After its 2015 revival to coincide with the start of a new film trilogy, many walked away from Star Wars Battlefront a little disappointed. Where was the single player? Where were the classes? Why is it always just AT-ATs doing the assaulting? Why are we being split up by a DLC season pass? EA and DICE have addressed those complaints and shortcomings in emphatic fashion, creating a broad, expansive and fun shooter. Sadly, all of this good work has been undercut by an unpopular business model and a muddled progression system, to the extent that they’ve had to make dramatic changes on the eve of the game’s release.
Let’s start with what the game gets right. The single player story follows Iden Versio, the commander of the crack special forces group Inferno Squad, picking up on the eve of the Battle of Endor. It’s a great point in time to start, as we play the bad guys and see them at their lowest, though there’s an air of predictability for where the story goes from there and the character arc that Iden Versio goes on. It also won’t surprise you that the Emperor had another doomsday weapon tucked away as a contingency plan.
It does feel disjointed though, which is partly down to the way that you’re often put in control of a number of the heroes of the Rebellion. It means that, while Iden gets to kick arse both on the ground and in the cockpit of a starfighter, the story is in a rush to develop her character arc and skips through the Empire’s rapid decline too quickly. It’s a fun romp nonetheless, and just what the fans ordered after the first Battlefront. Most importantly for this game, it gels seamlessly with the online multiplayer and prepares you for using different Star Card abilities and heroes.
Adding more variety to the game has been another key focus, and this has been done in a number of ways. For one thing, there’s now classes to choose between, meaning that you don’t see literally everyone running around with jet packs and homing grenade launchers anymore. Instead, you have a loose archetypal role to play as an Assault, Heavy, Officer – with buffs, shields and turrets – and the sniping Specialist. Up in space for Starfighter Assault, it’s then the Fighter, Interceptor and Bomber classes.
In truth, you’re all cannon fodder whether you’re a Clone, Droid, Rebel or Stormtrooper, as Galactic Assault is really all about playing the objective in order to win the match. You’re now spawned alongside up to four others, with these players then highlighted yellow as you run around, with the intention that you stick together in order to earn a boost to your Battle Points.
Speaking of which, you now earn Battle Points that are spent to play as a variety of vehicles, special units like the Jetpack Trooper, and hero units from Darth Maul through to Rey. It’s a better system than the random tokens, and it still means that you’ll find Darth Vader roaming through Echo Base on Hoth late in the battle. If someone’s unlocked him, that is.
There’s also greater variety and a more narrative feel to both Starfighter and Galactic Assault. AT-ATs still march through several map, but they’re only part of the battle this time around and taking them down is more freeform as the defenders try to pick up and fire missile launchers to make them vulnerable. They’re complimented by control points and capture and defend objectives, and though one or two maps are a little unbalanced or feel too open and sparse – yes, I’m looking at you, Naboo – they’re generally very well done.
It helps that the game is simply gorgeous. Just as with the 2015 game, it captures the look, feel and sound of Star Wars so incredibly well, but they also put their own spin on things. Hoth now basks in the glow of a rising sun and Endor’s Rebel assault occurs at night, while Kamino looks fantastic in its torrential rain. I’ve even taken to turning off the HUD every once in a while and just marvelling at how good it looks.
It’s just as spectacular up in space for Starfighter Assault, whether attacking a space station, defending a Rebel base in an asteroid belt, or fighting in the middle of a cloud of ship debris. The main trick here is that many objectives have multiple phases to them and AI ships to lend a hand, both in attacking objectives and keeping the 12v12 battles feeling so hectic.
These modes are handily complimented by Strike, a smaller scale objective-based mode, Blast, which is Team Deathmatch, and then Hero Battle, a palette cleaning mode with three heroes on either side. Arcade then lets you play a bunch of scenarios and battles against AI, but they pale in comparison to the main campaign.
And so we come to the elephant in the room: the system of loot crates, microtransactions and having some of the more iconic heroes needing to be unlocked. DICE and EA made changes since the open beta, so that weapons and the top tier of Star Card are unlocked through play and crafting, and they’ve even made sweeping cuts to the pricing of locked heroes. It can give you freedom to choose your own unlocks, but it remains an unbalanced progression system that just feels too random and unrewarding.
The campaign gives you a golden parachute with around 27,000 credits in rewards after opening the final loot crate it gives you, as well as second tier ‘uncommon’ Star Cards for each of the main classes. There’s a range of milestones to aim for when starting out online, and there’s the promise of daily, weekly and faction objectives once the first season of post-release content starts on 5th December, in addition to new maps and heroes. You’ll need these rewards, as you only earn a few hundred credits per match, with this largely tied to time played and only minimal boosts depending on your actual performance.
These rewards are something that DICE are continuing to adjust, and their willingness to do so has been shown several times prior to the game’s launch, albeit under significant pressure from fans. Just hours before the review embargo lifts and the game’s pseudo-release, they’ve slashed the cost of hero characters. Where Chewie was previously 40,000 credits, he’s now 10,000, where Luke was 60,000, he’s now 15,000. There is still a grind and it would have been nice not to have to unlock the most iconic characters from the series, but they’re now much more easy to obtain.
Update: It’s come to our attention after this review was posted that alongside the reduction in hero cost, the amount you receive from the campaign ending loot crate has also been reduced from 20,000 to 5,000 credits. That obviously dampens the starting progression, and probably won’t do EA any favours in the court of public opinion. We’ve learned our lesson, so the rest of this review remains unchanged (OK, so we fixed a few typos after the hurried rewrite), and was as well informed as possible at the time of posting.
You will still have to indulge in the game’s system of loot crates as well. Split between Trooper, Hero and Starfighter crates, with sliding costs from 4,000 down to 2,000, you’re only guaranteed one or two applicable cards, with the rest being emotes, Star Cards for other types of character, credits and crafting parts. It’s then those crafting parts that will let you unlock whatever Star Card you want or upgrade them to higher power.
Split between alternate abilities and stat buffs, some Star Cards are overpowered and balancing them will also be on DICE’s to-do list. It’s a bit barmy that you can triple the time it takes for a missile to lock onto your starfighter, even if it can be countered by a Star Card that can reduce lock on time by up to half. There are other instances where Star Card power needs to be reconsidered, especially when you can brute force progression via microtransactions. DICE have stated that players will be matched based on both rank and the power of their Star Cards, but on the evidence of the 10 hour trial for Xbox One and PC, it will take time for this to settle as there was almost always one or two people who had clearly bought their way to the top of the Star Card pile. Ultimately, with this kind of matchmaking it will be skill and teamwork that will determine a battle’s outcome.
Having flirted with the dark side in the run up to launch, Star Wars Battlefront II has had its reputation sullied by its underlying business model and how that is tied to character progression. That distracts from how much it improves on the first game though, with much better variety in Galactic and Starfighter Assault, character classes and team play being gently encouraged, and a broader and deeper player progression. Perhaps the greatest irony is that fear, anger and hate were Star Wars Battlefront II’s path back towards the light.
Versions tested: Xbox One X, PlayStation 4 Pro