Star Wars has always been kind of magical to me. Since I was a child, I have seldom been so enraptured by a fictional universe as I have been by Star Wars. Lightsabers, aliens, the different planets, and technology; it all comes together in this wonderful symphony that ignited my imagination as a child and I still adore it years later — hell, my entire left arm is a colorful collage of my favorite Star Wars characters. Unfortunately, great Star Wars video games are few and far between. One of the greats, however, is a game that shares the exact title with EA and Dice’s 2017 release: Star Wars Battlefront II. Released 12 years ago, the first Battlefront II is a remarkable game. With a wealth of content, including a full campaign and a cacophony of multiplayer modes, the game blew me away back in 2015. Even without Xbox Live, I spent dozens of hours playing the multiplayer against AI opponents and friends. Alternatively, spending just one weekend with Star Wars Battlefront II (2017) didn’t just leave me feeling unsatisfied, it left me feeling uneasy about the future of video games. Star Wars Battlefront II exploits fans’ love for Star Wars, utilizing it as a tool for sheer monetary gain — not only at the expense of the player but perhaps more disappointingly at the expense of the franchise. Star Wars Battlefront II manages to leech all the magic that makes Star Wars so damn special, leaving only glimmering hints of homage in its wake.
Choosing where to begin such a disparaging criticism is difficult. Perhaps looking at a larger perspective of the game is the right spot to begin. Horrifying microtransactions, monetized gameplay, near gambling-style incentives, and laughable campaign aside, it’s the lifeless, metallic approach EA and Dice take to Battlefront II that damns it the hardest. The entire game feels built out of mathematical equations — numbers crunching against the player to incentivize additional spending. The menus are dense with currencies, all of which are necessary for any real progression in the game, and all of which are locked behind various loot boxes. And yes, you read that correctly, there is more than one kind of loot box in Battlefront II.
The basic progression curve can be explained as follows: play matches, gain currency, spend currency on loot boxes, hope for the best, repeat. Depending on your individual performance, you may pull 500 credits from a single match (if you do well), which can take as long as a half hour. The primary loot box costs 4000 credits, and if you do the math, you can see that this currency is delivered at a slow drip. Other boxes cost less but yield fewer rewards, which primarily take the form of star cards. Star cards are what you’re really after, and are broken down into various categories of rarity by color, the highest tier providing the most drastic effects on gameplay, which is where the biggest issue the cards present comes into play.
Star Cards provide boosts when equipped that positively affect the player. Some may provide perks to health, damage, or movement speed, among many others. The rarity of the equipped card determines the value of those boosts. A common star card may increase health restoration speed by 2 percent, while a legendary could be something like 10 percent, giving a clear edge to the player with the legendary card. In every multiplayer match, the player with the legendary card will be at an advantage over the competition, and not necessarily because they are better at the game, but because they nailed a lucky loot box. To spread salt on the wound, whenever you die, it shows the cards of your killer, further coaxing you into spending money on the loot boxes when you see what “sweet” card helped take you down. Because of the blatant outrage at EA in recent days, all microtransaction support has been removed from the game until further notice, but we have been assured they will be coming following release, surely once the waters have cooled. The entire system undermines fun, level gameplay for a focus on these cards and the game suffers tremendously because of it.
Star cards aside, certain heroes are also locked behind the same currency you have to use to purchase loot boxes. Hours before the initial review embargo lifted, EA now infamously reduced the cost to unlock heroes by 75%, most notably Luke and Darth Vader, who still cost 15,000 credits to unlock now. As I attempted to explain earlier, this is not an insignificant amount of credits. Before the reduction, these heroes cost 60,000 credits each. Imagine playing the game for somewhere around 40 hours to unlock one hero, when there are a slew of other locked ones as well — it’s ridiculous.
Perhaps if the game built around this tangle of systems was better, grinding for credits wouldn’t seem so egregious, but unfortunately, this also isn’t the case. Star Wars’ iconic sound design and visuals pull most of the weight for an otherwise lifeless shooter. As a diehard fan, seeing popular locations rendered with great detail, while blaster fire and explosions ring out around you can occasionally feel awesome and like you’re really ripping through the trenches in Hoth. Despite these highlights, the gunplay feel so weightless that even these moments ring hollow quickly. The blaster rifles just aren’t given the heft or punch they could really use to feel deadly. Too many times I drilled my opponent just to have them turn around and kill me. The best of these moments involved the wretched reveal that they have some legendary card I don’t, either boosting their health or damage. It’s both infuriating and disheartening to be bested by someone because they have some purple card.
To say the campaign feels better is true, headsets at least generally kill in one shot, but it has its own suite of problems; namely that the story is unremarkable in nearly every way. Players take control Iden Versio, commander of an Imperial Special Forces unit called Inferno Squad. Initially, she seems like a potentially interesting character, though quickly this is tossed out the into the vacuum of space in exchange for illogical hops to more iconic characters. These moments come off as both jarring and unnecessary and underline the worst parts of the campaign. You will take control of heroes such as Luke, whose mission, in particular, I want to touch on, and will spoil for the sake of analysis. Few times have I played a mission and felt myself actively losing hope for the game as I pulled the trigger, but this mission stands out as one of the worst I have ever played in a video game.
For reasons that are absolutely irrelevant, except maybe to preview why you may want to purchase him for multiplayer, you end up playing as Luke Skywalker, famed Jedi and one of my most valued childhood heroes. This being the first time I controlled a hero unit in Battlefront II, I was actually a little excited. Almost reliably at this point, that excitement vanished into the ether as quickly as it appeared. After killing what felt like an entire Imperial Squadron, painstakingly one by one, you enter a mysterious cave and make an unlikely alliance that is supposed to feel impactful (it does not). You then unceremoniously spend the rest of the level swinging your lightsaber at bugs. Not big bugs that pose a threat — just bugs. Bigger than normal bugs, I’d say, but still not huge bugs, and you do this seemingly endlessly while you protect someone else, from the bugs. It was excruciating, boring, and saddening at the same time. If there was ever a nail in Battlefront II’s coffin, it was this bleak moment — of killing bugs that Luke seems at least slightly conflicted about because it’s wasn’t their fault for attacking you. I almost couldn’t believe it.
Star Wars Battlefront II is a mechanical mash up offensive pieces of varying severity, but some of those pieces operate well on their own. The space battles are impressive: swooping through wreckage, narrowly avoiding debris littering the battlefield, all to the backdrop of various iconic planets is undeniably cool. But this mode alone isn’t enough to save the remainder of the experience, especially when you get gunned down by a rival player and see what star cards they have equipped to their ship. Battlefront II never fails to remind the player of what they need to purchase in order to keep up, and for lack of a better term, that just sucks.
My time with Star Wars Battlefront II was sprinkled with moments that could have been enjoyable but were all held back by the gaping holes in the game’s core design. My love of Star Wars can overlook a lot, I’ll begrudgingly sit down and watch the prequels from time to time. But even my resolve was quickly worn down by Battlefront II’s relentless disappointment. Above all else, a video game should be fun to play, in at least some way, and Battlefront II just isn’t any fun to play. Being constantly reminded that I need to open a loot box to progress, and what items everyone is using to defeat me is maddening, but that’s to the worst of it: the way Battlefront II flagrantly offends one of my favorite franchises is heartbreaking, but it’s the lack of humility toward the player that is inexcusable.