Fight to save the galaxy and to achieve “a sense of pride and accomplishment.”
PC Release: November 17, 2017
By Ian Coppock
What a s***show. That’s really the most succinct way to describe Star Wars Battlefront II. The players may not all agree on who messed up where, but the fact is that this is the biggest gaming controversy of 2017. What started out as a customer complaint on Reddit quickly ballooned out of even EA’s control, and now gamers are left sorting through the ashes and wondering if Battlefront II is worth the money. That question (and many, many others) are at the heart of tonight’s review.
Even before the Reddit post that sparked the current controversy, Battlefront II got a bit of heat from the press and fans for its loot box scheme. Though EA is hardly the only publisher to put microtransactions in its titles, players who participated in Battlefront II‘s beta noticed that the loot box items were good… a little too good. Indeed, players who bought the boxes seemed to have a substantial advantage over their more cash-strapped peers. The simmer failed to become a boil, though, and business proceeded as usual.
Then, the November 12 Reddit post happened. A user who goes by the handle “MBMMaverick” posted a comment to Battlefront II‘s subreddit complaining that Darth Vader was locked off behind a paywall… even though they’d already paid $80 for the game. EA’s response was (to put it politely), tone-deaf. The company replied that heroes weren’t immediately available because it wanted players to achieve “a sense of pride and accomplishment” for having spent time grinding for them.
How much time, one might ask? The exact figure is unclear, but gamers and analysts calculated that each hero would require about 40 hours of grinding to unlock. Even in an industry replete with grind-walls, that figure is absurdly high. Faced with such a number, it didn’t take long for gamers and journalists to point out the obvious: EA was trying to make grinding prohibitively time-consuming so that gamers would pay money to unlock the heroes instead.
That realization is where the inferno really took off, as thousands of gamers immediately cancelled their pre-orders or changed their plans to buy the title at launch. EA responded by cutting the amount of time and money needed to unlock heroes. When that didn’t do anything, the company removed all microtransactions mere hours before Battlefront II‘s launch (though with a promise to restore them later). Even now, almost two weeks later, EA is still struggling to contain the damage caused by its greed, and Battlefront II‘s sales are only 60% those of its predecessor.
There’s no mincing words here: EA’s microtransaction scheme is absolutely disgusting. It’s hardly uncommon for games to have microtransactions these days, but to implement them into nearly every facet of a paid title is particularly odious. For EA, it wasn’t enough that gamers were shelling out sixty dollars for the title; they also had to sink additional cash into the game if they wanted to play as the heroes who lightsabered their way through the commercials.
There is a difference, by the way, between what EA did with Battlefront II and what other publishers have done with their titles. A few sycophantic gamers who for some reason insist on defending EA claim that Assassin’s Creed Origins has microtransactions but isn’t getting any heat for them. While it is annoying that Origins has microtransactions, players don’t have to pay Ubisoft extra money for story missions or to play as Aya. Battlefront II, meanwhile, initially charged extra for comparable advantages.
Even though EA rolled back the microtransactions (at least for now), this is but a temporary victory for the gaming public. Gamers should be worried that a publisher contrived this scheme at all. EA has maintained a relatively low profile for the last few years and even built up some goodwill through its promise of free Battlefront II DLC, but all of that work was wiped out virtually overnight. What gamers need to realize now is that this draconian firm hasn’t actually changed at all.
It’s never a good thing when this many paragraphs precede an actual description of the game being reviewed, but that’s the situation that EA has created for itself. What other outcome could the company have possibly expected from a scheme this nakedly greedy? Just like when Microsoft first unveiled the Xbox One back in 2013, EA seems to have its head in the clouds. The best thing the company can do now is listen (and actually listen, not just put on a polite face) to what gamers are screaming at them. Otherwise, this little fiasco will hurt its earnings for years to come.
Even though Battlefront II doesn’t currently feature microtransactions, the game was still built to assume that they were there, leaving a few conspicuous holes in the title’s design. As of writing, the game’s arcade mode actually stops players from playing once they’ve accumulated a given amount of in-game currency. Players have to wait a few hours before jumping back into arcade mode in order to suit EA’s vague notion of player progression. Even in a landscape as uneven as gaming, the notion of a game that punishes players for, well, playing it is virtually unheard of.
Not all of Battlefront II‘s problems are related to the microtransactions, but they’re no less problematic for it. The game doesn’t run all that well on PC; players who buy the title through EA Origins risk running into choppy framerates, random crashes, server disconnects, and lots of lag. Though Battlefront II has a good options menu, those toggles can only do so much against these performance problems. Maybe EA originally planned to lock decent system performance behind a paywall as well.
Players who can stomach Battlefront II‘s rickety arcade mode and avoid its performance problems might have more fun in multiplayer. Battlefront II features a plethora of game modes that, unlike in its predecessor, can be played in all three eras of the Star Wars universe. The main mode, Galactic Assault, is a 20-on-20 brawl in which players attack or defend a given position. Starfighter Assault takes that same format and puts it in space, letting players duke it out from the cockpits of iconic Star Wars spacecraft.
Even though the running and gunning in these modes isn’t anything new, Battlefront II occasionally captures the feeling of a Star Wars battle. The game does a decent job applying Star Wars‘ visual and audio effects to the chaos of multiplayer, making combat feel just like a scene from the films. In addition to the aforementioned assault modes, Battlefront II also features team elimination and capture the flag modes for players to try. The all-star Heroes vs. Villains mode makes for a particularly visceral team deathmatch, even if it’s loaded with anachronisms.
In another break with its predecessor, Battlefront II features a single-player, story-driven campaign. Set immediately after the destruction of the second Death Star, the narrative follows an elite team of imperial soldiers on a mission to carry out Emperor Palpatine’s last wish. It’s an interesting idea, to be sure, but anyone who’s played a Battlefield or Mirror’s Edge game knows that EA isn’t much for storytelling. All of the characters, even the protagonist, are one-dimensional grunts who are much better off shooting than talking.
The story’s writing is similarly rote, offering players little more than some stiff dialogue, shoehorned jokes, and sudden changes of heart. Even the Luke Skywalker cameo does little to shake the feeling that this shallow military tale has been told a million other times in a million other universes. The story’s biggest flaw, though, is that it’s technically unfinished; the last three missions will be released as free DLC later on. It’s hilarious that not even the story escaped EA’s habit of milking games for “extra” content.
Battlefront II, like its predecessor, tries to conceal a lot of shallowness and mediocrity beneath the glitz of its visuals. There’s no denying that the game at least looks beautiful, with famous Star Wars locales rendered in EA’s powerful Frostbite engine. The problem, though, is that even these well-lit, gorgeously animated visuals can only do so much to conceal the odors of a so-so campaign and well-trod multiplayer conventions. Much like Battlefield 1, Battlefront II relies on its visuals to convey a sense of novelty rather than its gameplay.
The problem with that approach is that beauty is only skin-deep. Only the most ardent scenery whores will be enraptured enough by Battlefront II‘s visuals to ignore all of the problems that the actual gameplay presents. Much like Tusken Raiders, the microtransactions will probably soon be back, and in greater numbers. The multiplayer is fun more for its sights and sounds than the feeling of shooting a gun or swinging a lightsaber, while the story’s attempt to link the classic and sequel Star Wars eras goes out with a dang.
So, where does Battlefront II go from here? The sales are down, the memes are vicious, and there’s no easy path for EA to take out of its quagmire. As of writing, a few state and national governments have even launched investigations into the company’s business practices, citing concerns over predatory behavior. As Battlefront II‘s postmortem drags on, it’ll be interesting to see what, if anything, those investigations dig up.
Ultimately, players are best off leaving EA to drown in its own vomit. What few standout experiences Battlefront II offers are crushed beneath the company’s outrageous consumer hostility. If this absurd saga has anything to teach gamers, it’s that the only thing EA truly cares about is money. Therefore, players need to vote with their wallets and stay far, far away from Battlefront II. Play the 2005 original instead.
You can buy Star Wars Battlefront II here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.