Star Wars Battlefront 2 hits all of the right notes in the heat of a pitched firefight. Blasters chirp, TIE Fighters scream, the orchestral accompaniment soars or crashes as the good guys or bad guys take the lead. In the scenes the players create, there are moments that feel like what kids have always wanted, to romp around inside the movie with their own blaster or lightsaber, cutting down disorganized Rebels or winging hapless Stormtroopers.
Outside that moment, however, Battlefront 2 behaves like a big budget movie property, one that reaches into your pocket instead of asking for your time. Much has been made of the game’s loot crate economy and the progression tied to it, but the real problem with Battlefront 2 isn’t so much microtransactions as the opaque nature of what larger goal the player is trying to reach.
Electronic Arts rebooted Star Wars Battlefront without a campaign in 2015, and it seemed like a reasonable decision. Campaigns are typically single-serving items, whereas multiplayer keeps players coming back, and games like Titanfall also experimented with devaluing campaigns around the same time. But Star Wars has always been about more than blasters, lightsabers and sci-fi doodads, and campaigns are more valuable than the time players invest in them might seem. Star Wars Battlefront 2 adds a story and a potential hero to the 2015 formula to fill the hole that its predecessor left.
Like a Star Wars villain, the result is a mixture of light and dark. The presentation is smooth, detailed and immersive, an impressive recreation of a well-known universe. Though rushed in spots, the story and its lead actor create a character who can stand proudly alongside Star Wars stalwarts. But the gameplay is an uneven, occasionally monotonous affair that derails into unnecessary diversions and sometimes can’t escape the tractor beam of Battlefront 2’s multiplayer roots.
Battlefront 2 is a beautifully rendered and believable reproduction of the Star Wars universe. While visuals aren’t everything, as a Star Wars fan, I was happy to find that this world immersed me in a gorgeous cinematic universe on my PlayStation 4. The white plastic hallways of Rebel ships, the claustrophobic red and blue confines of massive Imperial spaceships and the lush redwood forests of familiar moons leave no doubt that you’re in the Star Wars galaxy. The gameplay, however, doesn’t always equal the beauty of its surroundings or the performance of its lead actor.
The galaxy needs a grounded character for us to relate to, and Battlefront 2 delivers it in Iden Versio, the star of the single-player campaign. As an agent of the Empire’s elite Inferno Squad, it’s Versio’s duty to disrupt, thwart and kill the Rebellion’s anti-Imperial activities. Versio and the actor who portrays her, Janina Gavankar, are the best parts of the Battlefront 2 campaign. Even when the story feels rushed, Gavankar’s performance guides players through a dramatic arc and infuses the story with the emotion that its impact requires.
Playing as a villain is a little weird, although other Star Wars games like TIE Fighterand The Force Unleashed explored similar dilemmas. The first few hours are particularly uncomfortable, as I took part in a war machine I knew was unjust, without the game questioning what Iden is doing or why. At first, it seemed like I might be able to do my duty non-lethally, but that artifice quickly vanished. I was just a person with a job, and that forced me, as the player, to do horrible things like kill Rebellion soldiers.
Versio’s internal struggles intensify as the narrative unfurls. She begins with the sort of personality that could conceivably buy the pro-Empire arguments about maintaining order and keeping the galaxy at peace that Emperor Palpatine tries to sell throughout the films. But few people can compartmentalize their morals when faced with doing or witnessing things that are clearly wrong. It’s here, after the first few missions, that Battlefront 2’s story finds its footing, and Versio’s character gains some much needed depth.
It’s one thing to deal with politics across the stars, but it’s quite another when those politics become personal. Forced to confront an uncomfortable situation on her homeworld, Versio and her friends struggle with difficult questions: How can you be a good soldier while also following your moral compass? What does duty require if your orders compromise your morals? The members of Inferno Squad have to answer these questions, and those answers provide the meat of the story.
Eventually, Versio’s actions place her fate in the hands of a beloved Star Wars character who has reason to believe in second chances. It’s smart writing, and the character lends immediate credibility to the twist. Still, the shift from dark to light is so quick that it doesn’t quite feel earned — at least, not at first. Versio’s character arc eventually pays off, even if it relies on some narrative shorthand.
There are more narrative swerves and cameos, which I won’t spoil here because they’re catnip for Star Wars fans, but suffice it to say that the campaign isn’t quite as simple as it first appears. The story’s perspective occasionally shifts away from Versio, which gives Battlefront 2 the opportunity to explore the central conflict from different viewpoints. The downside is that these are often more interesting as a story than a mission to play.
Some of the shifts in perspective, while interesting in concept, are the weakest parts of the campaign. Too often, the developers reuse environments and resources from Battlefront 2’s multiplayer portion to middling effect. The worst of these missions made me feel like I was stuck within a space designed for multiplayer, yet poorly repurposed for the single-player campaign. The best I could do in these situations was kill waves of enemies while an invisible timer counted down … until I could move forward. And then do it all again.
The Battlefront 2 campaign also offers a truncated version of the progression system from the multiplayer side, allowing players to unlock new weapons and abilities for different situations. You have your sidearms, shotguns and sniper rifles, but each one has a visual and auditory Star Wars twist that fit into this world. Alternate loadouts with many guns and abilities were always an option, but I rarely found a reason to deviate from what the game suggested for each mission. They’re the default loadouts for a reason: They work best.
To its credit, Battlefront 2’s campaign also offers more than running and shooting. Things that are highlighted in the multiplayer modes are also baked into parts of the campaign, like flying TIE fighters and playing as classic Star Wars heroes. While these break up what could otherwise be monotony, the sections are a fun but somewhat frivolous way to use every part of the buffalo.
Also, like in 2015’s Battlefront, the concept of playing as a Star Wars hero is better than actually controlling one. Swatting at bugs with a lightsaber isn’t much fun. Waiting out time-based objectives in a repurposed multiplayer battlefield isn’t much fun. Playing as a hero stuck with Battlefront 2’s most boring gun, a pistol that forces you to pull the trigger approximately one billion times to kill waves of mindless stormtroopers, isn’t fun. Those parts of the campaign often feel like a slog. It’s better in almost every situation to be the real hero, Iden Versio.
Rather than feeling like the bespoke part of a game that also offers multiplayer — something in the tradition of Halo or Gears of War, for example — Battlefront 2’s campaign too often feels like the reverse-engineered addition to a multiplayer game. I can trace every significant misstep back to their multiplayer roots: the diversions, the mediocre missions, the occasionally lackluster encounters.
And yet, the story trumps all.
The story’s uncomfortable start and truncated character arc are the exceptions. Yes, the diversions rely too much on nostalgia and can feel like a slog. But when Versio takes the stage, Battlefront 2’s story delivers, deepens and surprises, particularly toward the end. I want to see Janina Gavankar and her character in more than just games. In fact, she and the story pay off so well that they sand the rough edges off the campaign’s less engaging parts. Like a highway toll, they’re worth paying to complete an ultimately worthwhile journey.
Star Wars Battlefront 2’s multiplayer is, for now, focused on getting players into the action quickly and keeping them there as long as they wish. It’s a reasonable priority, given the chunky loading times that pervade the menus and user experience.
But this approach also eschews a lot of player choice; there are currently no means of creating a custom online multiplayer match. The eight maps players can choose from in offline multiplayer or solo Arcade mode are nice, but they don’t include locations, like Kashyyk or Endor, that are found in online multiplayer.
This is an unfortunate omission, as a new set of maps always requires some study in a lower-stress environment. Battlefront 2’s maps are well designed and richly illustrated, but the breakneck pace of online multiplayer makes it tough to explore them and build familiarity in anything short of a dozen consecutive rounds.
The maps are intuitively laid out, however. There is rarely a single choke point, and pretty much everything offers the opportunity to flank an enemy pouring heavy fire through each door. Or, in those rare moments of multiplayer coordination, cover two corridors with heavy fire while the grunts go charging through the middle.
But Battlefront 2’s gameplay is typical of a big-budget, rock-em, sock-em shooter, and that means a lot of cheap death, for reasons that don’t immediately present themselves. I got shot from across the map a lot — by non-snipers too — when I sought any elevated position (this problem is prominent on Endor and Yavin 4), and the effective range, even for heavy weapons, is considerable. Crouching and improvising cover is an option, and moving while crouched is not cumbersome, but it feels like DICE made sure anything other than a solid wall always left my character exposed for a dome shot.
For these and other reasons, familiarity with and use of one’s Star Cards (a player class’ loadout of upgrades and buffs) and class-specific abilities is critical. Officers seem like a useless class, for example, unless one is using the battle command that guarantees unlimited cooling to their weapon, and that of anyone nearby, while active. An officer matched with a heavy, using this feature, can swing the momentum of a firefight by themselves. This is particularly true in the goal-oriented Strike mode, where one team of eight players is tasked with completing a multi-stage goal and the other is trying to shoot the other side to pieces.
The game still frequently breaks down to just shoot the other guy, however, and letting the remainder take care of itself. Strike does the best job at forcing players out of that pattern, or at least roughly penalizing a team that isn’t paying attention to the objective (usually sabotaging certain areas, or grabbing some package and running it to an extraction point). The defense seemed to be at a strong advantage in most Strike playlists I went through — I think it took about four matches before I saw Separatists win a single round at the Kamino cloning facility.
Starfighter Assault sees the biggest change from its predecessor thanks to new controls that use both sticks. In 2015’s Battlefront, players directed the ship largely with the left stick, as if it was a character on the battlefield. In Battlefront 2, movement is by default on the right stick, with the left controlling thrust and roll.
It’s hard to remember how to steer and move after coming right out of a ground-based fight. But after getting the hang of it, Starfighter Assault delivers the most Star Wars-y feel of the game: There’s skimming the surface of capital ships, rolling away from asteroids or debris or pursuing targets inside the superstructure of huge carriers. There are no evasive-action maneuvers on the D-pad as there were in 2015’s Battlefront, which can make lock-on sequences very long and frustrating for a player trying to shake pursuit. But the missions inside Starfighter Assault — particularly ambushing a Star Destroyer in an asteroid belt and flying through it to knock out its shield generators — provided the most excitement of any mode in the game.
Gear is important — by all means, the “bounty hunter” cards that accelerate the “battle score” the player accrues in multiplayer should be equipped. But there’s no avoiding the almost Darwinian trial-and-error it takes to understand the maps and construct a loadout that can survive long enough to put together a three- or four-killstreak.
Crouching, flanking, holding a position — no tactic seems to be able to slow the pace of play when you’re still a viable target to someone barely visible. On offense, though, I never got a consistent sense of what it took to make a kill. Some opponents went down in a hail of gunfire. Others seemed to shrug off headshots. This is probably because of the the many Star Cards that can confer damage resistance or a health bonus for human opponents (in fairness, they could for me as well). It’s no surprise that kills go much quicker and headshots are much more decisive in the user-vs.-CPU Arcade mode. I still can’t shake the instinct to aim down sights, which confers no accuracy benefit (like the 2015 game) and takes precious milliseconds off one’s reaction time.
It’s a testament to the game’s visual design and, particularly, its audio that multiplayer could keep bringing me back despite the many inscrutable deaths I suffered and the long upgrade slog it sets before a completely new player. Like its predecessor, Battlefront 2 obligates the player to absorb a lot of punishment when everyone else has better gear or perks and they don’t. Kill-to-death ratios will start swinging after a user hits an overall rank five or so. Players should make it a priority to collect 250 kills as a Heavy, because the FWMB-10K awarded for that benchmark makes you the landlord of the map, with its best-in-class damage and range.
The game was clearly designed to give advantages to those who have more cards, a system that would have rewarded players who paid more before the microtransactions were removed. Unfortunately, a credit cap remains in place for Arcade mode — 500 credits per 12 hours (not counting the credits one can earn for milestone achievements). This was something ostensibly introduced to keep people from farming it for easy credits to buy loot boxes. But the main rewards from Arcade mode are so spare that this seems spiteful more than even-handed.
There are also no visual customization options for standard classes in Battlefront 2, though EA DICE has hinted these are coming soon. (Some heroes have different looks, however). It’s going to take some time to get Battlefront 2 to the kind of variety its predecessor offered — especially for bread-and-butter expectations like hosting a custom match or changing your player’s look. It will be disappointing to Battlefront veterans how little they can do outside of a match other than unlock and reorder Star Cards and boosts. But the fast-paced action inside the matches, the challenge of surviving them and the incentive to keep pushing for better weapons and gear is enough for now.
Star Wars Battlefront 2 is made up of many different parts that are pretty good, but the whole is consistently undermined by poor choices in the game’s multiplayer economy. No aspect of Battlefront 2 is beyond redemption, but it’s hard to fall in love with any part of it, either. It’s mostly a disjointed, sporadically fun collection of modes set in familiar Star Wars scenes. Because players have no idea what is really being sold to them, or when, you have a big-name launch that gets in the way of itself more than it creates fun.
Star Wars fans who feel compelled to try everything in the franchise will probably have an OK time. But the lack of clear vision that Battlefront 2 shows at its debut is too much uncertainty for a AAA shooter, much less one bearing the Star Wars logo.
Star Wars Battlefront 2 was reviewed using final “retail” PlayStation 4 download codes provided by Electronic Arts. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.
A special thanks to Author: Dave Tach for this article
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