Star Wars Battlefront II is a very good game. Unfortunately, all of that good stuff has been marred by weeks of controversy, a needlessly convoluted progression system, and a laughably unrewarding in-game economy. Still, if you're willing to wade through the muck, you'll discover a lovingly crafted campaign, fun multiplayer modes and an experience that blasts pasts its predecessor at warp speed.
You may have noticed that I have made no mention of microtransactions up to this point. That's because, as of this writing, EA has decided to pull that particular functionality from the game entirely. According to a statement made mere hours before Battlefield II launched, the for-pay content will be reintroduced to the game at a future date, but only after they've done some tweaking, rethought the system and come up with something less likely to make the publisher/developer look like absolute monsters. I'll touch on all of that later on but, for now, I'd like to take a slight detour and talk about the rest of the game. I wish to hell an assessment of this Battlefront II didn't have to begin this way, but EA and DICE haven't really left us any other option.
What I wish I could have just jumped straight into, instead, is how much I've really enjoyed my time with Battlefront II. Were it not for some really bad development decisions and decidedly tone-deaf responses from the publisher, this game would be launching to the sound of diehard fans cheering rather than an insane amount of (deserved) vitriol. And were it not for EA's literally last-minute decision to temporarily remove one of my biggest concerns, my own assessment would be quite a bit different. Removing the microtransactions doesn't fix many of the game's lingering issues, but at least I now have hope that the remaining wrinkles can potentially be ironed out. We'll just have to wait and see if EA and DICE are legitimately sorry they "didn't get this right."
So, setting that aside for the moment, let's dig into the good stuff, of which there is plenty.
Battlefield II can be broken into three main components including the single-player campaign, a collection of competitive modes and an Arcade mode that lets players tackle set challenges (Han) solo or with a split-screen friend.
I went into the campaign not knowing what to expect. Actually, if I'm being honest, I went in expecting a four-hour, glorified tutorial that didn't really add much in terms of lore or gameplay. So I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Battlefront II's addition to the narrative of a galaxy far, far away was pretty substantial.
Throughout most of the game's 14 missions, you'll take on the role of Iden Versio, commander of the Empire's elite Inferno Squad. The story takes place right at the tail-end of Return of the Jedi, then follows the continuing galactic war over several months following the destruction of the second Death Star.
What I was most excited about heading into this campaign was seeing the story from the perspective of the traditional antagonists. If every villain is the hero of their own story, what sort of tale would explain why Versio, her comrades, and the rest of the Empire feels that their conflict with the Rebels is a righteous one? While the story begins to tinker with those ideas, I was a little disappointed to discover that the campaign pretty quickly shifted into a more predictable path that makes it clear that, yeah, there's only one "good" side in this particular showdown.
But despite that missed opportunity, and despite a couple of frustrating difficulty spikes and poorly placed checkpoints, the campaign was everything I could have hoped for and more.
On the surface level, Battlefront II looks and sounds phenomenal. Growing up on the movies, it was hard not to grin from ear to ear at the sights and sounds of the campaign, where I got to fight through locations featured in the films, meet iconic characters new and old and have a hand in a major turning point in a war that's been raging since I first clapped peepers on the original trilogy. I got to pilot all of my favorite vehicles, utilize all of the trademark blasters, wield the force and basically wrap myself in a warm, comforting blanket of Star Wars goodness.
It took a solid six or seven hours to work my way through Versio's story that, sadly, doesn't really have a conclusion yet. We've already had word that the tale will continue through DLC and, given all of EA's questionable choices concerning the game up to this point, I hope to hell they don't actually charge players to experience the "true ending." You're left kind of hanging when the credits roll, which doesn't offer much of a sense of completion. Still, what's here is solid and full of small touches that any Star Wars fan is going to gobble up.
My thoughts are similar when it comes to Battlefront II's multiplayer modes. I'll just jump directly into my most anticipated mode, Starfighter Assault. You remember how there was very little aerial combat in the original Battlefront and, once it was implemented more fully, it wasn't all that great? Well, the team fixed all of that in a big way, making the Starfighter mode the option I'm most likely to select in the months ahead. There's a large number of ships to fly, plenty of abilities to try out and revamped controls that make zipping through space an absolute delight. You'll join up with 11 teammates in this mode and square off against a dozen opponents in an attempt to rule the skies. Even better, a bunch of AI opponents are dropped into the fray a la Titanfall, giving you plenty of fodder to blast through even if you can't manage to tackle your human-controlled opponents.
On the ground, you can dive into modes such as Galactic Assault, Strike, Blast and Heroes vs. Villains.
Galactic Assault is my favorite of the bunch, pitting teams of 20 against each other in objective-driven confrontations. You might need to attack a certain point, defend a ship's vulnerable control consoles or just prevent the enemy from overrunning a cantina. The maps span the history of the Star Wars series, letting you battle in familiar locations on maps that are just as intricately designed as the campaign and full of moving bits and bobs that make the world come to life.
The Strike mode condenses Galactic Assault into less hectic encounters for teams of eight, while the Blast mode is your basic 10v10 team deathmatch encounters. Finally, for those of you who enjoy wielding absolute power, the Heroes and Villains mode pits the Empire versus the Rebel Alliance in four-player matches where everyone gets to pick their favorite overpowered heroes and just let loose.
If you'd rather take on bots in set encounters alone or with a couch-bound friend, then you can tackle the game's Arcade mode. In a pinch, or if you just really don't want to deal with other players, it'll at least keep you busy. There are three difficulty levels per encounter for both the Light and Dark Side, and each level within a given mission typically adds some fun alterations to the challenge outside of "more dudes to shoot." I don't expect to return here much, but it's a nice inclusion all the same.
In short, Battlefront II is a complete package, which already gives it a leg up on the previous series entry. There's a little something for everyone, no matter your play style, and a heck of a lot to dig into if you're a fan of everything on offer.
Despite all of that, it's not like I can pretend the game isn't without its glaring faults. Again, microtransactions have been removed as of this writing, and they were definitely the main offender when folks could literally pay to earn in-game bonuses over other players. It was the very definition of pay-to-win and, coupled with the remaining shortcomings, would have left a real nasty taste in my mouth no matter how much I enjoyed the rest of what Battlefront II has to offer.
With their removal, and assuming EA and DICE actually plan to address the leftover issues, the game's offenses are at least less damning.
For starters, the upgrade system is convoluted to the point where I imagine some players will find it utterly impenetrable. To progress, you need to earn loot boxes through play or in-game currency. And again, I reiterate, you can currently no longer purchase that in-game currency, which takes the gross-o-meter down several notches.
Still, the game's economy is so stingy with that currency, as well as the "parts" you can use to just unlock exactly what you want, that the trek to each in-game reward is an absolute slog. And even when you earn a loot box, you're gambling with whether or not your rewards feel rewarding in the slightest. My first two loot boxes included upgrades for Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, locked heroes that cost the most to acquire (even if their cost has been cut by a whopping 75 percent pre-launch). Those that followed frequently included similar bonuses for heroes I have not unlocked yet or classes I don't typically play. To make matters worse, the other items I unlocked included so little in-game currency and crafting "parts" that I felt like I was barely inching toward my next goal. And did I mention that you can only earn a set amount of in-game currency per day through the Arcade mode for some unfathomable reason?
To put this into more clear terms, I can spend 4,000 in-game currency to open a loot box. In that box, I typically got an ability/victory pose/etc. for a character I didn't use, less than 200 in-game currency and five "parts." The cheapest loot crates cost around 2,000 to unlock, so those in-game credits weren't much of a return on my investment. If I want to just buy the lowest tier of an ability for a class I actually play, that'll set me back 40 parts, so I need to open another seven loot crates to even achieve that goal.
The most frustrating issue here is that I know for a fact that DICE knows how to do progression systems the right way (Battlefield) and, whether through their own poor decisions or influence from their publisher, they've managed to make in-game rewards anything but rewarding.
Even players who enjoy Battlefront II's online modes minus the stigma of pay-to-win microtransactions will likely find little reason to stick around when the reward loop that's supposed to keep you coming back for more feels like it's openly taunting you.
As happy as I am that EA has announced a temporary hold on microtransactions while they figure things out, I'm left in something of a pickle when it comes to offering a final assessment. In a way, the game isn't finished yet and, in its current state, some of its other major issues are still standing in the way of an experience that is otherwise a hell of a lot of fun to play through.
So what I'm going to do for now is assume that EA and DICE are actually going to address all of these issues and meet them halfway. If what I've (longwindedly) described above sounds like a major turn-off, by all means, keep your money in your pocket until you see some action to go along with the promises. Not only would I not blame you, I would encourage it.
But if the powers that be actually take player feedback into consideration, actually right these wrongs that they shouldn't even be making in the first place and actually deliver a progression system that doesn't make me cringe worse than Jar Jar Binks, then they'll have a real winner on their hands.
I hate to be this wishy-washy with a score, but it's not like EA has given me much of a choice. As the game stands, the progression system is still a big enough trash fire to trip up an otherwise great game. I wish to hell I could be offering a better assessment, as everything else in Battlefront II truly deserves it. So this is where I stand now. Assuming they adjust things and eventually put right what has gone horribly, horribly wrong, this game earns my full endorsement. For now, though, buyer beware. The dark side is strong with this one.
This review based on a PlayStation 4 copy of the game provided by the publisher.