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Star Wars Battlefront II

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Criterion (EU), Motive Studios (US)
Release Date: Nov. 17, 2017


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Xbox One Review - 'Star Wars Battlefront II'

by Cody Medellin on Nov. 17, 2017 @ 1:45 a.m. PST

Live the untold Star Wars story of Iden, an elite Stormtrooper, in an original single-player story. Battle on land and in space in an expanded multiplayer experience with iconic heroes and villains, thrilling space battles, and a deep progression and customization system.

Buy Star Wars Battlefront II

To say there's some pressure on Star Wars Battlefront II is an understatement. Barring any surprises, it is marked as the last triple-A multiplatform title for the year. Its developer, DICE, has a pedigree for larger-than-normal multiplayer games that mix on-foot and in-vehicle action. It also happens to have a license that is hot due to new films and is a beloved series in geek and non-geek circles. With lots of content compared to the game that came out roughly two years ago, SWB2 delivers a much better vision of a playable Star Wars universe, but it also has many stumbles along the way.

The breadth of the universe is remarkable. The first game focused on the Original Trilogy (Episodes IV-VI), with brief stops to "Rogue One" and "Episode VII" by way of DLC. By comparison, SWB2 covers almost all of the films. All of the locations and troopers have been given somewhat equal play, and the New Trilogy (Episodes VII-IX) has a smaller presence since all of the films aren't out yet. Even for those not in love with the prequel films, the locations are iconic in their own right. The Prequel Trilogy also gets shafted in its Hero count. The lion's share of special characters goes to the Original Trilogy, but the only special characters from the prequels are Darth Maul and Yoda. When you consider how many people grew up with the likes of Count Dooku, General Grievous, Qui-Gon Jinn, and Mace Windu, their absence is disappointing.

Fans and critics alike requested a campaign mode, which wasn't in the first title. Instead of a throwaway mode, what we got was canon and serves as a bridge between the Original Trilogy and the New Trilogy. You play the role of Iden Versio, a loyalist to the Empire and commander of an elite special ops team known as Inferno Squad. You're taking control of her during one of the lowest points in the Empire: the defeat at Endor leads to the destruction of the second Death Star as well as the death of the Emperor. Shaken by the news, she quickly puts it in the past when she's sent to execute the Emperor's final plan, Operation: Cinder.

As far as story goes, it isn't bad. Part of that comes from the ability to play as familiar characters and seeing how they transition between movies. Lando has some great lines, and some of the newer characters have moments to shine. Iden is an interesting character, but the story doesn't do her justice since it zips by. She has the chance to make split-second decisions but not enough time to get fleshed out as a character.

The gameplay isn't bad, either, and there's a positive spin to it. The levels are truncated versions of the Original Trilogy and New Trilogy maps, and they have a guided path. The battles are the same as what you'd find in multiplayer but smaller in scale. Despite this, the campaign is enjoyable due to the amount of battles and the inclusion of light stealth elements. It isn't spectacular, but it instills hope for EA's future Star Wars games.

The campaign is a good length. It is short and can be finished in an afternoon unless you bump up the difficulty level. It goes by at a good pace, so it doesn't overstay its welcome. One complaint that can be levied against the campaign is its ending. Players may be accustomed to seeing cliffhangers in game conclusions, but that doesn't make the practice acceptable. Further, the first DLC arrives in less than a month, and it should provide the campaign conclusion. Unless the game plans on coming out with a constant stream of related DLC, it feels odd to have the campaign end so abruptly.

With a campaign in place, the arcade mode becomes a bonus for those playing offline. You start by picking either the Light or Dark side, each of which has several different challenges that span the different trilogies. The quests don't vary too much between eliminating troops and surviving for as long as possible, while the different star difficulties alter things like time spent or enemy count. They're nice distractions, and while the two-player versus mode isn't that exciting, the split-screen co-op makes up for it. The stages can be short, and the loading times are too long.

Of course, the focus of SWB2 is the multiplayer, and there are some significant changes afoot. Classes return, with four main ones that you can choose when you respawn. Specialists are the sniper class, so they're great from afar but not up close. The Heavy class lives up to its name by being a slow mover but devastating at close range. Assault is a standard balanced foot soldier, while the Officer can better survey the battlefield, give out temporary boosts, and lay down some turrets in exchange for having a pistol.

Gunplay is a little more strategic this time around, as you're encouraged to overheat your gun instead of manually cooling it down. Automatic cooldowns provide two zones to initiate a trigger pull. The blue zone gives you an instant cooldown time, while the yellow zone gives you a short period where your laser blasts produce no heat. It doesn't mean that you'll be able to lay down fire relentlessly, but the advantages of the disrupted reload cadence can make the gunplay feel a little smarter.

The big change is in the point system. Almost everything you do generates points, and the points let you temporarily unlock bots, new classes, and vehicles. Get enough points, and you can access your heroes, which is a big improvement over waiting around a spawn point for a special coin to appear and then making a mad dash to be the first to get the coin. Unlike the regular and special troops, those powerful hero classes aren't restricted, so you're free to have Darth Maul and fight alongside Darth Vader while fighting against Rey and Lando Calrissian. While the system doesn't give you much of an advantage in short matches, long matches give you a much better chance at being able to play with more than the four basic classes the entire time.

There are five different modes, and of those five, two are familiar multiplayer mainstays. Blast is the standard team deathmatch mode with a maximum of 20 players, 10 per side. Strike is much more objective-based, as you're either sabotaging an area or defending it. Teams are split into 8v8, but unlike Blast, you have access to some of the specialty classes. Heroes vs. Villains is the smallest mode available since it's only 4v4. Once you select characters, you're thrust into a small level and asked to defend your targeted ally while going after your enemy. The powerful nature of each hero makes the mode feel great, especially when you consider how easy it is for regular troops to go down in a fight. Of the five modes, this one takes the longest to get a game going since it seems fewer people are interested in it.

The game's two other modes are the largest due to their popularity. Galactic Assault is a 20v20 battle using heroes, infantry, special troops and vehicles. The battles are over multiple stages, where different objectives come into play depending on how one side is doing. For example, on defense, you may use your ion cannons to try to stop large Separatist transports from invading. If that fails, you'll have to protect the gates, and if all else fails, you fall back and protect your fuel lines. Unlike the first game, all of the levels support the mode, so these big battles can take place in a wider variety of locales. Aside from the Battlefield series, there's nothing else quite like this.

The other big mode is Starfighter Assault, which is made for 12v12 skirmishes. All of the battles take place in space, and there are three types of craft to choose from: bombers, fighters and interceptors. Hero ships are also here, but most craft will only be recognizable to die-hard fans, aside from the Slave I and the Millennium Falcon. There are fewer stages compared to those seen in Galactic Assault, and the only discernible differences are the large ships in the middle of the battlefield.

More than anything, this mode will hit the nostalgia button for fans of the old X-Wing and TIE Fighter series on the PC. The flight setup is more arcadey, and the right analog stick directs the ship while the left one controls speed and rotation. The freedom of movement is exhilarating when you're tracking down an opponent or evading a locked-on missile. Seeing your ship deftly avoid debris or larger cruisers is nail-biting, and flying through the hulls of large ships never fails to excite. The better chances of landing a shot in Starfighter Assault can be enough for some players to stick to this mode.

Even when taking into account the few negative aspects thus far, the title seems like a winner. Getting back into matches is quick. Objectives are clearly spelled out. Gunplay is rock solid, and using lightsaber and Force powers makes you feel almighty. Melee is slow on recovery time, but you'll rarely use it, and the ability to switch from first-person to third-person means the game can accommodate a wider range of players. Most of all, the game is fun to the point where you have to police yourself, since you'll always be tempted to jump into just one more match.

The first major issue is with the Star Card system. On the surface, the cards are rather boring, since all they do is increase the stats on existing abilities:  faster blaster cooldowns, no stamina drain, or being more resilient. The cards provide a mix of passive and active abilities, and the cards themselves can be powered up with spare parts, which are one of three different currency forms in the game.

The issue is that the cards are the only way that all player classes and heroes can progress. You can play with an assault class for as many matches as you want, but aside from getting money and leveling up your player profile, it doesn't improve your assault class. Get a card, however, and your assault class increases in rank even if you don't equip that card. Rank growth becomes essential in earning the ability for more open card slots and more guns, so it's puzzling and disappointing that rank is determined by item acquisition over experience.

The second major issue is with the loot crate system. The crates are split into three tiers, and most of them reward you with spare parts for card upgrades, character taunts, outfits, and poses. More importantly, the crates give you Star Cards for heroes, starships, and regular troops. Though the crates can be purchased with Credits, which is the money earned from fights, they can also be purchased with Crystals, a currency directly converted from real money. That was the case right up until the day before the game's launch. Due to fan outcry, the Crystal packages have been pulled from the marketplace. The Crystal prices for loot boxes are still present, and EA has stated that Crystals will return at a later date. Combined with the recent prices changes for the loot crates and heroes, the game economy is very fluid, which is both good and bad if you're trying to get a bead on what you need to get.

The payout system also affects both the purchasing frequency of loot crates and the heroes that can only be obtained via Credits. As widely reported, the initial costs for purchasing a hero was quite high and when you consider the small amount of Credits given for winning a match, it would take loads of dedication and a very long time to unlock one of the lower-level heroes. You get bonus Credits for reaching achievement milestones, and duplicate cards also net you some credits, but the former are one-time use only, while the latter's payout is a very small return on investment. Daily crates help offset the costs, but their rewards are so tiny that you're not going to feel bad for missing them. You can make the argument that you don't need to purchase the extra heroes, but after getting so many rewards specifically for those locked heroes, you're almost strong-armed into getting them so you can finally use your rewards.

The costs have been reduced rather drastically, so there's still lots of work to unlock one hero, but the task doesn't seem insurmountable now. Since we never got ahold of the game's near-final state before the change was implemented, we couldn't tell if most of the heroes were unlocked, thus restricting complaints to the more popular Original Trilogy characters: Chewbacca, Leia Organa, Emperor Palpatine, Luke Skywalker, and Darth Vader, along with the Episode VII version of the Millennium Falcon as piloted by Rey and Chewbacca. We also don't know how this will affect future DLC heroes and whether the likes of someone like Captain Phasma will arrive with a high Credit cost, a manageable one, or just be free with no strings attached.

Going back to the positives, the developers have absolutely nailed the Star Wars presentation. The menus alone do a better job of matching up with the film universes, and the environments are spot-on re-creations of what was seen on the big screen. Lush foliage complements the lighting system, while the debris-filled areas of space make dogfighting absolutely exciting. The frame rate also holds to 60fps almost all the time, one welcome trait taken from Battlefield 1. On the audio side, the effects are perfect, while the music matches up with the original soundtrack so well that you'd swear John Williams wrote it.

There are only a few things that can pull you out of the moment. Many of the outdoor levels have some foliage pop-up that is noticeable but not distracting. While the Separatist Droids and the Clone/Imperial/First Order troops look great, the Rebels can look uninspiring if you're battling against them. This is especially true of their faces, which look off while in battle. As for the audio, most of the voices used for the heroes are done by sound-alikes, and they vary in quality. Most of them sound rather far off from who they're imitating, while others are speaking at such a low volume that it's difficult to make out what they're saying.

Star Wars Battlefront II is a good game wrapped in an odd upgrade system and a very volatile economy. It has a breadth of modes that play very well and can provide many memorable moments. The gameplay is solid, and the title gives players a better chance at playing with more powerful characters. However, the progression system feels unnecessarily stunted, and the grinding nature of buying characters and loot crates can be frustrating. At least the use of real money to purchase crates has been removed for the time being. There's a good game in here that evokes the desire to play "one more game," but players have to be fine with the progression and payment mechanics.

Score: 7.5/10

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