Star Wars Battlefront was released two years ago right as fans were at a fever pitch in anticipation for the first new Star Wars movie in a generation. Disney had purchased Lucasfilm and folded it into their mammoth corporate identity just as they had Pixar and Marvel before it. Fans were initially worried but for the most part the change in ownership from George Lucas to Mickey Mouse has been smooth. All aspects of the Star Wars brand have been carefully handled by Disney, without any Mickeyfication to complain about. The TV show—Rebels—has been a great follow-up to The Clone Wars. The new books have been a great new beginning for the literary canon. The new movies have been worthy additions to the franchise. And then there’s the games. Let’s see now…what games have we gotten since Disney bought the rights to Star Wars? Hmm… There’s Star Wars Battlefront…and that’s about it. The video games rights were sold exclusively to Electronic Arts (EA), who—until this week—have released a grand total of one game. That game was reviewed here at Cult with a “good” score of 8/10, with special praise for the presentation, and minor complaints about the repetitiveness of the online-multiplayer modes, without a proper single-player focus to balance it. That 8/10 score was not the norm, however, as many with more experience with online shooters complained about the dumbed-down and stripped-down features. Still, for a casual Star Wars fan looking for a next gen video game experience, I felt it was a solid pick-up and I still do. Nevertheless, EA claims to have heard the complaints and promised the next game would address fans’ concerns. It’s been two years, and without a single Star Wars game in the interim, you’d have to think they were hard at work on…something. Finally they’ve released the next game in the franchise and it’s…basically the same game, plus a half-baked single player mode and a monstrously bad progression system. It took two years to make this? Let’s break it down. VISUALS – 10/10 This is easily one of the best looking games I have ever played. It’s obviously a video game, what with the HUD and the fixed camera behind your character and all, but running around the various planets is nearly photo-realistic and is almost perfect enough to fool some—for a moment—into thinking you’re watching a movie. I died more than a couple times because I stopped in front of some foliage and just stared at it, trying to determine whether it was a perfect sprite or a brilliant polygon model. The game is just incredibly beautiful. And not just that, but, other than the movies, it is the most faithful recreation of the Star Wars universe…since that last game. It’s jaw-dropping. AUDIO – 7/10 If there was a complaint about the presentation of the first game, it was with the audio. Getting the audio wrong in a Star Wars game is almost impossible to do. The bare minimum of work required to please fans is to just slap John Williams’ soundtrack over the action and boom, we’re pleased. And in this game, when the audio does play, it sounds perfect. But the problem is the audio rarely plays. There are, seemingly random, flourishes of Star Wars themes, and those moments really help to connect you to the universe you’ve stepped into, but other than that the music drops out almost entirely. Other than that the audio is as great as you’d expect. The sound effects are lifted right out of the Skywalker Sound library, the voice acting is good (not as good as in the first game, however), and the little chitter-chatter that NPC’s sometimes have sounds great too. Other than “not enough music” there’s not a fault to be had. But “not enough music” is a pretty big sin in a Star Wars game. GAMEPLAY – 7/10 Battlefront is essentially a stripped down version of the same Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, Battlefield, Titanfall game you’ve been playing for over ten years now. You run, jump, crouch, shoot, die, respawn and do it all over again. There are objectives, usually revolving around you either defending an area or advancing on one. There’s an obvious ebb and flow to the missions, as you are constantly kept informed of how well or how poorly your side is doing, but unless you are an elite player, you will rarely feel like you’re contributing much to the mission. What usually happens is you will spawn, run run run run to the place where the action is happening, get sniped by some better player, die instantly, respawn, do it all over again, rinse and repeat. After a few deaths, you might decide to try and different tactic, like taking the long way around the map to maybe get the jump on the bad guys. This will keep you alive longer, though you’ll encounter hardly anyone along the way; mostly you’ll just be admiring the visuals. Eventually you’ll reach the mayhem once again…and then instantly die. After a while you’ll either be declared a victor or a loser and that’ll be that. The specific missions may change, the number of combatants may change, you may be on land or you may be in a space ship, but in the end, it’s the same “pew pew, I’m dead” gameplay as the last one. There are ways to upgrade your shields and guns and other equipment to help you be better prepared for the fighting, but we’ll get to that in a minute. In the end, the multi-player modes constitute 75% of the game, and if you aren’t that into it the game isn’t for you. There’s also an offline Arcade Mode which lets you play through several simulations similar to the ones you do online. These help you improve your technique as well as let you play local-two player. It’s fun, but it’s also a glorified tutorial and doesn’t offer much depth. After EA claimed they left out a proper single player campaign from the first game (because “fans don’t really play those anyway”) they responded to the complaints by offering one here. First of all, if video games are going the way EA says they are going (and clearly wants them to go, but more on that in a bit), then that’s a sad thing indeed. Games need to be able to be played and enjoyed entirely by you—the gamer—without having to go online with twenty faceless floating names representing other people playing online. Games need single player and if single player is dying, then so is my gaming life. Nintendo seems to be the only company really committed to preserving the single player experience, but they can’t push back the tide alone. That said, Battlefront 2 does have a single player game mode and it is quite good, although flawed in one major respect. On the plus side, the story takes you into the shoes of an Imperial Special Forces officer right as the second Death Star is destroyed. She and her team struggle with the remnants of the Empire in the post-Emperor world and eventually set out on their own path. The story mode is broken into various stages, offering a wide variety of gameplay styles: You’ll have a FPS level one minute, and then jump in the cockpit of a fighter the next. Along the way you’ll take control of various super-powered “hero” characters and follow the twists and turns of a surprisingly-engaging story. It’s a little bit Dark Forces, a little bit Rogue Squadron, and a little bit Force Unleashed. The biggest problem is the length of the campaign. Even a novice player will be able to complete the story in five or six hours at most. For a sixty dollar game, the campaign should be at least twice as long, if not three-times as long. More experienced players will probably burn through it in just under four hours. There’s simply not enough to do. The story is very good, and the gameplay is very fun…I just wish EA cared enough about single-player games to have made this the major focus of the title. A 12-15 hour game based on this campaign mode, with a multiplayer component added in would have been a must-buy title. Instead this game is an online shooter with a half-baked campaign mode slapped onto it. Most offensive is the fact that the story of the campaign mode has no ending. It doesn’t even have a cliff-hanger ending. It just stops. Why? Because EA will release the next chapter(s) in the story next month…for a price of course. Imagine playing Mario and getting to the front door of Bowser’s castle only to have the game end and be told that the finale will release next month for $20. That might be okay if you only paid $40 for the game. But you didn’t pay $40, you paid $60. You paid full price. Shouldn’t you expect to get a full game for full price? Not according to EA… PAY TO WIN – 0/10 Basically the situation is like this: When you first play Battlefront 2 you will notice that several features are blocked so that you can not use them. These include several blasters, fighters, heroes (Luke, Vader, Rey, etc) and such like. You will also be at the bottom of the ladder in terms of ability (how tough you are, how powerful your guns are, etc). That’s understandable. Games like this reward you for winning, for skillful play and even just for time spent in the game. The problem is EA is a greedy, soulless, evil cooperation that cares nothing about games or gamers and is only interested in milking the lucritive IP they secured from Disney to suck every last dime out of the fans who are desperate for a Star Wars game to play. If you want to progress in Battlefront, level up your character with stronger guns, unlock new heroes to play or ships to fly, you have two options. You can play the game and slowly earn “credits” which will purchase “crates” that contain those upgrades, or you can enter your credit card information and just buy them directly. These so-called microtransactions have been part of gaming for a generation now. Mobile games feature them in abundance, and console games have recently began using them as well. Typically they are reserved for cosmetic changes and other non-gameplay altering enhancements. Paying real-world money to buy upgrades sets a terrible precedent. However, it would not be a deal breaker—necessarily—had the system not been implemented with so much greed on the part of EA. The company has purposefully made it so that you basically have no choice but to pay to upgrade. If you try to earn credits through playing the game, you will find the game is frustratingly stingy. An hour of playtime may only net you a few dozen credits. It takes a good thousand credits just to unlock a low-level crate. In fact, if you wanted to unlock everything that’s available at launch, you will have to play for literally four-thousand hours. If you want to pay for everything, you will have to spend over two-thousand dollars! And the game uses every trick in the book to incentivize you paying EA as opposed to playing the game. So let’s say you break down and decide to pay for a crate. After all, you tried to grind through the game to earn them the old school way, but others in the multiplayer modes have upgraded way beyond your level (because they paid) and they’re cleaning your clock. That’s not fair, so you pay: When you do you open the crate you bought only to find a blaster you don’t want or a ship you don’t need. You can’t just order the specific item; you have to play the proverbial slot machine: You pay, and you pray, and then if you’re lucky you’ll get to play. It’s gambling and it ought to be disclaimed as such. You pay real money for the possibility (with no guarantee) of getting a prize of equal or greater value than what you paid. That’s literally gambling. All other forms of gambling are regulated by the United States government but this—which specifically targets children—is not. That’s shameful and it needs to change. EA and DICE (the developers) have even put in forced “cool-downs” that do not allow you to get credits (used toward the purchase of crates) after so much playing in Arcade Mode. Again, Arcade Mode is supposed to be an offline gaming experience. When called out for their terrible design choice, the developers said they did it to prevent people from exploiting the system and “farming” for credits. And yet, they have no problem with you paying real money for as many credits as you want. That’s also exploiting the system, but since it provides EA with extra money, they’re happy to do it. Here’s where it gets even jerkier though: Arcade mode is specifically a single-player/offline feature, but if you try and play Arcade mode without an internet connection, the game will not reward you any credits, ever, but instead will tell you that you must be online (as per JoelTheGreatOne / Reddit). So EA put a cool down on this mode “so that the system can’t be exploited offline” and then forces you to play it online. Why do this? Why do any of this? Why de-incentivize earning credits through gameplay? Because they want you to be frustrated. They want you to say “screw it, I’ll just pay extra to cut to the chase and unlock them instantly.” Because that makes them more money. It’s shameless. It’s despicable. It’s EA. But EA will make its arguments. They will say Battlefront is a big game with a big budget and they need to recoup their losses somehow. Nonsense. There have been scores of great games that required only the initial purchase to enjoy. Zelda BOTW and Mario Odyssey, Doom, Resident Evil 7, various games in the Assassins Creed and Metal Gear Solid franchises, on and on I could go. Even of those games listed, several of them offer DLC, even DLC you have to pay for, and that’s okay, because you’re buying additional content. You’re not forced to buy something that is necessary to ensure you get a complete gaming experience. Those games sell you bonus material; EA is asking you to pay full price for half a game, and then tries to sell you the other half, in pieces, for a sum total that exceeds the full-price of the game. Imagine a movie theater charging you for a movie ticket and then charging additional fees to see a movie’s subplot or to hear the movie’s soundtrack. Imagine a restaurant charging you for a steak and then asking you to pay extra for the knife and fork. That’s what EA is trying to get away with it. And if they tried it on one of their homegrown franchises, like Medal of Honor or Battlefield, the whole gaming community would laugh in their faces and not even touch the game. Instead, they slapped it onto Star Wars. After paying for exclusive rights to a gaming franchise overflowing with a history of wonderful games, they starved the marketplace, releasing nothing before dropping this on us. They know Star Wars fans will buy the game, be saddled with half and experience, and will—frustrated—pay extra money for the rest of the game. EA should be ashamed. CONCLUSION It used to be, you paid $60 for a game…and you got the game. You got the whole game. They might release extra content and ask you to pay $10 or even $25 for it, and if it was worth it, you did. But you didn’t have to, because you already paid full price for a full gaming experience. If EA has its say, those days will be over. They will charge you full price for a shell, and then charge you again and again to fill up that shell with various elements found in a full game. So what is Battlefront 2? In the end it’s a game that looks like Star Wars, mostly sounds like Star Wars and has a good, though too-short and frustratingly incomplete Star Wars themed story. It’s also a game focusing on the same boring and one-dimensional online multiplayer deathmatches, hamstrung by insulting and exploitative “pay to win” features. So my advice to everyone is this: Resist the urge to buy this game. It’s very pretty. It looks and sounds just like Star Wars…but instead of giving this evil company a dime, just watch Star Wars. if you want a Star Wars experience, then turn on the movies. The movies look like Star Wars, sound like Star Wars and have a complete Star Wars story. And since EA didn’t make the movies you don’t have to worry about The Empire Strikes Back stopping halfway through with a message reading “if you would like to see what happens on Cloud City order our Bespin expansion pack for $9.99!” or “if you would like to watch Vader fight Luke, please pay $9.99 for the “special moments” crate and see if that moment is inside. It might be in there…or it might be “Anakin talking about sand.” Resist the urge. Without the pay to win fiasco there is a pretty good game here, one that’s light-years better than the previous one in fact. But not all criteria are created equal: Take away the pay to win nonsense and replace it with a more gamer-friendly system of upgrading through skill and gameplay and this is an 8/10 game, maybe even 9/10, held back only by a campaign mode that needed more length (and an ending). Alas you can’t take away the pay to win model that is embedded in the game. If EA had developed a game around the campaign mode, filled it out to a 15 hour game, and included an online multiplayer mode without gambling/pay-to-win it would have been the best Star Wars game perhaps ever released. Alas… 1/10 –A good campaign mode, great presentation and tight controls do not outweigh the terrible business model being presented by EA. This is not the norm in video games, and if it is, it needs to stop immediately. I played eight hours of this game through a free EA Access trial. I will not be buying this game and I would encourage you not to buy it either. Star Wars deserves better. Gaming deserves better. Resist the urge. ***** UPDATE: Due to the overwhelming backlash of their pay-to-win scheme, as well as the threat of government intervention in some European countries to label so-called “loot-boxes” as online-gambling (which would make the game essentially unsellable), EA has announced that they are suspending the entire “in-game purchases” system from Battlefront 2. They have not redesigned the game, but merely have deactivated that feature. They’ve also said they will review, revise and revisit the system at a future date. Considering the public outcry they received, it’s hard to imagine them going back to a pay-to-win model in six months or so. The cynic in me says that’s exactly what they’ll do, but I have to think EA realized the long-term damage they were doing with their very lucrative IP (which Disney gave and which Disney can take back) wasn’t worth the backlash. I would expect, if in-game purchases do return, it will be limited to cosmetic and other non-gameplay enhancing features. And that’s alright with me, provided the player isn’t forced into a quasi-slot machine like system where they pay without the option to choose what specifically they want. That would still be gambling. As of right now this is a win, though I’m hesitant to call it a complete victory. Many thousands if not hundreds of thousands of fans have been shouting from the rooftops about this for a week now; it feels like we blew up the Death Star. Always remember the EAmpire can and will build another one. Without in-game purchases I rate the game an 8/10.