Star Wars Battlefront II (Xbox One Review)
There was a point in 1977 where the galaxy was unfettered by the ever sprawling menace that is corporate interference. Star Wars, latterly rebranded as Star Wars Episode IV:A New Hope, was full of hope incidentally. George Lucas was bursting with ideas after THX 1138 and American Graffiti and sought to chase an unbridled vision. Although Lucas was not quite free from the shackles of big business, he managed to create something not only for himself but everyone. So, it’s unimaginable that Star Wars has now reached a point that it could be described as a machination of greed, but here we are.
Where is “here”, exactly? Well, it’s a long way from home, that’s for sure. The original Battlefront games are as long forgotten as the dreaded Christmas special. In their place we have the new Battlefront games. Much like the theatrical movies, the executives that once lingered on the periphery are now knee deep in the decisions that shaped Battlefront II and it shows. The result is the piecemeal offering in front of us.
With large swathes of Star Wars Battlefront II’s offered up in small doses through loot boxes, it’s no surprise that EA have been at the forefront of the discussion on gambling in video games. It’s painfully clear that loot boxes and the Star Cards therein are central to the experience – especially when the latter offer beneficial bonuses to the owner’s ability. With the ramifications abundantly clear, the ability to buy loot boxes with real money has now been temporarily suspended in-game, but the long lasting damage to the overall experience is obvious.
Although, throughout all this furore, the excellence in Star Wars Battlefront II’s recreation of a galaxy we were all dying to invest more time in has been lost. The visual and sound design are impeccable. It really does feel like I am wielding a blaster pistol and letting loose with an E-11 with comparative accuracy to a Stormtrooper. Blaster shots will fly overhead and their distinct buzz is wonderfully recognisable. Everything looks just as how you’d imagined as a child.
Doubling down on these childhood memories is the inclusion of the heroes and villains of the Star Wars universe, although some characters might not quite look how we remember them. Darth Maul, Darth Vader, and Kylo Ren shine alongside Battlefront II’s protagonist; Iden Versio. But, to experience these characters, you’ll also have to grind for them. Be it for a day or three, you’ll need to garner enough credits to buy the likes of Chewbacca, Luke Skywalker, and Darth Vader: a terrible decision for a franchise built on the backs of these characters. There is also the issue that some of the heroes feel generally weak and that their moveset is lacklustre compared to others. When faced with Boba Fett buzzing about like a bluebottle circling a dog’s jobbie during summer, you’ll need Mr. Miyagi-like skills to swat him. On top of that, characters with larger models or those which hold lightsabers often clip through the scenery horrendously.
This meant that Star Wars Battlefront II performed best when it was constrained. So, the campaign was a natural platform to see the best of Battlefront II. Even then this light burned out like magnesium in water. Fast. Bright. And terribly short. Faced with a collapsing empire, we take on the role of Iden Versio as she battles with the decisions of the empire. Starting on Endor, you often feel like you are running alongside the main story, but far enough to confuse a local nerf herder waving a stick for one of the fabled Jedi. When the story does draw closer to the heroes we want to see, their appearance is often fleeting and butts in to crucial development of Iden Versio. When the curtain does draw on the short venture of Iden Versio’s campaign, we feel cheated. With an estimated of 4 hours of play spread across a whole variety of missions, you are left wanting more. A lot more. It is, however, far more than Battlefront ever offered and for that I am thankful, kind of.
What I am not thankful for is the abysmal implementation of the arcade mode. With a total of 20 missions, 10 Dark Side and 10 Light Side, you’ll take on an onslaught of enemies solo or with a partner. Cooperative play is limited to splitscreen and, as a result, the most poorly optimised area of Star Wars Battlefront II. Frame rates drop off hard as texturing popping and random enemy spawns increase tenfold while you try and fight alongside a friend. If you do happen to brave it alone, the experience is devoid of any real fun. Each mission will last between 1 and 3 minutes and pose no real threat during your first attempt. This lack of difficulty is largely due to players being forced to tackle the easiest mode possible on every mission before earning the ability to play on high difficulties. This experience is dragged out further by the credit rewards for arcade being limited to 5 missions a day, netting you a total of 500 credits. For perspective’s sake, you get roughly 150-250 credits for your average match online and a lootbox costs 4,000 credits. It’s almost like EA didn’t want you to play arcade at all.
The real meat on Star Wars Battlefront II’s bones lies with the online modes. Yet, it’s hard to really find the meat compared to its predecessor. These metaphorical bones were picked clean and from the original 10 modes, only 5 remain. Players have access to Strike, Blast, Starfighter Assault, Heroes vs Villains, and Galactic Assault. While these modes do well in keep a player base together, the balancing is ghastly. More often than not, defence is a cake walk and you’d be a fool to lose. It may make thematic sense for a battered and beaten last assault on a particular location to be difficult, it makes for a terrible online experience. Defenders often have infinite lives while attackers are afforded 50 for large teams. All it takes is for one eager fan to ruin any chances you have of winning by constantly spawning. Thankfully, modes like Blast and Heroes vs Villains pick up the slack with a more balanced field, but that’s largely due to the game modes themselves being fairly symmetric in design.
It was clear that Star Wars Battlefront II had some issues prior to release, but I’d never have guessed that they were this big. It’s a bitter disappointment to see a game with such promise turn to the dark side. Lead by a need to conquer its own empire of devoted fans, all Star Wars Battlefront II did was reveal its hand. At this moment in time, there are no microtransactions available, but the impression on Battlefront II is long lasting. If it weren’t for the exemplary visuals, enjoyable sound design, and the tiny ray of hope in the campaign, I’d happily describe Battlefront II as an irredeemable mess.