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Star Wars Battlefront II - title

In a Nutshell

WHAT I LIKE

  • Shift towards more structured, contextualized multiplayer scenarios
  • Includes a single-player campaign
  • Includes dedicated starfighter dogfights
  • Includes arcade mode for practicing controls and arenas
  • Includes split screen multiplayer

WHAT I DON'T LIKE

  • Campaign is a gauntlet of shooting gallery set-pieces
  • Imperial protagonist switches allegiances at the drop of a hat
  • Story feels rushed and haphazard
  • Cover and stealth are unreliable
  • Starfighters are twitchy and arcadey
  • Designed around a pay-to-win gambling infrastructure
  • Randomized character advancement
  • Lacks dedicated support classes
  • No starfighters in arcade mode?
  • Tiny, unreadable fonts
  • Why does it take so long to load the main menu?

Overall Impression : D
A cop-out campaign drags Battlefront II further down

Star Wars Battlefront II - cover

Developer:
DICE,
Motive Studios,
Criterion Games

Publisher:
Electronic Arts

Platforms:
PC (via EA Origin),
PlayStation 4 < (via retail disc or PSN digital download),
XBox One (via retail disc or XBox Live digital download).
(< indicates platform I played for review)

MSRP: $60 USD

Original release date:
17 November, 2017

Genre:
Sci-fi online first-person shooter and dogfighting

ESRB Rating: T (for Teen) for:
Violence

Player(s):
single player campaign, and up to 40-player online multiplayer

Official site:
www.ea.com/games/starwars/battlefront/battlefront-2

Dang, I was really hoping to get this one out before the end of the year...

Thanks to previews, journalists, and complaints from beta users, this is yet another game that I knew better than to buy on launch day at full retail price. Even before the game came out, beta players and gaming websites were already condemning Battlefront II for its pay-to-win multiplayer system. When the media finally got their hands on preview builds of the full game, they were quick to attack the online progression system. Once the game was released, public outcry forced EA to literally neuter the game's online economy.

Slot machines are legally required to disclose
their paytables -- and sometimes their RTP.

EA started damage control by slashing the prices of heroes so that they supposedly weren't as much of a grind to unlock. However, the sneaky bastards also reduced the rewards for various in-game activities (such as completing the campaign), so as to render the cost reduction virtually moot. Then, EA disabled micro-transactions altogether. So by the time I finally started playing the game (over a month after launch), it was a totally different experience than it was intended to be at launch.

Star Wars license-holder Disney was furious with EA for potentially tarnishing the Star Wars brand (especially with the pending release of The Last Jedi). EA's stock prices fell as a result.

Battlefront II has actually caused law-makers and regulatory agencies in the United States and Europe to consider whether loot boxes qualify as "gambling", and whether they should, therefore, be regulated as such, including banning their sale to minors. Corporations are also starting to hop onto the bandwagon of self-regulation. Apple announced that all iOS apps with randomized micro-transactions must disclose the odds associated with rewards. This is the same disclosure that is actually legally required for actual gambling, such as slot machines.

For the record, I do not object to gambling per se. I actually bet every week on college and NFL football. Don't worry, I live in Nevada; it's legal for me. I spent almost three years working as a game developer for a slot machine manufacturer, and the only reason that I'm not still at that job is because the entire department in which I worked got laid off in the wake of a corporate merger (I'm actually very bitter and opposed to corporate mergers, by the way, but that's a discussion for another time). So I don't have a problem with gambling. I just think that it has a time and a place, and I don't want that time or place to be in my video games that I'm already paying $60 just to play. This is why casinos don't generally charge a cover fee.

I personally feel that Shadow of War and Destiny 2 are much more egregious examples of corporate avarice.

Also, for the record, I think that Battlefront II's micro-transaction controversy is a bit overblown. It's an online multiplayer shooter in which there is no win condition or end state. Whether you want the extra hero characters, and whether you're willing to spend time or money to get them is entirely up to the player's own whim. The game is perfectly playable without those heroes, and you can play through the campaign completely without spending an extra penny. It's a bit sleazy that EA markets the game by advertising these characters, and then locks them behind a grind/pay wall, but fighting games have been hiding unlockable characters behind grind-walls for decades.

Battlefront II isn't even the worst micro-transaction / pay-to-win system to come from EA! EA Sports titles like Madden and FIFA have been getting away with much worse pay-to-win systems (via their respective Ultimate Team modes) for years. Personally, I also think that Shadow of War (review coming very soon) has a much more offensive micro-transaction model because Warner Bros actually tied it into that game's campaign. If you want to finish the story, you either have to sit through the grind, or pay to speed it up. Though all of these pale in comparison to Activision and Bungie locking formerly-accessible end-game content behind the pay-wall of a Destiny 2 expansion pack.

In any case, it's sad that a review of a video game has to turn into a political op-ed, but that's the sad state of things right now.

Controversy and public outrage forced EA to completely disable in-game purchases.

So, if I knew that the game was controversially terrible, why did I bother to play it? Well, I was still curious about how the campaign would play out. With all the hubbub about micro-transactions, loot boxes, and pay-to-win, there was very little information about the single-player campaign.

The actual premise of this campaign, playing as an Imperial agent -- ostensibly the "bad guys" -- seemed like an interesting and courageous move by the developers. After all, I had already criticized EA's Battlefield 1 for not allowing players to play even a single campaign mission from the point of view of the Central Powers (the Germans and Ottomans), which effectively typecasts those nations as defacto "villains" despite there not really being any actual "good guys" or "bad guys" in the politically and morally murky quagmire that was World War I. I had also criticized the movie Rogue One for maintaining Star Wars' trademark black-and-white (or light-and-dark) morality instead of depicting a more nuanced picture of war and conflict. And now, EA is giving us an entire campaign from the point of view of an unambiguous "bad guy"! That seems to address both criticisms, so I was intrigued.

Battlefield 1 typecast the Germans as bad guys, and Rogue One maintained the hero-worship of the rebellion.

So, I did what I usually do when I'm curious to play a game from a developer or publisher that I don't trust: I waited a week, and bought an explicitly used copy off of eBay for like $45. EA won't see a penny from me unless I end up really liking the game, in which case, maybe I'll pay for DLC, micro-transactions, or recommend (or buy it) for a friend. If I like it enough, I may even trade in or resell my eBay copy for a new retail copy or digital download.

The campaign is a total cop-out

As an apology for releasing Battlefront (2015) as an incomplete product, EA and Dice actually included a single-player campaign this time around, and based it around the interesting idea of playing as the bad guy. But I won't be buying any DLC or buying the game as a gift for freinds, because this campaign is a total cop-out.

Surely, there must be whole planets of people who are legitimately loyal to the Empire, right?

Surely, if the Empire has the reach that it has, and people willingly sign up to be part of it, then there must be some public conception of the Empire as a benevolent, morally righteous force. Or -- at the very least -- of the Rebel Alliance (or at least one general in the Rebel Alliance) as violent terrorists whose actions and tactics warrant such a draconian smack-down. Remember, half of the American population supports Donald Trump or supported Barack Obama (depending on which side of the political spectrum you may fall), and most of those people are probably not evil, even though the other half talks as if they are (here I am going into political op-ed again...). I mean, all these Imperial Academy recruits have to be coming from somewhere, right? Surely there are actually whole planets full of people who are loyal to the Empire out of actual appreciation and faith in the Empire's rule of law, instead of staying in line out of simple fear.

Hell, in the first Star Wars movie, Luke Skywalker himself wanted to apply for the Imperial Academy to become a pilot! So we know for a fact that the general population (even in Outter Rim planets like Tattooine) does not necessarily see the Empire as evil. At least, not before they completely dissolved the Senate and unleashed the first Death Star.

Nope. Part-way through the campaign, our hero switches from "Those bastards blew up the Death Star and my beloved Emperor! Let's kill them all!" to "Oh thank goodness you blew up the Death Star. The Emperor had it coming." at the drop of a hat. What did you think the Emperor was doing with those Death Stars?

Our protagonist switches allegiances at the drop of a hat.

At the very least, the campaign could have made a point of trying to depict these Imperial troops as actual people who are mostly just doing their jobs. But it couldn't be bothered. Heck, it doesn't even bother making the Rebels appear even remotely villainous -- even during the portion of the campaign where Iden is still loyal to the Empire. Instead of establishing that Imperial troops and officers aren't all evil automatons who deserve to be massacred on sight, they're all just presented as having nothing else in the universe to do except shoot "rebel scum", and our turn-coat protagonist goes on to massacre every Imperial she sees on sight. The villain (and the Empire itself) continues to be depicted as a Saturday morning cartoon villain. The complete lack of sympathy for the Empire completely destroys Iden Versio and her squadron as relatable (or even interesting) characters, and it erodes the believability of the world itself.

I guess EA couldn't decide whether they wanted to tell the story of an Imperial officer, or if they wanted to tell the story of the end of the war following the destruction of the second Death Star. I guess they couldn't be bothered to separate the campaign into two separate campaigns (like Battlefield I's vignettes), so they just contrived this loyalty switch to cram both into a single campaign.

In any case, the characters are poorly-written and under-developed, the villain is uninteresting (if you even consider him to be relevant to the game), missions are loosely strung together by flimsy logic, certain plot points are introduced and never resolved (are they waiting for DLC?), and the writing for the hero characters is almost universally comic one-liners and film allusions. Those heroes, by the way, have very spotty character models and voices. Sometimes they look and sound good, but other times they aren't recognizable at all.

Not designed for single-player

Not only is the campaign poorly-written, it also isn't very comfortable to play. The biggest problem is that cover flat out doesn't work, so there's a lot of cheap deaths. If you have even a single strand of hair sticking out over the barrel you're hiding behind, the enemies will see it, they will shoot at you, and they will hit you. This also serves to cripple the game's embarrassing excuse for stealth.

Cover is unreliable and inconsistent, leading to a lot of cheap deaths.

Heck, stealth is oddly disabled altogether when you play as a hero character, even though Han and Lando's levels seem clearly designed for a stealth play. The game doesn't even bother to tell you that you can't do stealth takedowns as heroes. You have to stumble onto this fact on your own -- probably by accidentally sucker punching a stormtrooper in the back, then suddenly being spotted by everybody, and promptly suffering one of many cheap deaths. I guess the level-designers and gameplay programmers weren't talking to each other?

Cover is absolutely critical, because every mission degrades to gauntlets of battling wave after wave after wave after wave after wave of enemies. Enemies with machine guns. Enemies lobbing grenades. Enemies shooting missiles at you. Occasional vehicles and turrets pinning you down. Enemies in forests. Enemies in corridors. Enemies in volcanoes. Enemies on the surface of a star destroyer in the middle of a battle. It just goes on and on. I complained about Call of Duty WWII's campaign being a tedious string of shooting galleries, but Battlefront II's afterthought of a campaign makes CoD look like a masterpiece in comparison. At least CoD has functional cover mechanics, so you aren't constantly suffering cheap shots from through walls. Not that it made CoD's campaign any easier or less frustrating...

You'll have to stumble onto the realization that heroes cannot play stealthily at all.

Even if cover did work, you're constantly being forced out of cover by grenades and enemy flanking maneuvers. At least this keeps you moving, instead of just popping up and down to play whack-a-mole (like CoD felt). The problem is that the enemies seem to just appear out of nowhere. They aren't utilizing clever flanking tactics, they're just spawning behind you to get in some cheap shots. The frustration is compounded by the fact that your squadmates or wingmen just completely fail to cover your back or flanks.

Having to dispatch so many waves of enemies almost entirely single-handedly only serves to shatter the suspension of disbelief. I'm sorry, but even at his most scoundrel-y, Han Solo was never shooting through dozens of stormtroopers at a time. You're overwhelmed with force, but you never have the option to fall back. You have to stand your ground and fight it off, no matter how reality-shattering unbelievable it all is.

There's also numerous small frustrations.

The campaign doesn't stop for chapter divisions.

Like why aren't there any stops between chapters? Every mission is bookended by cutscenes. Instead of stopping with a "Mission Complete" screen after the trailing cutscene, the game just swipes or dissolves into the next chapter's opening cutscene, and then into gameplay. I guess they wanted to make it cinematic? The problem is that this makes it even harder to follow the convoluted story. If you decide you don't want to go onto the next mission, you have to pause and quit after the mission starts. Then, if you load up the campaign a couple days (or weeks) later, the game might not bother to show you the opening cutscene. Half the time, I couldn't remember what the point of the mission was supposed to be? Why am I here? What am I doing? I guess it doesn't matter. How much context could I possibly need for "shoot all the bad guys, and then shoot more bad guys"?

Or like how sometimes when you complete an objective or reach a destination, the screen tells you what the next objective is, but it doesn't mark it on the screen right away. So I end up looking around or wandering the level, when the objective was right next to where I started.

Or like how you have to claim your reward for each campaign mission one at a time, instead of there being a "Redeem All" button or something.

Or like how Luke makes a big deal about picking up some strange compass artifact from the Emperor's personal stash, only for Luke and the compass to disappear out of the game and never come up again. Is this a DLC hook?

A DLC campaign takes place
concurrent with The Force Awakens.

Or like how the campaign ends at a mostly satisfying resolution, only to pull a "decades later" cliff-hanger ending out of its ass. Oh, but don't worry, you won't have to wait until Battlefront III to find out what happens. There's a second campaign consisting of all of three missions that acts as a sort of tacked-on epilogue. And that second campaign just ends. "Hey, thanks for completing that mission. I have another mission for you" then pinhole swipe to black and return to title screen. Not even any end credits.

I guess that second campaign was free DLC to act as promotional material for The Last Jedi. It must've been free; I certainly didn't pay for it. I guess it answers the questions of why Finn is part of the First Order, and how the First Order got to spend 30 years becoming as powerful as the old Empire without anybody noticing. Not that either answer is particularly satisfying.

EA cancelled Star Wars 1313 and completely shuttered Visceral Studios so that they could make garbage like this? I can't believe EA released this! Everything just feels so unfinished and half-baked.

Randomized multiplayer progression

Even though I might be here for the single player campaign, most players are probably only here for the multiplayer. In many ways, the single player campaign is just a lengthy tutorial for the multiplayer mechanics. How to shoot, how to equip star cards, how to pilot vehicles, how to manage ability cool-downs, how to play as heroes, etc. are all covered in the campaign. Almost all of these mechanics aren't even modified for better integration into the campaign (such as heroes not being able to use stealth) much to the campaign's detriment.

Online character advancement is entirely tied to loot boxes, whether you pay for them or not.

As I've said before in my Call of Duty: WWII and Battlefield 1 reviews (and every other shooter in recent memory), I'm not a big fan of online shooters. A big part of this is the way that the progression and matchmaking systems create a very high bar of entry that makes early matches feel like a grind just to make yourself competitive. Battlefront II just happens to be a particularly egregious example of this because of the way its loot box system works.

The reality isn't quite as bad as some people make it out to be. You can craft any specific star card that you want. The problem is that crafting currency is acquired from loot boxes rather than from playing matches. Loot boxes seem pretty consistent about providing some crafting material and in-game currency, but the net effect is that you have to open loot boxes to get crafting points, which makes loot boxes the predominant, de facto way of earning anything in the game.

Call of Duty's unlocks are tied to character level.

Even if you remove the micro-transaction element, and thus the pay-to-win element, the fact of the matter is that player progression in Battlefront II is tied predominantly to a random number generator. In Call of Duty, weapons, upgrades, and abilities are tied to the character level (or weapon level in the case of weapon upgrades), which are earned by playing matches and gaining experience. Better play earns more experience, which advances your character faster. If there's a particular weapon or ability or upgrade that I want, I know exactly what level I need to be to reach it, which means I know how much experience I need in order to get to that level, which means I know roughly how long I need to play (assuming some average amount of experience gain based on match scores and performance) in order to unlock it. There's always the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

That isn't true in the case of Battlefront II. Every weapon, every star card, every ability that could make your character better is soft-locked behind a randomized loot box. Even if the game clearly presented the odds of getting a particular upgrade, there's still uncertainty over how much effort will be required to unlock it. If I want that Thermal Detonator upgrade, the game might tell me that it has (for example) a one-in-ten chance of appearing in a loot box, but because of the way that randomness works (assuming that EA hasn't implemented some kind of system that guarantees an items shows up within a given number of loot boxes), that detonator might show up after a single loot box, or it might not show up until my 50th loot box. In CoD, if I want a grenade upgrade, I would earn it by using grenades in matches and gaining experience. If I use the grenades well in combat, then I get more experience, which gets me the upgrade faster. In Battlefront II, I just get money to spend on a slot machine.

Now, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. This sort of advancement system has actually been implemented in many very popular and very successful games. So this is an entirely subjective, personal opinion: I just don't think that tying character advancement to randomized loot drops is particularly compelling game design. This is why I never got into the dungeon-crawling of Diablo. This is why I don't think that the randomized magic sword or armor at the end of the umpteenth Draugr dungeon is a particularly compelling reason to keep playing Skyrim. This is one of the big reasons why I gave up on Nioh, even though it has a tight combat system heavily inspired by my favorite PS4 game, Bloodborne.

Plenty of popular games tie character progression to randomized loot.
It's just not a design philosophy that I particularly care for.

Perhaps the popularity and addictiveness of these games (including, potentially, Battlefront II) is, in part, due to their similarities to gambling. Getting a random reward (whether you paid money for it or not) triggers many of the same reward centers of the brain, and can be just as addictive as gambling. As long as those rewards keep coming and remain compelling, the game remains addictive. As soon as the luster of new random loot wanes, the appeal of the game is lost (unless it has some other addictive or fun gameplay to fall back on). For me, that luster starts to fade as soon as I come to realize how few of these randomized loot drops I ever actually use.

Starfighters are no flight sim

There is one feature of the game that actually has gotten a lot of hype and positive praise: the starfighter mode. To be honest though, I'm not particularly impressed with this mode either. This is also going to be a very subjective, personal opinion: I just don't care for arcade-style dogfighting. This was also why I didn't really get into Battlefield I's dogfighting.

Starfighters have twitchy, arcade-style controls with no option for a realistic flight-sim-style configuration.

I grew up playing games like the classic Ace Combat games (4 being one of my all-time favorite games, period). These games have some fairly arcadey action, but they still have realistic flight controls. In the classic Ace Combat games, a single stick controlled pitch and roll, and the shoulder buttons acted as rudder controls for yaw. Turning, thus required rolling the plane and then pulling up on the stick in order to bank, and yaw is only used to make fine adjustments (particularly for landing on a runway or carrier).

By default, the game locks the starfighters' alignment to a horizon. For battles that take place near the surface of a planet (with an actual horizon), this makes a certain degree of sense. In space, however, it does not. The fighter is piloted almost entirely with the right stick, which controls pitch and yaw. The left stick controls throttle and performs barrel rolls. This configuration just isn't comfortable, or intuitive, or fun for me. Advanced mode doesn't fix the problem that pitch and roll are on separate sticks.

Objectives give unique usefulness
to different starfighter classes.

Using both sticks for maneuvering the craft also means that neither stick is available for any sort of free look. There's a chase camp, but you can't look side to side or up. Admittedly, the way a TIE Fighter is constructed actually makes it impossible for a real pilot to do this as well, but there's no reason it shouldn't work for an X-Wing. I found myself occasionally running into asteroids and capital ships during dogfights, or losing track of targets, because I couldn't see what was going on around my ship.

Aside from the controls, the mode is fairly well-designed, and is a lot more enjoyable (and competitive) than the ground combat. Each class of fighter feels distinct and has a well-defined role. The battles are all objective-based, requiring one side or the other to destroy or defend an installation or capital ship. The customization of ships (via star cards) even reminds me a lot of the Star Wars: X-Wing miniatures game, except without the carefully-crafted competitive balance that is maintained by X-Wing's fleet points. I actually wonder if the designers at EA / Dice / Motive were inspired by X-Wing miniatures. But then again, in addition to having a competitive balance that Battlefront II lacks, my X-Wing upgrade cards also don't come in randomized packs -- Fantasy Flight: don't get any ideas!

Star cards remind me of the X-Wing miniatures game, minus the carefully-crafted competitive balance.

Moving to the "boots on the ground" gameplay, I was disappointed that Battlefront II seems to have regressed since Battlefield 1, and the action is even less appealing. If you're not very good at the shooting part of online shooters (like me), then the support classes in this game offer little reprieve. Gone are the medics and mechanics that resurrect allies and repair damaged vehicles. Officers and specialists have some support abilities, but their primary role is still shooting at opponents, and your usefullness is still tied almost entirely to your ability to point and shoot at enemies before they point and shoot at you. The inclusion of a stupid roll mechanic has made this much more difficult. Many players just roll around everywhere because there's no stamina or anything to limit it.

Officers provide buffs to allies, but are
still all about shooting opponents.

There's a greater focus on objective-based gameplay, but the multi-arena Operations from Battlefield 1 seem to be missing. In fact, multiplayer seems exclusively focused around objective-based scenarios, as neither ground battles nor space battles have a basic deathmatch mode. I like this shift towards more structured play that attempts to contextualize the conflict. I just wish it were attached to a better game...

Token gestures

I do have to give the game credit for including some token features. Battlefront (2015) and Battlefield 1 were extremely skimpy on the content. Heck, Battlefront didn't even have a single player campaign. Battlefront II not only provides a single-player campaign, it also includes an arcade mode in which you can practice controls, characters, and arenas in local bot matches (complete with its own grindy progression rewards). It's nice, unless you want to practice starfighter controls, in which case you're out of luck because that mode is strangely absent from the arcade options. There's also split-screen multiplayer. I know, right? Haven't seen that feature in a long time! So at the very least, I guess my girlfriend and the kid can maybe play a little Star Wars multiplayer if they ever feel like it. These features certainly don't make up for the abysmal campaign and lackluster multiplayer experience.

I almost think that maybe the game would be better with it's pay-to-win micro-transaction paradigm in place. At least then, it would be a game. It'd be a gambling game, but it would be a game. The whole game was designed around those features and mechanics. Without them, what's left is just a sad, hollow, soulless husk just meandering around in circles waiting for someone to put it out of its misery. I haven't seen The Last Jedi movie yet, and I hope it isn't this bad...

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A gamer's life...

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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I've been saying for years that Star Trek would make a good anthology seriesI've been saying for years that Star Trek would make a good anthology series04/14/2016 Earlier this year, it was announced that CBS will be creating a new Star Trek television series to celebrate the franchise's 50-year anniversary. Very little was known about the series except that it would be under the leadership of Bryan Fuller (a former Deep Space Nine staff writer), and that it would premiere on CBS's All-Access...

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Who are Yorshka's parents?Who are Yorshka's parents?03/19/2017 Before we get very far into this, I want to acknowledge a point that you might be thinking right now: "But MegaBearsFan, Yorshka tells us who her parents are!" Or at least, she tells us that her father is Gwyn and her sister is Gwynevere and her "brother" is Gwyndolin. Seems pretty cut-and-dry right? OK, blog post over. If I...