All the entertaining wailing and gnashing of teeth about EA’s loot-box system for Battlefront II has focused on locked heroes. You see, half of the heroes must be purchased with in-game credits before you may use them in multiplayer, with Darth Vader and Luke the most expensive of all. Which just sucks, they say. You plunk down $60 for a Star Wars game, the argument goes, and you better damn well be getting Vader right out of the box. It’s just science, man.
But this misses the bigger problem with the loot boxes, which I’ll get to later. But first:
There is no question the game both looks and plays better than its predecessors. The new single-player campaign, of which I’ve only had access to the first three missions, seems serviceable enough, relating what exactly happened to the Empire after Return of the Jedi. It has enhanced, fully customizable single-player bot skirmishes under the “Arcade” tab, and most importantly of all, the multiplayer modes are better than ever.
Troopers are now divided into four classes, which gives some extra flavor to the actual characters you will be playing the majority of the time. Your regular assault class gets a regular assault rifle that does the regular medium-range thing ARs do in all shooters, and can also switch to a shotgun as one of its three default abilities. The heavy gets the SW version of a SAW, with plenty of ammo to rain down suppressive fire, and even gets a temporary minigun power and a a shield. The officer is the weakest of the bunch, with only a pew-pew pistol, but can buff allies’ maximum health and can lay down a turret. Finally, the specialist is your basic sniper class. All of these play the same across all eras and factions; other than appearance, a droid heavy from the prequel era is exactly the same as a Resistance heavy in the era of Kylo Ren.
Speaking of, while the battles span all three movie eras, you can pull any hero you want once you’ve earned them. Rey fighting Darth Maul on Endor? Sure. Han Solo leading the charge against separatist droids on Naboo? Heck, why not? The main limitation on heroes (and vehicles, and elite troopers) is that you now must earn them with your in-game performance, kind of similar to how killstreak powers in Call of Duty are awarded; gone are the random surprises picked up from the battlefield. The more score you earn (mainly through kills, although also for playing the objective) the faster you can buy an elite unit.
This means that enemy heroes will first appear in the hands of their best players. It’s just one way that the game is more difficult for newcomers than its kiddie-friendly predecessor. Rusty as I was at FPS games, I was helplessly and repeatedly owned my first few multiplayer matches until I started getting the hang of things again. And while the game is prettier (while sporting the Frostbite engine’s strange “glassy” appearance), it’s much harder to find enemies than last time through all the chaos. In response, the game does give players a few tools to spot foes, such as the assault’s scanner darts, but many times you will simply never see them coming until you are eating dirt.
But the biggest reason of all that this game unfairly stacks the decks towards veteran — and high-spending — customers: Loot boxes are not just cosmetic. The “star cards” they yield boost each class and hero, and up to three may be used at a time. They are absolutely vital to strengthening your abilities, with everything from passive benefits to survivability to offering major upgrades to your active abilities. You can slowly grind for these with the in-game currency, or you could go with what EA would obviously prefer you do: buy premium currency with cash. It got to be a little frustrating to get unfairly annihilated by players sporting three purple-con cards in the game’s opening hours — some players obviously have been spending quite a lot of cash to give themselves this advantage.
This is straight-up “Pay2Win” and a serious transgression against what (most) players want. Overwatch’s loot boxes, for instance, offer cosmetic bonuses only, always have, always will. Some people still go nuts on these things, especially when a new skin is temporarily available, which makes the suits at Blizzard very happy — but that is of no concern whatsoever to those who refuse to spend one extra dime. Who cares if your Reinhardt has that cool orange-con costume when he plays exactly the same as mine? Yet that is not the case with BF2. Imagine if that ultra-rare Reinhardt costume also gave him +20% HP and +50% shield strength, and you have some idea what star cards are inflicting on an otherwise solid Star Wars game.
For the big hero controversy is a red herring. All heroes are designed to be roughly the same in power — Luke might be unavailable, but Rey is available from day 1 and (in theory) is just as powerful. Besides, heroes are earned only via the basic currency earned from play. The premium, purchased currency won’t get you Darth Vader any quicker. But, in a way, it WILL let you buy Vader sooner in game, because your regular troopers are that much stronger than those of players who refuse to spend extra money — letting you rack up kills and score that much quicker.
And I understand why EA is doing this. Despite all the angry redditors say, it isn’t just raw, naked greed. It’s because of what ISN’T purchasable anymore — expansions or season passes. All future DLC for this game is promised to be absolutely free — and pretty much nobody is grateful for this change, it seems. The season pass last time was an extra $40 and was pretty much mandatory for multiplayer. And EA had to replace that easy revenue stream somehow. Why not go with what has become the gold standard for enhanced monetization of games — the loot box?
Other than pay2win (which puts this paragraph in a bit of “Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln territory), the main negative thing I can say about BF2 is that its primary multiplayer mode Galactic Assault is skewed too heavily in favor of the defenders — other than rounds involving AT-ATs or their equivalent. Most control points are too easily defended by grenade spam on chokepoints if indoors, or snipers and air-to-ground aircraft if outdoors. The AT-ATs reverse this in favor of the attackers by being nigh-invulnerable; the Y-bomber system of the first game has been replaced by shoulder-mounted missile launchers to trigger their periods of vulnerability. However, these launchers are rare; easily camped by enemy snipers; leave the players extremely vulnerable while locking on; and only grant a brief few seconds of AT-AT vulnerability. The armored troop carriers’ insanely high HP handle the rest. But, no map can be completely conquered by AT-ATs alone this time. Rounds involving these things tend to result in offense invulnerability, until they stop and the attackers must proceed on foot, leading to a defensive victory in the final round. They need to both nerf AT-ATs and also make it easier for the attackers to assault points on foot.
But it must be said that this sort of thing is easily fixed by balance patches. The lootbox system, though — I don’t see any way out. Not when the soulless suits at EA are the ones implementing that decision, and not the devs at DICE.
So anyway, I perfectly understand the motives behind the lootboxes. The execution, however, falls flat. Players maxxing out their multiplayer characters on day 1 just because they have mommy’s credit card is ridiculous, and represents the only major reservation I have against Battlefront II. The game looks iffy for now unless either you love single-player bot matches, or else enjoy throwing money at Electronic Arts like Chance the Rapper at Scores.
UPDATE: EA has temporarily cancelled the purchase of loot crates via premium currency. It may come back; it may return as a cosmetic-only thing; they may come up with something else entirely. All that said, pay2win in SWBF2 is for the moment DEAD; and given that, I change my recommendation to a qualified buy. It’s still the best Battlefield/Battlefront FPS I’ve played since Battlefield 4; unlike Call of Duty, DICE’s games do have a place for thinking and strategy over mindless twitch.