Games Review: Star Wars Battlefront 2 (Xbox One X, 2017): Tempted, but not quite giving in to the Dark Side

Star Wars Battlefront II, a game mired in launch window controversy. Is it as terrible as the screaming denizens of the internet would have you believe or is it all being blown out of proportion? For our Battlefront II review, we thought we’d split it into two discrete components — the single player campaign, reviewed by our own David Hunter and the multiplayer, reviewed by our games editor David Smith.

Single Player Campaign
David Hunter

Star Wars Battlefront II‘s campaign sets you on an intriguing journey through a brand new and in-canon Star Wars story. You are elite Imperial troop commander named Iden Versio, and before that you are an Imperial droid given the task of breaking her out of a holding cell on the Mon Calamari cruiser Invincible Faith. It’s not long after the destruction of the second Death Star, and Versio’s prison break kicks off a pretty awesome story that manages to have a few surprises up its sleeve, even after the countless gameplay trailers that made up the game’s marketing. Good job keeping so much of that a secret, EA.

Sadly, it’s not a huge campaign with only 12 missions to play through. The multiplayer is obviously still DICE’s meat-and-potatoes here and while the campaign feels reasonably repayable  with plenty to collect, it definitely feels like there isn’t much meat on those bones. Given that EA enlisted other developers like Criterion to handle certain parts of the multiplayer, it stands do reason they could do the same for the campaign. Having just purchased Respawn Entertainment, maybe bring them in the for the campaign next time? Their Titanfall 2 campaign was one of the best first-person shooter single players of the last few years. Imagine what they could do here!

Without spoiling too much of the story, Versio’s tale rather firmly takes place inside the universe we know. It plays by Star Wars rules, picking up after the Imperial defeat at the end of Return of The Jedi. It’s actually very inventive in the way it threads together what exactly happened to everyone after the destruction of the second Death Star, including how it all looked from the perspective of those naughty imperial goons (turns out, there not all cardboard cut-outs). A few major surprises are in store for those that have kept well away from any spoilers too. I am so glad I had!

I love that the game takes a bit of a risk to try something slightly new, if not totally original, for Star Wars or any action shooter franchise really. But the fact we are finally moving forward in plot rather than banking in on existing films over and over again and retreading the same ground had me excited the whole time I was playing and I really hope we see some more expansions taking the same risk.

What’s Luke doing on this planet?

The mechanics are Battlefront 2’s best and worst saviours. Not much has changed from the previous Battlefront in this regard. The shooting, running and jumping all work extremely well in the frame of an online first person shooter where controls are built to keep everyone reasonably even into a story campaign, it feels oddly out of date and out of place in what is an otherwise pretty smooth affair. This rears its head again when switching to third-person perspectives and mechanics. As much as I enjoyed the ways DICE implemented their multiplayer gamefeel in a single player environment, I think they needed a lot more polish in the animation department. Hopefully going forward they may realise that third person controls do not have to be the same scheme or controller mapping than its first person mode.

Biting off more than Iden can chew?

What I love about Battlefront more than 2’s terrific new story is just how accessible it is for people like me who aren’t crazy, quick scoping, Call of Duty obsessed psychopaths! The few rounds I tried in all of the modes had me wanting to come back for more, to unlock that next item card, to rack up a few more kills, yes I could actually kill other players, I was amazed too!

Another killer app (I do mean it kills the game) I don’t want to go to deep into here is the damn micro transactions, yes this game lives and breeds on them, so much so, that half the bottom of the main menu screen emits a  flashing box that reads “Get More Crates”. Now this has in no way effected my campaign run, but I have not spent nearly enough time in multiplayer to see if it truly makes a difference. Only time will tell, but I am already over this drip feeding mechanic in every damn EA title this fall (Need for Speed Payback, Shadow of War).

For now, I say it’s a big step forward for EA and Battlefront, despite some of its more minor flaws, it’s a quick and easy story campaign that only begs for you to enjoy it again and again while living out the rest of your days in multiplayer madness with your mates in the Star Wars Universe. It’s far from the epically perfect adventure game we all still want and need from Star Wars, but I’ll take it never the less.

Campaign Score: 7.0 out of 10
Highlights: Cool story; Cool characters
Lowlights: Doesn’t really do anything you haven’t seen in many other shooters

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Multiplayer
David Smith

My opinion of Star Wars Battlefront II‘s multiplayer may take a dimmer view than my colleague’s more positive outlook on the single player. My problems with Battlefront II‘s multiplayer are more or less the same ones I have with its sister series, Battlefield. The big team games of 40 players are visually spectacular affairs, both somehow frenetic and a slow burn at the same time. Individual or squad-to-squad combat is kinetic and near constant while the march towards each objective is accomplished at a pace commensurate with continental drift which quickly leads to player exhaustion.

Each of these pitched battles is pulled from a different era of the main Star Wars film canon. My first two games were plucked straight from the prequel trilogy, the first a firefight in the streets of Naboo’s capital city Theed from Episode I, and the second a fight to stop a Republic star destroyer from taking off on Kashyyyk based on a similar battle from Episode III.

Given their expansive nature, these levels lend themselves to sniper fire far more than close quarters combat. You’ll find yourself getting picked off by what appears to be an especially aggressive pixel in the distance the moment you enter line of sight. Even with the Xbox One X’s 4K HDR power, it was still hard to make out distant targets amongst the busy multiplayer environments. This is kind of a shame because the environmental work and map designs in Battlefront II are gorgeous to look at, especially with the grunt of the Xbox One X’s 4K HDR display behind it. Everything’s running at a silky frame rate, the colours pop. In the middle of a firefight, I actually stopped and marvelled at the way the wind was lifting clusters of dead leaves off the ground and whipping them around. There’s such great detail and atmosphere work going on here. It’s a shame that if I stop to appreciate any of it, I’m killed instantly.

A point that aggravated me about Battlefront II‘s multiplayer is that, upon booting the game, its main menu provides only two real options: Begin Your Battlefront Journey or Train Up. If you’re pressed for time, like me, you might just hit the former, expecting to be taking through a shorter tutorial. That is not what happens. Instead, you are dropped immediately into a gigantic 20v20 team game with no clear idea of how the mode works or even what the controls are. You will be killed over and over by enemies you can barely see or are better equipped than you, thanks to the game’s stance on loot boxes and microtransactions that do encourage Pay-to-Win behaviour and a progression system that unfairly stacks the deck against new players by rewarding higher levelled players with higher powered weapons. EA has made numerous changes to these systems in recent days and weeks, but I was being roasted by people who’ve been playing for days in early access, people who’ve already unlocked Luke Skywalker as a hero character and were packing much beefier weaponry. Doesn’t exactly make a great first impression.

I don’t know if its just me but it feels like the game doesn’t do enough to tell me where my enemies are or when I’m being attacked. Instead, it just expects me to know what’s going on without providing any real spacial or environmental awareness that could help me.

So, there’s that. On-foot big-team combat is, in my opinion, as muddled and unhappy as any multiplayer offering DICE have ever built. If you’re a Battlefield fan or this sort of big team style game is your jam, then you’ll likely have a great time. For players that are here more for the Star Wars than for the FPS, I think it will be a confusing, frustrating experience. I think DICE have been grinding out Battlefield titles for so long they’ve forgotten how to make anything else.

The starfighter modes on the other hand are way more fun. These modes, Starfighter Assault (12v12) and Galactic Assault (20v20), were specifically developed by Criterion (Burnout ParadiseNeed for Speed: Hot Pursuit) and their experience in crafting vehicle-based games couldn’t be obvious. I actually don’t think there’s a pair of better modes in Battlefront II‘s multiplayer suite than these ones.

Focusing on a series of objective-based matches, most often to stop Rebels from bombing the hell out of crucial Empire space stations and strongholds, these modes were far more readable to me and made a great deal more sense mechanically. The starfighters all feel great and handle in ways that seem appropriate. X-Wings are precise and manoeuvrable while TIE Fighters are all speed and require a deft touch. There’s an ease and satisfaction to getting complex manoeuvres right — weaving to avoid incoming X-Wing fire, hitting the brakes and bringing the nose your TIE about so that you perform an almost on the spot 360 degree turn. The X-Wing rockets past you, you complete your turn and now you’re giving them hell. It’s terrific fun and shockingly well implemented. Criterion have laid out a mandate for a new Rogue Squadron title with these modes and I hope EA is listening because I want that very badly.

There are several other boots-on-the-ground modes in Multiplayer including Blast, which is your classic 10v10 team deathmatch, and Strike, an 8v8 class-centric, objective-based team mode not dissimilar in its thinking to Overwatch. Both of these are perfectly fine modes and do a great job of showing how much more interesting Battlefront II is to play when you simply lower the amount of players involved. While team deathmatch is fairly by the numbers at this point, Strike is actually pretty solid and I found myself going back to it quite a bit. The downside is that because the game funnels just about everyone into the big team games, it can be a bit harder to get a match in these satellite modes.

Another mode seemingly borrowed wholesale from Overwatch is the Arcade, where you can create custom games, play offline, stack up against the AI for practice or just play somewhere less intense than the online arena. For those who prefer to monkey around with the settings for that extra bit of flavour, this is the area for you.

One thing that I thought was pretty amusing about these multiplayer modes is their uniform disregard for Star Wars canon and its established timelines. There’s nothing to stop Rey and Kylo Ren showing up on Theed and battling against Clone Troopers for the Droid Seperatists (“What?” jabbers a battle droid as they spawn in, “Who’s that?!”). In the middle of a Galactic Assault match, I was momentarily thrown when the Millennium Falcon piloted by A New Hope era Han and Chewie swung through to save my First Order backside from a swarm of Resistance X-Wings. Darth Maul and Yoda fighting back-to-back on Hoth. Bossk and Lando going absolutely off on Starkiller Base. It’s certainly weird, sometimes hard to tell who’s on your team, but it’s never boring.

So … is it worth playing? To borrow a line from the films themselves, “I know there is good in you. The Emperor hasn’t driven it from you fully.” While many may argue that it’s more microtransaction now than game, twisted and evil, I think that’s actually selling the experience a bit short. The big team games aren’t for everyone, certainly, but there’s value in the smaller team modes. Starfighter Assault and Galactic Assault are almost worth the price of admission alone in my opinion and I hope the game expands on them dramatically as new content finds its way into the fold.

Multiplayer Score: 7.5 out of 10
Highlights: Looks fabulous; Wonderful art design; Starfighter modes are dope
Lowlights: Big team modes are still a confused trudge
Developer: DICE, Criterion, Motive Studios
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Available: Now

Reviewed on Xbox One X via EA Access.