This one could’ve used a few more disintegrations.
This is not a series about games you haven’t heard of. This is a series about games EVERYONE has heard of. Games that everyone has an opinion on, regardless of whether they’ve played them or not. Games whose actual qualities have been buried in a narrative, whether good or bad. Games that everyone always makes the exact same comments about. Games that are in desperate need of…a Second Opinion.
Well, the trailer for Battlefront II dropped last week – that’s the Battlefront II that’s coming out later this year, not the good one, although I think EA gave them the exact same name and even the same Roman numeral numbering system because they’re hoping you’ll confuse the two on the shelves. Now I’m a big fan of Star Wars. A big fan. Heck, if you’ve watched any videos on the Hey Poor Player TV YouTube channel you’ve probably noticed that whenever I do facecam shots in videos I use a part of my office where there’s three Star Wars posters behind me. What’s more, shooters are my favorite genre of game, so take it from me when I say…that there is nothing on G-d’s green Earth that could get me to pre-order this game. In fact, it would pretty much have to be the second coming of gaming Jesus to get me to buy it at all.
Why? Simple. Because the first Battlefront reboot (which I’m gonna call “Battlefront 2015” until EA figures out how to give things proper, differentiable names) is one of the worst, most insulting excuses for a multiplayer shooter ever to ever grace – or possibly disgrace – the genre. It’s absolute garbage hiding behind a chest-high wall made out of nostalgia and pretty graphics. It is – you know what? I’m going to use the harshest insult I can think of. It’s the Star Wars: Episode II of videogames.
Now, I suspect that there will be some comments similar to the ones we got on our Fallout 4 video, suggesting that this doesn’t really count as a “second” opinion. And that’s a fair point – the game had its fair share of critics around the time of its release, including one I Coleman who had just recently been hired to their first proper games writing job. But it also had an equally vocal group of passionate fans, and it did well both critically and commercially. What’s more, most of the criticism amounted to “well, I don’t like EA’s business practices, but the actual game is solid.” With respect and deference to my fellow reviewers, I completely disagree. I think that the gameplay is absolute crap, and that we shouldn’t let our love for this storied series get in the way of giving this game the critical thrashing it so richly deserves, especially now that the impending release of the second game has triggered a whole bunch of thinkpieces proclaiming that the game was actually great and perfect.
That said, let’s start with the part everyone agrees on: despite the name, Electronic Arts has no respect whatsoever for the artistic value of videogames, and never has that been more apparent than the abysmal way they handled their follow-up to one of the most beloved gaming franchises of all time. They’re not even subtle about it – after the game came out they admitted that they “made [the choice] due to time and being able to launch the game side-by-side with the movie that came out to get the strongest possible impact.” In other words, the game was rushed out as fast as possible so that it could come out around the same time as The Force Awakens.
Some people feel that you shouldn’t bring up the business of games when you’re discussing them as a piece of art, but this is important, because it explains why the game was so utterly devoid of content. The very very lowest goal any sequel should aspire to is having more content than the game that came before it. Instead, Battlefront 2015 cut out aspects that had previously been series staples, like ship combat that actually mattered, or a singleplayer campaign. Not to mention that the game only had a pathetic twelve maps at launch, all of which were so devoid of individual character or strategy that I genuinely thought there were only three when I first played it – one for each of the different planets. Combine that with a scant handful of game modes so simplistic that only one, maybe two of them were ever actually played and almost none of the kind of unlockable content that actually makes you want to keep playing, and you’ve got a game so empty it wouldn’t impress me if it was a multiplayer beta, let alone a full-priced $60 game.
I mean, I criticized Overwatch for having barely any content at launch, but at least it only cost $40 and has supplemented its humble beginnings with regular free updates. Battlefront, on the other hand, decided to go the complete opposite direction. Did I say that it was a $60 game? I meant to say that it was a $110 game, because the season pass that turned the world’s most expensive demo into something that might be considered an actual finished product cost an extra $50 on top of the purchase price. A season pass which, by the way, ended up including a whole three pieces of DLC.
Even if you somehow liked the gameplay, you should feel absolutely insulted that EA would charge so much for so little, knowing that they could get away with it because people will pay for anything bearing the Star Wars name. And you should be deeply critical of anything they say about Battlefront II, because they have proven that they have absolutely no respect for their audience either as players or as consumers. The fact that they promised the revival of a classic series and presented a stripped-down barebones imitation for over a hundred dollars should make you absolutely livid.
As for the game itself, well, it does one thing really well: aesthetically, it captures the feeling of Star Wars brilliantly. DICE has an amazing art and sound design team, and this really is them at their best. The first time you boot up Battlefront, there’s really special about fighting AT-ATs as a ground trooper at the Battle of Hoth, charging into battle as TIE Fighters scream past you overhead, or encountering the awesome might of Darth Vader in the style of everyone’s favorite scene from Rogue One. The game is gorgeous and faithful to the source material in a way that’s absolutely jaw-dropping…for about fifteen minutes. Then you begin to notice how shallow everything is.
In shooters, strategy is generally based on two things: technical skill and teamwork. Technical skill is about how well you can pull off difficult moves or skill shots, how well you know the maps and the metagame, et cetera. Teamwork is about how well you understand the objectives and how to complete them, a good appreciation of team composition, and knowing when one person has to make sacrifices so that the entire team can win. Some games are focused more on one than the other –the original Quake games, for example, are almost completely focused on individual technical skill, and the objectives are really just a way to spice up the endless killing. The best games are focused on both – Team Fortress 2 in its prime required the whole team to work together to complete an objective, but it also had lots of skills that could be learned, like rocketjumping. In any case, it’s important that a game include at least some kind of strategy that can be learned, because that’s what makes shooters like these compelling and fun to play over and over again even when you’re basically doing the same things on the same maps.
Battlefront does neither. There’s no technical skill involved because there’s only a handful of weapons and Star Cards and none of them get much more complicated than “click on the man until the man falls down.” What’s more, it doesn’t matter how good you are at the game, because even the noobiest noob can kill you immediately if they get a token that lets them change into one of the insanely overpowered heroes. I mentioned the Rogue One moment earlier, but I don’t think anyone watched that and thought, “oh, yeah – I really wish I could be the Rebels in that scene!” And there’s no teamwork involved, because you can’t have team composition when you don’t have any classes. Plus, the fact that matches involve 40 players at a time means that the only strategy is going to be a mad overwhelming rush for the objective, with the winner being determined by whatever wave crashed against the shore slightly harder. Huge armies were fun in original Battlefront because the game was structured around these large-scale battles and because the game modes and maps actually had some variety to them, but here they just mean that no individual contribution really means anything.
But hey, if you get bored of the same old shooting, there’s always ship combat! I mean, not real ship combat, obviously, not like the old Battlefront games had. No, because they’re way too fast and hard to control to actually be of any use to the ground troops. So the only thing you can do in the ships is look around at the pretty scenery or dogfight with other ships. That might sound cool, but since the only button is “shoot fast” dogfights are just a question of who can target the other first, something which doesn’t contribute to the actual fight for the objective and takes absolutely no skill to pull off. What fun!
With no real strategy or depth to the gameplay, the only way to get better at the game is to level up and unlock the objectively more powerful weapons. This means that, rather than constantly being challenged to think in new ways, you’re just grinding against opponents that can kill you easily until you unlock the best gear, at which point the game is a pointless stomp. Oh, and one of the best weapons in the game was available as a pre-order bonus, because of course it was, because EA has no respect for videogames or the people who play them.
That lack of balance really is a problem, and it can make the game feel frustrating. The problem isn’t that certain abilities or weapons are unbalanced (although now that you mention that, screw the Imperial Repeater and the constant spam of thermal detonators.) The problem is that unbalance is literally built into the game’s core mechanics. The unlock system is a good example of this, as are the Heroes, but there’s even maps and game modes that make it very difficult for one side or the other to win. Y’know how people always make jokes about how Stormtrooper armor makes for terrible camouflage? Yeah. Those aren’t just jokes. Of course, the best example of this built-in imbalance is Walker Assault, a variation of payload modes where the Imperials have to defend a giant AT-AT while Rebels try to render it vulnerable enough to be destroyed. You can probably see the discrepancy here – in fact, you can see it in a little film called Empire Strikes Back.
And yet, Walker Assault is still the best mode in the game. It may be broken, but at least it feels uniquely Star Wars and isn’t just something you’ve already seen in other, much better games. And of course, there’s only one map in the Season Pass that actually offers Walker Assault. Battlefront, can’t you do anything right?
I suppose we should talk about that DLC. Yes, they do add more content and give the game a little extra depth, and yes – the newest Rogue One-based expansion does even add some more Walker Assault maps, before anyone gets hissy in the comments. The maps are pretty, of course, just like the rest of the game, but they don’t change the fundamentally shallow gameplay. And the new game modes share many of the same problems as the old – they’re either boring and pointless, like anything other than Walker Assault and Supremacy in the base game – or they’re completely unbalanced, or both. We’ll run through these real quick: Turning Point! It’s fine, mainly because it’s just a fancy name for Battlefield’s Rush mode. Singleplayer Skirmish! Get out of here. Battle Station! A cool idea in theory but it ends up being just a disjointed combination of the ship mode nobody liked, the deathmatch mode that was just okay, and a new mode where the Rebels have to protect players who are randomly selected to make the Death Star trench run which is just as bad as it sounds – maybe worse, since it’s really difficult to keep track of the trench runners’ location. Sabotage! It’s fine, mainly because it’s just a fancy name for Capture Points. Extraction! This is fun if you’re the Empire and you like shooting galleries, because it’s practically impossible for the Rebels to make any kind of forward momentum.
Man, the unbalanced game modes are always weighted towards the Empire, huh. I wonder if EA felt some kind of kinship towards the individuality-hating greed-fueled ideology of the Sith.
I know that some people were still able to get some enjoyment out of Battlefront 2015, and I guess I get it. Statistically speaking, almost everyone loves Star Wars, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more faithful or beautiful videogame recreation of that world. And while the game has absolutely no longevity, its faced-paced gameplay can be kind of fun if you’re just looking for some once-in-a-while mindless entertainment, that is, assuming there’s people actually playing the mode you like and assuming you don’t just get one-shotted by somebody 40 levels above you. But none of that makes it a good game.
The gameplay is incredibly shallow and horribly unbalanced. The amount of content on offer even if you bought all the DLC is pathetic. The business practices surrounding the game are absolutely disgusting. And even if you enjoy Battlefront, there is nothing it does well that hasn’t been done better in other games, including those bearing the Battlefront name. Sure, it’s pretty, but prettiness only lasts so long. Whenever somebody makes the argument that a game is good because it has nice graphics, I always think back to when I genuinely thought that games were never going to look any better than Doom 3. Battlefront is already starting to show its age. Don’t believe me? Take a look at Luke in the picture above.
I don’t have time for anyone who’s now trying to claim that Battlefront 2015 wasn’t that bad just because they’re excited for Battlefront II. Even if the new game turns out to be good, the original deserves to go down in history as one of gaming’s biggest disappointments, and one of the worst multiplayer shooters of all time. And that’s my professional opinion.