Well here we are, two years after EA burst onto the scene with the pretty but, ultimately, somewhat disappointing Star Wars Battlefront. Now, EA has pulled together a ragtag group of accomplished studios - DICE, Motive and Criterion - in an attempt to knock our socks off with the sequel, so, how did they do?
Janina Gavankar, who provides motion capture and voice over for the protagonist, gives one of the strongest performances we’ve come across in a videogame.
While it’s nice to fling a lightsaber about, there’s time for that in the multiplayer. Would it have been so difficult to really double down on Iden and make her story as central as she appears on the box art? The worst culprit here is the final mission which (minor spoilers) sees you control current trilogy baddie Kylo Ren “several decades later” in an elongated dream sequence/representation of mental torture which serves as a confusing coda which spoils the neat, if slightly derivative, ending of the proceeding mission (end minor spoilers).
Quibbles aside, the campaign doesn’t outstay its welcome and is structured in extremely manageable chunks, though it does feel quite short. The missions could use a few more memorable set pieces but are, without exception, stunningly beautiful - especially on Xbox One X. The stellar sound design also works to complement the visuals and fully immerse you in this iconic universe.
Multiplayer this time around offers a choice of the large scale Galactic Conquest, engaging aerial ship combat in Starfighter Assault, and the trio of Strike, Blast and Heroes vs Villains. Those looking to dive back into the droid-themed King of the Hill or Star Wars-y Capture the Flag modes are out of luck, but here DICE have focused in on the best they have to offer.
Galactic Conquest is the real headline experience, or at least should be, behaving similarly to Battlefield’s Rush mode, albeit with more varied objectives. The 40-player face off is a mixed bag at times, with certain battles feeling decidedly one-sided depending on whether your team is attacking or defending. More of a systemic problem across the board is players not pursuing the objective (an issue Sam’s lamented in the past) and instead going for kills in search of all important Battle Points.
Herein lies one of the most fundamental changes to multiplayer this time around, and one which, in theory, makes things a lot better. Instead of hero and vehicle pickups being dotted around the battlefront (if you will) in random locations, generally away from the action, they’re now bought with Battle Points earnt through gameplay.
Points values vary from a few hundred for what would be generous to describe as vehicles, to legendary heroes for a few thousand. There’s still only one of each unit on the battlefield at once though, so if you’re slow on the uptake you might find the hero you really want locked out after you save up your points.
This is where we get to the real crux of the matter: the loot box and Star Card systems. You can only choose your favourite hero in multiplayer if you’ve unlocked them first, which costs credits, some of which you get from crates. At the time of writing, EA have decided to deactivate all microtransactions in the game for the time being, meaning that loot boxes and credits can currently only be earned in-game. There are a few rewards on offer for completing campaign missions and gathering collectibles, but mostly you’ll acquire them through putting in a good performance in multiplayer.
When you do get your hands on a box or two, you won’t miss it, as the game’s title screen flashes a notification to remind you that you have goodies to unbox. This is where you get Star Cards, which unlock cosmetics like victory poses and emotes for your characters and heroes, but, more controversially, abilities and items which affect balance during competitive play.
The difference between having no card and a fully maxed out, top-tier card on a given ability can be quite stark. The Heavy class’ supercharged sentry hits harder, for longer, and is generally scarier to be on the receiving end of, for example. Likewise, the already powerful heroes can take on a whole new level of challenge when souped up.
If you do play (or eventually pay) your way to being maxed out, you would have a significant advantage, and that doesn’t make for a fun or healthy competitive culture in the game. Similar to how in Call of Duty those with the best killstreaks can overwhelm novices, the players with their pick of everything in Battlefront II can frequently dominate the end-of-round boards.
When taking the paid element into consideration, the entire thing feels uneasy, particularly when the likes of Overwatch and Lawbreakers manage to navigate the questionable loot box culture with relative grace and ease. Whether these practices are gambling isn’t for a gaming website to decide, but it undoubtedly promotes a haves and have-nots culture.
If you do play (or eventually pay) your way to being maxed out, you'd have a significant advantage, and that doesn’t make for a fun or healthy competitive culture in the game.
There are more basic issues too, amongst them comically bad bugs which spoil an otherwise impressive audio and visual presentation. A lot of deaths can feel cheap, with a short average lifespan meaning much of your time is spent sprinting back to the front line. Weapons lack distinctive naming conventions, or even a clear class system, which makes choosing between them a chore; add to that the fact that some max out their attributes fairly early on, and you’re also left reluctant to ever swap them out.
With two years and a wealth of feedback, which EA are adamant they listen to, the end result is a disjointed, incoherent experience. The game promises to give you the Star Wars universe, and you get moments where everything feels right and it does, but all too often these are short lived and followed by a drawback with no place being there.
There’s no doubt that Battlefront II is the best Star Wars game released in a while, but that’s only because of a lack of competition. The positives do outweigh the negatives in the end however - space battles in Starfighter Assault are gripping, Galactic Conquest does a lot to move things forward from 2015’s Battlefront revival, and the joy of stomping grunts as your favourite heroes can’t quite be matched. Throw in a campaign that’s well worth playing and, ultimately, the game stands up in spite of its toxic progression systems and further flaws.