There’s an evil progression system, but there’s still good in this one.
[Editor’s Note: Because we only received review copies of Star Wars Battlefront 2 on Friday and opted not to attend EA’s review event, our review is still in progress until we can more thoroughly test the multiplayer gameplay and progression. Also, as we frequently disclose, Battlefront 2’s single-player campaign story was co-written by former IGN editor Mitch Dyer. In effort to put forward the most impartial review possible, our review is written by Tom Marks, who joined IGN after Mitch left and, in fact, has never even met him.]
Like a Jedi with hatred inside them, Star Wars Battlefront 2 is its own worst enemy. It’s a sequel that’s managed to vastly improve upon its predecessor in some major ways: harder-hitting blasters, a wider variety of iconic Star Wars heroes, gorgeous locations, and a short single-player campaign all stand out. At the same time, it’s taken a giant leap backward with its baffling progression systems and rushed storytelling, which keep it from being much more than shallow Star Wars fun. I’m still testing the multiplayer modes, but here’s what I think so far.
Much like the first game (or the third, if you’re counting the original Battlefront games from Pandemic), Battlefront 2 faithfully captures the look and feel of the Star Wars universe, with beautifully detailed levels, vehicles, and characters across some of its most recognizable venues. Every blaster, TIE Fighter, and Battle Droid looks and sounds like it’s straight out of the movies, with the only notable exception being a couple of less than stellar voice impersonators used for heroes like Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren.
Lovingly recreated locations like Maz Kanata’s bar from The Force Awakens and the palace on Naboo from The Phantom Menace are wonderful to explore, even if you’re being shot at while it happens. The music and sound effects deserve a special shout out as well, doing a lot of the work in sinking me into a world I’m already very familiar with.
50 Shades of Grey… Give or Take 48
Battlefront 2’s campaign caters to that fandom as well but ends up being a bit of a mess because of it. At only about four hours long, it mostly follows the story of Imperial Special Forces commander Iden Versio – a fierce and loyal leader who still manages to express compassion within the Empire – from the final moments of Return of the Jedi into the era of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. Despite its darker choice of perspective (we haven’t seen much from the Imperial soldier point of view since 1994’s TIE Fighter), the plot moves forward in a fairly unimaginative fashion from there.
It’s a shame Iden doesn’t get more time to develop as a character because Battlefront 2 does a decent job of introducing her (outside of some stilted dialogue in the opening scene) as a competent, sympathetic character. But there isn’t really much of a cohesive story to speak of in Battlefront 2’s campaign. Instead, it feels more like a series of disjointed missions across a smattering of recognizable locations and featuring the major characters you’d expect. It’s essentially digital Star Wars tourism tied around the loose concept of Iden’s battles in the final days of the Galactic Civil War. Not enough time is devoted to Iden to give her pivotal decisions the context they need.
It’s essentially digital Star Wars tourism.
Instead, several missions put you in direct control of some of the heroes available in multiplayer. These missions are fun enough, but they feel hamfisted in how they are incorporated into Iden’s story, especially when she’s almost entirely absent from them.
It’s also disappointing that the events we’re participating in don’t seem to have much impact on the story. Whether it’s securing a secret cache of the Emperor’s, sabotaging a weapons facility, or gathering intel about the enemy, you usually just jump to the next mission afterward to see what thing from the movies you’ll encounter next. Sometimes there’s such a large time jump between them that any impact of what you just did is entirely glazed over.
Even the ominous Operation Cinder, which is introduced after the second mission as the Empire’s next big bad weapon, is unceremoniously resolved before you even reach the campaign’s halfway point. Iden’s own character arc essentially stops around the same time, and a time jump entirely skips any sort of character development that would explain the very different version of her you take control of on the other side.
Battlefront 2 sprints through all of the nuance of its relationships, which often makes its characters’ actions feel unfounded and confusing. Jumping from space rock to space rock means there’s never really time to establish Iden’s relationships with other characters, blunting the impact of any emotional moments they attempt to have together – and a romantic kiss toward the end of the campaign comes from so far out of left field that it was actually laughable.
That all said, the excellent voice acting and lifelike facial animations sell each character’s performance well. The sound design, cutscene editing (I hope you like screen-wipe transitions), and writing feels straight out of a Star Wars movie – even if an overabundance of exposition-heavy dialogue comes as part of that praise.
But there are gems to be found in the story: a side character named Shriv’s sarcastic wit made him one of my favorite new game characters in a long time. A quirky mission featuring him and Lando had me laughing out loud at multiple points, but moments like that tended to be the gasps of fresh air in an otherwise stale room.
Battlefront 2’s campaign did bring out some childlike joy at how faithful it is to the franchise, but only if I took it as an opportunity to run around recognizable Star Wars locations in ways I’d never seen before. Trying to piece it together as an engaging story was a mostly fruitless task, despite the campaign presenting itself that way. It’s definitely not a campaign that takes any risks, but it inherits the chunky new blasters that I already learned to love in Battlefront’s multiplayer and uses them in unexpected scenarios.
All of the story and structure problems aside, the campaign can still be an enjoyable Star Wars spectacle, if extremely straightforward and simple in its design. The firefights on the ground are traditional whack-a-mole-style first-person shooter action, throwing waves of enemies at you until you can advance to the next area. One area where Battlefront 2 feels strange is that it only allows you to carry one weapon at a time, and you can’t pick up blasters dropped by dead enemies. That creates some situations where you’re stuck with a sniper rifle when the situation calls for something better in close quarters.
The starfighter missions thrive on their scale, usually set in elaborate battles full of busy skies and elaborate set pieces and huge Star Destroyers. Unfortunately they’re about as difficult as dodging a shot from a Stormtrooper, with AI enemies that are almost entirely unresponsive to my presence, but that feeling of being in a space dogfight is still a powerful one. I also really loved that these flying sequences weren’t sequestered into their own little corners of the campaign, with many missions having you switch from ground to air multiple times.
It’s also worth noting that I ran into some massive performance issues on PC during the campaign. No matter what PC I was using, cutscenes were frequently choppy, and that lag followed into the campaign missions as well. I experienced these even on low settings on my GTX 970. I’ll need to do more testing to see if it was an isolated case, but the campaign was nearly unplayable at times on that computer.
Battlefront 2 gets its fundamentals right, in that its weapons feel meaty and satisfying to fire, especially in comparison to its predecessor. Each of the four basic classes in the ground-based multiplayer modes has a unique weapon and complementary set of abilities that make them stand out from each other without any one of them feeling more or less vital. It’s all fairly traditional stuff, such as the Specialist’s sniper rifle being especially useful on long maps, while the Heavy thrives in tighter spaces thanks to the wide spread of its minigun and a front-facing shield.
A very smart new active reload mechanic adds skill where before there was just endless firing. You can “reload” to cool any gun down manually, but if you let it overheat you get an opportunity for a faster reload, or even a short bonus window where your shots cause no heat at all. This adds interesting decision making to the simple act of reloading your gun. Do you want to reload before the next fight so that you have a full clip? Or do you want to stay at high heat for the chance at that bonus?
That stretches into the special characters and heroes you can call into a fight. This system has been revamped as well, with your in-game performance earning you Battle Points that can be spent during a match to take control of something stronger than the basic troopers. It rewards skilled play by letting you tear through your enemies as characters across the Star Wars canon – from Darth Maul to Rey, and even the entirely out of place bounty hunter Bossk, who is so obscure that his entry voiceline is literally him saying “I am Bossk.”
These heroes are ridiculously strong, but still require a certain level of smart play to use effectively. That said, it can feel a bit punishing to turn a corner as a basic trooper only to be face to face with a Sith Lord you have no chance against. Yoda feels particularly imbalanced, acting as the Oddjob of Battlefront 2 – his small size makes him incredibly hard to hit, made worse by the fact that he does flips every time he swings his lightsaber. Fun to play as, but not so much against.
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