Star Wars: Battlefront II: The Kotaku Review

Star Wars: Battlefront II frustrates me in ways I never knew I could be frustrated. It is both a lovingly crafted companion to the films and a tangled mess of corporate meddling. There is a strong heart at the center but finding it means peeling back layers of unnecessary and infuriating nonsense.

The multiplayer-centric 2015 Star Wars Battlefront sought to capture the large sci-fi battles that dazzled moviegoers and fans. While it had solid fundamentals and exotic locales, the game lacked the sweeping charm of the source material.

It suffered from waves of paid downloadable content that fragmented its audience and the absence of a single player campaign that many fans had hoped for. The makers of Star Wars Battlefront II seek to remedy these failings. While they fixed many of the previous game's flaws, they have created several new ones.

The story campaign follows Imperial special forces soldier Iden Versio and her elite Inferno Squad unit. Spanning the timeframe from Return of the Jedi to The Force Awakens, it initially weaves an intriguing portrait of evil.

The Empire has largely served as a rhetorical device in Star Wars, a massive dark force bearing down upon scrappy heroes. Battlefront II takes a cue from material like 1994's Star Wars: Tie Fighter and The Old Republic's imperial agent storyline and opts to humanise the faces behind the stormtrooper helmets. Initially, the story seems focused on slowly investigating Iden's relationship with the Empire but it soon devolves into something clumsier.

To say that Battlefront II's campaign has a story would be generous. Instead, it has a series of moments with the barest relation. The spotlight quickly moves off Iden, resolving her internal conflict with little fanfare to focus on iconic heroes and a far more traditional good versus evil storyline.

Star Wars finds strength in its broad, mythic narratives but the shift here feels ill considered. Perspectives jump, scenarios shuffle, and the story hardly gives any moment for things to breathe. When it does slow down, the dialog is snappy and memorable but these moments are fleeting.

Battlefront II settles for excess, crafting a splintered sample platter of interesting ideas and scenarios that never truly delivers. A battle on Naboo dramatically falls back to numerous fronts but feels a bit too much like a multiplayer match. A starfighter battle to destroy world-threatening weapons manages to lack gravitas.

The campaign ends suddenly, teasing new content that will release alongside The Last Jedi and resolve loose story threads. Iden's story feels insubstantial as a result, with the conclusion put on hold until Disney gives the green light.

Lead

Star Wars: Battlefront II

Back of the box Quote

"Yub yub, Commander."

Type Of Game

Disappointment

Liked

Amazing production design, story campaign has some exciting high notes. I beat up, like, 20 dudes as Darth Maul in multiplayer.

Disliked

Disjointed story resolves conflict too early, multiplayer has a strange learning curve. Loot boxes, loot boxes, loot boxes!

Developer

Motive Studios, EA DICE

Platforms

PC (Played), Playstation 4, Xbox One

Release Date

November 17

Played

Completed the story campaign in four hours. Played roughly 16 hours of multiplayer and going strong.

Fortunately, Battlefront II's campaign is enjoyable to play. The campaign loads Iden up with a variety of tools including mini-turrets, a loyal droid companion, and one of the most satisfying video game shotguns in recent memory.

While the narrative resolves Iden's personal conflict quickly the gameplay captures who she is on the battlefield. Gunfights are loud and triumphant, asking players to cycle through their gadgets and tools in order to beat overwhelming odds. It is further elevated by astounding visual and audio design that makes every new location as memorable and gorgeous as anything found in the films.

Most of the game's combat takes place on the ground but the brightest moments are the various space and aerial combat segments. Battlefront II manages to sneak a miniaturized Rogue Squadron into the game with surprisingly little fanfare.

Skies fill with fighters and criss-crossing blaster fire, capital ships unleash broadsides, and squadmates chatter colourful barks over the comms. These sequences tease the possibility of a standalone game focusing on rival aces and dastardly Admirals. They are consistently delightful and are invaluable to rounding out the campaign.

Battlefront II's true concern rests in its online competitive modes, but the gameplay there is oddly paced. The game plays much faster than 2015's Battlefront, with faster movement and swift controls adding a ferocity that, while making each battle tense, also makes them feel haphazard.

Time to kill is high and it sometimes feels like I need to take one more shot than I'd expect. The clash between fast movement but slow killing is awkward. It looks and sounds intense but what actually happens is less dramatic, like the difference between an airsoft match and an actual warzone. Multiplayer feels a bit like playing an overturned instrument, as if someone took a Stradivarius violin and pulled the strings too tight.

You'll snipe people from across the battlefield only to find that they have brushed off a headshot. You'll throw a grenade into a control point but it will feel like you were tossing a light snowball. While the main campaign has a sense of weight, the multiplayer action feels distant.

After a while, the pieces fall into place and Battlefront II's multiplayer starts to work in spite of these issues but the lead up to that moment is maddening. I've never sworn out loud more colourfully than during the hours I spent wrestling with this game's bizarre multiplayer feel.

In spite of this, there's bound to be one gameplay mode that will capture a player's attention. Battlefront II's largest and most exciting match type is galactic assault, pitting large teams against each other on vast battlefields with varying objectives.

The maps span all film eras; one match might have Trade Federation droids attempting to hack computers on the rainy world of Kamino while another tasks Rebel soldiers with escorting a stolen AT-AT walker during the Battle of Endor.

A dedicated starfighter assault mode significantly expands 2015's Battlefront's disappointing dogfights by offering various objectives such as destroying a capital ship or clearing mines out of an asteroid field. If these modes ever seem too grand, a wacky heroes vs. villains mode allows players to pit iconic characters against each other in a slugfest, while a scaled down blast mode limits map size to encourage close combat fights.

And yet, all of this is irreparably crippled by the game's progression system. As players level up, they will earn loot crates containing "star cards." These cards do anything from granting new gadgets, buffing attributes such as health, or augmenting abilities with new effects.

These are meant to offer a wide range of customisation but they instead upset an already precarious balance. Maybe those sniper shots would have killed my enemy if not for their level three health boost. While these crates can be purchased with in-game credits, they can also be purchased with a premium currency that costs real money. Cards earned through these crates can be equipped immediately and while superior play might allow you to best opponents with higher level cards, there's nothing stopping a player from buying $US100 ($132) worth of currency, buying loot crates, and boosting their statistical advantage.

Players don't have to spend to earn these advantages, but the time a player would have to play to gain the same advantages is much longer. There are stopgaps preventing players from crafting cards of higher quality based on their multiplayer rank but lootboxes bypass these limitations entirely. The game at least keeps the rarest cards from lootboxes, which means at least they have to be earned by actually playing the game.

There is no dancing about the issue: this progression system is meant to incentivise players to spend money. Everything flows through these crates; if you want to gain cards or the materials to craft cards, you will need to open crates. Loot crates are, in their very construction, designed to visually delight and tempt players into opening "just one more."

Anchoring the game's progression system into this exploitative model is a transparent attempt to manipulate players and squeeze them for revenue. It damns Battlefront II to an exceptional low. It is gross and greedy, and feels less the product of game design concerns than of market research and corporate goals.

Loot boxes and new heroes cost in-game credits and players will have to balance their purchases in order to unlock the full breadth of the game's content. It is baffling that a Star Wars game forces players to grind in order to play as Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker in its multiplayer modes but Battlefront II does exactly that.

This process has been reduced from an absurdly high grind during the game's pre-launch EA Access period but it should have been removed outright. It is not an interminable process -- much has been made of a reduced single player rewards even though multiplayer gain are untouched and feel substantive -- but it remains unecessary and feels, like so many other parts of this game, as if it was designed to test whether you'd want to pay to get your next unlock rather than keep playing to get it.

It is possible to dig through Battlefront II's shell of apparent greed, its subtext that the money you pay initially for the game isn't what its publisher is content to take from you in order for you to have a good time.

It is possible to have an enjoyable experience but that's hardly an excuse. It did not have to be this way, and yet here we are.

I want to like Star Wars Battlefront II. It improves upon what came before. While the single player barely tells a coherent story, the action manages to delight and where the multiplayer takes acclimation it eventually delivers further excitement.

But it's also a testament to some of the most insidious and predatory design decisions of recent years, crushing the excitement under a mountain of poor decisions. Battlefront II had the easiest job in the world: deliver a multiplayer Star Wars game and improve upon a hyped predecessor that under-delivered.

Unfortunately, the game delivered at launch -- perpetually couched with the fact that EA could change its economy and patch its systems and fix so many of these problems -- manages to fuck that up.


Comments

    Great review Heather.

    I'm so torn on whether I should get this or not. I loved the first game and expect to love the gameplay in this game, but I just can't abide by what EA have done with the microtransactions.

    Question: did you have any issues with bugs/glitches? Some people are reporting some clipping, rubber-banding and animation issues. Did you have any issues with bugs/glitches?

      I have on PS4 pro. Cutscenes would flash black a few times each cutscene, and some would chug along as if the PS4 couldn’t handle it

        Yeah, I experience the same black flash during cutscenes in campaign. Thought it was just me or my tv.

        Also during a game of fighter squadron, the model for the spaceship disappeared for the entire round. All I could see was a little pilot dude flying through space next to a couple thruster burns. In a different ship, it was three little stormtrooper dudes flying through space.

        And why can't you do dodge rolls during the campaign omg.

        interesting, the only problem I have had so far is in a match of Starfighter Assault I choose Interceptor and loaded in as Darth Maul's ship with Interceptor perks. I was all kinds of confused, it kept happening, then when I choose Tie Fighter I had no ship models but could still play.

        reading some other issues people are having I should feel lucky.

        just out of interest when your PVP games load does it make your PS4 Pro sound like a plane struggling to taking off?!

      This is me too. I love Star Wars, and enjoyed the first game. But I can absolutely not encourage any further scumbaggery like this by publishes.

      I played a whole round of Blast the other night(PS4) and everyone was invisible! The only thing you could see was the name indicator over everyone's heads. Quite weird.

      I'm loving the gameplay in multi so far, especially the dog fights, but i found the campaign lacking quite a bit. I was hoping for a proper story based from the Empires perspective as teased in all the trailers, but it never eventuated.

      Also what's with not being able to shoot Ewoks!!

    Ths thing I was most looking forward to with this game was the campaign, but apparantly (single player spoilers)
    Iden defects to the rebels after a couple of missions. That real sucks as I was looking forward to playing a hardened imperial loyalist and seeing things exclusively from the empires side.
    Between that and the mutliplayer issues I think this'll definitively be a miss from me.

    Interesting that Iden Versio contains the words "derisive" and "diversion". Clearly EA considers the 'campaign' to be such. One hopes that EA will take a "nosedive".

    Time to kill is high and it sometimes feels like I need to take one more shot than I'd expect. The clash between fast movement but slow killing is awkward. It looks and sounds intense but what actually happens is less dramatic, like the difference between an airsoft match and an actual warzone. Multiplayer feels a bit like playing an overturned instrument, as if someone took a Stradivarius violin and pulled the strings too tight.
    You'll snipe people from across the battlefield only to find that they have brushed off a headshot. You'll throw a grenade into a control point but it will feel like you were tossing a light snowball. While the main campaign has a sense of weight, the multiplayer action feels distant.

    Videos of what happens when you get some good star cards and max them out have indicated that higher time-to-kill is something that goes away once you've opened enough lockboxes. Sounds like they fucked up game-feel for the sake of pushing people to open boxes.

    Great.

    Disappointed to read that the campaign falls apart. It was the only thing I was really looking for. Now I won't even bother with the inevitable 'oh god our player count! won't someone PLEASE play this so we have people for the whales to play against?' Christmas sale that the first game had.

    Also, that 'type of game' description... Burns that severe will require a week in the bacta tank.

    Thank you for that review. I have the game and you have summed up what I’m feeling as I’m playing it.

    I might add that although the single player campaign only goes for 4 - 5 hours in begging for it to finish earlier. It has such highs from flying and fighting missions but a majority of it contains boring walking and following missions.
    It has nothing that makes me want to go back and replay it.

    I have it on Xbox and it’s a bug fest.

    I play on an X, and it’s texture drops, game speeds to around 100X, games slows to slow motion like at random.

    Multi player is absolutely garbage. Sick of getting killed by people who have purchased an advantage. It’s not fair.

    And before some says git gud, it’s not always about that. If someone has purchased a card that instantly gives them back their health, and upgraded it to level 4, what chance does a new starter have.

    Good review. I've played on the try it free program for $10 and whilst I really liked it, the grind in multiplayer gets old quick, especially when you're not on a level playing field. I would be more than happy with it if it was free to play, but this charging for a full priced game AND adding pay to win is not on. I can live with cosmetics, they at least encourage a company to keep developing a good game after release, but this is already going to divide the community.

    I won't be buying it at launch and will instead wait for it to come on a good special later to finish the single player (which from above sounds like it degrades from a cool story in to generics). I hope a lot of people do the same thing so their launch sales are bad and prompt them to not try and bleed out their fans

    Yeah no, Wont be touching this game at all. The campaign is terribly short and boring in a lot of parts. And the multiplayer is a f2p loot box microtransation riddled mess. Might pick it up in the bargain bin next year

    For me everything in game is simply stunning, especially Starfighter Assault is some of the most fun I have had in a game in years. The music, the sounds, the visuals, just all the stuff across all the generations. It is constantly putting a smile on my face... THEN...

    Out of game... everything is just terrible. Slow levelling. Loot boxes. Pay to win (though I am yet to see much disadvantage in game because of it but hate even the idea of it). Anything and everything to do with EA.

    It is thoroughly heartbreaking to see such a love letter to the entire Star Wars universe to be so compromised by such terrible and obvious methods of exploitation.

    I cant help but think when the EA execs watch the movies they are totally cheering for the Empire and this is their protest to their constant defeat (that was an attempt as a joke).

    So much to love, but the stuff to hate just rains all on the good the game achieves.

      I really truly hope Disney has given EA a kick up the bum over this. EA needs to stop expecting everything to peform like FIFA. Not every game has an audience like FIFA. You cant make every game have a mode that generates profit like Ultimate team. EA will be the death of the gaming industry if they continue on this path. And they will take the image of star wars games with them..

      Last edited 18/11/17 11:11 pm

        I wouldn't be surprised if Disney wasn't behind the move, or at least an eager participant.

    No Galactic Conquest, no buy. And the lootbox thingo is balls. They can only be used for cosmetics gersh dernit.

    I get the feeling they were on the way to building a great single player Star Wars experience until some executive asked "Wait, where's Darth Vader?" and forced the devs to cram as many Star Wars tropes into the campaign as possible.

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