Star Wars is one of the few franchises with universal appeal. Its popularity across all media is second to none. So, when the team at DICE decided to revive and reinvigorate the beloved Battlefront series in 2015, they knew it would be a galactic undertaking.
The iconic laser web and “pew-pew” of blaster fire, the harrowing sound of TIE fighters screaming overhead, and the menacing red glow and hum of Darth Vader’s lightsaber all planted players right in the middle of the Star Wars mythos. DICE was successful in implementing the breadth and depth of Star Wars, but had an otherwise, shallow gameplay, content, and progression experience.
Star Wars: Battlefront II nails that incredible Star Wars feeling once again, but this time they’ve added a lot more content, revamped the progression system, and given players a new Star Wars story campaign. But as the late Emperor might say, do they execute on Order . . . M.G.G. (Make a Good Game)?
Explosions and blaster fire in the distance can be seen through the dense forest. Endless rows of massive tree trunks extend toward the sky like columns holding up the dark forest ceiling. Leaves shake from the treetops as the thunderous stomps of an AT-AT walker echo through the evergreen landscape of forest moon of Endor. You and dozens of other Rebel soldiers sprint alongside the metal behemoth you just stole. Its elephant-like head scans the terrain, firing its cannons into the undergrowth, sparks and smoke billowing from the craters it leaves behind.
Moments like these are plentiful in Battlefront II, and are what set it apart from other shooters. The iconic characters, locations, sounds, and imagery of the Star Wars universe are brought to life across all modes. You feel your hands shake as the uncontrollable power of Kylo Ren slices through Resistance troops. You duck under the harrowing scream of a TIE fighter flying overhead. And you can’t help but yell with the hope of all the Resistance filling your lungs as you charge into seemingly unconquerable odds. This is Star Wars.
Fans love that feeling, and after 2015’s Battlefront, they were hungry for more. They wanted a never-before-told Star Wars story campaign. Well, you asked for it. The tale of Iden Versio — Commander of the elite Inferno Squad for the Empire — was billed as a story from the perspective of the other side. What was it like to be a soldier fighting for the Empire? I was intrigued. I was curious to see what gray areas the narrative might explore, what motivations kept the imperial troopers going, what were they fighting for on the ground, on an individual level?
The story was a cop out. Less than an hour in, Iden disagrees with a direct order, realizes the error of the Empire’s ways, and switches sides. Bleh! It was over before it began, more of a glorified tutorial than a campaign. I felt no connection to any of the characters, except for the Star Wars staples we know and love (Luke, Leia, Lando — The Three L’s). In fact, you play a good portion of the game as other heroes (and villains), and those missions are better than any of the missions centered on Iden. Her character arc is uneventful and forced (ha ha, Star Wars puns). She starts out all business: mission first, take orders, the whole nine yards. Then the Death Star explodes. For about one second, she looks shocked, then back to business. It’s an unbelievably muted reaction to a world-shattering event. Not long after that the Empire seeks to destroy another planet with early-stage weaponry that will seemingly lead to the creation of Starkiller Base. This time Iden does not like the planet they’ve chosen to destroy, so she deserts the Empire and joins the Resistance. From there on out, she’s a Resistance fighter with just as little personality as before. That’s it. Iden’s story is over.
There is a short, semi-interesting sequence afterwards that tries to show how the events of this story lead into The Force Awakens, but it does not pay off on the larger scale. There is a tiny connection of how the map to Luke Skywalker gets into the hands of that old guy at the beginning of the movie and how Kylo Ren finds him. Playing as Kylo was a twist and a taste of things to come in multiplayer, but the story connection was miniscule, safe, and lacked impact.
Battlefront 2’s multiplayer, on the other hand, is a lot of fun. With five modes, 14 heroes, four trooper classes, special units, dozens of vehicles and starfighters, and 16 locations across all three trilogies, it feels like I’m always experiencing something new.
Galactic Assault is one of the most popular modes from 2015’s Star Wars Battlefront. With a combination of ground troops, vehicles, and aerial combat, battles can feel truly epic in scale. Whether you’re rushing up the wreckage of a Star Destroyer in the desert of Jakku or defending Maz’s castle from waves of imperial forces, the frenetic pace of Galactic Assault keeps you on your toes. It’s an attack/defend mode where teams battle over different objectives, like taking control points or escorting AT-AT walkers. If the attack team completes its objective, the points push back to a new area. The maps like Endor, Theed and Jakku are multi-staged and take place indoors and out. On Naboo, Starfighters zip around over the city as droids and tanks push towards the palace. If they reach inside, they battle through multiple elegantly-adorned rooms, up the palace steps to the throne room. On Hoth, two AT-AT walkers push toward the Resistance base, TIE fighters and X-wings dog fight, and parka-clad troopers duke it out in the snow. If the Empire reaches the base, a firefight breaks out in the hangers. The battles in Galactic Assault are the closest thing to feeling like you’re playing the films.
But on-planet combat is only part of what makes Battlefront. Since 2015, Battlefront fans have been clamoring for space combat, and DICE teamed up with Criterion to bring them Starfighter Assault. Large-scale team battles pit Clone troopers against droids over Ryloth, the Empire against the Rebels over Endor, and the Resistance against the First Order in the Unknown Regions. Each faction has three ship classes — starfighter, interceptor and bomber — but each faction offers variations in abilities to make their units feel unique. Some ships are equipped with repair droids, afterburners, and defensive turrets. Others with lock-on torpedoes, high-powered laser beams, and weapons damage boosters; and all combinations in between. Each class handles differently. The starfighter has excellent maneuverability for keeping enemies in your crosshair; the interceptor is the fastest ship class, and the bomber is slower, but can take more damage. Each class can be called upon for different purposes. If you’re looking to dog fight, use the starfighter. If you’re looking to put damage on the objective points, use the bomber. It’s fun to mix up your ship choice in order to adapt to your play style.
Just like the heroes on the ground, heroes have unique ships as well. Aileron rolling in Yoda’s starfighter or blasting away TIE fighters in Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon add another wrinkle to the combat. Unfortunately, the nature of attracting more attention, and the open space of the maps, make hero ships an easy target. You’re a magnet for enemy fire, and I found that the added power of the hero classes is not enough to offset the extra damage you take from multiple enemies shooting you at once.
The character heroes, on the other hand, are straight powerhouses. They decimate regular troopers and can take on multiple enemies at once while barely batting an eye. So, how do you counter the incredible force of Luke Skywalker, the bowcaster brutality of Chewbacca, or the discombobulating arsenal of the tricky Lando Calrissian? Use other heroes. The best mode to highlight your favorite Star Wars characters is Heroes vs. Villains. Two teams of four: the light side against the dark side. In most of the matches I played, the dark side consisted of Kylo Ren, Darth Vader and Darth Maul and a supporting ranged villain like Boba Fett or Bossk. The overwhelming fury of three red lightsabers flailing around is incredibly destructive. Maul and Ren both have abilities that allow them to close the distance on their targets, and once in melee range, they are damn near unstoppable. Even Luke looks pathetic when two or more Sith are ganging up on him. Working as a team is very important. If you are caught out of position, away from your team, it is next to impossible to win or escape. There is some balancing issues that need to be worked out. Kylo Ren is god-tier. Boba Fett is incredibly difficult to pin down, being the only hero that can fly (and he has rockets). Han Solo is a mid-range hero that lacks the firepower to really compete with any of the saber-wielding baddies. It’s a fantastically fun mode to mess around with all the cool hero/villain abilities, but needs some tweaking to offer a truly competitive experience.
The best thing about the heroes and villains is the variety. There are 14 playable heroes from across the Star Wars galaxy. From Leia to Rey to Iden, there is no shortage of unique play styles to choose from. And each hero’s abilities are uniquely crafted to their character. Rey uses her her strong connection to the force to scan the environment and reveal enemy locations, or uses her Jedi mind tricks to switch up their controller inputs and discombobulate the target player. Iden has blaster rifle that alternates between automatic fire and a charged plasma launcher, she has a personal bubble shield, and a deployable droid that does an area stun to nearby enemies. It’s a lot of fun to experiment with different abilities and lay waste to squads of troopers.
There are a couple other multiplayer modes like Blast, which is your team deathmatch, and Strike, which is your more traditional objective-based team mode. But the real meat and potatoes are Galactic and Starfighter Assault with a flavorful helping of Heroes vs. Villains.
Heroes are powerhouses and can change the tide of a battle, so it’s important that players have to earn them during a match using Battlefront II’s Battle Points system. By doing damage, getting kills and assists, and working on objectives players earn Battle Points that can be exchanged for hero and special units. You begin a match as one of the four trooper classes: Assault, Heavy, Officer, and Specialist. Once you earn enough points, you can upgrade to a mid-tier character like a Super Battle Droid, Death Trooper, Wookie Warrior or Flame trooper. These units have more health and more powerful weapons and abilities that give them the upper hand against regular units. Every special unit is equipped with an ability that overrides their weapon’s limitations giving them unlimited ammo and makes it so that it doesn’t need to be reloaded. Each trooper, special unit, and hero tier is stronger than the last, but costs more to obtain.
Here’s the problem: the Battle Points System and the larger progression system are not friendly to support-style or less-skilled players. The Officer class, with its temporary team buff and deployable turret, is the closest thing to being support, but you still have to be in the fray racking up damage and kills in order to gain Battle Points. Better players get more points to gain better units and continue that cycle. The skill gap within each match widens pretty quickly, and that leads to better players gaining significantly more progression points than lesser-skilled players. Better players gaining more Battle Points makes perfect sense, but if two people of varying skill levels put in the same amount of time, there shouldn’t be a big discrepancy between how many progression points they earn, because progression points are how you purchase crates and upgrade your troopers, heroes and vehicles with Star Cards.
Star Cards are abilities and boosts that you can apply to improve or alter your units’ play styles. There are three card slots for each unit, and any combination of boosts and abilities can be slotted in. Boosts will increase things like your trooper’s survivability, speed up health regen, or grant health for melee kills. Alternately, in the case of heroes, add damaging effects to Kylo’s force pull or increase the amount of Yoda’s consecutive force dashes. Abilities can either improve existing abilities like a stronger shield for the Heavy or replace Thermal detonators with an Ion torpedo. The cards really allow you to customize all your units to your play style.
That is, of course, if you’ve played enough to earn credits to buy crates that give you random cards, emotes, and crafting parts. Technically, you can unlock everything just by playing, but being that it’s a loot crate system, you’re not always going to get the cards you want. You can craft them, but crafting parts are also randomly distributed through crates, so it’s not as simple as play and upgrade the way you would like to.
Have no fear, you can purchase the crates using real-world money. (Did you catch the sarcasm?) The Star Cards upgrade your units and offer a direct advantage in combat. And you can pay for them. There are four tiers of cards — uncommon, common, rare, and epic — epic cards cannot come out of crates. Regardless of how much of an advantage players gain from cards, there is an advantage that can be bought. By definition, it is pay-to-win, and that already isn’t sitting well with much of Battlefront II’s player base. Only time will tell how this monetization style will affect the play experience and whether or not players will stick around to put up with it. To EA’s credit, they have been listening and responding to player feedback on a regular basis throughout development, and said they look to further implement upon the multiplayer experience.
Star Wars Battlefront II
I had a ton of fun playing Star Wars Battlefront II. It executes on presenting the Star Wars universe near-perfectly. The sights and sounds of lightsabers and blaster fire encapsulate every child-like midichlorian in your body. The campaign, while disappointing, is a small part of the complete package. There is enough content to keep you busy for dozens of hours, but the progression system may need an overhaul if EA wants to keep a strong multiplayer audience engaged.