I put it down to a beta bug, but I noticed that classes that I hadn't even played were higher level than the ones that I had been playing. I figured this must be a display issue, or progression registering incorrectly, alas no. It's a by-product of what could be the most aggressive, pay-to-win micropayment strategy ever seen in a modern, premium-priced competitive shooter.
DICE, please rethink this (or give us clarification).
So, what's the problem?
Battlefront II is a multiplayer first (and third) person shooter set in the Star Wars universe, for those who don't know. The first game was lambasted for being shallow, lacking content, and ultimately feeling like a bit of a cash-in on the license, despite the faithful recreation of the franchise's most iconic characters and settings. I accepted it for what it is, being a Star Wars fan, and enjoyed it quite a bit at the time, despite the silly arcade-style power-up tokens and boring wave-based missions.
Star Wars Battlefront II was supposed to be a response to all the negative feedback absorbed by the game's developer, DICE, and publisher, EA, who is widely regarded as one of gaming's biggest offenders of free-to-play mechanics in premium titles. EA hasn't been shy to note how much better Battlefront II is than its predecessor, citing the additional map count, content, and full-blown single-player campaign. But considering the micropayment strategy in Battlefield 1 was, by and large, for cosmetic bonuses, I had hope that EA had discovered a happy medium between honest-to-goodness gameplay balance and gambling micropayment crates. How naïve of me.
In Star Wars Battlefront II, the entirety of both cosmetic, and gameplay progression, revolves around randomly generated loot crates. This is why some of my character classes had higher progression than the ones I'd actually been playing. The random number generator (RNG) decided it for me.
As you play matches in Battlefront II, you're rewarded with Galactic credits which can be spent on, you guessed it, loot crates. The crate options in the beta offer rewards for standard troopers, hero classes which can only be spawned in-game at certain times, and starfighter rewards for the game's quite honestly incredible space combat mode. If these crates were purely cosmetic, they would be absolutely fine, but unfortunately, they directly and dramatically impact gameplay.
Battlefront II could very well be pay-to-win
Battlefront II's star cards are basically character customization options, affording you new abilities and passive buffs. The "Resourceful" booster card for the Officer class gives you a 10% recharge speed increase, with upgrades moving up to a whopping 28%. The booster and ability cards level up as you accrue duplicate cards, and they can be upgraded manually in exchange for "crafting parts," which appear in loot crates randomly across the board in tiny amounts.
I've been playing all weekend, and have amassed a ton of cards... for the Officer class, which I don't play. Including some "Epic" cards that grant huge bonuses. The classes I do play, namely Assault and Heavy, are far lower level, with weaker abilities, simply due to bad luck.
What can I do to side-step this bad luck? Well, EA could ask me to spend real money of course. Buying as many loot crates as I need to get the abilities I want, either using crafting parts or waiting until the RNG falls on my side. People who would buy the most loot crates on day one will have a significant advantage over those players that don't, which is depressing because the underlying game seems supremely amazing.
So, again, why is this a problem?
Star Wars Battlefront II puts its crate menu upfront and center, right there on the main menu. It also tries to nudge you into purchasing with a free crate every day. By tying the entire basis of progression to the crates, it further incentivizes payment. Every time you're defeated in combat, Battlefront II shows you which star cards were used to defeat you as if taunting you for having bad cards.
Star Wars Battlefront II isn't the most hardcore and balanced competitive game, especially when you factor in things like super-powered Hero classes and the like.
It's just saddening because the game underneath all of this gambling greed seems truly incredible.
However, the fact these RNG boxes are placed front and center, in a game many younger Star Wars fans will be picking up this holiday season incentivizes and rewards compulsive, financially reckless behavior, no different from casinos which carry a strict 18 age-rating (and higher in some places). Even without arguing the morality of these gambling mechanics which are hardly different than a jackpot slot machine complete with flashing lights, the progression system is just unrewarding. Why is my Officer class far more highly progressed than my other classes which I enjoy playing more?
This also contributes to a horrifying precedent that other games like Forza Motorsport 7 and Middle-earth: Shadow of War have pushed this year, where gameplay-modifying gambling crates are becoming the norm in premium, $60 AAA games.
Giving DICE the benefit of the doubt
Before we grab our pitchforks, there are a few things worth noting. First and foremost, this is a beta. I've seen rumors that Battlefront II's final build will have card packs specific for each class, allowing you to randomly focus on the progression of specific heroes and kits, rather than rely on the chaotic progression we have now.
I also couldn't find firm evidence that star cards will be offered for real money, although it's more than fair to assume they will be until proven otherwise. Loot crates are big money, and the fight against them is ultimately lost. It's the implementation that is problematic here, which seems predatory and manipulative.
This story is exploding across the internet right now, so it won't be very long until DICE and EA clarify or even roll back some of the more aggressive systems at play here. Again, maybe I'm just being naïve. Ultimately, it's just saddening, because the game underneath all of this gambling greed seems truly incredible.
Star Wars Battlefront II launches on November 17th, 2017 on Xbox One, PS4, and PC, for $60.
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