Update: Never before has a game that we've reviewed lurched in so many different directions so soon after launch (in this case, not even a full launch). We pondered our score long and hard in the first instance, with the old loot system affecting the game, but in our opinion, not as much as some had suggested. Just before the review landed EA reduced the cost of unlocking hero characters, then a couple of days later we saw epic star cards unlock for special edition-buying players ahead of launch and the game's pay-to-win mechanics came to the fore more than ever. Now EA has decided to remove microtransactions completely, albeit temporarily, changing the dynamic once again. As it stands, the score stands, and we've updated the text with impressions of the game after playing on launch day, but with so many changes happening behind the scenes, we're going to revisit Star Wars Battlefront II in a couple of months, once the dust has settled, and see where we are. What we do know for sure is that this is a beautiful, exciting action game that has been dragged through the mud by a monetisation system that should never have been there in the first place. How EA decides to move forward from here is going to be very interesting indeed.
The thing that everyone said was missing from Star Wars Battlefront was a single-player campaign to go along with all the multiplayer action, and that's exactly what we've got from this shooter sequel; a more well-rounded package that includes online, solo, and cooperative modes that draw from across the expanse of the Star Wars universe. In exchange for this new solo story mode we lost the season pass of old, with EA promising a wealth of post-launch content in its place, to be funded not through DLC drops but via microtransactions in the multiplayer portion of the game.
We were delighted that EA and DICE decided to drop the season pass, and it's only a good thing that the multiplayer community in Battlefront II will stay together for the duration. We're also glad they gave us a single-player campaign to play, because even though it isn't perfect, it's still perfectly playable and makes for a more cohesive overall experience. That said, we're not sure that DICE's sci-fi shooter is an outright improvement over the original, and there are one or two areas where we could see refinement in the future.
Let's start with the story campaign, which brings together a host of famous characters from the original trilogy and mixes in some new ones for good measure. We loved the start of the narrative, which sees Iden Versio (played by Janina Gavankar) taking charge of Inferno Squad, an elite unit of imperial soldiers who take on the most dangerous missions. It's an interesting and bold move that puts you on the other side of a well-established divide, fighting against the Rebellion instead of for it.
The events of the game are tied to those of Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi, and like Rogue One and A New Hope, it's clear that a lot of thought has gone into linking these stories together and making them feel more relevant by their proximity to well-worn events. There are hints and teases and knowing winks throughout the campaign, and fans will get a kick out of at least some of the cutscenes. The scriptwriting is, at times, brilliant, and we were genuinely entertained during several of the scenes that played out between missions.
It's a shame, then, that many of the missions are a little run-of-the-mill, with some of the objectives you undertake bordering on boring at times. Apart from the fan-servant character dialogue and some stunningly realised locations, you've seen it all before, and the overall mission structure could have done with more innovation. We've played some fantastic story-driven shooter campaigns over the last couple of years, but sadly this isn't up there with the best of them.
Part of the problem is how often the flow of the story is disrupted. On the one hand, it was fun walking in the shoes of some iconic characters through some familiar locations, but on the other, it resulted in a slightly disjointed narrative. The missions starring Iden and her sidekick Del were the best of the bunch in our opinion, and there were some standout moments in the campaign involving other characters, but ultimately it just didn't have the teeth to really grab us. It's far from being a disaster, but we doubt even the biggest Star Wars fan will call it an outright success either.
There's also an Arcade mode which offers up 16 objective-based missions, played from both imperial and rebel perspectives. Waves of enemies descend on the player/s who must fight back and clear a designated number of opponents, for example. It's nice to be able to play in co-op, and it's also nice to revisit certain locations from a different perspective (such as battling through the palace in Theed with Darth Maul). Still, it's not the mode that will keep most players coming back for more, and if you're going to get an addiction to Battlefront II, it's going to be because of the multiplayer.
The online portion of the game is, for the most part, brilliant. The moment to moment gameplay, the systems that have been put in place to promote teamwork, the new setup around hero characters, and the emphasis on aerial combat, all combine to create a mighty fine package. The problem, however, is it comes wrapped up in a loot system that flirts dangerously with being pay-to-win. Following the changes made by EA on the eve of the game's launch, we spent some more quality time waging war across all three Star Wars eras. The suspension of the microtransactions that caused so much controversy among the wider gaming community is certainly for the best, although it has to be said that the star card system that defines player progression is still too convoluted. While we felt competitive without spending a penny before the changes, it certainly seems like a wise move by EA and DICE and, for the time being at least, it removes any sense of doubt that hangs over players as they fight the good fight in A Galaxy Far, Far Away. It's frustrating to admit that we initially underestimated the impact of the star card system, and it doesn't help that we're still not sure how all of this will play out. Players can still unlock star cards and assign them to different classes, which in theory should be nice and simple, but there are a number of different criteria to satisfy if you want to upgrade your abilities, making it needlessly complex.
Everything else in the multiplayer part of the game had us purring with delight, however. Starfighter Assault is a fantastic mode that has teams of twelve battling in various aerial scenarios, and we love the feel of control and the sense of place that Criterion has managed to deliver, of racing around in X-wings and TIE Fighters, weaving in and out of danger. Galactic Assault is once again the main course with its mix of on-foot skirmishes and vehicular combat, but the change of tact that has players earning battle points to spend on unlocking advanced classes and hero characters in the second half of each match makes for a more balanced battlefield when compared to the old system whereby it was something of a lottery as to who grabbed what pickups (or hero camping).
There's a 4v4 Heroes vs Villains mode filled with some of the most iconic faces from the Star Wars universe, with the most desirable characters taking several hours to unlock (although EA has since reached out to confirm that they're tweaking this so it won't take as long from here on in). On top of that, there are smaller scale objective-based modes focused on skirmishes between both sides (Strike and Blast), and all told we felt there was a decent selection of maps and modes, with more on the way to keep things fresh (and, with no season pass, everyone will be able to play together).
One of our favourite design decisions was the choice to link respawning players together, giving them an incentive to cooperate for greater rewards. It creates ad-hoc squads out of players as they return to the fray and glues the team together. It's still perfectly fine to play as a lone wolf, but if you work well with those around you, the system will reward you for doing so. Similarly, if you're working together with friends, you can use the star card system to pick mutually agreeable abilities that dovetail together to make you collectively stronger. Each player can choose one of four classes from the start, but as they earn points for in-game actions, they can subsequently get to play as more advanced classes or even hero characters, leading to even more options for the team. Plus, it never gets boring watching Yoda rip through enemy lines with his lightning-quick lightsaber (as long as he's on your side, of course).
There are rank and file troopers and heroes drawn from across three different Star Wars eras, but it never gets confusing thanks to crystal clear visuals and the distinctive designs of the various classes across each army. The animations are generally excellent (although some of the melee attacks are pretty unrealistic), and the scenery that houses the action is nothing short of jaw-dropping at times. We played on an Xbox One X and the results were, at times, breathtaking. Similarly, the audio was top class, with all the iconic sounds and effects you'd expect from a triple-A production like this, supported by top class vocal talent. Given the IP and the developer, it's no surprise that Battlefront II excels in this area, but it's still worth congratulating DICE on delivering one of the best-looking games we've ever heard or seen.
A lacklustre campaign won't be enough to detract from the appeal of Star Wars Battlefront II, nor should it, because despite its flaws there is still fun to be had and it slots nicely into canonical events. The multiplayer, on the other hand, was fantastic fun, and our experience wasn't tainted by the inclusion of the controversial loot system, although we must concede that it's impossible to predict how this will affect balance in the future, especially as we wait to find out what shape the progression system finally takes. EA has made the changes just in time for launch, but perhaps not soon enough to save face, and while we're pleased that they've taken a step in the right direction, the system that remains in place is still not good enough to drag the score up.