Were developer EA’s game Star Wars: Battlefront II not a licensed Star Wars game the sum total of its offerings would be unacceptable to the casual gaming public. More acceptable than its predecessor, if we’re splitting hairs, but unacceptable nonetheless. It represents the worst in licensed games: a mediocre product using its license not as a crutch, but as a straight up couch, knowing full well that it doesn’t even need to stand up for some dumb fanboy like me to traipse over.
EA’s handling out Battlefront II isn’t just a lazy “screw you” to consumers and fans, it flies in the face of the entire spirit of the Star Wars sequel era.
Disney is a business and it knows the goose it has in the Star Wars franchise. The embarrassingly obnoxious terms it’s set for theaters to play The Last Jedi make that abundantly clear. But despite Disney’s cold, calculating business mindset, the hands that are actually crafting Star Wars in this new era are passionate ones. Whether in the two newest films, the Star Wars: Rebels television show or the various Marvel comic books, there is continually a sense that the people who are given the chance to directly interact with and build upon the Star Wars universe have a respect for that opportunity. That sense of respect, of appreciation, is sorely lacking from EA who has twice now used the Star Wars license to drag down what can reasonably be considered the bare minimum.
While EA’s second Battlefront is more than just four maps (fan outrage dragging that bare minimum upward kicking and screaming) it still limits the amount of maps available offline to the generous total of six. And why wouldn’t it? EA can’t get any of your money through it’s infamous micro transactions offline.
Needless limitations are the name of the game here.
During gameplay you’re limited to one weapon in your loadout. Why? And the selection of blasters, while movie accurate in site and sound, feel consistently unwieldy, each efficient only in specific circumstances. To tout my own credentials, I managed to platinum Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, but I never managed to feel particularly lethal, or even vaguely dangerous with Battlefront’s flailing controls and decorative weaponry, no matter how much I tinkered with the controller sensitivity. And those frustrations are only amplified when playing as any of the game’s hero characters from the Star Wars films. Though the cumbersome gameplay certainly extends the life of what would otherwise be a movie-length campaign mode.
A single player campaign mode is the biggest addition to Battlefront II, and though it’s existence is a win for fans, EA still manages to get away with putting in as little material as possible. There are no jaw-dropping moments in this campaign, no sense of excitement. It is point and shoot to the extreme, particularly during any of the admittedly gorgeous dogfights which have players flying X-Wings and Tie Fighters around in circles blowing up wave after wave of opposition just long enough to realize how little they’re actually doing.
The campaign follows the story of Iden Verzio, played by Janina Gavankar, leader of Inferno Squadron, an imperial special ops team. Starting at the end of Return of the Jedi, the campaign exists in a period in the Star Wars mythos that, despite a few novels and a comic book miniseries, still feels a little vague, as if being left open for films or a TV show. Battlefront II’s story similarly only manages to penetrate the primary Star Wars narrative in the loosest ways. Sold as a look at the fall of the Empire from the perspective of the Empire, the story it sells isn’t the one it tells. Without divulging too much, Battlefront II’s plot throws it’s characters down the most convenient, most obvious narrative escape hatch pretty much as soon as possible.
But now that I’ve gotten that mid-sized aquarium full of hatorade out of the way…
Despite its disappointing brevity and predictable narrative, the focal point of the game’s campaign, Gavankar’s Iden Versio, is nevertheless compelling. Gavankar’s enthusiasm for the project shines through in her performance, making the game’s cutscenes substantially more enthralling than the game around them. It’s a shame her story isn’t given the same sort of nuance or thoughtfulness other expanded universe characters have received, but Versio feels like a character destined to be cosplayed in conventions for years to come and with any hope her story will be placed in more passionate hands in the future (her origins have already been detailed by author Christie Golden in the book Battlefront: Inferno Squad, currently sitting at a cool 3.8/5 on Goodreads).
Like Boba Fett’s debut in the Star Wars Holiday Special, Versio is a bright spot that manages to shine despite the nonsense going on around her. But also like the Star Wars Holiday Special, Battlefront II as a whole is a woefully counterintuitive misstep that entirely misses the spirit of the popular culture around it. Add to that the sense that the proceedings all too often feel like a granted wish wrapped in technicalities and loopholes by a swindling genie and you’ve got a frustrating game on your hands.
But what do I know? I bought the damn thing.