What a mess EA has found themselves in – again. Just when EA seemed to be pulling itself out of the hole it dug over the years despite consecutive Worst Company in America titles and its reputation for buying and killing off beloved game studios, they kill the small amount of goodwill they had accumulated recently among gamers (arguably off of the mistakes of Ubisoft). EA has decided to turn around and swan dive right back into the hole it originally dug. I think they assumed their descent would be buoyed by the cash flow of gamers eager to part with their hard earned cash so they could play as their favorite characters. Instead, EA was hit with resounding backlash from those hoping they had finally stopped their shenanigans with the release of Battlefront II. Initial reports of free DLC (to keep from fracturing the playerbase) and a single-player campaign fueled the early hype, but that hype turned to vitriol as insanely long unlock times for characters made EA roll back some of their early decisions. But instead of removing pay-to-win, not-quite-gambling loot boxes, EA has reduced their in-game cost with a promise of taking into consideration user feedback.
I know it’s technically not gambling, but paying real cash in the hope of possibly getting something you want is “pretty-much-gambling-but-really-it-is.” I wonder why there isn’t a “what about the children?” backlash leading to legislation. It is something that is so widespread that it is practically inescapable in the modern gaming landscape, especially in more popular games. Star Wars: Battlefront II is like, the Star Wars of video games, especially due to that film franchise’s recent (and massive) resurgence.
John Boyega wanted a campaign, so we got one.
Star Wars’ Finn himself (among thousands of fans) was disappointed Battlefront didn’t have a single player campaign, but DICE delivered on John Boyega’s wishes. The campaign follows Commander Iden Versio, an Imperial Special Forces trooper and absolute badass: resourceful, clever, and deadly she leads her team from the Battle of Endor under the second Death Star’s destruction on towards the uncertain fate of the Empire without Palpatine. It’s a potentially exciting story from a mostly novel perspective, which leads to some interesting character moments with a group of people who believe “the Empire did no wrong.” Soon, as the power of the Empire starts to wane, Iden realizes she may be fighting for the losing side.
You spend only a short time with some of the characters in the single-player campaign, but developer DICE has managed to make them very Star Wars, and very memorable – for the most part. There are some character missteps, overacting and some barely passable voice substitutions for celebrities, but when things work they work very well. The campaign takes you across multiple planets in both infantry and starship combat. The Frostbite engine enables a load of great, bombastic visuals but it still struggles with facial animations and character models that look human. It does great with people wearing bulky robes or armor, but humanoid bodies look too wireframe, especially the extremely strange looking Luke Skywalker. Unfortunately, despite all the memorable moments, the story ends just as it was getting good. I’m hoping for a story resolution in free DLC, but knowing EA I won’t see it until a sequel, or worse – in a paid loot box.
Battlefront II’s main attraction is the multiplayer, and I hate to say it, but it’s extremely fun. There are multiplayer modes, some infantry only, others a mixture of the two. You can choose to spawn as one of four classes: assault, heavy, officer, and specialist. After playing for a while and earning battle points you can choose to spawn as something more powerful: a vehicle, if the map allows it, or an extremely powerful hero character, like Luke Skywalker, Boba Fett, Rey, Darth Vader, etc. All of these different classes and heroes have their own abilities and the class gameplay should be familiar to anyone who’s played modern multiplayer shooters. There is still some strangeness here, and it definitely doesn’t always stick to the conventions of multiplayer progression, but it doesn’t feel as grindy as it invariably is. Every character class, vehicle or hero can equip three Star Cards eventually, with more star card slots unlocking the more cards you have. These cards act as modifiers and abilities.
You can add or replace abilities with Star Cards, or give yourself more HP or damage resistance. The problems with Star Cards are that you never know what your opponent is using – and there’s no way to know. It’s like constantly playing a game of rock-paper-scissors where you don’t even know you’re playing before you lose. You get Star Cards by spending in-game currency (OR REAL MONEY!!) on loot boxes that can potentially drop what you want. The more Star Cards you have, the more you can equip, which gives players with an advantage even more of an advantage, really emphasizing the pay-to-win aspect. If you don’t get the Star Card you want from a loot box, you can always craft it with parts that also drop in loot boxes. In fact, every bit of progression is tied to those damned loot boxes. This wouldn’t be such a huge problem if it didn’t feel like every single aspect of the game was geared towards you eventually relenting and spending money.
Yes, you can directly spend money for the exact same chance at progression everyone else gets through gameplay. That’s a huge problem. Not only is it potentially (literally) pay to win, but your normal progression is based on gambling. Yep, it’s possible to play for hours and get nothing you really need. Fortunately doubles are automatically sold for some credits back, and parts drop in most crates so you’re always working towards something.
Heroes are unlocked through currency, and if you’re spending that currency on Star Cards, you’re not spending it on heroes. Fortunately, it doesn’t seem like you can directly buy these hero characters with money, but if you spend enough money on loot boxes you can theoretically get them from the credits you get from those boxes, though it would be extremely expensive and not viable. Grinding for these hero characters isn’t as bad as people would have you believe, and with bonus credits from completing challenges it takes less time than just straight-grinding. I’ve run across calculations tallying the total time to unlock everything, if you played 8 hours a day every day, would be a year and a half. Now, I’ve never played a competitive multiplayer game with the intention of unlocking EVERYTHING but the very fact that there is a real money incentive to keep players playing (and paying) makes the grind feel that much worse.
The marquee multiplayer mode, Galactic Conquest is a huge 20v20 cinematic mode that pits vehicles, tanks, and infantry against each other in huge pitched, multi-stage battles. Unlike other large-scale multiplayer games (like Battlefield 1 for instance) there is little downtime in these large battles. DICE has designed the scenarios and maps to constantly be funneling players into each other. Dying can be quick and merciless, but with a new squad spawning every ten seconds you can be back in the battle almost instantly. There is also a 12v12 Starfighter Assault mode that pits interceptors, fighters and bombers against each other in objective based space battles. These space battles are actually surprisingly fun, and as someone who enjoys dogfighting in games like Elite Dangerous I found Battlefront II’s arcade-style space battles quite fun. If you like smaller scale battles, or don’t care for vehicles, there are modes for you. Blast and Strike have no vehicles and puts smaller teams of players against each other in team-death match style or objective-based matches respectively. There is also the ultra-personal 4v4 Heroes vs. Villains mode that pits the Star Wars franchises’ most popular heroes against each other.
If you don’t want to play matches against players online, there is always the Arcade mode that lets you play against bots. These games resemble multiplayer matches, but usually have some sort of added difficulty or modifier. Completing these earns you a small amount of credits, but the amount of credits you can earn doing this is capped at around 500 for every 11 hours or so. EA has commented that this was to prevent people from getting an unfair advantage through farming credits offline and away from their computers – but the ability to purchase loot boxes from real money immediately invalidates that concern and makes you realize they just want you to spend more money.
And that’s the real problem. Almost everything in Battlefront II is designed to make you want to spend money – and that’s not okay. If you pay full price for a game, the features of that game should not be locked behind micro transactions or any sort of paywall. Unfortunately, it’s just a sign of our times. EA says they will be making constant changes, but until they make less anti-consumer decisions, I’d steer clear. Battlefront II is available now on Windows, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.