Initial Release: 17 November 2017

Moments of genuine fun and Star Wars magic are present here but they are so drowned out by a lazy, money-driven progression system and an unfocused and disingenuous single player campaign, that I cannot advise that you seek them out. 

I’m going to start this review by addressing the big hairy Wampa in the room. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of weeks, you will know that Star Wars Battlefront II has had its microtransaction systems pulled before its official retail release. As such, the version I am talking about is the same one as you will be playing, for better or for worse, I am not going to comment on the ethics or economical issues surrounding this title, as I will save my thoughts for a separate, more extensive piece. So with that out of the way, let’s see just how the game holds up.

There has been an interesting shift in focus in the Star Wars universe as of late. Starting with The Force Awakens and punctuated by Rogue One, the trend of showing both sides of the iconic struggle between the Rebel Alliance and The Empire has helped flesh out the world, painting a moral grey area, as opposed to the usual black and white, light vs dark themes we’re used to. If you’ve been paying attention to the marketing for Star Wars Battlefront II, you’d be forgiven for thinking the game might just be the boldest step in this direction yet. Throwing the player into the Empire-branded boots of Iden Versio, the game attempts to fill in the gaps between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, all from a decidedly empire-focused perspective. This promised to be the deepest dive yet into the motives, lives and actions of the bad guys and leading up to release there was serious potential which looked like it would be delivered.

Unfortunately, once again, we were mislead. While the game does indeed feature Iden and her Inferno Squadron, it only does so for maybe half of its four-hour campaign. And here’s the real kicker; she’s with the Empire for all of 1 hour. Iden is a wonderfully acted character with real presence and energy, but she is let down by poor writing and a clear indication of corporate-meddling in what should otherwise be a great story. The campaign moves along at light-speed, yanking the player to and fro from rushed cutscenes and meandering fan-service hero sequences. This reliance on constantly moving the player onto the next level means we never really get any reason to care about Iden, or anyone else for that matter. There are some moments of brilliance peppered throughout, but these are the exception in an otherwise generic campaign. Leading up to release there was a general attitude that Iden would inevitably jump ship and aid the rebellion. Sadly, this is absolutely the case and her reasons for abandoning her life, family and friends is perhaps the game’s biggest misstep. Unearned is an understatement.

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So surely, the other half of the campaign is more fun, with heroes we know and love? Not so. One mission sees you playing as Luke Skywalker and has you hacking and flailing at flying bugs for no joke 5 minutes at a time. Nothing feels quite right here, not even the heroes’ weapons or abilities. Leia in particular feels particularly weak and is a genuine drag to play as.

The multiplayer component’s DNA can be felt all over the campaign. Each level re-uses environments from the multiplayer maps, the objectives are essentially repackaged tasks like capturing areas and eliminating a certain amount of enemies. Even upon death, there’s a sense that the campaign was built on the bones of the multiplayer stating “Iden Versio was defeated”.

Of course, Star Wars Battlefront II is mostly focused on its multiplayer modes and it’s here that the game does, at least fare slightly better. The new Starfighter Assault mode is an absolute blast to play, recapturing the first game’s ability to invoke pure Star Wars bliss. The integration of the prequel series is also a welcome treat. Cutting down enemies as Darth Maul is a dream come true and destroying battle droids is supremely satisfying. It’s such a shame that the game’s progression system makes it so hard to keep interest. Upgrades and cosmetic items are so out of reach through regular gameplay that there’s very little reason to bother trying. Much has been made of the pay-to-win loot crate system but honestly, it’s definitely not the main issue here. There are 4 separate currencies to contend with, star cards to upgrade, loot boxes to open which, when all is said and done, amount to a confusing and painfully unrewarding experience. There is definite fun to be had, but you have to search for it.

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Visually, the game is a mixed bag. The multiplayer action features some of the best graphics in gaming, ever. The environments are lush and the painstaking attention to detail give off an authentic and polished feel to proceedings. The single-player campaign, comes off a lot worse. Cutscenes are poorly rendered and facial animations on certain characters feel off. The performances and motion capture of the game’s main characters is stellar however, making it all the more obvious when fidelity takes a dip.

There’s a lot to unpack with Star Wars Battlefront II. The microtransaction debate started by it will no doubt continue even if its players do not. After the first game launched so light on content, it seemed like a solid bet that the sequel would deliver but honestly, between the progression system and the lackluster campaign, everything falls flat. There’s a great game in here somewhere and hopefully EA continue to make changes to the experience in the same way they did with the first game. It disturbs me to think that such a great franchise is so clearly in the wrong hands, but with Disney boss Bob Iger reportedly getting involved to do damage limitation on the Star Wars brand, it seems my worries might be true.

Moments of genuine fun and Star Wars magic are present here but they are so drowned out by a lazy, money-driven progression system and an unfocused and disingenuous single player campaign, that I cannot advise that you seek them out.

Verdict – 5/10

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