Star Wars has often prided itself on the distinction between good and bad; light side and dark side; do or do not. Star Wars: Battlefront 2, perhaps more befitting of the modern movies (like Last Jedi) that highlight the grey areas in between, is neither all good nor all bad. It comes in two distinct parts: the much-demanded single player story, and the historically excellent multiplayer. While both shine to different extents, they’re equally far from perfect. Like Luke at the end of Empire, this game has plenty of ambition and a desire to do the right thing, but it lacks the finesse, patience, and knowledge to purely bask in the light side of the force. So to speak.
Mandatory Jedi similes aside, let’s start by looking at multiplayer - by far the strongest part of the package. In the previous Star Wars Battlefront it was (mostly) Walker Assault or GTFO, but Battlefront 2 offers several modes you’ll be playing extensively in the months to come. The new Starfighter Assault mode is an absolute highlight, taking the objective-based ‘attack and defend’ mantra from the old Walker Assault and applying it to epic space battles. While the starfighter stuff in the original is passable, it has been finely tuned for Battlefront 2, and the maps you fly through are wonderful playgrounds for deadly experimentation. The stage set above Endor is a delight, as you weave through debris from the recently detonated Deathstar at the climax of Return of the Jedi, scrapping to destroy targets or desperately attempting to defend your objectives in a decent variety of craft. Yes, you’ll crash into lumps of smashed space-station, yes you’ll be overwhelmed by the chaos of the battle, and sure you’ll score both amazing victories and crushing losses. But Starfighter Assault remains entertaining each time.
Galactic Assault is damn good too, and that’s essentially the new ‘Walker Assault’ mode, albeit without the Walkers on some maps. Again, it’s multi-objective, and there are all sorts of troop and vehicles classes to take for a blast around each of the well designed maps. Actual shooting is accurate and easy to do, making the game accessible for players of all skill levels. When you blast an enemy trooper it looks and feels like it should in an officially licensed Star Wars game, and the fantasy of being in that universe is palpable.
Crucially, you always feel like you’re making small differences in Galactic Assault, even if you’re just one of the 32 players running around the battlefield. In some big game modes it can be easy to get lost, but the objectives and maps perfectly funnel players through giving the illusion that you’re making your own contribution to each fight. Even the special characters and vehicles system works perfectly - you simply build up Battle Points and spend them on a hero or craft of your choice. The game even gives you 100 points for dying… so everyone will eventually climb into an AT-ST or roll up as Yoda. These two modes are where you’ll spend 95%+ of your time in the game, if you want to truly get the most out of it, and they’re worth the price of admission alone.
The remainder of the multiplayer modes are neat little novelties, without the staying power of the ‘big two’. Hero Hunt just throws a couple of groups of heroes against each other for a big scrap, and Blast is your standard team deathmatch. Strike offers smaller-scale objective-based shooting, but it’s no more complicated than ‘go here, capture that thing’ stuff. Arcade mode - which is technically multiplayer - lets you buddy up with friends locally and shoot up waves of troops (or occasionally swing a lightsaber at them). They’re small snacks to keep you busy between the Assault modes, and perfectly entertaining with it.
Each of the ground-based maps scale incredibly well to suit every mode and, while some like the Palace at Theed lack much imagination, there’s a decent variety to the locations, allowing each of the different classes and heroes to shine at some point. So, Star Wars Battlefront 2 does really nail the basic stuff. It’s the finishing touches that it shoots wide with.
Star Cards, for example, have been greatly overhauled since Battlefront 1. There are loads more of them, and they’re separated into ‘Boost’ (they make you better at stuff) and ‘Ability’ (they give you new stuff) types. The sheer variety allows you to really customise your class, but unlocking them is a confusing mess. You can win Star Cards from the ever popular random loot crate system, or you can buy them with Crafting Points - one of the game’s three unique currencies. Star Cards have four levels of variety, ranging from Common to Epic, and the more Star Cards you own the more slots you unlock to equip them in battle. Then there’s character XP, which allows you to upgrade cards, and milestones that need to be completed, and… so much to keep track of.
The issue here is that while this convoluted system of ‘getting new abilities’ and customising your character builds is indeed much deeper than the original game, it’s also massively overcomplicated. And very poorly explained. It took me about five hours of regular play to figure out that grabbing five Star Cards for my Assault Trooper actually opened up the second equip slot. It’s such a bizarre levelling-up system, and one that gives you very little sense of actual progression. The problem is that everything in Star Wars Battlefront 2’s multiplayer is tied to the opening of random crates, and while you can simply unlock the Star Cards you want with Crafting Points… they’re not as easy to acquire as Credits, which are used to grab those loot boxes. Oh, and if you want to pay real money for crates, then you fork-out for Crystals, which is the game’s third type of currency. It’s a real, real mess.
Shame, because the game lurking underneath this grubby veneer of gambling and money-minding is first-class. The addition of fresh challenges each week, heavily ‘borrowed’ from Destiny’s online model, will mean there’s always something to do or achieve. And eventually, the progression system will make sense to you, in its own weird way.
So, what about that single-player campaign? Everyone demanded it after the previous Battlefront, and what we’ve now got is a fan-pleasing ramble through the ‘untold story’ between the end of Return of the Jedi and the start of Force Awakens. Clocking in around 4-5 hours it isn’t the most entertaining or substantial of campaigns and, given the fact you only spend about half that time playing as anti-hero Iden Versio, it often feels like a collection of cameos rather than an actual story. The plot kinda follows Versio as she carries out missions for the Empire before and after Return of the Jedi, and it features all the lavish cut-scenes and blatantly obvious twists you’d expect. While the presentation is first-class here, with most things looking and sounding 100% like they belong in the Star Wars universe, there are a handful of problems.
Hero characters look and sound somewhat akin to their silver-screen counterparts, like the fans who come in third-place at the Star Wars cosplay competitions. Versio herself is a dull character with very little to contribute to the canon, and her two comrades Del and Hask are forgettable stereotypes of a slightly different variety. Still, the shooting is fun, if a little repetitive. Missions are largely predictable affairs where you go somewhere, kill all the enemies, then escape. The campaign does mix up dogfighting well with on-ground shooting, and there are a couple of standout stages right at the end that are exactly what the rest of the story should have been. And I’m not sure whether it’s some kind of weird joke, but collectibles in the story are... generic-looking crates with zero actual purpose. Just saying, Battlefront, that if you rely on a controversial loot crate system for multiplayer progression, it might be best to avoid the whole ‘crate theme’ as collectibles in your story. Overall, though, it’s a fairly unimaginative, short collection of winks and nods to fans that severely lacks an identity of its own. Play it, to say you did, then get stuck into the multiplayer again.
If you’re not planning to play Battlefront 2 online, don’t even bother picking this one up. While the campaign looks and feels like a Star Wars experience, it’s an unfulfilling one, like a really good knock-off Han Solo action figure. You can play with it for a few hours, but you’ll ultimately feel a little cheated. Multiplayer, on the other hand, is exceptionally polished and entertaining, and once you learn to accept the frustrating progression system, it’ll keep you visiting the galaxy far, far away for months.