As reviewers, we're encouraged to avoid all the chatter that may precede a game we're assessing. Drown out the noise and your honest opinion has a much better chance to be heard inside your head. To remain unknowing of all the noise surrounding Star Wars Battlefront II leading up to review would've required a nice rock to live under, but that doesn't mean it's impossible to assess a game on your own terms. It's fair to say the game has deeply rooted pay-to-win problems that, several fixes later, still need fixing. It's also fair to say the heart of the game is an often spectacular romp through one of the world's most cherished properties. To say this is to court controversy, but Battlefront II is one of the year's best games in many ways.
Battlefront II is broken up into three game modes and it's a testament to how strong its strongest points are that it can be so riveting despite all three modes having sizable concerns. The story mode was completely absent in 2015's game, much to the dismay of Star Wars fans worldwide. As one of the ripest properties for storytelling, it should be considered a positive that the game's creators got their heads on straight and delivered a narrative. Having said that, a story mode gets next to no points for simply existing. Battlefront II's story is not a good one.
It introduces an interesting new character in Iden Versio, commander of Inferno Squad, the stormtroopers' version of special operatives. To play on the side of the empire is an interesting change to typical Star Wars lore. Books have delved deep into a range of characters, but the visual media has almost exclusively stuck to telling tales of good guys. The problems for Battlefront II's story mode are not Iden's to bear. She makes for a good protagonist, although not great, rather the problems exist in pretty much all other facets of the story. With tired objectives popping up in every mission and plot twists that could be predicted before you even install the game, it all feels troublingly forgettable for something with the Star Wars branding.
Its worst offense comes in how the story quite often takes you out of the role of Iden to have you play as major characters on both sides of the Force. These heroes are the same purchasable characters in multiplayer, which could sinisterly be why they're involved here, to act as a demo to entice you to seek them out later. However, a less avaricious but maybe more annoying cause feels like the root of things: EA didn't trust they could sell a game based on this unknown commodity. They earned some goodwill when they casted a female villain in the main role, but to spend half the game avoiding her in favor of familiar faces shows a disappointing lack of confidence in what is already a brief campaign. It's not just that they abandon Iden for more marketable characters, it's that they do so at the expense of a cohesive story.
Iden Versio is done a disservice by her writers during the game's brief story mode.
Aside from the brief story, there's also an arcade mode like in the last game. In it, players can take on challenges in solo, co-op, or offline competitive modes using a mix of human and AI challengers. These aren't story-driven outside of a paragraph in the menus and they feel particularly sparse. Beating each level on three different difficulties can be fun if you have a good couch co-op team mate, but in total this mode feels thrown-in as much as the story feels like a necessary bullet point for promotional materials. If you're playing Battlefront, you're likely in it for the multiplayer and that's where the game displays its best and worst versions of itself in unison.
The multiplayer suite in Battlefront II is confounding. How can something so fun be so flawed at the same time? The map variety and audiovisual experience are astounding. Both facets are among the very best the industry has ever seen. The sounds of Star Wars are already iconic, so it's a match made in a galaxy far, far away to have DICE working on Battlefront. The hazy glow of lightsabers, the varied terrain, the blasters firing across maps — you don't even have to be a Star Wars fan to appreciate the excellence of it all. Gunplay is tight too, and combined with the many different roles you can play on the ground or in the space battles, the total package would be the best competitive shooter of the year, perhaps bar none.
Of course, then there's the massive elephant in the room, the caveat that cannot go unaddressed or undersold. The competitive balance in Battlefront II is egregiously disrupted by the decisions of the publisher. As you may have heard by now, the game offers Star Cards, boosters to be applied to your character classes. These boosters are paid for with in-game currency that can be earned by playing... only, that wasn't the case when the game launched. For several days, these credits, called crystals, could be bought with real money too. They've since been temporarily deactivated by the game's creators due to enormous public outrage, but the damage has been done. Any so-called whales that already poured tens if not hundreds of dollars into the game's loot box system have a semi-permanent advantage over the competition.
Battlefront II is in so many ways a fantastic video game...
Even if you wanted to match these big spenders dollar for dollar, the game doesn't allow you to right now, which leaves you to grind out hundreds of hours to get just a chance to compete on a totally fair playing field. When you see the stats of the person who defeated you and they sport three Star Cards at max level, it's reasonable, especially in the early days of the game's lifespan, to assume they paid their way to victory when you couldn't or chose not to do so. It's hard to really measure just how often interactions come down to who had the deeper pockets, but given how max level Star Cards typically give massive boosts, it's probably not infrequent. When these microtransactions do return, as promised, the state in which they're presented will determine just how far this game can go.
It's a fantastic experience online in all ways except this one. Servers are reliable. Weapons and classes feel varied and balanced. Maps are gorgeous and vast. If these loot boxes were offering only items that didn't disrupt the person to person moments, it'd be a serious Game of the Year contender even with a lackluster story. That's just not the world we live in right now and it's hard to see how EA can completely fix the problem, given how the flawed system at the root of things has already done its damage and will perhaps now forever favor the early adopting spenders. This is the picturesque definition of pay-to-win. It's excruciating to see such an otherwise wonderful game get dragged through the mud with these tactics.
...but in one crucial way, it is deeply problematic.
If you've read all these caveats and still find (a new) hope in what the game does well, the achievement list is pretty standard, although it does include a few more efforts to get you to pay into the game. Several of them are built around the hero characters, including one that demands you play as each of them that will take a grind even after the drastic reduction in their prices. You'll also get nearly half the list completed just for finishing the five to six hour campaign. Be on the lookout for some secret moment-specific unlocks there too, although mission select is available if you miss them. There's quite a few for multiplayer; most of them will take plenty of time, but a reasonable grind is something most gamers accept. It's a long completion but not a very difficult one.
SummaryEven with a lackluster story and a barebones arcade mode, Star Wars Battlefront II would be one of the year's best games if — and it's a big, almost tragic "if" — it didn't involve pay-to-win tactics. These microtransactions are disabled at time of writing, but they are promised to return in some form. Even if they never return, they've already gifted early adopting big spenders with a shortcut to success that other people can't or won't access. In so many ways, Battlefront II is exactly what fans want it to be. It finally feels like the games so many cherished from many years ago. It's hard to ignore the problems caused by purchased Star Cards, but if the creators can find a way to fix the system so that it is fair for everyone, what will remain is one of the year's best video games and a Star Wars experience for the ages... but again, that's a big "if."
- Excellent audiovisual presentation
- Diverse maps and modes
- Tight gameplay and mechanics from one of the industry's best in multiplayer
- Recaptures the atmosphere of the original games from years ago
- Lackluster story mode that is all at once brief, predictable, and much too cautious
- Pay-to-win tactics (currently unavailable) permanently upset the balance in just a few days and may return
EthicsThe reviewer spent 20 hours in a galaxy far, far away, getting to know Iden Versio and carving up good guys as Darth Maul. An Xbox One copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.
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