Star Wars Battlefront 2 Review: A Maligned Shooter Hiding Its Potential
Like the prequel trilogy before it, Battlefront 2 is already a divisive piece of Star Wars lore. There's no doubt it's a flawed experience, carrying with it glaring inadequacies and, at times, ham-fisted storytelling and convoluted mechanics. But despite its blemishes, Battlefront 2 is also a game that showcases the things that make Star Wars the epic space opera it is: wonder, redemption, and most of all, whimsical fun.
As any Star Wars fan can attest, there's something magical about that galaxy far, far away. Whether you're visiting vibrant planets in the galaxy's remote reaches, piloting a Tie Fighter through the stunning vacuum of space, or sneaking around the white halls of a Rebel cruiser, Battlefront 2 drops you into the middle of George Lucas' meticulous vision like no other game in the Star Wars franchise. It makes that distant fantasy tangible, for better or worse.
With all the controversy surrounding the game, Battlefront 2 nearly collapses under its own weight and several dubious design decisions. The places that do shine keep it afloat and worthy of notice by any die-hard Star Wars fan, but ultimately, it's a game that falls short of a brilliant concept and can't be recommended without serious considerations.
I've Got a Bad Feeling About This
Battlefront 2's biggest draw is its expansive multiplayer experience. Participating in large-scale battles on planets like Endor, Naboo, and Takodana is the primary focus here. Whether you're playing the 40-player Galactic Assault, the smaller 16-player Strike, or the intense 24-player Starfighter Assault, going toe to toe with real-life opponents against the backdrop of Star Wars history is uniquely engrossing.
And on the surface, it works. BF2's mechanics are solid. Piloting a Tie Fighter or X-Wing has never felt so good; firing an E-11 or an A280 blaster has never felt so natural; and swinging a lightsaber, double-bladed or not, has never felt so fluid. It's in these moments that Battlefront 2's multiplayer shines brightest -- when it lets you sink into the battles at hand and blast your opponents into stardust.
But all of that starts to crumble the moment you begin to level and find yourself face to face with BF2's unrelenting bogeyman: its progression system.
A Remnant of an Uncivilized Age
In theory, Battlefront 2's progression system works, I'll give it that. Like other games in the genre, you're able to increase your overall rank by performing well in combat. You're also able to increase the ferocity and effectiveness of your troopers, starfighters, and heroes through Star Card upgrades. These "perks" increase stats, provide buffs and debuffs, and augment class loadouts. Arguably, it's all stuff we've seen before in shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield 1.
The problem lies in this specific system's unnecessary complexity and imbalanced execution.
At the end of each match, you're rewarded with experience points and credits. The former increases your overall player and class rankings, while the latter provides you with in-game currency with which to buy loot crates. Inside loot crates, you'll find new Star Cards that make your characters, vehicles, and classes stronger, give them new attacks, or upgrade their weaponry.
It all sounds well and good, but this is where problems start to arise. First, multiplayer achievements, in-game challenges, and other milestones mostly award you with small amounts of credits. This means that it will take most players upwards of several hours just to open one of BF2's loot crates through natural progression. And when you consider the 2,200-credit Heroes and Villains loot crate is the cheapest, and the Trooper loot crate, which most players will need to open on a regular basis, costs 4,000 credits to open, you start to see why this system is less than ideal.
The second issue is a more nefarious one: microtransactions. Because it takes so incredibly long to naturally procure credits for loot crates and hero and villain purchases, Battlefront 2 inherently incentivizes microtransactions. By purchasing Crystal, BF2's premium currency, players willing to shell out IRL money can open loot crates more quickly, get credits faster, and effectively increase their chances of getting high-level Star Cards at a faster rate than casual players.
Sure, those paying players still have to tussle with Battlefront 2's stingy RNG system and aren't guaranteed to get rare Star Cards with every draw -- but they are more likely to get those Star Cards before any player progressing naturally. At the time of this writing, I've already run into a bevy of OP players in each of the game's multiplayer modes -- and I have a feeling not all of them got so powerful naturally.
To make things more confusing -- and arguably more lopsided -- BF2's crafting system is gated, too. Completing challenges, finishing milestones, and opening loot crates also (sometimes, maybe) awards you with crafting parts. These can be used to upgrade Star Cards from tier to tier.
Certain enhancements require that specific class and player levels are met before those options are unlocked. That's expected. But what isn't expected is that if you don't already own particular Star Cards that keep you competitive in multiplayer battles, you'll have a hard time increasing those levels to get those unlocks.
This means you'll need to grind matches and challenges to get credits to open loot crates to get Star Cards to become more powerful to grind more matches to get more credits to open more loot crates to get more crafting parts to become more powerful to ... I think you get the point.
Ultimately, the skinny is this: the entire system is an RNG revenant from the free-to-play world forced onto a $60, AAA release. And while the minutiae of that encroachment is beyond this review, it's disheartening to see it diluting a game it has no business haunting.
There is Another
While Battlefront 2's foundational multiplayer principles make it a relatively fun mode overshadowed by an overly complex progression system, the game's campaign mode is a whimsical romp through the Star Wars universe that keeps enjoyment and entertainment front and center.
You play as Iden Versio, commander of Inferno Squad, an Imperial special forces contingent that only takes on the most dangerous of missions. During the Galactic Civil War, Iden's spent most of her time sabotaging Rebel installations and assassinating high-level operatives. When the second Death Star explodes in the skies above Endor during the events of Return of the Jedi, Iden finds herself in a desperate situation -- and questioning her loyalties to the Empire.
Spanning 12 missions, BF2's five- to seven-hour campaign showcases the narrative power of Star Wars storytelling. From joy and pain to redemption and corruption, all of the staples of a good Star Wars story are found here. Strong writing and even stronger performances from the game's cast (specifically Janina Gavankar as Iden) keep the story from too many pratfalls along the way -- and keep the more ham-fisted moments bearable.
Strangely enough, there are times when the reference-heavy narrative wheels away from Iden's core story, bringing in classic franchise characters we know and love -- ones that sometimes wield lightsabers or have penchants for gambling. And as a Star Wars fan, these moments keep me engrossed by expanding the universe's current canon.
But objectively, these asides often feel forced into the narrative for fan service. Does Inferno Squad really need to go to an undeveloped, backwater planet just so that one character can make an appearance and find that special trinket? Do they really need that one swashbuckler to find that info? Sure, they're fun, but they're entirely unnecessary.
The campaign is at its most fun in its early stages, when the stakes for Iden and her covert squad are the greatest. It's a pity that the story couldn't shake all of its tropes and stay more focused on the missions at hand, but at the end of the day, Battlefront 2's narrative is one of the best the series has seen in a long, long time -- perhaps since Tie Fighter.
That epic story is bolstered even further by the game's absolutely gorgeous backdrops and preternatural character models. Light gleams off Inferno Squad's helmets as they trudge through the dense forests of Endor; the skies over Pillio stretch into the distance behind regal (and uncannily realistic) waterfalls; and the wreckage of Star Destroyers burns brightly against hot desert sands of Jakku. Iden and her compatriots, Gideon Hask and Del Meeko, look as real as you and I -- down to every pore.
To top things off, I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention Battlefront 2's soaring score and impeccable sound design, both of which make the campaign even that much more pronounced. Just as with its predecessor, every blaster bolt, lightsaber swing, and starship flyby is full of pitch-perfect nuance and gravitas. Iconic sonic landscapes from the films, ranging from The Phantom Menace to The Force Awakens, make appearances throughout BF2, further bolstering the feeling that you're not just playing a game -- you're playing a movie.
It's somewhat perplexing that the fidelity of sound intrinsic to the campaign isn't as strong in the multiplayer sections, where clearly hearing enemy boot steps and commands is arguably more imperative. In my experience, I often found it difficult to determine where enemies were coming from, and the more granular pieces of audio design from the campaign were lost in the utter cacophony of combat.
For all the things Battlefront 2 does wrong on the multiplayer front, there's a plethora of things it does right everywhere else. It may seem overly dramatic, but Battlefront 2's single-player experience, terribly fun Arcade mode, and couch co-op features save the game from itself. It's in these modes and moments that we see under the hood, past the obtrusive microtransactions and needlessly complex progression systems, and discover a wildly fun and mechanically sound experience.
Visiting that galaxy far, far away has never been more beautiful; battling on planets such as Takodana and flying in the skies above Kamino has never been more exhilarating; and blasting Rebels and Imperials alike has never felt so satisfying. To put the icing on the cake, you won't find better in-game cinematography in any of BF2's franchise cousins.
It will be interesting to watch Battlefront 2's journey and see how long players will stick with the game. Playing more than 15 hours of BF2 so far, I get the feeling that some players will stay around for the upcoming canonical story DLCs that will expand the narrative into the moments before (and perhaps during) The Force Awakens. Others will stick around for the game's tight controls, well-rounded mechanics, and exciting gameplay. But others (and I'd argue more than you think) will find the game's frustratingly convoluted systems too vexing to get over.
And that's unfortunate because Star Wars Battlefront 2 really is a fun game to play. You just have to search for it.