Star Wars Battlefront II review – Fun, frustrating and incredibly misguided

If you’ve ever felt conflicted about Star Wars as a franchise, Battlefront II will likely do little to assuage that. You won’t be torn between deciding whether you buy into its brand of space opera heroism and flashy action scenes though. Instead, you’ll sit wondering how a game with so many strong attributes to the parts that actually matter can still leave the taste of Jabba in your mouth. Because Battlefront II, when it comes down to it, is a good game. It’s just not one you should reward with your money.

Star Wars Battlefront II is the second title from DICE (as well as EA Motive and Criterion) in the rebooted franchise from EA and Co. It builds on the former release in the only real way it can: content. The first Battlefront was a barren wasteland when it first hit shelves, seemingly rushed out to hit critical mass with the launch of The Force Awakens. But with the criticism of its post-launch season pass and lacking content for those wanting to go solo, Battlefront II gives a strong effort in its second showing. And it’s immediately recognisable.

The game features a single-player campaign for starters. You’ll slip into the boots of Iden Versio, a well-decorated trooper in the Imperial Army just as they decide to lose to those ragtag rebels and some fuzzy teddy bears on Endor. Versio is a compelling figure from the onset – a character born underneath Imperial rule, and one taught that the Rebel Alliance was a rogue group of terrorists trying to wrestle control of the galaxy from its one true ruler. Her outlook on the war, and that of her Inferno Squadron, mirror this, which could’ve been a captivating setup for a different side to the often black and white conflict.

And while films like Rogue One stray into this grey area, Battlefront II is very quick to set the table straight. It’s painfully obvious how the game wants you to feel about the Empire and their opinions of the Rebels, while also forcing on a tale taking place after Return of the Jedi that makes little sense for the bruised and broken Empire. Iden and her journey never get a chance to breathe before she’s thrust from the bidding of one general on to the next, never letting her reflect on the motions or emotional gravitas her actions might have had on her. Instead, Battlefront II is content with shuffling you from one action set-piece to the next, which is a real pity.

Those set-pieces come in thick and fast though, and most of them do manage to deliver a firm punch of dopamine to your Star Wars cortex. Each mission has a distinct feel to it – you can start in the orbit of a space station, on the ground of a heavily Imperial guarded city or race through a burning AT-AT factory – but it’s the ones that combine all of Battlefront II’s gameplay elements that feel the most engaging. One mission early on has you blowing X-Wings out of the sky before docking onto a Rebel vessel to sabotage it from within. It’s really something in motion, even if it’s doing a poor job of hiding to true motives of the entire campaign.

It’s a four-hour long tutorial in many senses, never shaking up its rigid gameplay structure to afford more sensible design choices. Iden, for example, can’t carry more than one weapon at a time, unless you’ve equipped her with a Star Card (yes those) to change that. Lando, one of the MANY heroes you’ll play as, inexplicably can’t do stealth takedowns in a mission specifically about being quiet. And even the campaign’s conclusion doesn’t conform to the sorts of standards expected of it, instead leaving many threads dangling for future (free) content to flesh out.

Despite being undertaken by EA Motive and not DICE, it does feel as though the heavy hand of Battlefront II’s true draw weighed a little too heavily on the entire campaign, suffocating it of life as it just started to show glimmers of hope. But the fun thankfully transitions nicely online. The same sorts of modes from the first game are present here. Galactic Assault gives you the massive 40-player objective skirmishes you either love your hate. Starfighter Assault is easily the best mode in the game, with its frantic dogfights. Heroes vs. Villains benefits from a more structured game mode, and Strike and Blast act as neat alternatives with their objective and team deathmatch warfare respectively.

There’s no question: Battlefront II is a fun game to play. Galactic Assault brings to life the epic battles of the silver screen, plunging you into Separatist invasions of Naboo or desperate defences on Jakku. Its maps still have some balancing issues (some are definitely suited to one side over the other), but it’s a far more robust offering than the first outing. With nearly triple the map count at launch, there’s a lot less familiarity when hopping between matches, keeping the action fresher for far longer.

Starfighter Assault is another entity entirely, and truly deserves to be its own complete game before we ever see another Battlefront. Criterion has done a phenomenal job improving the feel from the first game, making the exhilarating battles above a planet spectacular in both execution and scope. Space battles have shifting objectives that keep you focusing on more than just the TIE fighter in your sights, giving the entire mode more weight as a core feature than neat distraction. It’s sublime to play, and makes me yearn for a modern take on an X-Wing focused title more than ever.

The entirety of multiplayer is governed by a well documented, confusing progression system – something which I dived deep into before the game launched last week. Battlefront II leans heavily on randomised progression with the use of loot crates and Star Cards. Star Cards come in a variety of tiers – common all the way up to epic – and can drastically change your effectiveness in any of the multiplayer modes. X-Wings might have massive cooldown reductions on their weapons, your Assault trooper could have a 40% faster health regeneration delay, or Darth Vader might have a longer reaching lightsaber throw for maximum effectiveness.

To discount Star Cards and their impact on gameplay would be naive, and so it’s impossible to ignore how strangely confusing the entire progression arc is. Loot crates can only be obtained with in-game currency (after EA shut down the ability to buy them outright last week, albeit temporarily), but that doesn’t change the gambling nature of it all. Battlefront II doesn’t allow you to focus on a single class because the cards you get for the wide variety of characters you can play as is entirely random. And that randomisation is intrinsically tied to how much further you can take them.

Crafting Star Cards is a big component to amplifying cards you already have, but they’re locked down by an arbitrary level that is determined by how many cards you own for a particular class. So it’s not simply a case of gathering up enough crafting currency to pour it into the class you want. You can only really change the classes you’ve been lucky enough to pull out cards for in the first place, which gives you no control over who progresses. It might feel like a slap in the face if you really like taking up a Specialist or Heavy role in battle, only to have cards stream in for an Officer that you don’t really enjoy engaging with.

Traditional play will have you unlocking different weapons for each class in a more streamlined fashion, but that’s the only real control you have over multiplayer to speak of. It doesn’t help that Battlefront II really stacks the options against you if you’re not planning on spending extra either. Credits are given out in a sparse manner for long multiplayer games. Challenges are once-off rewards for feats that eventually dry up. And the casual (and occasionally fun) Arcade mode features a daily credit earning cap to stop you from accruing credits over and over again.

It reeks of free-to-play design principles for a game you’re being expected to pay full price for, compromising its main modes in a gameplay sense that skews the advantage over to players who choose to fork out. And even though EA is revisiting the system after extensive backlash, its core issues still remain. Battlefront II’s progression is obfuscated to purposefully make progression seem aimless, as a means to encourage large spending on random crates to boost your luck. It’s a terrible system as it stands, and will need a lot of tinkering to get remotely right.

It’s a downer too, because it detracts too heavily from what is otherwise a gorgeously realised Star Wars game. The Frostbite engine was made for these sorts of experiences, and it’s hard not to gawk at the sheer beauty on show in every single map. There are some issues with HDR and the higher-end consoles right now, but Battlefront II looks and feels like the Star Wars games of your wildest dreams. And every trip to a new planet only extends that stupid grin on my face wider every time.

A shame then that the story it wants to tell ultimately falls flat, and its multiplayer is tormented by business decisions that tear out the soul of its otherwise entertaining design. It’s a tale of two galaxies here – a game that is very clearly made by people passionate about this franchise and its many hallmarks, but one that’s also been designed around a specific idea how to operate and treat its two different types of customers. For that reason, Battlefront II is a fractured package and one you should feel wary about picking up right now.

Last Updated: November 21, 2017

Star Wars Battlefront II is a gorgeous, incredibly fun shooter that builds on its roots with a host of new content, welcome gameplay tweaks and a fun single-player campaign. But all of its improvements are overshadowed by the Star Destroyer of crooked business decisions and terrible progression, making it a hard sell right now. Star Wars: Battlefront II was reviewed on PlayStation 4