayer modes than before. Selecting from several infantry classes and hero characters–including Luke Skywalker, Rey, Han Solo, and the story campaign’s Iden Versio–Multiplayer battles are usually intense affairs, especially at the full capacity of 40 players. Along with some stellar visual and sound-design, the large-scale battles have the same exciting flow as Star Wars’ most iconic fights, where one heroic action can turn the tide of a conflict.
Over the course of each match, you’ll acquire Battle Points, which you can cash-in for mid-battle rewards–such as piloting special starfighters or taking control of select hero characters to dish out punishment. While Galactic Assault will likely be the most popular mode for fans to see much of the game’s systems in action, the upgraded Starfighter Assault deserves recognition. Now with more responsive and tighter controls for maneuvering your vessels, the aerial- and space-focused mode features Battlefront II’s most intense missions. There’s nothing more exciting than piloting an A-Wing interceptor through a tight space and pulling off a killer shot in the nick of time.
Your set of troopers, starfighters, and hero characters can be boosted with Star Cards. They can amplify stats, add bonus attributes, and even give characters alternate loadouts–such as replacing a Heavy trooper’s energy shield for a grenade launcher. As you acquire more Star Cards and increase their ranks for a particular class or hero, the overall level for that character increases. The number of ways you can modify your characters is impressive, and the game gives you options to switch things up however you see fit. After each battle, you’ll collect experience for your overall multiplayer rank and credits to purchase loot crates in the in-game store. Unfortunately, the focus on chasing Star Cards–and the prominence of loot crates–reveals bigger issues related to the progression.
“The biggest problem with this system is that it’s never clearly explained.”
Not only is this entire system confusing, it’s also problematic that most of your unlocks and earnings come from opening loot crates. By relying on randomly yielded weapons, resources, cosmetic items, and Star Cards of varying grades, Battlefront II ties its progression to dice rolls. You can acquire and upgrade Star Cards on your own by using crafting components (also found in loot crates), but this also leads into the problem of gating. To upgrade a card, you have to ensure that your class level and overall multiplayer ranking meet certain standards–which in turn means having to rank up several levels in-game, and spending precious resources on loot crates for more resources and cards. Simply focusing on the characters and classes you like to play isn’t enough.
Due to the randomness, and the inherent dependence on the loot crates, progression is often dictated by what these results are. This can steer you away from classes you’d prefer to use, and more annoying results in receiving cards for hero characters you have yet to unlock. With how progression is structured, simply spending time with the Heavy or Assault classes does not guarantee more loot for them, as advancing them is all tied to the luck of the draw. This is especially frustrating when you invest so much time in the game–coming across others online who’ve had better luck or purchased pre-orders copies to acquire epic cards for their characters–only to see your favorite classes fall by the wayside due to the overall systems working against your favor.
While the game gives you options to purchase premium currency in the form of crystals–which you can buy in bundles costing up to $100–these can only be used to buy more loot crates. This is all made worse by the cumbersome menu system, which prompts you to exit out of multiplayer games to collect your paltry rewards from milestones and challenges while also obscuring vital info such as player rank and class data.
The biggest problem with this system is that it’s never clearly explained. While you’ll eventually come to understand how credits, crystals, and crafting components are used, you’ll still have to reconcile the fact that the time you invest in the game won’t always be rewarded with progress, or at least in the way you want.
In this way, Battlefront II plants itself in the same territory as free-to-play games, with much of its content and characters tucked away behind progression walls and randomized loot crates. This is an especially disappointing reality for a full-priced release. Above all, it ends up doing a disservice to the core gameplay, which can still provide solid moments of enjoyment despite the looming presence of its progression systems. Many of these issues related to the meta-game fall by the wayside when you’re in the thick of battle, as you’re taking part in the massive struggle throughout the many locales in the Star Wars universe.
While its main narrative feels unresolved, and the general loop of the multiplayer carries a number of issues, Battlefront II still manages to evoke that same sense of joy and excitement found in the core of what the series is all about. But as it stands, the biggest hurdle that Battlefront II will need to overcome–for its simultaneous attempts to balance progression with genuine feeling of accomplishments–is deciding on what type of game it wants to be.
Editor’s note: This will remain a review in progress until we’ve had the opportunity to test Battlefront II’s multiplayer servers on all platforms after launch. And in an unusual set of circumstances, we will also continue to put the game’s progression system through its paces as a result of EA’s rigorous pre-launch rebalancing of Battlefront II’s in-game store.