Video Game Review: Battlefront II (2017)

– Spoiler Review –

Battlefront II (2017) set out to answer many fans’ issues with the first game by including a single-player mode, where you play as the Empire’s elite spec ops team Inferno Squad, and putting more content into multiplayer. The end result isn’t as wondrous as fans would’ve imagined, as the singe-player hits plenty of highs but suffers from several issues, while the multiplayer is built around a broken progression system, making one yearn for the simpler days of 2015’s game.

Single-player Thoughts: Just an impact on the surface

The singe-player campaign of Battlefront II has plenty of splendid, memorable moments and story beats both familiar and unfamiliar to anyone who has seen Star Wars, but it can’t escape its many pitfalls despite its strengths. The story follows Inferno Squad, made up of Commander Iden Versio (Janina Gavankar), the story’s main character, tech specialist Del Meeko (T.J. Ramini), and Empire loyalist extraordinaire Gideon Hask (Paul Blackthrone), who find themselves as the underdogs when the Rebellion destroys the second Death Star at the Battle of Endor. The main three’s repertoire works well and helps endure each character to players, even the hideous Hask, while Del and Iden’s journeys are made more exciting thanks to the performances. The few twist and turns of the story shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, and even less so for those who read the excellent prequel novel, Battlefront II: Inferno Squad, but regardless it’s still enjoyable to watch the predictable unfold. However, a lot of the emotional punch of certain story beats (like a certain coupling) will fall short for those who simply play the game, as the campaign’s brevity, fast-pace, and willingness to leave its main characters behind breaks-up a solid narrative that ends just as it crescendos into something more.

Iden’s conflict with how the Empire proceeds in the wake of the Emperor’s death, Operation Cinder (as first seen in 2015’s Shattered Empire), and how it tears apart everything she holds dear, is handled well enough and delivered with true sincerity by Janina Gavankar, commanding your eyes on her presence in every scene she’s in. But the story stumbles when the focus is torn away from her for “interlude” like cameos by characters like Luke (Matthew Mercer), Leia (Misty Lee), Han (John Armstrong), and Lando, as some parts of Iden’s, and Del’s, story happens off-screen despite the fact not enough happens on-screen when she’s the focus anyways. I enjoyed playing as the heroes as course, with Lando’s (Billy Dee Williams) section being a standout thanks to spending more time with the game’s MVNPC (most valuable non-player character) Shriv (Dan Donohue), while time spent with Luke in cutscenes (not him smashing endless bugs) was everything I’ve wanted from him post-RotJ, but they function as multiplayer primers more than anything else. But they aren’t solely to blame, as the entire campaign never escapes the feeling it’s set up to give players multiplayer training, as missions mimic game modes (protecting the Star Destroyer at the Fondor shipyards is Starfighter Assault 101) and scenarios are thrown into levels so players use special weapons or many Star Card abilities (while Lando’s section becomes a AT-ST training ground at the end). There are a few missions that don’t feel completely like primers, like say the Battle of Jakku or the very first level, but the rest don’t try to hide it and sap the campaign’s ability to feel special or unique from the obvious true focus of the game.

The campaign took me roughly 5-6 hours to beat and the breakneck pace of the experience made it even harder to latch onto the story, as plenty of times there was a short cutscene of people standing around an ops table in Inferno Squad’s Corvus, planning the next mission, and we’d be off with little to no deep discussion on events from the previous mission or what’s ahead. Even playing only the missions in the game where you are in control of Iden didn’t help gel the experience, though they did heighten the emotional impact of events to some extent. The game comes to a screeching halt just when things get really good, as the Battle of Jakku level provides lots of variety gameplay-wise and plenty of emotional weight, leading into a time-jump that pulls out several big surprises building off the previous mission;s end, but we won’t see the true ending until the free DLC releases closer to The Last Jedi‘s release (with warnings of small spoilers in the DLC for the upcoming film abound), though despite this scheme I am quite eager to see what happens next. I’ll be reviewing the story expansion separately after it releases.

One of the coolest aspects of the campaign is you can tell how much the writers love Star Wars and the collaboration between EA and Lucasfilm on the story was deep. There are references to things all over the new canon, from RAE SLOANE being name dropped, the Messengers/Operation Cinder and battle for Naboo from the comic Shattered Empire, mentions during the Battle of Jakku mission include stuff from Lost Stars and Aftermath (the Starhawk ships!), Sunspot Prison from the “Rebel Jail” arc of the Star Wars comic is named, a newly revealed S.H.Figuarts of Luke from The Last Jedi has him with an item he picks up in the game (he also has it in The Legends of Luke Skywalker, a fantastic novel), and so much more as seen over at the Shadow Council with their handy list of all the Easter Eggs! A video game has never felt this connected before and it makes me wish for a single-player only game even more so now that they seem to be taking advantage of the growing story world in exciting ways, while the connections here help Battlefront II feel like a snug part of the story. I’m hoping we’ll get a book version of the events within the game, as I imagine it could help build on the heft of the story as well as bring the focus back on the main characters.

However, by ending the story where it does, the game highlights my overall feelings of the experience: it’s only great when the Inferno Squad dynamic is in focus, but it never sticks around with them long enough to make an impact beyond the surface.

Multiplayer Thoughts: Player skills don’t work on me, only money. 

As promised, there is a lot more to Battlefront II‘s multiplayer than 2015’s game, but sometimes stuffing more things in doesn’t always produce something better or more enjoyable. There are more maps, more playable heroes/villains, a class system, bigger game modes, but everything is marred by a progression system that was broken before the game released and remains that way despite the game losing microstransactions (here’s an essential guide to the entire fiasco). To progress your character’s abilities, like stat-boosting/new equipment Star Cards, you have to buy loot-crates, which are essentially a gambling mechanic where you hope the crate will contain something you’ll want or need for a class of solider or Hero character you’re favoring/enjoying more than others. Therefore, progressing is random no matter how well you play with a certain class of ship or solider, and has to be bought with in-game currency you get either from playing multiplayer matches, completing milestone objections (x amount of kils/x amount of wins in a game type), or beating the singe-player campaign. And to get new weapons, you’re stuck playing with one weapon until you rack up x amount of kills with it, but if you’re not good with the weapon/character, don’t have any Star Cards to help boost the character, then it’ll take a long time before you can get a new weapon, once again turning something fun into a grind.

All these things were built to favor a system where you’d want to buy the loot-crates, something that you could actually do with real money or the in-game currency (which is slow to accrue). Now that the microtransactions are gone, people can’t buy their way to greatness anymore, but for those who join in the months ahead compared to those who have had the game since the beginning, they’ll be at a severe disadvantage because it’ll take them a lot of grind and lot of luck with the loot-crates to have any hope of catching up, even if they are normally a good to great gamer. To add to all of this, in-game you earn Battle Points, which you can use in the match to play as stronger characters (like Wookiees or First Order Flametroopers) or as Heroes (like Rey or the Millennium Falcon in Starfighter Assault), but racking up Battle Points will be easiest for the better equipped players, essentially rewarding them for being the best but making it much harder for those at any disadvantage. The currency and progression system are a complicated mess and turn the game into a grind and make it really hard to explain/talk about, as evident by the fact I’ve spent most of the multiplayer section explaining everything.

Despite all that, there is a glimmer of hope, and it’s Starfighter Assault. This was easily my favorite aspect of 2015’s Battlefront and it continues to be just as enjoyable here. The DLC for the previous game introduced multi-objective matches, where either team can technically win the match if they beat one of three progressing objectives, and Starfighter Assault is built 100% around this concept (so is Galactic Assault), with objectives that range from protecting/destroying Rebel corvettes or destroying/protecting shield generators on the Fondor shipyards, and it really makes each match feel like a giant space battle from the films. Controls and handling for flying don’t take much getting used to and the combat is fast, visceral, and exciting. My favorite map has to be the one among the ruins of the second Death Star, as weaving through the debris in an A-wing, threading complete destruction to lose a tail or missile lock is exhilaration of the first order (sorry not sorry for that pun). I might just solely play this mode for the rest of my Battlefront II multiplayer career as far as I’m concerned, even beating out the Heroes & Villains mode.

Overall, the fun of the expanded scope of the multiplayer is dialed back due to the grinding needed to deal with a broken progression system that rewards you like a Vegas casino, instead of on merits alone. Thankfully Starfighter Assault is still enjoyable and worth jumping into, giving the multiplayer some hope, but not much unless you’ve got time and patience.

Here are a few other things:

Be careful what you wish for: the age old adage rings true with Battlefront II, because even though the fans got everything they wanted, a single-player campaign and a deeper, fuller multiplayer experience, they didn’t wish specifically enough, as all the extra content ends up feeling more hollow than 2015’s sparse innards. While the pay-to-win multiplayer scheme was deleted at the last minute, a broken loot-box based progression system is left in its place, ruining what is a solid expansion on what was great about the first game. The single-player benefits from outstanding performances and a story that has some highlights (though ends as it gets really good), but its disjointed narrative and multiplayer training focus can’t help it be anything truly special (I do imagine the book version of events will be great). In the end, Battlefront II is one step forward and three steps back, leaving gamers with a beautiful looking shooter dressed up in Star Wars clothes that just don’t fit.

+ Janina Gavankar and the rest of the cast bringing the parse drama of the single-player to life (writing team deserves some credit too!). Shriv is life, y’all

+ Gorgeous graphics once again

+ Starfighter Assault

 Disjointed narrative/multiplayer training mars single-player

 Broken progression/Star Card systems

 More isn’t better when it’s hollow

 Loot-box scheme will forever taint the experience

Ryan is Mynock Manor’s Head Butler. You can follow him on Twitter @BrushYourTeeth. You can follow the website @MynockManor.

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