A Word Regarding Review Copies: Electronic Arts acknowledged Broken Joysticks’ request for a review copy of Star Wars: Battlefront II but did not provide the site with a review code in time for publication. This review is based on several hours of play time with the 10-hour “Origin Trial”, which is too my knowledge the final retail code that players will experience on November 17th. I played the PC version of Battlefront II but the EA Access trial was also available to owners of Microsoft’s Xbox One and Xbox One X consoles as well.
Update 11.13.2017 3:50 MST:
Electronic Arts have issued a blog post detailing changes coming to Star Wars Battlefront II in an immediate patch after the massive backlash from online communities and outlets like ours. Prices for heroes are to be decreased by 75% across the board. Below is a portion of EA’s official statement followed by my original review. It should be noted that these changes do not affect the time it will take to earn achievements that are solely tied to kill, does not affect the core criticism of selling in-game power via loot boxes and certainly does not restore any of the cut features from the first game. I believe that my core criticism of Battlefront II stands even with the price of heroes being reduced.
“We’re reducing the amount of credits needed to unlock the top heroes by 75%. Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader will now be available for 15,000 credits; Emperor Palpatine, Chewbacca, and Leia Organa for 10,000 credits; and Iden at 5,000 credits. Based on what we’ve seen in the trial, this amount will make earning these heroes an achievement, but one that will be accessible to all players.”
Version Reviewed: PC (10-hour Origin Access Trial)
Coming almost exactly two years after the tepid reception of the original Star Wars Battlefront this highly anticipated sequel looks to not repeat the mistakes of DICE’s 2015 reboot while also sharing the pre-release hype surrounding upcoming film Star Wars: The Last Jedi. While Battlefront II‘s campaign is still shrouded in mystery, the game’s multiplayer mode and offline arcade have been available to Origin Access subscribers for the past few days. After spending a considerable amount of time with the final build of Battlefront II, what follows is my review of the multiplayer component of DICE’s sophomore effort – blemishes and all.
Battlefront II’s grand scale combat will come as no surprise to anyone who played the 2015 iteration or any of their modern entries in their flagship Battlefield series. Two sides take up arms against each other over a series of objectives, boiled down to their most simplistic forms, the two games can sound very similar but BFII tries to distinguish itself from DICE’s other main franchise by introducing a couple of unique twists to the developer’s long-running formula. In a science fiction world where space wizards can shoot lightning from their fingertips, not everything goes according to plan.
The main mode that Electronic Arts showed off several times during the E3 hype cycle and last month’s open beta is known as Galactic Assault. Like conquest, it is still down to two large forces vying for objectives but unlike conquest in the Battlefield games, BFII’s Galactic Assault mode sees the map, objectives, and options available to either side shift depending on the outcome of several different stages. Resistance fighters might be tasked with stealing a shuttle or shutting down First Order communication arrays – this initial object does change depending on the map. Secondary objectives are determined based on the outcome of that initial push. It could see either the Order wait for stronger reinforcements or the Resistance falling back to designated defensive positions in the hopes of evacuating as many unseen NPCs as possible. These hypothetical situations aren’t exact descriptions of the situations featured on Galactic Assault maps but an amalgamation of several different scenarios to give you the idea of the scale that DICE is going for with this mode, without spoiling the surprises that await you on each map.
Starfighter Assault is an expanded version of the dogfighting combat that was introduced in the last game. Returning players might be disappointed to learn that just like in the last entry – fighters are restricted to their initial airspace. What I mean by this is that there is no seamless transition from say fighting over the orbit of Naboo in large capital ships to seamlessly transition over the skies of the capital city. What was teased in Free Radical’s canceled Xbox 360 vision for Battlefront III will have to remain the wishes of hopeful fans because it is not to be found here.
DICE has expanded the selection of ships and the roles that they play during dogfights. In one instance while playing as the Original Trilogy era empire I was given the choice between becoming a Tie-Fighter and engaging X-wings directly, filling the pilot seat of a TIE-Bomber and laying waste to the Rebellion’s capital fleet or taking on the challenge of flying the TIE-Interceptor with its’ electronic warfare kit. Yup, large capital ships join in on the space combat this time around and provide large objective points but also vast set pieces for skilled pilots to weave in and out of. Starfighter Assault retains the tight flight controls that made flying in a ship in the first Battlefront so fun while transporting pilots to large-scale battles befitting the climax of a Star Wars film or novel.
Arcade Mode is Battlefront II’s offline non-campaign single player component and just like Battlefront I it allows players to set up a custom game with tweakable options to battle against A.I opponents. Several options are tweakable including the amount of respawns each side has, whether Heroes are enabled / turned-off or regular troops are disabled – which leads to some hilarious all out hero brawls- time limit and even smaller details right down to the amount of time it takes abilities to refresh. Sadly the multi-stage objective based Galatic Assault and ship to ship combat of Starfighter Assualt are entirely absent from Arcade Mode. This is kind of perplexing for two reasons: 1) Battlefront II had its signature mode Walker Assault and Ship Battles playable with A.I opponents, in fact, they were the only two modes available offline. Secondly, you’d think DICE and EA would want to put the mode they spent so much time, energy and money promoting into the highly accessible Arcade Mode for new players to experience.
Onslaught Mode is one of the key pillars of Arcade Mode’s customizable experience. Onslaught mode might sound like an objective based mode but sadly it’s not. It’s a fancy way of saying that you’ll spawn alone in one of the beautifully crafted environments and fight off an endless wave of enemies until the score limit has been reached. Battle Points, the new per-match reward for kills, assists, and objectives (which are then spent as spawning as special classes and any of the era-specific Heroes regardless if you’ve unlocked them in regular multiplayer while playing in Onslaught mode. This provides Arcade Mode players with an endless sandbox of enemies to help them find the optimial strategies for murdering their opponets using Darth Mauls’ double sabre.
Lastly Arcade Mode also offers a ladder of prepared challenges in both Light Side and Dark Side flavors. DICE has matched up their roster of Heroes with environments that fit with their character but also their era as well. During the opening segments of both ladders, you’ll assault Starkiller base as Rey, defend the Mos Eisley Catina as Han Solo and defeat waves of Galatic Republic Battle Droids as Darth Maul. Out of all of the content found in Arcade Mode the Light Side and Dark Side challenges were probably the most enjoyable and they did bring a smile to my face. Rank one challenges are rather easy and can be completed in only a handful of minutes but once you’ve finished the entire ladder there are two more difficulty tiers waiting for you. Arcade Mode can also dole out small amounts of credits, usually about 100 per challenge on Rank 1, but these have a daily cap complete with a 20-hour refresh timer – YIKES.
EA Finds Your Lack of Continuing Payment Disturbing
No discussion about Star Wars Battlefront II can really be had without discussing how EA and DICE have decided to monetize the game. A big deal was made during their E3 2017 press conference that there would be no separate season’s pass or purchasable downloadable content for the game that would split the userbase. They wanted us to know that they weren’t going to split up the Battlefront community again – unlike the first game which had a stand-alone version, 4 add-on DLC packs or a Season’s Pass that included the four DLC packs at a discounted price. A unified community sounds like an admirable and awesome goal for an online game to have but in the case of Battlefront II it comes at a great cost (to either your wallet or your patience).
For the most part, this section of my review is going to be a discussion about progression, how it worked in the previous Battlefront title on PS4 / Xbox One and how the “progression” system in Battlefront II isn’t progression at all. BF II’s progression system is throwing you against a nearly immovable paywall to grind for minuscule amounts of in-game currency unless you open up your wallet and potentially deposit more than the price of the base game into EA’s coffers and pray you get good RNG.
In the first game, players earned Credits, an in-game currency, based on their actions completed while in the match. Just showing up and standing around or intentionally dying over and over without assisting your team on the objective would earn you the absolute bare minimum of credits – a small bonus awarded for completing a match. I imagine this was designed in such a way to discourage idle farming for credits and encourage team-based gameplay. BFII takes this system throws it entirely out the window. Now credit payouts are seemingly random ranging anywhere from 150 to 300 credits per match regardless of leaderboard position, # of kills, amount of time spent on the objective points or other measurable metrics. Any upsides to this brand-new system – such as new players and those without experience of the genre earning the same amount of credits as a seasoned pro – are quickly discarded when you realize that by drip feeding players only a handful of credits (as opposed to the 1000+ that were common in BFI) EA can sell us all more loot boxes.
Participating in one of the worst gaming trends of 2017, Battlefront II has not one, not two or even three kinds of loot boxes – but four different kinds of RNG based loot boxes that you are encouraged to spend real world money on! There are boxes that will provide you with Star Cards (additional power-ups and statistical advantages) for your heroes, a separate box for your Star Fighters and the third kind of box reserved for Heroes. Oh and Star Cards now have the usual rarity colors assigned to them as well – from grey to blue and even epic orange. The rarer the level of your Star Card the higher your statistical advantage in a given category or the more powerful the certain ability that you’ve equipped. Crates are priced at between 2000 and 4000 credits meaning that they’re asking you to grind out between 15 and 30 games for the CHANCE at decent upgrades or part with real-world cash for an immediate infusion of cards. Oh and there’s the Daily Login crate as well, but as you’d probably expect, be prepared to be flooded with basic grey cards and the occasional green if you are lucky.If you’ve stuck with the game and decided “it’s fine I just won’t spend any real-world cash on loot boxes and stash my credits away”, be prepared for one of the worst psychological waiting torture tests to be found in a video game, well ever. In the previous Battlefront, you could spend your credits on a number of cosmetic options for your troop classes such as new weapons, playable races and even the option to be a Rebellion / Imperial unit without a helmet. All of those cool little rewards – yeah, they’ve been completely removed. In their place: Iconic heroes like Luke & Vader are locked behind a 60,000 credit wall that could take upwards of 200 matches to unlock just one of them. (Correction – the 60,000 credit figure for Luke & Vadar was true when this review was published. Due to community backlash EA reduced the # of credits required to unlock heroes by 75% in a pre-release patch.) Purchasing weapons for credits have also been got the axe – in favor of tying weapon unlocks to the # of kills performed as that class. Objective time? Kill assists? Helping out teammates? Nah, none of that matters as it is all about your KDR!! Want to play the Rebellion Assault class as a female Twi’lek like you could in the first game? Too bad, all of the gender & racial unlocks from BFI have been removed entirely and now base classes are completely gender locked for no discernable reason.
Star Wars Battlefront II provides a highly polished multiplayer experience that is probably the closest we’ve ever gotten to a cinema quality interactive Star Wars experience in the past thirty years. Characters are recreated faithfully; iconic weapons and starfighters feel great to fly and the rush of adrenaline and nostalgia that comes with buzzing past a Star Destroyer cannot be denied. The moment to moment gameplay, soundtrack and graphics are all polished & shined to near perfect level. Battlefront II had the potential to be one of the greatest Star Wars games ever, to sit alongside 2003’s Knights of the Old Republic as one of the few Star Wars titles that not only represented Lucas’ fictional universe nearly flawlessly but also appealed to fans of its genre outside of the weighty license it carries.
All of the goodwill with fans surrounding their DLC policy, all of the love & care that obviously went into recreating the Star Wars experience so faithfully is immediately irreversibly tarnished by Electronic Arts’ monetization “strategy” with Battlefront II. Locking iconic Heroes & other playable characters behind a hard in-game paywall that either requires the purchases of dozens of loot boxes or playing hundreds of multiplayer matches immediately sours the experience. Taking away customization options, earnable rewards and extras from players in the transition to BFII leave players with a multiplayer shooter that doesn’t offer them an outlet to express themselves at all. EA has turned Battlefront II into a psychological waiting test that you don’t have to endure, it’s not worth it for the fantastic moment to moment gameplay that is present because chances are some of the content you want to experience is locked away.
Don’t buy this game new, don’t pay full price for it, Electronic Arts are going to sell millions of copies based on the Star Wars license alone. Perhaps Battlefront II will also see “success” as an example of how a publisher should not monetize a highly anticipated title. Battlefront II has all of the psychological manipulation and shady practices found within free to play and mobile games and they’re asking you to fork over $59.99 USD for the “privilege” of possibly playing as your favorite Heroes & Villans after hours of grinding. If you must play Battlefront II I’d suggest either subscribing to Origin Access / EA Access and only giving EA the $5 they as for one month or waiting a few weeks and buying it used, thus denying EA a cut of the sale. “Voting with your wallet” is just as much B.S. as Battlefront II’s progression system and it doesn’t work when gigantic corporations like EA aren’t going to even notice the lack of a single full-price sale, it’s a drop in the bucket. But by speaking out, taking a stand, posting on social media and other platforms we can let DICE & EA know that this type of grindy paywall isn’t alright.
Battlefront II’s economy may change closer to Friday’s launch or sometime down the line with a future patch (such is the way of “Games As A Service”) but that doesn’t excuse what they’ve presented to players now as a “premium AAA experience”. Should BFII‘s life stealing grind wall disappear I will update this review with a notice right at the top stating as such. While the gameplay, presentation, and mood are spot-on, in the shape Battlefront II’s multiplayer experience is in now, it isn’t worth recommending.