It was set to be a big year for Star Wars with a new film and the sequel to EA’s popular Battlefront hitting this winter. Now, however, the controversy surrounding Star Wars: Battlefront II has eclipsed the game’s release. Which is a shame because there’s some worthy stuff in the game, even if you ignore the grind-tastic multiplayer side.
Battlefront II is a DICE creation, which means you’re not reinventing the wheel here when it comes to shooter controls. It’s all pretty standard trigger/face button stuff, though things are different for two areas: Force-wielding characters move out to third-person and basically become a two-move hack n’ slash game with a less-than-stellar sense of reach, and starships have their own set of controls.
For starships, the left analog operates throttle and rotation while the right steers direction. This will feel counterintuitive to some, and though it replicates the “left = move / right = steer” setup that’s common for on-foot movement, it would have been nice if DICE included more control scheme options for ships.
If you took random screen captures of Battlefront II gameplay, you’d have the best looking Star Wars universe seen in video games. Despite the scope of PvP battles, the detailed environments stand out. However, when it’s in action, there’s something a little off about it.
Animations feel like they lack weight, like characters are running an inch or two over the surface. It’s a subtle thing and doesn’t take away from the polished presentation much, but sticklers for detail might find it breaks the immersion. And unlike many recent games, there’s a clear difference between the gameplay model and the cutscene models.
On the audio side, the performances from franchise newcomers in the campaign are all great (notably, Janina Gavankar and Paul Blackthorne from CW’s Arrow). There’s less dialogue in the multiplayer side, though you have a mix of screen actors reprising their roles (i.e. Daisy Ridley’s Rey) and Lucasfilm animation standbys (Sam Witwer doing both Darth Maul and Palpatine as he does in the Rebels TV show).
Meanwhile, the stand-ins used for the original trilogy cast work well — they’re not perfect, but the tone and cadence definitely provide good impersonations. The music and sound effects perfectly recreate the franchise’s typical iconic fare.
Let’s break down Battlefront II’s single-player and multiplayer modes, because they’re different beasts. The single-player campaign is roughly 6-8 hours long and involves Inferno Squad, a team of elite Imperial agents made canonical by this game and a supporting novel. Basically, they’re the Empire’s badass hit team.
The campaign starts out during Return of the Jedi, and veers off from there. Most levels play like a Star Wars-themed FPS, similar to Dark Forces from the 1990s. Half the time, it’s an immersive-but-short campaign, but the other half, the level design leaves a lot to be desired.
Interspersed with these are magnificent space combat levels, which are as exciting as the excellent Rogue Squadron series from the Gamecube days — except with modern production values. For fans playing to enjoy a new angle of the Star Wars saga, it’s a fun-but-short experience with arcade challenge maps against bots that tap into the multiplayer maps.
While mostly enjoyable, the campaign does end on a bit of a cliffhanger, which means it could be finished in DLC. That’d be an unfortunate choice given the length of the campaign.
Then there’s multiplayer. No doubt you’ve heard of some of the controversy by now, and as Han Solo would say: It’s true. All of it. EA has disabled microtransactions for the time being, but the basic premise is that some elite characters can only be unlocked after slogging through enormous amounts of gameplay, essentially creating a farming system. So, that’s bad.
As for the actual multiplayer, there are various modes that model after the first modern Battlefront game. The centerpiece of this is Galactic Assault, which is a massive squad combat game. During matches, players earn points for kills, and eventually someone on the map unlocks a high-powered character (e.g. Kylo Ren, Darth Maul, Luke Skywalker).
These characters have a mega-advantage and they’re fun to play, but kills can be cheap and lesser-experienced players may rage quit after the cycle of spawn-death-spawn. The problem is that upgrading and unlocking is a grind of epic proportions, and until layers of balance — both gameplay and progression — are fine tuned it’s going to dismay the less dedicated.
Other modes offer scaled-down versions of these maps, a starfighter-based match and heroes/villains match that features only franchise characters (Darth Maul vs. Rey!). Lightsaber combat and its hit detection is still a little ineffective, and characters have limited movesets, so while this seems like a fun idea, it’s better in concept than execution.
Star Cards are earned, allowing for powerups and extra weapon options to use during multiplayer matches. Your enjoyment of this really depends on how much you want to dig into the looting/unlocking side of the game, and with loot crates offering random items, it can be a frustrating exercise in patience.
Aside from the loot box controversy, Star Wars: Battlefront II feels like a game of potentials, not realization. Considering the grief EA has received, perhaps it’s better to consider Battlefront II as test runs for two different initiatives: a longer story-driven action game and a standalone Rogue Squadron-esque space combat game.