Title: Star Wars Battlefront 2
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Digital Illusions Creative Entertainment
Release Date: 17 November 2017
Platforms: PC (reviewed), Xbox One, Playstation 4
Playtime: 20 hours
Concept and Execution
When one hears “Star Wars” as a brand in video gaming, amazing space battles, intense lightsaber combat, and glorious ground invasions all come to mind. So do fantastic worlds that are far, far away from our own and with equally as much variation as our own. The idea makes many of us think of a story that is so wide-reaching and all-encompassing one could get lost in it for hours, days, even weeks on end.
When you specifically hear Star Wars: Battlefront, you might think of immense maps that feel like they’re part of the Star Wars universe and like you’re in the battle. You might remember Galactic Conquest, where you can take over the galaxy with your army of machines, or spread the tendrils of tyranny as the Empire. You might think of a campaign with an interesting narrative that follows one of the darkest times in the galaxy: Order 66.
However, the brand has changed. More recently, hearing the term can inspire thoughts of so much more.
Nowadays, Star Wars: Battlefront is inevitably tied to loot crates, and grinding over fifty hours for that “sense of pride and accomplishment” of unlocking a single character. The franchise is synonymous with a controversy surrounding the legality of gambling. Don’t forget the periodic DLC they had planned almost certainly from the beginning, despite it being free to everyone. Worst of all, the new games have often caused members of the community to seriously wonder if microtransactions are killing the game industry.
Star Wars: Battlefront II is the sequel to a reboot that was launched by DICE in 2015. It sought to bring this decades old franchise into a more modern setting with updated graphics and new content. Not much has changed from the last installment, aside from the addition of a campaign which is very welcomed. Despite the game market being flooded with online multiplayer it’s nice to have a single player experience.
Star Wars: Battlefront II is a public relations nightmare, and it’s easy to see why. The hamartia of the concept and execution of this game was hands down the way the loot system was implemented and the way Electronic Arts, the publisher, tried to back it up as a worthwhile and successful system. At launch time it was calculated that in order to unlock Darth Vader as a playable character, it would take dozens of hours of playing multiplayer and saving all in-game currency to unlock rather than spending it on other heroes.
After making one asinine comment did EA backpedal and change the currency system so that it only took you a dozen or so to unlock them all; the currency for this unlocking process was made more plentiful. They then, after more controversy, removed the ability to pay real money for loot crates as to remove the pay-to-win aspect from the game. However the ability to purchase these in-game items with real money will be returning. With the ability to purchase these loot boxes there was a great controversy that arose around “gambling” in these video games and whether or not it had a place in a game where minors could so readily access the system. With this conversation, there was action taken in several countries around the world that began banning such loot crate systems as it was seen as a form of gambling, and since it was heavily tied to Battlefront 2 I have a problem. Granted this has been a problem to varying degrees before and, now, after this games release, it is still important to remember that the conversation of loot boxes being gambling outlets started here.
This game, unlike its counterpart from 2015, has a campaign which followed some members from an elite Imperial group called Inferno Squad consisting of 3 members: Iden, Del, and Hask. The first full mission takes place during the Battle of Endor as seen in Episode 6 during which you see the Death Star II explode and you ask yourself “Where does it go from here?”. While sometimes it may seem hard to imagine where a story with such a pronounced end to have a story that continues on, with Star Wars it is far easier with the innumerable possibilities in its universe. The campaign is not remarkable by what it does, or the twists it has, nor is the story within or the levels it has incredibly amazing either. It follows the plot of: the bad guys just suffered a major loss, the strong central character has
a sudden flip in their identity, now the newly christened good guys seek to destroy a new super weapon and their former allies. One thing that is interesting is that only four weeks after the release of the game they put out Campaign DLC that added a few extra missions to the campaign following the story around where it left off about twenty years after Jakku.
Yeah, you heard me right!
DLC for the campaign. Amazing right? If you like a campaign that isn’t finished to begin with and after releasing an expansion that adds relatively little to the story, yes, I would call it amazing. Aside from using the excuse of it not being finished at the time of release, I am unsure why they did this. Why not just withhold the campaign entirely for the four weeks or release the “DLC” for the campaign at launch and take away the hideous tag of “DLC.” This whole notion of DLC being almost mandatory in games just doesn’t feel good, especially when it’s planned so far in advance. While this has been done with DICE games in the past, it still makes it feel like the original product is intentionally gimped in order to fit a quota of ideas into several packages to be released down the road. This too is the first game I have played with campaign DLC released so soon after launch.
The game as a whole is not too dissimilar from the previous Battlefront title in that it feels like a Battlefield game in space, which is partially to be expected because both are made by DICE, but that doesn’t mean it has to be so. This and the previous Battlefront games are supposed to be reboots of the original two Pandemic games from nearly a decade and a half ago, but they just simply are not. Back in 2015 DICE said this games predecessor was supposed to be a reboot of the original, but they put in content that was too different to truly call it a reboot. Flexible class systems, access to vehicles that is like obtaining power weapons in games rather than being accessible by all, it just doesn’t feel like a true Battlefront reboot should have. I’ve said that since 2015 and I shall continue saying it until games of this nature live up to what they say they are trying to revive.
Concept and Execution Score: 7/25
This game has raised some questions and issues with me and how this game defines itself in the market of other action/sci-fi shooters. Two things to note are that this game is not made by the same people who made the original two in 2004 and 2005, and it is currently made by the same group who is responsible for the Battlefield franchise, DICE. DICE have done a good job solidifying what Battlefield is as both a first-person shooter and as a franchise. Back in 2015, DICE released the preceding title to this game which itself was sold as a reboot of the original two games. In playing this game and Battlefield in the same time frame, I am noticing quite the similarity between them, not just that they use the same in-game engine or that they’re created by the same people.
Rather, the whole way the game plays and flows feels very much like it is a Battlefield game but in space. It diverges too much from the feel and pacing of either original Battlefront such that it still doesn’t feel like a true reboot/remake. Along the same lines as being made by the same people who do Battlefield, this game uses the same Frostbite 3 engine as Battlefield 1 and 4, Battlefield Hardline, and Battlefront 2015 but this unlike, predominantly, the Battlefield titles does not take any advantage of all the cool “levolution” capabilities implemented back in Battlefield 4. What I mean by this is back in Battlefield 4 you could bring a skyscraper crashing down, or burst a water retention wall and flood the streets of the map, but nothing like that exists in Battlefront 2017. In Battlefront 2017 there is no large scale world events like a flood or collapsing building, not even a fog bank that can roll in mid match. I could see this being done because they do not have a conquest-like game mode that the original two Battlefront games had nor Battlefield games of recent years; none of the game modes of Battlefront 2017 lend themself to drawn out battles on large, open maps. Had they stuck with a more classic Battlefront design I believe they would have used the Frostbite 3 engine to a greater capacity than they did here, which was just for stunning graphics.
Lightsaber combat is one of the most enjoyable things in a Star Wars game because it makes you feel like you are an elegant combatant with a sword that can slice its way through just about everything. In this game, like in the other DICE title and Battlefront 2, you can play as heroes and villains which include characters that use lightsabers in a mode with heroes/villains only, or in regular multiplayer. Either way you choose to play, the lightsaber combat in this game is quite divergent from both the common perception of lightsaber combat and how fluid it should feel. I first noticed this interesting feel almost immediately in the campaign on Pillio when you play as Luke Skywalker. Once you engage the stormtroopers and begin cutting away, you just feel so rigid and unrefined in your movements almost as if Luke had truly no prowess in melee combat. When attacking with your lightsaber and watching the animations play and cycle through, you realize that rather than looking like an elegant master you look like a person coarsely swinging a baseball bat at some zombies. What I mean by this is there is no finesse, no prowess, no beauty in the lightsaber combat, rather we are given something that looks like they might as well have animated Luke, and later Kylo Ren, swinging a baseball bat. This coarseness carries through to the multiplayer lightsaber combat too where all the other characters lightsabers could be replaced with baseball bats and the melee encounters would be identical. It makes me sad that for all the time and effort they put into motion capture for the characters faces, all the detail put into the environment, sound design, and weapons they couldn’t dedicate more time to refining the lightsaber system beyond wildly swinging plasma bats.
The soldier upgrade system is also something that doesn’t feel like an overwhelming success in the large picture of this game. Both original Battlefront games had zero customization when it came to your soldier, and it worked because each faction had units with a defined functionality and utility, then too each faction had units that were unique in their role on the battlefield between themselves and each faction. Though with DICE’s new entry into the “series”, the lines between not only the individual soldier classes but also within the classes themselves are blurry, more so in the case of the latter. The classes in this iteration of a derivative of a game series from over a decade ago have a lot of intricate customization within themselves not necessarily with weapons, as each class only has 4, but with the utility “perks” they can all use. Each class gains access to varying levels of what are referred to as Star Cards which function close to what is known as Perks in Call of Duty; you have 3 slots that can be populated with abilities of varying power levels. However unlike sequential unlocking, you can unlock these cards randomly through the lootboxes in game. A loot box may contain cards for infantry or vehicle classes, and in these cards you can get a distribution of any variation of power or cards that have abilities that are not applicable in most situations. So when it comes to the random drops of these cards from random loot boxes, no two people unlock the same cards in the same order, and this can be quite frustrating for someone who doesn’t play frequently and therefore does not open as many loot boxes as others who play regularly or more frequently.
I understand this is game is trying to appeal more to the casual gamer, but if it indeed it they should have unlocks be less arbitrary and more linear so you don’t have the random chance of getting chaffe or the highest tier of cards that are always applicable in a battle. You can however craft these cards you want, but only if you have enough crafting currency which is difficult to come by as it is only dropped in meager quantities from loot boxes you get from leveling up or completing various “assignments”. This is quite frustrating as you more often than not have to rely on the random drops from loot crates to get both the good cards and materials to craft and upgrade other cards. Oh, yes, you have to spend these crafting parts to upgrade cards and can only upgrade cards if you have enough cards at a certain rank of efficacy, of which there are four. This crafting and card system initially was a bit convoluted and as I looked at it, it seems silly the hoops you must jump through to craft both a single card and a card of a higher level. To do the latter, you must craft cards you may never use and therefore waste your precious crafting resource on something pointless. Back to the casual gamer point, making it so you have to essentially waste your currency is anti-casual as you will have to acquire that currency back to make any progress outside of random chance, which can only be done by playing for extended periods of time.
In individual matches your score directly impacts what sort of cool units you can use on the battlefield, meaning the more often you defeat enemies and play the objective, the more likely you are to use these special units in a battle and for longer. Once you acquire a certain number of Battle Points you can spend them to essentially get time as one of these more unique units, such as a jetpack trooper or droideka. However these units do not necessarily have any added protections to them, so the possibility exists of an extremely unlucky event happening to you and you almost immediately lose the use of your cool and powerful unit. I do not quite like this system because of that reason: if you do not play sensically, you run the risk of spending your possibly hard earned battle points for a whole twenty seconds of gameplay where you see no one and then immediately get strafed to death by an enemy starfighter. Back to what I was saying about this being a more casual game, this could have a very negative impact on them because your typical casual gamer won’t be playing the objective every second of the game, or getting an obscene amount of kills so when it comes time for them to use these powerful units, they will play like normal and realistically waste those 2,000 or 3,000 Battle points they just worked a third of the match to gain on half a minute of unfulfilling gameplay. One way to combat this is to make the system more like it was in Battlefront 2 where you scored points by defeating enemies and playing the objective and once a certain amount was accrued you could play as a more powerful unit, but you weren’t required to spend your points. Granted this could be a little overpowered as one could save up points and then be a special unit the rest of the game; it would have to be a little reworked to fit into the playstyle of the current game.
This game feels like it both confused in its identity and trying to be something it’s not. The unlock and progression system feels like it was implemented in the same way many other games have done it because of almost a compulsory need to ‘stick with what works’ as opposed to doing something new. Or how one of the most iconic parts of a franchise is taken from this elegant dance of energy swords and stripped down to something that feels like a scene from a low budget movie. The repercussions that would’ve come out of DICE announcing super simple mechanics would have been worth it seeing as it would have avoided over half the issues of the loot system and confusing unlock/upgrade system.
Mechanics Score: 12/25
From the title screen onwards, this indeed is a Star Wars game. Like the episodic movies, the main theme begins playing loudly when the title card of Battlefront II begins drawing itself on your screen. The quiet, ambient, orchestral menu music is very appropriate for a piece of Star Wars media even if composed by someone other than John Williams. Gordy Haab composed the soundtrack for this game and did an excellent job at capturing the essence of Star Wars in his songs; none of the songs are extremely memorable however. If there is one thing that should be good in a game it’s the sound design and naturally the implementation of that sound design, and in this game it shines. The music is very accurate and appropriate to what should be in a piece of Star Wars media, the blaster sounds are as authentic as they could be and sound as good or better than they have in all the movies since 1977. Not only do the blasters sound excellent, but the star fighters sound amazing.
In both the campaign and multiplayer the option exists to go into first-person mode in the fighters and experience something incredible that has been attempted before in Star Wars games, and movies, but was hit square on the head in Battlefront 2. Flying around in a starfighter cockpit is one of the best experiences in this game because it just sucks you in and gives you this intense enveloping feel that just feels so real even if Star Wars is completely fictitious. That said, I would easily say that is also the best part of the campaign too is flying first person and turning off the heads-up display giving you that true sensation of piloting, even if removing the HUD is a mixed feeling in the campaign. Even in writing this I feel as if I am piloting a starfighter and feel the way my body gets thrown around in all the crazy twists, turns, and rolls you do as a pilot.
One very negative aspect of the game relating to sound design most notably is the voices of the notable characters in the Star Wars universe, like Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Darth Vader. Those characters all have iconic voices that were done by voice actors other than those who portrayed the characters on film, which is astounding to me why DICE couldn’t get any of the original actors to voice their parts, except for Billy Dee Williams who did Lando Calrissian. Because of this when playing the game and focusing on the voices of these iconic characters, it just gives off this weird feeling that this game and the movies are a bit disjointed because these portrayals sound just different enough to facture the immersion. Another slight auditory detraction is the very obvious sound your person makes as you sprint through and traverse the in-game environment. While it can be nice to hear that your character has weight or items on their person that can make noise, when it becomes very noteworthy and overpowering when compared to the other environmental sounds you should definitely take note to reduce the volume the character produces. While it can be annoying, it isn’t something that deserves a major score penalty.
The script they had for the campaign, meaning the interaction between the characters, felt very cinematic. They would have conversations and voice lines that were very true to the story at hand, but wouldn’t always take itself seriously, which is a good thing for a piece of Star Wars media both of this current year and in-game universe. Characters that are supposed to be not serious aren’t, and ones that are, are. It was very true to the feel the Original trilogy laid out which then segways through various turns into the sequel trilogy nowadays.
Granted the characters felt true to previous portrayals, the new characters were certainly less
rigid and defined in their portrayal. I say this because there are a few things in the campaign that make me question the development and creation of some of the characters, namely Del and Iden. In the story, they are part of an elite forces squad under direct control of the emperor and are some of the most ruthless and precise agents of the Empire, and as such they are initially painted as loyal to each other and the Empire until their dying breaths. But after some in game events like Iden’s father showing the brutality of the Empire and Del encountering Luke Skywalker, some of the characters ideologies drastically flip and the other emotions and thoughts about their former compatriots are quite interesting when you look at them.
Once these two characters change to be in opposition to the Empire, or what’s left of it, they suddenly have no remorse about and are able to effortlessly kill those who they once served in battle with. The fact they kill their old cohorts with little remorse is off putting because it rolls back what was laid out earlier in the campaign that they are loyal as dogs to their master, the Empire. With this in mind, I wonder why and how it was decided this would be their characters motives for doing so, because unless these characters had deeply buried seeds of hatred and betrayal in themselves, which it is nowhere near noticeable from the knowledge you have in the campaign, there should be no reason to make this quick transition and have the emotions they do in the time that passes. Should this have been more believable it would’ve taken place over a much longer span than it did in the game. Because of this flip in emotions and the poor writing of the characters in this regard, I would have to say it is worthy of some point deductions.
I would also say one thing that is prevalent and mildly annoying in new Star Wars media is the copious amounts of humor they try and slip in where it feels almost forced or someone tells you a joke then tells you when the punchline is. While some of the writing of characters and the script is questionable, the graphics, sound design, and atmosphere design is superb and makes it feel like you are truly in the Star Wars world in the battles on the various fronts.
Atmosphere Score: 16/25
When it was announced this game would include a single player campaign I was both interested by the announcement and with what they would do for a story. This was a good move by DICE because their previous Battlefront did not have a single player campaign and felt empty without it; we were excited for what it could hold. When it was further announced the campaign would take an average of six hours to complete I was disappointed because of both the company and their reputation for big games, but then again Battlefront was never really a game to be played for its campaign. Shortly after the games release it was announced that there would be DLC to the campaign that would add whole new sections of content.
Surely it’ll add a large section of content to the already immense five hours of game play to experience in the campaign, right? And boy does it. It extends the campaign out to a whole seven hours of game play. Each time the campaign ends too, you are left on a cliffhanger style ending where the events to come are quite open ended, except for the DLC campaign which leaves off right where The Force Awakens ends. This open endedness of the campaign is bothersome because it shows the campaign was intentionally written in sections to be released at different times, and that you cannot play just the campaign to get the whole story.
The main story feels certainly like it is from the Star Wars universe but not from a recent time period. The script of the campaign feels like an 80’s movie in that it has action in it and doesn’t take itself too seriously at points. If Star Wars had a movie back in the 80’s that was less of a soap opera, it would feel like this campaign. That said, the campaign isn’t anything special as the characters aren’t incredibly deep and their motives are easily swayed.
The AI enemies in the campaign are quite interesting, as they are either the most extreme marksmen you have seen, or they are completely insufferable; there is no in between. The enemies also have no concept of strategy, they are either running between cover shooting at you, ducked behind cover, or looking over cover and shooting at you. In my opinion, that is poor AI design and can lead to very bland, repetitive gameplay, which it does. Predominantly the campaign is an on-rails shooter in that you follow a path and blast enemies that seemingly pop up from corridors and out of cover. Along the same vein your AI companions help to the most minimal degree possible, which is almost to be expected when the enemy AI is very black and white in their performance.
The multiplayer to me was a gigantic beast that had a tough time being tamed. One thing that kept coming back to my head as I played through the various game modes was this feels like Battlefield in space. I know I’ve made this comparison several times before, but I cannot emphasize enough how similar these two franchises are. The way DICE set up the classes, the maps, the modes, almost everything makes it feel like Battlefield as opposed to what Battlefront felt like so many years ago, like what they were supposedly trying to recapture here and in 2015. However unlike Battlefield, and the older Battlefront games, this is significantly less fun to play because it is trying to be something it shouldn’t. Not entirely because of what this game is trying to be, but the whole multiplayer experience is just very lacking in terms of how enjoyable it is. After playing the campaign I began playing the multiplayer and the whole time it felt like I was at a disadvantage because of the minimal access I had to star cards – a part of the in game customization options. This unbalanced gameplay attributed heavily to a large pile of frustration I had while attempting to play and have an enjoyable time so much so that I was rarely able to play for more than 10 minutes without becoming very frustrated, sometimes to the point where I would stop playing entirely. If you are wanting a more casual gaming experience in your game, gameplay shouldn’t be heavily reliant on opening random character power ups in boxes as this can arbitrarily give out advantages and disadvantages to the players.
One thing I will say that they did well with is designing maps for specific game modes, unlike DICE has historically done. In their Battlefield games their maps were made with specific game modes in mind, but they would then have to cram other modes onto maps that were otherwise not made for these game modes. In this game however, the maps were all designed for individual game modes which is a major plus for the flow of matches. If they had stuck with their previous design decisions, it would have made playing certain modes far more frustrating, but they went a different route, which is very excellent for them. No map has a mode that wouldn’t fit, and no mode is played on a map that it wasn’t designed for.
Entertainment Value Score: 12/25
While DICE tried yet again to capture the splendor that was Battlefront by Pandemic, they ultimately failed. With the whole loot box and pay-to-win fiasco, this game was severely penalized from the starting block, compound that with a not wholly enjoyable single and multiplayer experience, throw in mechanics that are a bit faulty, and an identity that isn’t completely solid you get something less than optimal for fans of DICE and old Battlefront games hoping this game would surpass its predecessor in quality and live up to the promise of being a worthy reboot. My only fear is these games will fall susceptible to becoming a trilogy in hopes of either the developer or publisher cashing in on a name and risk further soiling its or their reputation.
Overall Score: 47/100