Star Wars Battlefront II in 2019: Is the force with it?
In Star Wars movie lore, young Anakin Skywalker has amazing potential and power to do great good, but before his career in heroism ever really begins, he is seduced by darkness to cause great harm, becoming Darth Vader.
After Darth Vader spends time being the enforcer for a galactic regime that engages in wholesale planetary slaughter, his son Luke goes out on a limb (but not before losing one in battle with his dad) and takes a leap of faith that there is still good left in Vader. He believes that somewhere within the twisted and broken man, the seeds of hope and love still might live.
Luke bets his life, and the fate of the galaxy, on that belief. In this way, the original Star Wars trilogy becomes a tale of redemption. That which was once bad and greedy and wrong could turn back to the light.
It’s a bit similar with EA’s Star Wars Battlefront II, the much anticipated 2017 follow-up to 2015’s highly praised Battlefront. Battlefront was a reboot of an older series, updated with modern graphics, high production value sound and tweaked network play for the online gaming era. The video gaming world was primed for Battlefront II to be the best Star Wars game experience ever.
It’s only been a year and a half, but it feels like Battlefront II released far longer ago than that. From a botched microtransaction controversy upon release and subsequent poor sales as a result, EA has continued to pump developer time and money into Battlefront II, but after all this time, was it worth it? Here’s our review.
“You were supposed to be the chosen one!” How Battlefront II went wrong at first
Sometimes much anticipated sequels become victims of their own anticipation. The idea that Battlefront II could improve upon what Battlefront got right and fix the things it got wrong made EA keenly aware of the blockbuster potential the title had. And they seemingly got greedy.
As Battlefront II was in pre-release beta, players found that the designers had instituted what was really just a cynical cash-grab system, leveraging the love of the franchise against the fan. A contrived loot-box system of forced microtransactions was put in place. Purchasable loot boxes of items and skins are, in the post-Fortnite landscape, facts of life and ongoing revenue streams for a game’s lifecycle.
But the tacit agreement that players and studios follow is that all such modifications that the loot boxes unlock are cosmetic and style based, but don’t affect actual gameplay. A generic Fortnite
model with the default emote set and harvester is at no disadvantage in a game versus someone tricked out in a big furry bear costume with a glowing purple great-axe in place of a boring pick-axe. The only disadvantage is aesthetic; what you purchase is the fun of having a cooler-looking character.
Not so with the rollout of Battlefront II. The game used the same “Star Card” system of adding bonuses and abilities to characters by applying “cards” to them that was present in Battlefront. But as the public beta of Battlefront was unveiled, players were dismayed to find that the Star Cards (which materially affect characters’ powers and give distinct strategic and power advantages) were now tied into the loot box system.
The only way to realistically get these Star Cards and abilities was to purchase loot boxes by way of in-game microtransactions, paid for ultimately with out-of-game real-world cash. You had to purchase “crystals” that could be traded for loot boxes, which contained Star Cards. There was a system in the game where you could earn the lesser currency of “credits,” but there was a vast difference of scale.
“Fear is the path to the Dark Side...” Buying one’s way to victory
In the initial rollout, to unlock just ONE big-name character - say, Luke Skywalker - as a playable option, one would have to spend 48 hours in matches “grinding” through online play with the generic default playable characters to earn enough credits (60,000 to be exact).
Or, you could just shell out a bunch of real-world credit card money for crystals and unlock him in minutes. This set up a dynamic whereby obsessive players with more money could just buy their way to advantage and victory within minutes if they were willing to spend enough to do it.
In Star Wars mythology, the Dark Side was always presented as the quick and easy way to power. Give in to your anger and hate, and power could be yours. In Battlefront II, it seems the head honchos in marketing didn’t really take this lesson to heart. As the public beta was being played by fans, this “pay to win” dynamic struck a very sour chord. So sour that EA had to respond with rapid damage control.
Within a day of Reddit outrage and anger at the game, a patch was released that lowered the cost substantially, from 60,000 down to 15 credits. It seemed like a reasonable response. But as they rolled out this change, they also reduced the amount of credits awarded for in-game tasks. The internet and fan base were quick to anger, yet again. It became so heated that mainstream press, outside of the gaming world, caught wind of it. News outlets like CNBC and Waypoint filed reports about the brewing controversy.
“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for…” Looking into loot boxes
In response to those reports, the Belgian government began an investigation into the loot-box scheme, as Belgium has national laws about computer-based gambling with real-world money. They thought these laws might apply to the convoluted way the loot-box system was being run.
Gamers are not averse to spending money on their hobby or buying into a game’s continuing features, but as a community the idea of imbalance and unfairness in a game, leading to broken play dynamics and the sense of being able to “buy cheats,” really rankles. And gamers are quick to make their displeasure known.
This rollout, instead of garnering buzz and attention as the must-have title of 2017, was painting EA as a kind of evil Empire, cash-grabbing and merciless. With European governments moving to sanction the company and international press getting wind of a Star Wars-based greed-scheme story, it was looking very bad for Battlefront II.
EA, days before the official, non-beta launch, scrambled to do more damage control. Initially, they removed microtransactions altogether as an emergency fix to put out the fire of controversy that had gone all the way up the chain at Disney, owner of the Star Wars franchise. It was during this time that the head of Disney consumer products sent an angry letter to EA about how much heat the game was getting when it had yet to even officially launch.
It was such a big deal that it affected the entire company’s (and, to a degree, the whole gaming industry’s) approach to monetizing loot boxes and rewards.
“There's still good in him!” How Battlefront II was turned back to the light side
The thing about the Star Wars franchise that made EA initially want to mine it for cash may be the thing that ended up saving the game and turning it around. The fact of the matter is that there is a gigantic overlap within the Venn diagram circles of “video game players” and “devoted Star Wars fans.” It’s hard to release a Star Wars product that misses the mark so badly that fans will swear off of it entirely. (Don’t believe us? Look at the prequel movies!)
Fans really want the game to work. There is a great thrill in living in this dynamic universe and playing out a part in a massive battle that takes place on worlds that have been a part of millions of people’s shared imaginations.
EA, understanding the value in the franchise, did not give up on Battlefront II and released a series of changes, patches, fixes, and additions since 2017. So much so that what is present now in terms of gameplay, progression, and options is almost an entirely new gaming experience than at launch in 2017. And, thankfully, a better and fairer one.
Nearly all of the problems, imbalance, and unfairness of the bumpy launch two years ago has been fixed and changed. What Battlefront II offers now, after much trial and much documented error, is a very compelling Star Wars experience.
“The greatest teacher, failure is.” Unlocking the heroes
By March 2018, with additional downloadable content and a more balanced, fair, and fun progression system, EA unlocked all the base-game “heroes” at once, which was the chief complaint of the game. There would still be unlockable characters rolled out afterwards that could be purchased, but players were finally not hobbled and forced to be faceless nobodies if they didn’t shell out cash to make the game more playable.
As is stands today, the multiple modes, single player challenges and stories, and the integrated credit system implemented that gives you currency at every turn for playing in all different modes makes a Star Wars experience that feels satisfying and full. Or at least, a lot more full than it was.
The different modes and story content grant players credits for playing that are used in the meat and potatoes, main-draw aspect of the game: the multiplayer battle. This ends up creating a sense of emotional investment and well-roundedness to the game. You play all around the Star Wars
universe from different angles, and it all builds toward your standing and collection (and progression) in the “main mode” of multiplayer battles
“The best in the galaxy." Matchmaking in various modes
In Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, the twisted and evil Darth Vader eventually turned back to the light. But he was still battle-scarred and the wounds of his past misdeeds stayed with him. So too does Battlefront, for all of its improvements, still bear the injuries of its time in service to the Dark Side. All that controversy was not good for player morale, and as a consequence, the player counts on many servers are not what you would expect from a triple-A (AAA) Star Wars title.
On the PC gaming side, this is evidenced in long wait times for matchmaking in some of the more niche modes. Some of them (like “Ewok Hunt”) are downright dead. You might wait around for hours and not get a match. But in the main-draw modes like Galactic Assault (an all-out space vehicle battle of epic proportions) matches are still found very quickly.
Players in the PS4 and Xbox One servers are more active than in the PC servers. This is very much a function of the bad blood and ill will about the game in its initial rocky year. Some people left and never came back, and others were just warned off by the bad press. And this is a shame, because the game that eventually emerged as the product that stands today is a quality piece of interactive entertainment.
A newly released mode taking place in the Clone Wars era of the mythology has introduced artificial intelligence (AI) bot players, mixed in with human players, and adds the element of territory control to the game.
“I’ve got a really good feeling about this.”
Does this all make it worth getting into, here in 2019? Well, the answer largely depends on how much you love the Star Wars universe. There’s a lot of content to explore, the price (and cost of updates and currency) is drastically reduced from what players were paying at launch, and there are enough installed and active users (in certain modes) to justify getting in, even this late in the game. Just don’t expect it to be something you’ll be playing for the next few years.
If the history of Star Wars has taught us anything at all, it is that if you wait long enough, there will no doubt be a sequel coming. For all of the heartache and trouble that Battlefield II had and caused at launch, it is almost impossible to fully destroy the goodwill and enthusiasm of Star Wars fans to want to play within its universe.
There will no doubt be a Battlefield III at some point. And fans will look to it as (dare we say it?) A New Hope. But until then, if you’re a Star Wars fan in general, and one who has missed out on the whole rocky launch year, playing Battlefield II in 2019 is a pretty rewarding and fun experience.
Popular PCs to play Battlefront II