Disclaimer: EA provided AusGamers with flights, accommodation, and meals for the Star Wars Battlefront II review event.
I’m a Star Wars Battlefront apologist
. That’s the 2015 version I’m talking about because, obviously, the original Pandemic Studios Battlefront games were fantastic. When it comes to DICE’s reboot though, there were obviously problems. No meaningful solo experiences, a lack of launch content, accessibility at the cost of depth, questionable online networking decisions, and iffy balancing.
DICE’s Battlefront was by no means limited to this list of cons, but I loved it because when the stars aligned and it got things right, it was one of the best Star Wars experiences I’ve ever had. It helps that DICE is top of the class when it comes to visual fidelity and soundscape recreation. There’s no denying that Battlefront 2015 looked and sounded the business, and during the right set pieces, you could feel like a badass in a galaxy far, far away, be it as a trooper or iconic hero or villain.
For Star Wars Battlefront II, though, I was acutely aware I was going in with a lot less leniency. Why? Well, I was one of the few players (on PC
, at least) who kept Battlefront installed until the final DLC drop. On PC, the community was effectively dead between DLC releases, and the quality of the DLC shifted between great and phoned-in. It was clear that only Season Pass holders were coming back during the two weeks of early access to try the DLC but, despite the new content, it wasn’t enough to keep the continually fractured community playing.
Out of the gate, EA has been keen to let players know it’s listened to them for Star Wars Battlefront II, so I’ve broken this review into subcategories for the core gameplay modes (and one core topic outside of the modes) to let you know what to expect. The majority of my experiences for Battlefront II were played on PlayStation 4 Pro (around 16 hours) at the event, and then around eight more hours at home on Xbox One X.
The campaign is, thankfully, a highlight of Star Wars Battlefront II. It’s short, weighing in at around five or six hours on my Normal playthrough. The AI isn’t particularly bright, protagonist Iden Versio’s arc is predictable, and the opening three missions are the weakest of the bunch. Everything after that is a delight for Star Wars nerds, particularly those looking to add new splashes of colour to their canonised understanding of the galaxy far, far away.
You won’t only play as Versio, and while EA has already touched on some of the other characters you will play as, they’re best left anonymous for those who don’t already know. Suffice it to say, those non-Versio missions are fun, even if some of the voice actors for familiar characters aren’t the best. When campaign developer Motive Studios shifts away from the overly serious opening chapters, Battlefront II’s campaign is genuinely entertaining.
The comedy is as on point as the musical cues. In multiplayer, the game is reliant on John Williams’ iconic scores (which is evergreen awesome). But for the campaign, Williams’ stuff is mixed with new tracks that complement the iconic composer’s Star Wars music. When they do fall back on Williams, it’s well matched with what’s happening on-screen.
In some respects, the campaign is multiplayer training. You’ll get to switch between on-foot and starfighter combat, try out different blasters (all are unlocked from the second mission), and even play around with different Star Card abilities, which offers some gameplay versatility. You likely won’t have many reasons to replay the campaign, beyond finding the scattered collectables that unlock credits to spend on multiplayer stuff.
The core storyline wraps up neatly enough, but there’s an epilogue mission that leaves things open for more content. This particular mission has some neat links to the Star Wars cinematic sequels and paints a bigger question mark on a particular place of interest. Fingers crossed that question mark is either answered in the upcoming The Last Jedi, or (more likely) the already-announced future story content for Battlefront II.
If the shortish campaign isn’t enough for the solo player, there’s not a whole lot of juicy stuff to be found in Arcade. If you’re on console, you play various Light Side and Dark Side Arcade missions alone or cooperatively with a friend in split-screen. There’s also the option for some split-screen versus modes if you’re on console. If you’re on PC: screw you, apparently – you have solo Arcade, and that’s it. This is an odd omission because even 2015’s Battlefront had online co-op support, across platforms, for its Arcade-style modes.
Each Arcade mission in Battlefront II is a mini scenario, that usually involves you playing as a fixed hero, a certain unit class you’d normally have to unlock in multiplayer with Battle Points, or your choice of the four trooper classes. While these missions act as a great training ground for players who intend to play online (and an easy way to score some credits and crafting parts via challenges), they’re nothing to write home about for the solo player.
You have to play through them sequentially to unlock each subsequent mission, and you have to play through each version once to unlock the second-level challenge, and beat that to unlock the third-difficulty challenge. While modifiers do actually increase the overall difficulty, missions where enemies kill you in one shot are frustratingly difficult on console especially, and require cheesing tactics to beat because even broken AI is accurate twice a day.
Playing in co-op split-screen makes the lower-level ones even easier. The first difficulty instance of each mission is already laughably easy out of the gate, and you’ll knock them over in two or three minutes if you know what you’re doing. In fairness, there’s more fun to be had in versus mode. The problem of split-screen versus, though, is it starts to highlight the balancing issues between certain heroes.
For instance, there’s a versus mission that pits Yoda against Darth Maul on Naboo. At first, it’s a hell of a lot of fun, until you discover that Darth Maul’s abilities can permanently keep Yoda at range in a battle the Jedi Master can’t possibly win. To make matters worse, Yoda’s Force Push takes a half second longer to unleash compared to Darth Maul’s Force Choke, which means the Yoda player doesn’t stand a chance.
The ability cooldowns for this particular mode are, for some reason, laughably short, meaning the Darth Maul player can alternate spamming (Force) Choke Hold and Furious (lightsaber) Throw near ad infinitum. If you wanted a more honourable fight in this particular mission, you could let Yoda close the gap, but he has less health, and neither Maul nor Yoda are inexplicably able to block lightsabers (where other heroes/villains can).
What could have been an iconic fantasy duel between the two lightsaber specialists descends, instead, into a Force powers stand-off where Yoda’s only defence against Maul’s Force abilities is a slow-moving block that denies Maul’s Choke Hold.
Outside of this, it’s odd there are no starfighter-based Arcade missions, to help players train in the safety of the offline space; I played every available level-one mission in Arcade and there wasn’t a single starfighter option. This means your only hope for starfighter training is the campaign, but those missions are restricted to certain starfighter variants, with no control over the Star Cards you’re using.
Despite there being content at launch, Battlefront II clearly isn’t targeted at the player seeking an offline experience. DICE and Motive representatives have both said the campaign was designed around “multiplayer experiences”, meaning they want the solo player to go online. Hell, finish the campaign, and you’ll be greeted with the text: “Iden’s journey continues in multiplayer.” Not an exactly subtle push to get players online.
This is, by far, where I had the most fun with Battlefront II. Criterion’s overhaul of DICE’s incredibly shallow Fighter Squadron mode from the last Battlefront regularly flirts with greatness. From the inclusion of greater manual handling over your starfighter to the different classes and different-feeling hero/villain ships across multiple eras, there’s a lot of fun to be had.
Despite the classes, ships even feel different across eras, meaning Criterion hasn’t copy/pasted the fighter, interceptor, bomber classes across every map. Even though the movies are trash, the prequel-era Starfighter Assault maps are the most fun. There’s one map in particular above Ryloth that kicks all kinds of arse. The Republic forces are tasked with destroying a tractor beam to free their Venator-class Star Destroyer, and the Separatists have to defend it.
If the Republic forces achieve their goal, they have to destroy a number of shield generators, then they attack the control tower of the massive Lucrehulk-Class Battleship, before the centre of the Battleship opens up and they have to attack the core. Yeah, that’s inside the hulking Separatist capital ship. The variety of objectives while attacking keeps things fresh, and the finishing section makes for some awesome close calls and exciting moments.
The problem, though, is one that carries over between Starfighter Assault and troop-based modes: getting kills is infinitely more satisfying than playing the objective. For Starfighter Assault, this means there’s a tonne of fun to be had on the defending team, because your objective to ‘defend objective X’ really translates to ‘kill enemy players’.
Like Fighter Squadron, the mode is a 12 per side affair, but the overall starfighter count is bolstered by AI starfighters for no discernible reason. This is particularly problematic for the attacking team as their objectives fail once they run out of respawns, and attacking AI deaths count towards these respawns (though, as far as I could tell, more tickets are rewarded for killing enemy players). The savvy defender quickly learns that the best tactic is to not get caught up in rolling dogfights with enemy players – as satisfying as they are – and to prioritise the destruction of AI-controlled starfighters to score easy Battle Points, whittle down the attacker’s tickets and, for all intents and purposes, play the objective.
For the attackers, playing the objective usually means very few kills and fixating on the objective. If you want to hit the objective hardest, you might be tempted to spawn as a bomber, but they’ve been nerfed since the beta: they’re painfully slow and the extra shields/armour doesn’t mean much when your manoeuvrability is such that you can’t escape fighters or interceptors (particularly the latter). If you’re playing on the sequel-era map, there aren’t any bomber choices for either side, which is an odd omission (but one that may be related to protecting The Last Jedi content).
Your best hope as a bomber is to have teammates in fighters or interceptors protecting your tail, but with no VOIP in Battlefront II, you’re reliant on party chat with friends. This lack of VOIP carries over to the other multiplayer modes, and it’s a head-smackingly frustrating omission that further undermines Battlefront II’s phantom incentivising of team play, but ultimately rewarding kills. In fairness, there is VOIP support if you party up with players, but as responsive as it is, it cuts out completely when the game is loading.
Balancing and Star Cards
At the end of almost every round of multiplayer, regardless of mode, the MVP is usually the player with the most kills. There’s even an end-of-round screen that calls out the player/s with the most kills and/or most kill assists, instead of the players who did the most damage to an objective, or spent the most time defending it. Usually, the MVP is the one with the most kills.
On the surface, Criterion (developers of Starfighter Assault) and DICE (developers of all other multiplayer modes) are incentivising you to PTFO – as evidenced by the significant amount of the already-cluttered UI taken up by objective text and/or markers – but the scoreboard, end-of-round highlighted players, and Battle Points rewards for kills far outweigh playing the objective.
It begs the question as to who this game is for. Yes, there is added depth in Battlefront II when stood next to its predecessor. But make no mistake, this is a low skill-ceiling game. This is problematic if Criterion and DICE are rewarding kills over objectives because it means the veteran shooter players are obviously going to net more kills, whereas the casual shooter fan who wants a Star Wars experience will score fewer frags, and their experience will be diminished and, worse, punished for focusing on the objective.
Fewer frags means fewer Battle Points, and as Battle Points are your only way to unlock a powerful hero or villain (as well as other mode-dependent unlocks), less-skilled players might never get to play these roles. This is more noticeable as the longer it takes you to get to a hero/villain unlock, the more likely it is those roles have already been taken by someone else. On top of this, when you’re on the losing side, squaring off against multiple heroes/villains, it feels almost impossible to fight back.
Circling back to Starfighter Assault, specifically, the Star Cards present balancing concerns. For the trooper-based modes, Star Cards are better balanced in that they are either boost (passive) or abilities (manually activated), where the latter are restricted to specific slots, so you can’t, say, stack three different grenade types across Star Cards.
For Starfighter Assault, though, all Star Cards are of the passive variety, meaning you can’t fundamentally customise your starfighter’s abilities. This means you’ll always know what abilities enemy starfighters have based on the class and era. This reeks of a missed opportunity to, let’s say, have the bomber pilot get a speed boost to escape missile locks or get to the objective faster. Y’know, to really tap into that customisation pledge that was made in the lead-up to release.
It also means players can stack abilities that enhance base stats that should remain untouched: namely, weapon damage and health. This means, for the interceptors, you can boost laser barrage damage, torpedo damage, and base laser cannon damage. Because of Star Card rarity, these boosts can range between 5% to 20% for laser barrage damage, 5% to 40% for torpedo damage, and 2% to 10% for laser cannons.
Considering Producer Paul Keslin confirmed in my interview that matchmaking only takes into account region and skill – and not unlocked Star Cards or their rarity level – this means evenly matched face-offs may ultimately be determined by who has the better-rarity Star Card. In fairness, there have been some tweaks to the Star Cards since the beta, and you have to meet certain rank-based criteria to unlock higher-rank Star Cards.
This means it’s less pay-to-win than the beta, but you still need crafting parts to unlock cards you don’t get out of crates, plus the next two levels of rarity. Considering the parts cost goes up each time, and parts mostly come from crates (either directly, or via duplicates), you’re going to need more crates to progress: either through the fortune of RNGesus or by churning for parts.
In fairness, ability Star Cards do offer new ways to play. That said, it costs 40 crafting parts to unlock a Star Card, then 80, 120, and 480 to upgrade from base to highest rarity. To mitigate the pay-to-win claims, you need to reach certain class and overall ranks to even be able to use crafting parts to upgrade Star Cards, but that doesn’t actually stop you from being able to score, then immediately use, higher-level Cards in loot crates.
Also, considering you unlock additional customisable Star Card slots by unlocking Star Cards for your specific classes/starfighters/heroes, class progression isn’t at all tied to how much you play a particular role. So, yeah, despite efforts to minimise pay-to-win claims, players are, out of the gate after the purchase of a full-price game, being incentivised to throw down money to gain a competitive edge over other players. It’s not fully pay-to-win, but it’s also not not pay-to-win.
Ultimately, time will tell whether play time alone grants desired cards – or, more importantly, sufficient crafting parts – to get higher-rank Star Cards, but at this stage, colour me concerned. I have my money on changes being made in the coming weeks. Still, without a big enough player base to test this on over time, how Star Cards impact the balance will definitely be interesting to watch. On top of this, you might not want to spend your credits on just crates, as there are certain heroes and villains that require funds to unlock, ranging from 20,000 credits to 60,000.
UPDATE: Until a few hours prior to embargo lifted, this information about the cost of heroes was accurate. EA has announced in this blog post (thanks Stevivor) that the cost of hero unlocks has dropped significantly. I’ve checked in the game, and these changes are already live, with heroes now ranging from 5,000 to 15,000 credits.
It really feels like multiplayer developers DICE and Criterion are pushing you towards Starfighter Assault and Galactic Assault. They’re the two modes that are featured most prominently in the multiplayer menu, and if my post-review event time (during the 10-hour EA Access time, mind you) with the game is any indication, good luck finding a match in Blast (which is just basic TDM), Strike, and, to a lesser extent, Heroes vs Villains.
Oh, if it doesn’t find a match, it’ll drop you into an empty lobby, just like Battlefront 2015. If there aren’t enough players, you’ll be at the mercy of everyone else not being impatient and backing out to get a match started (on PC, you can at least type to plead for them to say; on console, you got nothing). Get enough players? Well, you’ll have to wait for 30 seconds for the mode to start. The lack of server browser, lacklustre matchmaking, and minimum player numbers before a match even starts makes me concerned over how many players will support the smaller modes.
In terms of dissecting the on-foot modes, let’s start with Heroes and Villains. There’s actually a lot of fun to be had in this 4v4 match-up, which plays like a tongue-in-cheek Mortal Kombat-flavoured team-based showdown between iconic Star Wars heroes and villains. The problem is, out of the gate, every player will only have access to four heroes and four villains, with the others locked behind in-game currency unlocks. If you want to unlock the six remaining launch heroes and villains, you’ll need 260,000 credits (and another 20,000 for the Rey and Chewbacca Millennium Falcon variant).
UPDATE: See above for more details, but EA changed the total credits to unlock heroes just prior to embargo lifting. The Rey and Chewbacca Millennium Falcon variant was also unlocked, but that’s because I was sent a code for the Deluxe Edition (as confirmed by local EA PR). By my calculations, it’ll now cost 65,000 credits to unlock all heroes and villains.
Considering credits can only be earned by playing multiplayer, completing challenges, or in loot crates – and in minimal amounts for those first two options – it’s hard to not feel like the game is already asking you to throw down some cash at the hopes of earning an in-crate credit drop. For instance, when I finished the campaign, I had a 20,000 credit drop in one of my loot crates, and I know friend of AusGamers, Stevivor did too
. But I digress.
UPDATE: An EA representative has confirmed with
Stevivor that the post-campaign loot crate has dropped from 20K to 5K, which is enough to unlock Iden Versio for multiplayer.
If you’re slow to pick a hero or villain, or join later than other players, you’ll likely be lumped with a less-than-stellar choice (I’m looking at you, Bossk). I’ve already highlighted the balancing issues of the Yoda vs Darth Maul showdown. Granted, cooldowns are a lot slower in Heroes vs Villains than in that particular Arcade fight. The Force-powered, lightsaber-wielding heroes and villains are a lot of fun, but you’ll soon learn for the blaster-wielding folk, that you’re screwed if you let the Force-sensitive characters get close.
Getting slashed with a lightsaber will stun-lock you, meaning you can’t move and you can’t activate any of your abilities (unless that enemy player starts missing you). Boba Fett, at least, has a chance to jetpack out of harm’s way, but Lando, Han, and Bossk are all screwed if they can’t kill a lightsaber-wielder before they reach them. In theory, this promotes ranged and melee characters working together, but without VOIP, this is harder to coordinate.
On top of this, playing as Bossk for instance, as soon as an enemy player learns that Bossk’s strength is in luring enemies into traps, they can avoid combat and come at you from another way. Not that there are always options for additional ways to get to someone: DICE’s modes in Battlefront II are rife with heinous chokepoints.
This is less noticeable in the smaller modes like Blast (20 players) and Strike (16 players), but with the higher player counts of Galactic Assault (40 players), especially when you’re down to one last point to attack or defend, it becomes very, very noticeable (and very, very frustrating). Before I move on to Galactic Assault, Strike has been converted into a best-of-three, but that means playing three rounds as an attacker and three rounds as a defender. That’s a lot of time to spend on one map for a single-object CTF-style, especially when teams are imbalanced, in terms of either skill or numbers.
There’s no way to switch teams, by the way and, at least at the review event (and my post-event tests), there was no balancing changes between rounds to even out the skill levels across teams. Because of this, close matches were a rarity. When things go down to the wire, or into overtime, Battlefront II’s multiplayer is genuinely exciting. This wasn’t my experience. Either my team was dominating or being dominated, and with kills weighed more than playing the objective in terms of Battle Points, you’re incentivised to play selfishly and farm kills, even if you want to help your team.
In certain Galactic Assault maps, you can game the Battle Points system by spawning in a relatively cheap starfighter early on, and focus on taking out the stupid AI-controlled enemies in the skies. There’s very little the players on the ground can do to stop you, and you can always do a strafing run if you want to support the objective. The same trick works in a vehicle, particularly the Separatist AAT or Imperial AT-ST: where a bit of early expenditure can result in stacking up a whole lot of Battle Points for a hero/villain once you die.
Just don’t do the starfighter trick on Jakku: there aren’t any AI starfighters, and there’s basically no way to support troops on the ground. In fact, Jakku is a particularly poorly designed map (at least, at the start), which highlights the bad respawns – you spawn facing the wrong way and too far away as the First Order – and there’s a defensible point at the beginning that’s impossible to attack without a coordinated team effort (remember: no VOIP).
Some of the maps and objectives are really cool, like the fight up the beach on Kashyyyk, or the battle through the interior of Death Star II. But familiar problems arise. There are limited anti-vehicular options out of the gate, which means you’re reliant on luck or accrued spare parts to unlock Star Cards that let you damage vehicles. Then there’s the reality that the blaster arsenal feels limited, and there aren’t any real standout weapons.
To be fair, it’s actually hard to tell how good the weapons are because of dusting: that’s a Battlefield 4-coined term for when damage isn’t received by an enemy target. This was true of Battlefront 2015 right up until the final DLC, and it’s still in the game for Battlefront II. There were times when I killed enemies incredibly efficiently, and others where the inconsistent damage (with the same weapon that smashed them before) let them survive ambushes and turn the tables on me.
It’s frustrating because of the client-side hit markers are at odds with the lack of damage from the server: you can tell because the always-visible enemy health bars remain undiminished. We were getting lag notifications at the review event, which may have been part of the issue (there was less instances of dusting during my Xbox One matches).
More concerning is the grind to get new blasters that are either worse, or only slightly better than the default models (though the default models change between factions). You’ll need to score 50 kills per class to unlock each respective second blaster, and then score more frags with that blaster to unlock the mods.
For some reason, there aren’t any mods for the default blasters, but you can choose two out of three when you unlock them for specific blasters. The first Assault unlock is genuinely garbage – despite the equivalent blaster in Battlefront 2015 being a solid shooter – and I played with a Specialist sniper rifle that supposedly had the most damage, but refused to kill an enemy with a single headshot. The reality of a sniper rifle that has so few shots before it overheats means it’s way more risk than reward.
I could go on about the cons. Like, how you inexplicably can’t roll in campaign, but how roll and crouch are bound to the same bottom face button on console for multiplayer… even though the top face button is assigned to nothing (they’re separate keys on PC). I could mention you only get credits for duplicate Star Cards – not the infinitely more precious crafting parts – and that certain milestones unlock the premium currency, crystals, instead of credits or crafting parts. I could point out that after completing the campaign I was gifted with some sweet Luke Skywalker Star Cards, but I that I’d have to spend credits I didn’t have to unlock him.
I could highlight that maps are too big for 40 players, and despite it supposedly being accessible, there’s no way to learn them outside of running around large empty parts to find the right way to go, let alone potential side entrances. But I’ve laboured the negatives enough for this mammoth review.
As a Star Wars fan, Battlefront II is disappointing. As a Battlefront (2015) apologist, it’s sad to see that familiar sins have popped up again, and questionable design decisions mar the fun parts: the campaign, split-screen versus, Heroes vs Villains, Starfighter Assault, and those rare fair fights on Galactic Assault. There’s a good game buried somewhere beneath too many cons. I just hope that Motive, Criterion, and DICE can right the starship before too many players launch their escape pods.