Star Wars: Battlefront II is, amazingly, in the news once again. Ok, maybe you don’t know why that’s important. Maybe you don’t care about Star Wars, or maybe you’ve just woken up from a coma or have lived under a rock through 2017 and finally got some new digs.
Here’s what you missed: In the middle of a widespread panic over loot boxes during the 2017 holiday season, EA’s Star Wars: Battlefront II was so egregious, so overtly predatory, that the entire world descended into chaos over microtransactions in video games. There was moral panic, legislation proposals in multiple states, and even rumors that Disney brought the angry hammer down on EA. Either way, the microtransactions were turned off and the game was trashed in reviews for still presenting the ghost of gambling’s past on launch day. But EA promised change, and that change has finally arrived. So, what’s the verdict? Is Star Wars saved? Well, maybe.
Let’s start by going over how the old systems worked. When the game launched, it was all about the loot crates. Loot crates were pretty much the key to progression. You’d get Star Cards, Emotes, and Victory Poses all in crates. These were all random and of course had various degrees of rarity. The thing about Star Cards though, is that they severely impact the game’s overall sense of balance. Star Cards not only provided little bumps to things like Battle Points (the way to play as the various canon heroes), to cooldown reductions, to straight-up statistical boosts. By default, these cards already threaten game balance. But tying them to loot crates made the situation even worse.
Star Cards not only presented bonuses, but also could be upgraded to make for even stronger bonuses. The only way to get more of course was to keep rolling for stronger cards, or break the ones you didn’t want down to make new ones. This, of course, takes time and dedication, as loot crates were expensive! A loot crate, and there were different types of crates mind you, all costed thousands of credits (in-game money). But of course you could also use crystals (purchased with real money) to get them a bit faster. So you could grind credits to get free crates, but it took forever, since playing a full match only usually netted a couple hundred. Arcade mode would eventually cut you off, and playing through the campaign just deliberately gives you enough to buy a specific character.
So basically everything in the game costed thousands of credits, but the only way to get a decent number of credits at once was to pop some in loot boxes. Of course things like emotes were in there, and the variety of stuff you could unlock cards for (don’t forget vehicles!) was so great that you couldn’t really target the stuff you actually wanted to play as. The drop rates were bad, even if you were paying real money! So of course things were pretty bad, with the lucky few folks sporting decked out Star Cards cleaning house on day one.
So the update EA launched for the game in March changed a whole lot. Now, loot crates can’t just be purchased. You get them though hitting milestones, checking in every day and leveling up. Also, the crates only contain fun stuff like the emotes, and remain a source of extra credits. Meanwhile, the whole Star Card system has been adjusted. Now, when a character levels up, they get a point they can spend either on a new card, or an upgrade. Thus, leveling the playing field to a degree. Obviously a new player is still going to get curbstomped by someone with a full set, and I don’t have enough faith in EA’s matchmaking tech to alleviate that issue. Meanwhile, when the crystals come back in April, they’re going to be strictly for cosmetic things like alternate costumes.
EA has, admirably, steered this big ol’ ship in an entirely different direction. Normally you see big corporate bodies like this dig in and point fingers elsewhere, so seeing this finally come to be (several months later) is fascinating. But I’m not entirely sure my balance concerns have been fully addressed. Star Wars: Battlefront II isn’t the only game with a progression system, but games like Call of Duty are more about giving an experienced player more equipment options for more diverse and skilled play, not boosting their stats and natural capabilities! The skeleton is still there, despite being stripped of its rancid meat.
What I’m most curious about is the playerbase. Star Wars is a huge audience, and people really want to like these games. But is it too little, too late? After the year 2017 was, it feels like if a game doesn’t nail it on release day it’s doomed to become just part of the pile. I’ll certainly try logging in a few more times to see for myself, but consider me more of a skeptic than an optimist in this case.