The Empire Strikes Slack
Game: Star Wars Battlefront 2
Reviewed on: PS4 (Review code provided)
2015’s Star Wars Battlefront was a title that had everything going for it prior to launch, sold by the bucket load but left the vast majority of players wanting a lot more from it, and not in a good way. A fragmented player base thanks to a ludicrously priced Season Pass, coupled with an underwhelming array of content from the initial release saw many people leaving the game behind quicker than they’d liked to have done. EA had a lot to prove with the inevitable sequel. And… well.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past month, you’re doubtless aware of the controversy surrounding Battlefront 2’s multiplayer, and the progression system that lies within. We’ll get to that, but I want to start with the thing that many people felt was missing from the first game, in the much-hyped single player campaign.
Before the game’s launch, all of the marketing for the campaign was centred on how this was going to be “Told from the Empire’s side”, and that you would “Finally see the other side of the coin”. Perhaps the most frustrating thing with Battlefront 2’s campaign is just how agonisingly close DICE get to letting you fill out this slightly twisted fantasy, and blast away Rebel Scum into the endless void of space. In fact, for the first hour of the campaign, this is exactly what you do. After witnessing the destruction of the Second Death Star from the woodland surroundings of Endor, Iden’s lust for revenge is palpable, with nothing standing between you and her commitment to the Imperial cause as you pump blaster round after blaster round into the chests of the camouflaged rebels, and watch them fly across the landscape like the vermin that they truly are.
It’s shortly after this that you’re given your first glimpse of space combat, and it is a beauty. Criterion’s efforts in the first Battlefront’s space arenas were lauded among the finer elements of the game, and they truly shine here. The sequence in question sees Iden and Del (one of the other members of the squad) navigating their way through the remains of the Death Star, and it is genuinely one of the coolest moments in a Star Wars game that there has ever been. The eerie silence and spinning pieces of wreckage interspersed with the familiar “wap wap wap wap” of an attacking X-Wing, and the returning fire of a TIE Fighter was absolutely fantastic, and I couldn’t wait for more.
Unfortunately, what then follows is a series of events that see you playing as Luke Skywalker slashing up bugs in a tiny section of a planet, Princess Leia shooting folk with a pistol on Theed, a bearded Han Solo in Maz Kanada’s cantina, and an admittedly fun (if not slightly frustrating) mission on Sullust with Lando Calrissian. These missions combined probably take up a third of the entire campaign, and they feel like they’ve just been thrown together by someone who’s just eaten a punnet of South Park’s ‘Member Berries. If I’m playing as Luke Skywalker, I want to be force-pushing Stormtroopers and duelling with Sith, not acting like Rentokil in space. It sadly sets the tone for the Hero missions, which never hit the high mark of the best bits of Iden’s sections.
MILD SPOILERS AHEAD
The disappointment mentioned above is cemented somewhat when, not even 90 minutes into the campaign, Iden and her squad pull off the kind of U-turn that your average politician would be proud of. In a true “Are we… Are we the bad guys?” moment, Iden and her squad suddenly decide that the guys with the dark uniforms, menacing statues and terrifying leader are probably not the ones you want to side with, and go from wanting to shoot Leia out of the sky to becoming her personal escort team. It’s a jarring moment, and it goes quite a long way to undermining the entire premise of the campaign that was being touted as a revolutionary Star Wars story in the run up. It’s a little bit like if the loudmouthed Brexiteer at the pub suddenly decided that Nigel Farage isn’t the likeable everyman that he makes himself out to be, and becomes a card-carrying member of the local communist party.
From that point on, the story becomes a little bit of a Star Wars Greatest Hits, churning out some “shoot the Stormtroopers” bits, followed by some more impeccable space combat, all the while feeling as good as the first one did. There are moments when it feels like it should just be a third-person shooter (particularly as all the heroes are exclusively controlled in that view), but it still feels like Star Wars all the same. The game trundles along at a decent enough pace, but before you know it, it’s all over, and you’re still left with big questions about how the rise of the First Order came about from the ashes of the Empire, which was an area I would have loved to have seen explored. Maybe we’ll get it in the free DLC, who’s to say?
It is with a heavy heart, then, that I come to the main event; the multiplayer. Star Wars Battlefront 2’s multiplayer progression is so deeply entrenched in a randomly generated set of mechanics and methods, that I don’t think anything short of a complete overhaul will satisfy a large portion of the people playing the game. The entire system is based around “Star Cards”, and the abilities afforded by them. These were present in the first game, of course, but there they were simply passive bonuses that unlocked over time. In Battlefront 2, these are gained through every gamer’s favourite mechanic, the Loot Box. It is imposed upon you from the instant you boot up the game that the “Crates” will be a big part of the game, and it’s so disheartening to see. Whilst I’m not fundamentally opposed to the concept of Loot Boxes (hell, Destiny 2 is one of my games of the year), the extent to which they have been shoehorned in to every possible crevice of Battlefront 2’s multiplayer environment is brazen at best, and at its worst, it feels downright sleazy. The amount of conflation between Loot Boxes and Pay-to-win elements over the past month has been astonishing to watch unfold, and it speaks volumes to me that every single news post, or piece of chatter around Battlefront 2’s multiplayer seems to be focusing on this issue rather than the question of “…but how does it play?”
Truth be told, Battlefront 2’s multiplayer actually plays really well. It still has a lot of the hooks that sunk themselves into me in the first game, and it still has a satisfying heft to things when you get going and into the flow of a match. It’s just a genuine shame that the sense of frustration is so enormous when VaderzBallsackz69 comes at you with a full array of fully-powered Epic Star Cards and makes you want to force-choke the life out of your TV. With most other games, this isn’t too much of an issue, because you know you’re probably going to get there at some point soon by playing the game. With Battlefront 2, you’re going to have to play a LOT of the game in order to get a CHANCE to get the good stuff. It’s controller-chewingly annoying, and with no guarantees as to the upgrades you’re destined to get, you’re either going to go in deep with Battlefront 2, or bounce off it like a Rebel Alliance officer who’s just been thrown against a wall by a Sith Lord. Sadly, for me, it was very much the latter.
Battlefront 2 is a game that I was looking forward to for the vast majority of this year. A single player campaign being told from the Dark Side? Multiplayer that builds on the first one? More actual space battles? It all sounded so promising. Hidden somewhere within Battlefront 2 is an excellent Star Wars game. There are enough seeds of ideas in there that, in time (and with a lot more backtracking), it could potentially become a game I will venture back to at some stage. Unfortunately, as it stands, those moments are swept away like the remnants of the Old Republic all too quickly, and you’re left with an experience that leaves something of a bitter taste.