Let’s face it, Star Wars isn’t just a movie franchise. This swashbuckling space opera has somehow evolved—through four decades and expanded installments—into a resonant parable that our entertainment-focused generation has readily embraced. So it only makes sense that if you’re gonna play around with a beloved legend, you’d better do it well.
When looked at through that filter, Electronic Arts’ newest video game adventure, Star Wars: Battlefront II, is problematic. For while in some ways it’s soaring and beautiful, in other ways it’s flat out broken.
2015’s Star Wars: Battlefront was a pretty successful online-only offering that combined lots of recognizable galaxy-far-far-away visuals and iconic characters with accessible and engaging multiplayer run-and-gun battling. But that’s all it was, just run-and-gun battling. And hey, what good is a Star Wars game if it doesn’t have some other parts of the Star Wars story, right? This latest Battlefront tried to fix that.
In this game’s narrative-driven, single-player campaign mode, we play as a new character named Iden Versio. She commands an Imperial special forces outfit called the Inferno Squad. Iden’s a very capable agent who regularly thwarts the Rebel cause with well-planned covert missions. And as the game begins, we get a chance to play through one of those espionage objectives and see the ongoing intergalactic war through her loyal Imperial eyes.
But then this elite operative witnesses some dark deeds by the Empire that push her into a crisis of conscience. And as the game’s story action bridges the gap between the movies Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, we watch as the Empire crumbles, the First Order is born and Iden Versio goes from being a baddie who believes in herself to becoming a hero who sees the error of her former ways.
Frankly, it all plays out as a story that you would love to see at the movie theater. There are lovingly detailed scenes here that unspool in exotic-but-familiar locales such as Maz Kanata’s bar, the sprawling royal palace on Naboo, and in visually impressive deep space, with the latter setting featuring starfighter battles with enormous Star Destroyers. There are also plenty of fan-catering cameo missions where gamers play as movie favorites ranging from Han Solo to Lando Calrissian to Luke Skywalker and his sister, Senator Leia Organa.
The problem is, for all of its visual beauty and character potential, the single-player campaign is balky at best. It jumps around awkwardly in space and time and doesn’t effectively develop Iden’s story or character. As a result, her subsequent actions often end up feeling odd or confusingly snatched out of thin air.
And while some of the gaming missions are interesting, many boil down to constant trigger-pulling and mowing down foes … just for the sake of mowing down foes. (It’s not a bloody affair, but you can deliver headshots; male and female victims cry out in pain as they fall.) You might sabotage a weapons facility or escort a specialist with secret information, but you never really see how any of it impacts the storyline at large. Ultimately then, this campaign ends up feeling stitched together in something of a ham-fisted way.
Of course, many fans only care about the online multiplayer battles anyway. But the game has some major flaws in that area, too. Players can dive into five online modes: a 40 person “Galactic Assault” free-for-all; a “12 vs.12 Strike”; a “Hero vs. Villains” romp that lets all the players play as iconic characters; a death match-style called “Blast”; and a new spaceship battle called “Starfighter Assault.”
Now, that may sound like an enticing list of possibilities to jump into with your fellow Star Wars aficionados. And it is. Battlefront II faithfully recreates a wonderful sense of the Star Wars universe with all its detail, texture and color. That said, each of the battle modes has its own complications and stumbles—a big one being that young players will be overpowered and easily wiped out by older, more experienced gamers who have already been grinding away to better equip their characters. In fact, the whole progressive upgrading side of this game has garnered a lot of heated criticism already.
And that upgrade system is definitely complicated and cumbersome. Without getting too deep in the weeds, let me just say that you earn credits for each of the battles you fight in. But upgrades to your items and abilities are locked into something called Star Cards. You can only really get these through a system of loot boxes that you have to purchase in game. And the boxes are very random in what they reward you with.
Think of the loot boxes like rolling a set of dice. But these dice can roll any number between 1 and 100,000. If you only get items you can use for your specific character when rolling, say, numbers between 20 and 40, how many times do you think you’ll have to roll (or buy a new loot box) before you get something you can use? Let’s just say it can be a long, frustrating and potentially expensive journey to acquire what you need.
The T-rated online battles, with grenades, rifles and lightsabers, aren’t bloody or messy. But after a bit of play, you’ll likely want to lay a few lightsaber zaps into the gamemakers behind this title’s clunky systems. Sure, it may all be based on our culture’s favorite space opera, but this version of the Star Wars saga … definitely doesn’t sing.
Editor’s Note: LucasArts released another version of Star Wars: Battlefront II, which we reviewed when it was originally released back in 2005.