Star Wars: Battlefront II is going to be huge. The questions are just how big it will be … and if this is the shooter for you. Electronic Arts has a gold mine here, as the game debuts on November 17 just ahead of the December 15 launch of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It will debut on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC as part of a larger revival for the whole Star Wars universe that Disney has orchestrated.
EA’s original Star Wars: Battlefront debuted in 2015 and sold more than 14 million copies (generating roughly $840 million at retail). It was a multiplayer-only title designed to be accessible and to let everyone — hardcore gamers and Star Wars enthusiasts alike — fulfill their galactic fantasies. Just about the only thing that could go wrong so far has — the controversy over loot crates, or buying in-game items versus earning them through play.
The sequel has a single-player campaign where you play Iden Versio, a new character who leads Inferno Squad, an Imperial Special Forces team that survives the explosion of the second Death Star at the close of The Return of the Jedi. The visuals look awesome thanks to EA’s Frostbite engine (which Battlefield and other EA series use), and the multiplayer is intense.
But Star Wars veterans may feel like they’ve played this kind of game already.
I’ve played all of the multiplayer modes on the PlayStation 4 at an EA preview event, and I’m making my way through the single-player campaign now. Here’s my initial impressions as we approach the live servers coming online. [Updated 11/13 7:32 pm: I’ve finished all 17 single-player campaign missions].
This story has some story spoilers. Check out our Reviews Vault for past game reviews. And here’s our other Battlefront II coverage.
What you’ll like
A single-player campaign with a compelling story and characters
The first Battlefront has no single-player campaign. Players complained, and EA responded with a full story based on Iden Versio’s story.
The fresh idea in Battlefront II is that you’ll play as troopers on the Dark Side, or, perhaps more appropriately, the Gray side of the troopers in the Empire. Star Wars often focuses on families, and this story is interesting because it gets at the choice that we all face between loyalty and doing what we see as the right thing, or doing what you want to do instead of what your family wants you to do. Of course, the Imperial view of the right thing to do may be very different from another view.
Iden Versio, who actress Janina Gavankar portrays, has grown up in the Empire, immersed in its propaganda of security over freedom for her whole life. After the second Death Star blows up, Versio has to escape Endor and return to the Empire. She goes through some tough moments, and you almost sympathize with her, even though she’s part of a tyrannical government.
Her father, Garrick, is an Imperial admiral and a loyalist to the Emperor, even after his death. At the last moment, the Emperor dispatches the commander on a secret mission that starts with an atrocity. During this, tensions arise between father and daughter about where their loyalties should lie. That makes Iden more complex than a simple Imperial soldier. She also changes during the course of the game, as she gets some freedom to loosen up and show some personality, rather than just play the dutiful daughter of the disciplinarian father.
This makes the single-player campaign a welcome addition, investing me more into the fiction. After all, the new movies are showing that we all have appetites for engaging new Star Wars stories.
Variety of gameplay in both campaign and multiplayer
In the single-player campaign, you can fight with guns blazing. You use stealth to move about. You can get into Imperial walkers, fly in space in TIE fighters, and even take a cloud car for a dangerous joy ride. You can even wield a lightsaber, and that pretty much fulfills a lot of the Star Wars fantasies that we all have. You get to play different heroes as the narrative goes in different directions as well.
All of this happens because Iden Versio is a Special Forces soldier who has training in a wide variety of weapons. You can also modify your abilities using various Star Cards. That gives you things like different kinds of grenades, and it makes the game more replayable. Some of the battles are easier, but some are quite hard, like an aerial fight over Maz’s castle. You also get to see what it’s like to play various heroes in the campaign.
In multiplayer, you get to choose between different classes like sniper, heavy, trooper, and an officer. I enjoyed playing a heavy soldier because you can take out enemies with fewer shots and you’re more heavily armored. The officer can deploy a sentry gun, and the trooper moves faster than classes. Each class of soldier also has three unique abilities, like an impact grenade that explodes on contact for the heavy gunner. Over time, you can customize these characters as you earn more Star Cards and get access to new kinds of weapons.
Multiplayer encourages squad play
When you spawn in multiplayer, you’ll start with other players in a four-person squad (at least when enough people are available). Each of your squad mates has a yellow icon identifying them. If you stick together, you’ll do more damage when attacking. That motivates you to stay with your squad and play in an organized way. While it’s not foolproof and falls apart when you are the only one respawning, it provides the proper motivation to turn multiplayer into a team activity instead of a bunch of lone wolves.
This is a small thing, but it means that you may see more cohesive play in the larger battles where coordinated assaults are more successful and satisfying. Overall, multiplayer has a much bigger scale, with 14 maps at the outset, from the Battle of Naboo to the fight on Endor. If the single-player mode doesn’t get you excited, you may enjoy all of the variety that multiplayer has to offer. And if you wander around in the big spaces of multiplayer all alone, you’re sure to get killed more quickly.
A Star Wars fantasy for almost everyone
You won’t find Ewoks and Imperial walkers in Call of Duty. Disney, which bought George Lucas’ Lucasfilm in 2012, has its hooks in you for life. EA hasn’t messed this up. In fact, it has made the huge investments necessary to keep up with your Star Wars cravings. This game is probably triple the size of the first, and it has characters and battles from all Star Wars eras. You can be a trooper, a pilot, or a hero or villain. As I mentioned, the maps are huge and there are a lot of them, and they figure in both multiplayer and single-player missions.
Among the experiences you can do: Fly Darth Vader’s TIE Advanced X1 fighter, take down an Imperial walker, or wield a lightsaber as Rey. It has new levels, such the jungles and tree homes of Kashyyyk (the Wookie planet) and the shredded debris of the Death Star in space. So far, though, you can’t play as Jar Jar Binks.
In a multiplayer match, you’re all but guaranteed to play one of your heroes, just based on how the credits add up as you score points. When you respawn and you have enough of these battle points, you can choose a hero to play. That hero lasts until a timer runs out or you die. In the first game, it was different because you had to find a token on a battlefield to become a hero. And when you play Darth Maul, you can really slaughter a lot of other players quite easily. I expecially liked playing Yoda, since he was also pretty deadly with a lightsaber and was harder to hit as a small target.
And where you could only fight on Hoth in a giant assault battle in the original, you can now play Galactic Assault missions on a variety of planets.
Galactic Assault and Starfighter Assault multiplayer modes are intense
If you’re hankering for the feeling of being part of a big battle, these two multiplayer modes are for you. In 20-vs.-20 multiplayer matches, you can fight either on ground in Galactic Assault or in space in Starfighter Assault. One side goes on the attack and has to achieve multiple objectives, taking over one at a time.
I had the most fun playing the huge assault battles on the ground with Galactic Assault and in space with Starfighter Assault. Both made me feel like I could tip the balance in pitched battles to control a key piece of territory or blow up an installation. You can take over gun turrets, or use an officer to set up a mobile turret. That can make life tough for anyone trying to get to a control point.
The maps are massive, but the designers have a knack for concentrating everyone in a critical place where a big showdown happens. In the previous game, you could only battle on Hoth in a Galactic Assault, but now there are a lot of planets and outer space settings.
If you don’t like the big battles, you can fight in smaller matches with a total of 16 or 20 players in the Blast and Strike game modes.
Getting to play your favorite heroes and villains
Battlefront II lets everyone play their favorite Star Wars characters. You can learn to do that in the Arcade mode, which you can play solo or co-op. It shows you how to play with each character and how to use that character’s special abilities.
This gives you a chance to practice with the special character before you go into multiplayer combat. The Arcade mode and the Heroes vs Villains mode are both nice strokes for the cause of accessibility, as many of us probably wouldn’t be able to earn heroes or villains in a really difficult battle.
So you can train in Arcade and then go into the Heroes vs Villains mode. You choose your hero or villain at the outset and play a four-on-four multiplayer match where everybody has some kind of superpower. You can assemble a badass team of villains from all eras — like Kylo Ren, Darth Vader, Boba Fett, and Darth Maul — or heroes like Han Solo or Luke Skywalker.
You can fight using blasters or lightsabers. But the real nuance in this mode comes from using your special powers in a timely way. Luke Skywalker can use the Force to push enemies, which comes in handy when you are fighting on a ledge. Darth Vader can choke everyone in range. That gives the hero or villain an edge in combat that could make the difference in a duel.
DLC, including The Last Jedi, will be free
Fans have spoken up. They don’t want to be forced to buy loot crates (in this case, Star Cards) in order to win at multiplayer. EA revised its policy on what you could buy, and made it clear that you can only get the best stuff by playing the game. It is also ensuring that the whole Battlefront II community stays together by making the DLC available for free, rather than charging for each installment. That means that fans will get access to new maps and characters related to the new film, The Last Jedi, in December, at no cost.
What you won’t like
While the free DLC has made fans happy, other things have not. EA has already heard a mouthful a couple of times about how long it takes to unlock heroes and villains in multiplayer. EA has said that it will enable players to unlock everything in the game through gameplay, and it is adjusting the balancing on just how long it takes. You can unlock Epic Star Cards (as the best loot is called) only through gameplay. Other types of cards can be unlocked through gameplay or through purchases. One player complained that he expected he would have to pay $80 to unlock Darth Vader. EA responded and it became one of Reddit’s most downvoted posts. Players worry it could take 40 hours of multiplayer to unlock a hero.
EA said at first that the intent is to provide players with a sense of accomplishment for unlocking different heroes. Right now, people can purchase a currency that they can use to unlock loot crates (Star Cards), and they can also use that to unlock heroes.
After fans complained, EA said today (11/13) that it would reduce the amount of credits (and therefore time) required to get heroes like Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker by 75 percent. And it will make it much easier to earn other heroes as well through gameplay.
The single-player campaign starts out too easy
The prologue and first chapter are designed to be accessible. The shooting starts out as gentle as possible. You can miss the enemies, and they won’t hit you when they fire back. This part is for people who may have never played a first-person shooter before. If you want to make it easier, you can turn on the “explore” level mode, or easy. If you want to make it harder, you can put it on the higher setting. But for the most part, you’re just proceeding in a straight line through the Rebel ship. You wait for Alliance soldiers to stick their heads out, and boom, you shoot them.
In the middle of Chapter 1, where you have to escape Endor, the action gets a little more difficult. If you stand in the open and duel with a Stormtrooper with a gatling gun, you’ll lose that fight. You have to learn to hide behind cover or target precisely if you want to survive. Your special abilities — like grenades, shields, or scanners — can tip a firefight in your favor. If you are pinned down, you can send your droid into harm’s way to zap the rebels in front of you, even if they’re hiding.
For hardcore players, this might be too easy. And that can destroy some of the fantasy right from the start.
You can’t be Ewoks or shoot them
Despite a few hints that Ewoks might be playable, that’s not happening in either the single-player campaign or the initial multiplayer combat. I would have welcomed something a little zany or family unfriendly, like shooting Jar Jar Binks or Jawas or something else that would bring some levity. Sadly, I was disappointed, and I took no thrill in shooting down one stormtrooper after another. I’m hoping that some of the DLC will feature more funny creatures to play or shoot.
That gets to some of boredom of revisiting Star Wars over and over. The visuals are more realistic than ever, but I want to do more than play remakes of games that I played decades ago.
Star Wars: Battlefront II tries to straddle the hardcore and casual audiences. It succeeds some of the time, and it also fails some of the time. So far, the cut scenes in the single-player campaign are excellent, and some of the battles are quite intense. I had to play them over and over. But I wasn’t all that fond of the ending. It didn’t have the kind of emotional kick that I thought it would have.
It has lush planets like Kashyyyk and cool space environments like the debris of the Death Star. But better visuals and solid Battlefield-like gameplay don’t completely make up for the fact that we have played this kind of Star Wars gameplay before.
I can see myself playing the multiplayer more, but I don’t think it is demonstrably better than the experience you get in multiplayer combat in Call of Duty: WWII, which is its main competition this season.
These are my impressions for now, and we’ll have a complete review once I play more of the game.
Star Wars: Battlefront II is available now for PC, Xbox One, and Playstation 4. The publisher provided GamesBeat with a copy of PS4 edition of the game for this review, and I attended a review event. I played it on the PlayStation 4.