‘Star Wars: Battlefront II’ review
Two years have passed since DICE and Electronic Arts rebooted Star Wars: Battlefront, recreating Star Wars‘ biggest battles on modern consoles and PC. Our time spent with Star Wars: Battlefront II for this review has made one thing very clear: This is the game EA should have released in 2015.
Star Wars: Battlefront II is an improvement on DICE’s first outing in just about every way, starting with the fact that Battlefront II is a complete game. Where the first Battlefront felt anemic, with no single-player campaign and a short list of multiplayer modes available at launch. In addition to just providing more Battlefront in the sequel, DICE has worked on some of the top-level aspects of the game to make it smarter and more strategic. Players pick classes not only reflect their play style, but compliment their teammates, making working together more important than ever.
Though DICE has expanded on the original Battlefront, the game still feels very similar to its predecessor in its bones. It still brings the Star Wars aesthetic to life better than any other video game to date, but the gameplay can still feel chaotic and frustrating. Though it isn’t exactly perfect, Battlefront II is a fun return to the Star Wars universe that’s driven as much by its fan service as it is by its gunplay.
FALL OF AN EMPIRE
Responding to critics of the first Battlefront, Battlefront II makes its mark on the series (and Star Wars lore) with a new, story-driven single-player campaign. Picking up at the end of Return of the Jedi, the Battlefront II story follows an Imperial special forces unit called Inferno Squad in the immediate aftermath of the destruction of the second Death Star, as the Empire struggles to recover from the Rebels’ ultimate blow and maintain its grip on the galaxy.
Players primarily take on the role of Iden Versio, an elite Imperial commando carrying out the Emperor’s final orders, called Operation: Cinder. What Cinder entails, Versio and her team aren’t actually told — and we only come to understand what the Emperor had planned as they carry out orders on a number of planets across the galaxy.
Though having an original Star Wars story sounds pretty neat in theory, Battlefront II‘s plot feels thin. Inferno Squad’s tale is an obvious, by-the-numbers Star Wars story, telegraphing every twist and turn long before it actually crosses the screen. It sounds cool to follow and understanding the viewpoint of the bad guys — something Star Wars has never done well – but the game fails to make its Imperial protagonists remotely sympathetic. Iden has a weird, ham-fisted conversation with her father, the admiral in charge of Operation: Cinder, about literally stamping out hope. Despite a few fun moments, like a mission that shows Luke Skywalker after Return of the Jedi, the Battlefront II story fills in a scant few gaps in the overall story of Star Wars.
It doesn’t help that the journey often bends over backwards to insert the long list of characters and locales that Star Wars fans know and love, without putting forth the effort to make them really work as part of the story. For instance, one mission features Han Solo trying to gather intelligence about how to free the wookiee home planet, Kashyyyk, from Imperial control. Logically, one would think that Kashyyyk would be the next location to visit as the war between the failing Empire and the Rebellion plays out — but the real next stop is Bespin, to blow up a fuel station. The campaign is full of these story non-sequiturs, causing it to function less as a complete narrative and more like a series of disjointed events.
Mechanically, The Battlefront II campaign is a fairly standard first-person shooting affair. Iden is pretty tough to kill, blasting her way through Rebel troops like a superhero, but DICE does a good job of mixing things up. In a heavily guarded room, you can opt to sneak around rather than go in guns blazing, thinning out the opposition with quiet melee kills. In some missions, you’ll go jump from boots-on-the-ground battle directly into flying a TIE fighter.
As a tutorial and a chance to try out different gameplay scenarios, Battlefront II‘s campaign works well enough. There’s a healthy mix of ground battles, space dogfights, and levels in which you control some of Star Wars‘ high-powered “hero” characters. While the campaign isn’t necessarily groundbreaking most of the time, its characters and writing at least do well to capture the tone and humor of Star Wars. It’s not the greatest story ever told in the galaxy far, far away, but the whole thing is carried enough by Battlefront II‘s attention to aesthetic detail, some good jokes, and some interestingly written characters to make it worth the few hours it’ll take to complete.
IMPERIAL TROOPS HAVE ENTERED THE BASE
Like past Battlefront games, Battlefront II’s primary draw is the multiplayer experience — not just taking players into the Star Wars universe, but replicating the size and scope of space warfare.
Despite its lack of content, Battlefront stood out in 2015 thanks to its attention to detail. It perfectly captured the sights and sounds of Star Wars, with everything from the guns to the ships to the costumes lovingly realized. Thankfully, that focus on beautiful, authentic locations and vehicles is back and just as painstakingly realized in the sequel.
With that part down, Battlefront II mostly sets about tweaking the strategy and systems of the formula, rather than the moment-to-moment gameplay. The game’s main multiplayer mode, “Galactic Assault”, splits two teams of 20 into Rebel and Empire camps so they can square off across famous Star Wars locales, such as Tatooine and Hoth. These maps make you feel like a soldier running through one of the huge battles from the films, firing away at stormtroopers or rebel fighters, as starfighters streak through the sky overhead. For the second time, Battlefront II nails that core experience.
In Battlefront II, DICE streamlined Galactic Assault, creating a series of big attack-and-defend style maps, where one team defends a series of objectives, while the other team works to capture them. (Think Battlefield 1’s “Operations” mode, or, more recently, “War” in Call of Duty WWII). Sometimes, you’ll need to take down giant AT-AT walkers. Other times, players will band together to try to hold specific points on the map, or set bombs on key pieces of equipment.
The developer hasn’t messed much with how it feels to shoot a blaster, but it has tweaked many aspects of the game to make matches feel more tactical. Each time you start a match, or you’re killed in a game, you’re able to choose from one of four trooper classes, each with its own weapons and abilities.
Players are automatically added to squads, encouraging you to work together with your teammates and to choose classes that can complement each other. Each of the classes has a specific role to play. Assault troopers are midrange soldiers meant for frontline combat, while heavy troopers carry personal shields and bigger laser cannons to do more damage, and officers buff nearby soldiers.
Playing well earns you “Battle Points,” which can be spent to spawn in as and pilot vehicles like AT-ST walkers or X-Wing fighters, or to give you control of hero characters such as Darth Vader or Rey. That’s opposed to the random tokens on the battlefield in Battlefront, which would allow players to summon vehicles or transform into heroes, forcing them to scramble and grab in the middle of fighting.
This class-based approach leads to smarter battles, where players have to be more strategic about their approach to the game. Switching tactics and pulling out the right class to take an objective, or climbing into an X-Wing or a TIE Fighter to provide air support at right time, can be the difference between victory and defeat. Classes and battle points form a better system all-around compared to Battlefield 2015, and give you an incentive to care more about your place on the battlefield at any given time.
While these tweaks enhance Galactic Assault, many of our problems with the last Battlefrontstill exist in Battlefront II. The maps are enormous, projecting a sense of scale, but also turning these 40-player matches into long-distance shootouts as you take shots and receive fire from tiny figures in the distance. The battles remain confusing and chaotic, and, despite the idea that you can choose your role as you fight, it can often feel like you’re just another body being thrown into the line of fire, or taken out from an unseen enemy just as you finally get back into the thick of things.
The second big mode is Starfighter Assault, an objective-based game type where every player controls a space fighter, such as an X-Wing or TIE fighter. Flying ships is a big part of Battlefront II, and like the big team battles, the experience is a cross between taking part in awesome Star Wars-like moments and being lost in the confusion of the game’s size. Like the rest of Battlefront II, the attention to detail makes the experience: Seeing ships streak past each other firing away with quad lasers is always cool, even if playing the mode gets frustrating at times.
Still, chaos is the name of the game in Battlefront II. It takes a while to get the hang of the starfighter controls, and lots of starfighter dogfights devolve into you and another player endlessly chasing each other in circles, hoping to be the one who can finally draw a bead on the other guy.
The rest of Battlefront II‘s multiplayer modes are better-tuned in this iteration. You can jump into a match where players only use heroes and villains of the franchise, but with small teams at just four players, it’s a more focused experience reliant on teamwork. There’s “Blast,” a 10-on-10 deathmatch mode, and Strike, in which two teams of eight try to control objectives. Each is a better version of past Battlefront fare, and they provide a solid variety of ways to enjoy the Star Wars feel even if joining a massive army isn’t for you.
This is Battlefront — if you liked it last time, you’ll like it this time, because most of the fundamentals are identical. Battlefront II is a better, more intricate version of the original game, but it plays in mostly the same way.
Battlefront II adds one additional irritation to the multiplayer formula. Like the previous game, there’s a player progression in multiplayer that allows you to unlock new guns, special classes, and Star Cards, which allow you to modify the multiplayer class loadouts, to further customize your soldier for your playstyle. This time, though, that progression is largely driven based on in-game loot crates, which you can purchase with either multiple in-game currencies, some of which you earn by playing and others purchased with real money.
The player progression in Battlefront II isn’t exactly clear and concise. There are three different currencies, which you’ll earn by either playing matches or completing “milestones,” such as killing 50 enemies with a blaster assault rifle. Milestones are the best way to earn “credits,” an in-game currency you also rack up as you complete matches, which can be spent on loot crates or on unlocking new powerful hero characters, such as Darth Maul or Princess Leia. You might also get “crafting parts” for completing milestones or by purchasing loot crates, which is a separate currency used to buy new Star Cards.
The system is as confusing and irritating as it sounds. The system doles out credits very slowly, and transparently tuned to encourage players to spend money on “crystals,” a premium currency you can purchase with real money and use instead of earned credits. Technically, there’s nothing that stopping you from earning everything in Battlefront II for free, but it’s definitely going to take most people a long time. DICE and EA have a content plan for coming months that might ease the pain, particularly if it includes additional milestones that help players earn credits faster, but it’s not clear yet how that will work.
The crate-based progression system isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker — you can jump into a Battlefront II match with a default trooper and have a good time, and it won’t feel like you’re desperately disadvantaged by paying players. Plus, some heroes, like Han Solo, are available from the jump. But if the prospect of paying to play as your favorite Star Wars character, or completing a lengthy grind to unlock them, sounds frustrating, then Battlefront II isn’t going to make you very happy.
There’s something special about the Battlefront games, and how they capture the excitement of the beloved films. Star Wars: Battlefront II excels on that front, like its predecessor did, and does it in a smarter, more interesting way. It also offers much more of that experience, with a single-player campaign and plenty of multiplayer modes rounding what feels like a fairly complete package.
Still, Battlefront II is much less of a sequel than the Battlefront done correctly. It feels the same, and carries all the same problems, as its predecessor. With a fun but ultimately unremarkable single-player story, returning to Battlefront probably won’t blow many fans’ minds.
Is there a better alternative?
When it comes to Star Wars games, nothing else captures the look, feel, and scope of the films the way Battlefront II does. If you want a modern Star Wars video game on PS4, Xbox One, or PC, this is it.
How long will it last?
Battlefront II‘s single player campaign will last around six to eight hours, but multiplayer is the real focus here. DICE plans to deliver free additional content for Battlefront II for all players, and with lots of challenges to complete, it should keep dedicated players busy for quite a while.
Should you buy it?
Star Wars fans shouldn’t miss another chance to head back to the distant galaxy, and Battlefront fans will find a lot more of what they already like. If you weren’t begging for more Battlefront in 2015, this may not draw you in.
This article was originally posted on Digital Trends