Every step of the way, Star Wars: Battlefront 2 proves that even the most talented developers and one of the biggest publishers in the industry can make costly mistakes.
I never thought Star Wars: Battlefront 2 would have a hard time impressing me as a player or a Star Wars nerd. The entire pitch for the game – down to using literal charts in official trailers – was designed as an apology of sorts for the shortcomings of the first game.
EA and DICE seemed determined to win back every fan, player, and outsider who knocked the original for lacking one thing or another. The sequel promised a single-player campaign, and expanded content in multiplayer through the number of maps, locations, vehicles, and heroes available at launch. To solidify that commitment, DICE promised a Battlefield-style class system that we were assured would make combat more engaging.
Having now spent a few dozen hours with final code, it left me confused, disappointed and angry. For all of its expanded content and superior graphics, Battlefront 2 is a lesser game than its predecessor.
In multiplayer, there are really three modes worth caring about. Starfighter Assault, the spaceship-only skirmish that effortlessly blends objective play with standard dogfights; Heroes vs Villains, where you get to live out your fantasies of playing as iconic Star Wars characters; and Galactic Assault, the Conquest/Rush-style objective mode with the highest player count of 20v20.
Speaking in broader terms, Galactic Assault is supposed to be the mode – the real meat of the package. It’s the one that can support troopers, vehicles, and heroes all on the same map, and it’s the mode given top billing in pre-release events and on the multiplayer screen. This is clearly where the focus went, but it’s actually the weakest of them all.
Galactic Assault fails to provide the consistent experience other DICE classics like Conquest, Rush, and Operations have and continue to offer. Galactic Assault is merely a banner that encompasses three different game modes, with two of them often mixing in a single match. The larger maps task attackers with pushing alongside a heavy walker/vehicle until it reaches a point where it can no longer advance, at which point the objective changes to either capturing an area, or sabotaging a device. Sabotaging is akin to arming an MCOM in Battlefield, only you have to hold the button for 20x as long, which makes it harder for attackers to pull it off.
The majority of the maps feature the two latter configurations, because they’re simply too small for the walker assault portion to work. This ends up turning Galactic Assault into Corridor Assault for most of your time playing it.
Every single map – whether it be the bigger ones like Kashyyk, and Hoth, or the tighter CQ offerings like Takodana, and Death Star 2 – will feature at least one set of objectives around a poorly-designed choke point. These sections can be at the start, the middle, or at the end.
A single match could also feature multiple choke points, as you’ve no doubt seen while playing on Theed during the beta. In almost every one of these sections, the space available cannot sustain the number of players. So what ends up happening if an attack wave fails is for defenders to push to the edge of the attacker’s spawn.
They would then camp right on that border, sometimes even diving in for a kill and backing out just before the ten-second out-of-bound warning kills them. You can’t back out and add a smoke grenade to your loadout, this simply isn’t an option. Even if it were, the nature of how tightly-packed these corridors are, prevent any sort of flank or tactical diversion.
There’s only really one of two entrances to most objectives, so it’s a matter of picking your poison. Battlefield 1 Operations may have been fought around small areas, but the battle was often decided by how well each team can successfully funnel troops into the point, rather than simply watching the doorway. The problematic nature of gameplay balance and the ill-conceived class system become clearer the more you find yourself in similar situations, regardless of which side you end up on.
In Battlefield and most class-based shooters, classes exists to serve a defined purpose and offer solutions to problems players may run into. A medic is necessary to keep the front line held with revives and heals, an engineer is your only hope against armour, and so on. Players control the number of medics and engineers on the field, and they’re able to do so 100% of the time to adapt to the needs of every situation. Classes in Battlefront 2 seem to only be in the game for DICE to brag about their existence on the back of the box, a way to add another bullet point.
There are no defined roles for any of Battlefront 2’s classes, with the exception of the Officer which is only slightly unique in some of its abilities. In practice, you play the different classes because of the weapons each gives you access to. Unlike the first Battlefront, each class is only able to use a specific class of weapons. The abilities each one starts with are often self-serving, and nowhere near as useful as a medic’s syringe or an engineer’s RPG in Battlefield.
The Heavy’s unique shield and sentry abilities are useless to anyone but himself. The Assault’s scan dart and the Specialist’s wall-hack-style binoculars offer temporary benefits to the team, as does the Officer’s health buff. You most definitely can live without all of them, though, and the fact that you’re able to replace them with even more self-serving abilities should really be all you need to know about how well thought-out the class system is. Even the way weapons are unlocked in the final game has all the signs of a hastily thrown-together fix for a deeper problem.
After catching flak for it during the beta, DICE removed most weapons from loot crates. Instead, you unlock a new weapon by getting an arbitrary number of kills with the one below it on the list. This is also how you unlock their attachments, which most of the time boils down to killing X number of players.
The customisation and weapons screen doesn’t even tell you how far along you are in these milestones, it simply says the name of one you need to finish. You have to go to the Career menu (only accessible out of match) and navigate to the weapon in question, only there will you find out the requirements needed to unlock what you want.
I don’t understand why DICE couldn’t simply tie weapon unlocks to character levels, like every other multiplayer shooter.
This poor design extends to class levels, which are only dictated by the number and rarity of the Star Cards in your collection. A confusing system on its own, and one that leaves something as crucial as a class level to sheer luck.
Class levels control the number of Star Cards you can have in a loadout. This not only puts you at a disadvantage for no fault of your own, it offers no clear path towards getting out of this rut. You can craft cards, but you will need Crafting Parts, which are mostly found – randomly – in loot crates. You can try to hunt for the milestones that award a meagre amount of parts, but you’d be going out of your way to create a challenge, all for a poor reward.
The menu that keeps track of all similar milestones is so poorly put-together that you’d almost think it was designed this way for a reason.
And this is the feeling that permeated every minute I spent in multiplayer. Whenever you run into balance problems, and there are many in Battlefront 2, you can’t help but think that you’re at a disadvantage because you’re not spending any money on microtransactions.
There’s always this nagging feeling that you’re playing an inferior version of the game simply for paying no more than the $60 shelf price. It’s impossible to accurately critique game balance knowing that there’s a chance, even a small one, that certain things are the way they are to prod you to just give up and spend a little money.
Even Starfighter Assault, the only good thing in Battlefront 2, is ruined by the inclusion of Star Cards. I would love to tell you all about how it takes a simple, solid core and makes it more engaging without getting rid of its easy-to-pick-up nature. Or how balanced and customisable the handling model can be, but all of this won’t mean much the moment you feel – first hand – how reliant it is, like the rest of the game, on Star Cards.
I enjoyed the mode the most in the first few days, but I quickly began to identify which of my opponents had the better deck. Cards affect even basic properties like overall health and turning speed. A fully decked-out A-wing is more devastating than any other ship you’ll come across.
I am really in awe that I have to talk about these sort of issues at all in a $60 game, but these problems are real and they add a predatory, exploitative layer to an already mediocre game. Even if you pretend for a moment that there was no way to pay real money to buy power in Battlefront 2, tying class levels to your card collection like some sort of CCG remains bad design.
The abilities these cards confer are not side-grades that you’re weighing the pros and cons of carefully, they’re often linear, objective improvements. This is very clear with heroes in particular, which cross the line from overpowered to broken the minute you equip upgraded cards.
Assuming all that power, terrible as it is, was attainable through regular play, it would still be a system that relies on luck, not merit or time spent. Removing microtransactions also doesn’t fix the poorly-designed maps that are nothing but long corridors of choke points. It doesn’t fix the unsatisfying gunplay, the busy environments that make it hard to spot enemies, or the general lack of tactical options in any given encounter.
All of these problems and more plague Battlefront 2 to an almost surprising degree. This is EA and DICE we’re talking about, after all, not some two-bit no-name who spent most of its money on the license and little on the game.
Playing Battlefront 2 made me pine for the good ol’ days of 2015 when the original game came out. I was among the few that thought it was nigh on perfect, despite calls for “more” almost everywhere you looked. There’s a magical, arcade-like air to the original that made playing it more fun and care-free.
To become Darth Vader or Han Solo, you picked up a random token on the map. And when you died, it didn’t matter, because the game didn’t enforce any sort of rigid systems or predefined roles. The very features and mechanics Battlefront 1 got panned for lacking, are what made it enjoyable.
With the sequel came a desire for more depth and a focus on making gameplay less “casual”. Suddenly, Battlefront has much bigger shoes to fill. The result, a game that gets compared to other class-based shooters because it wants to be considered one, not because it is. Which is where it all falls apart for me.
The much-touted single-player story campaign isn’t anything to get excited about, either. I honestly can’t say it added any value to the game. It’s short, and doesn’t feature any interesting characters or motives, as if it came from someone’s early attempt at fan fiction. I can’t say if it’s the restrictions that come with the story being canon – meaning every detail had to no doubt be approved by Lucasfilm – or the lack of ambition on the writers’ part that hurts it most.
The setup and reveal of a major turning point in the story had the flimsiest, most nonsensical execution I have seen in a game of that size. Not even Midichlorians and Anakin’s definitely-not-Jesus origin story can come close. I was particularly surprised it wasted time coming up with tacky scenarios that exist only for you to meet or take control of iconic Star Wars characters for a few minutes. I am not sure what sort of fan service developers thought they were doing when one of these encounters literally had you fighting flies.
Once you’re done with the five-hour campaign, the horrid state of the multiplayer will take centre stage. After a while, DICE’s attention to detail and stunning graphics will grow old, and you’ll be left doubting every encounter, every death. DICE’s biggest crime with Star Wars: Battlefront 2 isn’t that it added microtransactions, it’s that it forgot to make a game worth playing in the process.
Review is based on PC code, provided by EA.