The Star Wars games are, for many, a fond memory of console gaming 10-15 years ago – huddled around a screen the size of a slice of bread, trying to play split-screen against The Empire with limited visibility. Despite the technological limitations, the original games were brilliant and therefore the rebirth of Star Wars Battlefront (2015) a decade later was met with eager anticipation. I, for one, was not disappointed by the startling progress in-between. The infamous frustration that now surrounds the latest instalment Star Wars Battlefront II (2017), is that whilst it appears to have taken on the feedback from the previous game, there have been some nonsensical changes that have dismantled some of the aspects that determined its predecessor’s success.
The graphics of the 2015 release portrayed the landscapes in all their beauty with painstaking attention to detail, immersive sound design and striking ambition. The online features, particularly the Walker Assault game mode, could be played for hours on end. EA, had in short, done well. Meanwhile, where EA hadn’t hit the nail on the head was very clear from the feedback: where was the campaign? Why were excellent game modes like Walker Assault and Drop Zone surrounding by other lacklustre attempts that felt like unoriginal fillers? To most, it seemed they had a few clear objectives for Star Wars Battlefront II (2017) and the game would be vastly improved.
Whilst microtransactions have been the focus of much of the controversy surrounding this game (and accepting that all games rightly want to keep making money and lots of it) I feel it is the unnecessary changes that have been made here that have damaged Battlefront II. Metaphorically, it is a bit like having a decorator in to paint your walls and you return to find he has done this but also dismantled some of your furniture and put a fountain in the middle of the living room. EA knew what the players wanted and yet they couldn’t help overshooting on the changes and fiddling with concepts that already functioned well.
But let’s begin with what they did right. We asked for a campaign in Battlefront II and EA provided – and it is stunning (albeit a little short). Mostly playing as a new hero Iden Versio and other well known Star Wars heroes, the campaign completes everything it should – teaching you to play, showcasing the games graphics etc – whilst also propelling you through a gripping plot that feels genuinely compelling. The cut scenes are so beautifully crafted, it feels very much as if you are progressing through your own Star Wars movie and I only wish there was more of it.
These efforts are not limited to the campaign either. The online maps and landscapes are even more ambitious and detailed than the previous game. Plus there are also plenty more maps, many of which nostalgically hark back to the older Battlefront games. Everything from the visuals to the sound and music has improved perceptibly; Tatooine and Maz’s Castle in particular and space battles maps are also more visually stunning. Additionally, there are some clear improvements in the ship battles overall with the ships being much easier and more enjoyable to control with more objective based gameplay. Whether they want your money or not, the game inarguably wants you to enjoy yourself and feel fully immersed in its world.
Moreover, the online features have shown some clear improvements and, again, I feel EA have listened to the feedback of their players. Whilst most of the same game modes still exist, there have been some clear attempts to meld some of these together to create something original and varied. In particular, the Galactic Conquest mode is a challenging mixture of various game modes, including Walker Assault and Supremacy – meaning a match will have a variety of different objectives that will test different aspects of your skill. There have been clear attempts to bring something different to online gameplay here.
However, as stated before, this is where I feel Battlefront II has truly made its mistakes. Some of the changes to online gameplay, completely unnecessary changes at that, have succeeded in making the experience worse – particularly for non-seasoned gamers. Microtransactions have been integral to a lot of the controversy surrounding this game, yet even with them withdrawn at present, it feels like exclusivity is still an issue. Elements of the game will be inaccessible or difficult for people to experience unless they are a certain calibre of gamer.
A prime example is the process of playing a hero which used to be achieved if you were lucky enough to come across a Hero Token in the previous game. Not only did this mean playing a hero was down to chance, but anyone could enjoy the power of playing as Hans Solo or Luke regardless of their capabilities. Now, playing as a hero is obtained by earning a certain amount of ‘Battle Points’ actually in-battle, something which can only be achieved through a certain level of success. Ironically, Matt Webster, Executive Producer at Criterion back in April of this year said ‘“In Star Wars Battlefront II, we all wanted to really capture the essence of being heroic and how in Star Wars, anyone can become a hero.” This was true of the 2015 Battlefront, but thanks to the Battle Point system not everyone can be a hero at all. I can only imagine the frustration this will bring to new or very casual players who have just invested in the game to find they may never actually be able to play as a hero online.
Another strange comparison is that despite the superior graphics and sound, something about the online battles lacks the same chaotic and ‘open’ atmosphere of the previous title. Whereas online play in the first Battlefront felt vast and full of endless possibilities with plenty going on around you – the new online games feel comparatively restrictive. This is bizarre as technically the maps are no more restrictive or less energetic. Perhaps it is the introduction of the static CPUs – a strange choice which certainly dampens the frantic atmosphere. Moreover, the way some of the maps are constructed means that battles tend to funnel into the same areas and progress in a more linear way. For me, I found this meant a lot repetitive games with stalemate fights taking place down the same corridors or lanes.
Repetitive gameplay is always a contestable statement as one person’s repetition is not the same as another’s. However, I feel no one will argue that the team dynamics have also gone through some completely unnecessary changes which have had a detrimental impact on the online gameplay in Battlefront II – particularly for those who like playing with friends. As mentioned, the old-school Star Wars games were always better played with friends and whilst the split-screen element of the 2015 Battlefront was fairly basic, the online ‘buddy’ system still ensured you could enjoy a game with a pal. Respawning on your partner, watching their game play, incentivising them to stay alive until you could re-join them and take vengeance was my favourite social aspect of the game.
Now, however, you are assigned to a ‘squad’ as you respawn and are expected to stick together in order to boost your stats. This would be fine if, as in Battlefield 1’s excellent squad system, you had the same squad throughout the game and built towards a common goal given by the squad leader. Yet in Battlefront II, you cannot choose to respawn on your squad, the game chooses where and you will be randomly assigned a new squad every time. Your new squad won’t necessarily have any friends you are playing with and, in some cases, no actual other players – meaning you’ll be alone. The whole squad system essentially is a mess, serves little purpose and has overwritten a really enjoyable aspect of the last game. They already had a great partner system in Battlefront and this was not something that needed to change.
Battlefront II is, in many ways, in a league of its own for its visual and atmospheric ambition. Arguably one of the best movie franchise interpretation in gaming right now, it is a shame that the bad press it has received for microtransactions has overshadowed a lot of hard work which has culminated in beautiful and immersive gameplay. Whether microtransactions return in full force or not, I think many would prefer to graft at a stunning game and achieve their success off their own back and risk losing to a few people who prefer to buy their achievements. Where I personally feel Star Wars Battlefront II has made unforgivable errors however, is the over-tampering which has disrupted what already worked about the game – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!