Written by Andrew Busch // Edited by D. Matthew Beyer // Images courtesy of EA
Caught amidst a torrential storm of shit-posting, down-trending Reddit comments, and sheer mockery of their loot box progression system, EA was battered and beaten over a game that should have been a complete layup.
So what went wrong? Star Wars Battlefront II launched on November 17th and continues to be regarded as one of 2017’s most infamous releases. Specifically, reviewers and internet meme stars directed their hatred at EA’s loot box system which did not even try to disguise the pay-to-win nature of the game. For everyone unfamiliar with this term, pay-to-win means exactly what you’d expect. A player can spend real world money in order to improve their in-game characters or abilities. Whoever spends the most money will have the best upgrades, weapons, items and thus be the best at the game. In short, this is a huge deal and I am not really surprised that a big business like EA found a way to turn a AAA game into a goldmine of micro-transactions. But now that these micro-transactions have been disabled and the in-game cost of buying your favorite heroes has been decreased, I think it’s time to give Battlefront II an unbiased, objective review as a game instead of a hodgepodge of predatory business decisions.
Before I start talking about EA’s shiny new game, we have to go back to a long time ago in a galaxy not so far away. If you were a fan of Star Wars as a kid like I was, then you remember the feeling of your eyes widening as the epic space saga unfolded on the silver screen. Regardless of sequels or prequels, Clones or Stormtroopers, Anakin or Vader, Star Wars sweeps you up into its sprawling universe, especially when it came to games. So, if you happened to be a Star Wars fan with an Xbox or PS2 in the mid 2000s it is pretty safe to say that you also had the first two Battlefront games made by LucasArts and Pandemic on your shelf. I will never forget sitting down by myself or at my friend’s house utterly entranced by hours of Galactic Conquest, fighting for the good of the universe as the Republic or snuffing out the light of all hope as the Empire. These first Battlefront games deserve their special place in our hearts. But maybe we should all leave behind this nostalgia. EA’s Battlefront II will never be the games that engrossed us in our childhood. And contrary to what some people think, the fact that these games are different does not make them bad. In fact, I would argue that this latest installment is ultimately a triumph for Star Wars fans.
At the heart of this triumph is Battlefront II’s intense, gritty, and smooth combat system that inserts you into the heat of battle. Even more so than EA’s first game, I find myself continually having those “Star Wars moments”. I know it sounds cheesy, but when you roll out of the way of a crashing Tie Fighter, then heroically vault over a fallen rebel comrade and start roasting some Imperial fools into shawarma kababs with your giant laser Gatling-gun you will know what I mean. The fast-paced combat in this game is extremely rewarding. You will definitely get killed by your fair share of grenades and shotguns, but the feeling when you make a great play will have you screaming, “now this is pod racing”.
On a separate note, the distinct cosmetic look of each class is a brilliant new addition. For example, the clone Specialist has sleek armor and a futuristic visor for spotting ladybugs at four thousand meters, while the Heavy has more bulky equipment and a battle-ready skirt for flexing their progressive style choices as they blast droids into oblivion. Slight changes in armor marking and appearance also take place as you play on different maps throughout the Star Wars universe. The clones with green armor that you play as on Kashyyk have a different armor style than the Episode II era clones you play as on Kamino. Similarly, Hoth features the Empire’s snowtroopers while Tatooine is occupied by the desert Stormtroopers with their orange shoulder pads. These differences might just seem like small cosmetic changes, yet they go a long way to give players a more genuine sense of immersion. These efforts also show that EA is committed to what every Star Wars fan values: the details.
The class system in Battlefront II is also a nice callback to the original games. Specialists, Heavy, and Assault classes have returned while the Officer class is a bit of a new creation. The revived class system gives players freedom to experiment with new weapons and also the opportunity to experience the distinct abilities that each class has up their sleeve. This aspect alone is an improvement from EA’s first modern Battlefront venture that allowed players to switch weapons and abilities without any real organization. Unfortunately, these abilities or “star-cards” do pose some problems to balancing the multiplayer as some, like the shotgun for the Assault class, are way too overpowered even at their earliest upgrade stages.
However, the glaring problem with the multiplayer is not the overpowered star-cards. Instead, it is the fact that players that score early kills always end up sitting at the top of the leaderboard. To borrow a term from League of Legends, this “snowballing” runs rampant in Battlefront II’s multiplayer matches. Basically, just as a snowball rolling down a hill gets larger and faster over time, the players who perform the best early on are able to hold on to their momentum as well as increase in strength due to the various characters and heroes that are available for unlock. For instance, players that get to unlock characters like the jet trooper the quickest will eventually be able to build up kills until they are the first to unlock heroes. After unlocking these heroes, many players continue to stay at the top of the leaderboard because of how easy it is to maintain a killstreak with them. Moreover, the people that have the best start to a match will eventually be able to pick heroes every respawn because of how unstoppable they have become. While this is definitely fun for players with a high skill level, it is disheartening to get obliterated by the same asshole playing Darth Vader time and time again.
On the other hand, Battlefront II’s campaign does not create the same magic that I found in its multiplayer experience. The initial premise peaked my interest as the story stars a badass anti-heroine commander named Iden Versio, the leader of a small team of special forces soldiers called Inferno Squad. But regardless of how strong Iden is as a character, she is not given enough time to develop the depth that she deserves. The campaign’s also suffers because the abridged timeline constricts a story that initially had some promise. What is especially frustrating is how certain characters just suddenly change their deeply held convictions within a couple of missions at most. My last gripe about the campaign is that it is simply too easy, especially for veteran players of FPS games. Unless you decide to rush headlong into combat, the single-player is pretty much a cake walk as the enemies are just cannon fodder between each mission’s objectives.
Star Wars Battlefront II is by no means a perfect game. Its multiplayer has some balancing issues and its campaign is a lackluster and fizzles out before its given any proper time to bloom. We also shouldn’t overlook the fact that this game was almost a pay-to-win venture and another manifestation of the firm hold that corporate greed has on just about every aspect of our lives. Yet, all negative experiences aside, this game is some of the most fun I have ever had with Star Wars. Its fast and addictive combat pairs perfectly with the authentic atmosphere created by each playable map across the sprawling universe. And by no means is this game a replacement for the Battlefront of your childhood, but it is a welcomed new opportunity to see Star Wars in all its epic space-laser-shooting, lightsaber-wielding glory.