Star Wars: Battlefront II is the rare example of a game which takes two steps forward, and then twelve backwards. And then stumbles over the edge of a cliff. There are tangible, very notable, efforts to bring back what made the classics memorable. Many key criticisms have been resolved with brilliant solutions, vastly improving the core gameplay, and with a true story mode this time. Unfortunately, EA’s greed got the better of it.
Story mode follows the Imperial forces in the wake of the Death Star’s destruction. Focusing largely on the elite Inferno Squad, it follows their journey to carry out Palpatine’s final command and as some come to question their role in the Empire’s remnant. While brief and more than a little reliant upon nostalgia, it nevertheless handles its subject matter well. It offers a better take on sympathetic Imperial characters than anything found in the Rebels cartoon, and even the character appearances of favourites fit well into the plot.
The multiplayer modes beyond the campaign itself owe more to the classic Battlefront games than the 2015 sequel. Classes have made a very welcome return, allowing for actual squad tactics to take precedence over one-man assaults. While they cannot carry so broad a loadout as those in 2015’s game, the weapons and abilities have been carefully made so that they might carry out a few duties extremely well, from crowd control to picking off officers or repairing vehicles. Yet, despite this, minor quirks and additions to every army still make their gameplay unique, from the Clone Troopers’ jetpack assaults to the Empire’s heavy armour tactics. This allows you to keep coming back to the same levels with new armies while finding the experience rewarding.
The maps have been extremely well designed this time around, sidestepping the issues which plagued the 2015 game. Vehicles lack half the invincibility they once benefitted from and maps rarely favour one side over another. The likes of Theed offer a careful balance between vehicular combat and fighting on foot, to the point where the flow of battle can drastically shift several times thanks to carefully timed flanking attacks. You even get the odd chance to enjoy the beautiful scenery between the explosions, thanks to DICE’s efforts to bring these worlds to life.
Perhaps most prominently, two of the more infuriating let-downs of the 2015 game have been resolved. Heroes are extremely tough but hardly unstoppable, and the Jedi stand a better chance of inflicting more damage upon foes even with ranged heroes nearby. As such, they are a force multiplier over a one-man battering ram. Furthermore, while mechanics of piloting a starfighter have been fine-tuned to lack the unwieldy qualities which plagued the previous game. The fact that you are more involved in the battle than locked away from it in the sky alone is a massive step in the right direction.
These elements would have made for a decent game at worst. For any Star Wars fan, it would have been welcomed as a classic. Would have been, until EA decided they wanted a bit more cash from their customers. The loot boxes and microtransactions have been the target of much controversy over the past month, and not without good reason. To be blunt, everything outside of the campaign has been crafted to desperately encourage players to give it more cash.
While it doesn’t directly lock things away, it just makes life difficult for anyone who wants to enjoy the game without spending more money. The heroes, in particular, are guilty of this thanks to the glacial grind required to slowly unlock the more expensive among them. It’s so bad that you could likely complete Knights of the Old Republic from start to finish before you’re finally allowed to get Darth Vader. A matter only made worse thanks to EA lifting ideas from Dungeon Keeper Mobile, adding a timer to how much in-game currency you can earn from it per day.
Yet, what truly ruins the game is the Star Cards. Locked away inside loot boxes you will find few cosmetics and a truly staggering number of power buffs. Recharge Vanguard immediately recharges all your specialised abilities the moment you defeat an enemy, allowing you to relentlessly spam previously one-off abilities. Toughen Up allows an assault class to constantly regenerate when active, and can be boosted until you can take entire clips to the face without flinching. This is to say nothing of the heroes cards (with one which allows Boba Fett to disable the weapons of those he hits) or combinations which can render your character effectively invulnerable to damage.
The fact that the entire game has been built upon microtransactions is why they’re the focus of this review. They seep into everything, ruining effectively every part of it beyond the fleeting campaign until it’s genuinely difficult to praise the great work put into multiplayer. Yes, the graphics are fantastic and the sound design is on par with, if not better than, the films, and the maps do a genuinely great job of balancing out both sides better than those from DICE’s previous effort. Yet that’s a bit hard to appreciate when the person you play against has more power thanks to buying more Star Cards. Especially when it reaches such ludicrous heights that one improves aim-assist to the point where have a borderline aimbot with certain heroes. Thanks to this, Battlefront II simply isn’t fun to play.
Oh, and if you can stomach all of that? Welcome to bug country! The game is riddled with countless graphical and gameplay errors, ranging from constant image stuttering to becoming stuck in walls. You can simply run backwards at the wrong time and end up wedged inside a piece of terrain, or even unable to disembark from a vehicle. The constant lag only hinders things further, to the point where the FPS of multiplayer gameplay and easily start to resemble a slide show display of maps.
Battlefront II isn’t a video game. This is something crafted to prey upon those with gambling addictions, disguised in a veneer of science fiction nostalgia. If you are honestly, utterly, completely dead set upon buying a Battlefront II, just get the original. It might be dated, but it has infinitely more content, better unit balance and enough mods to justify the cheap price. As for this thing? Wait until you stumble upon it in a bargain bin a few years down the line.
STAR WARS: BATTLEFRONT II / DEVELOPER: EA DIGITAL ILLUSIONS CE / PUBLISHER: ELECTRONIC ARTS / PLATFORM: PC, XBOX ONE, PS4 / RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER 17TH