Right now the internet is making a huge deal of the microtransactions controversy surrounding EA's newly released "Star Wars: Battlefront II." While I do believe the transactions issue was a major misstep for EA, I don't believe the game deserves the kind of critical panning that has resulted from the news that EA would be allowing players to pay for in-game perks, and their subsequent retraction and removal of the pay system. Before we dig too deeply into how the much hated upgrade system works in "Battlefront II," let's talk a bit about the game itself.
During the height of the Playstation era, LucasArts released two games that aimed to revolutionize the Star Wars experience for fans. "Star Wars: Rebel Assault" and "Star Wars: Rebel Assault 2" used a combination of cutting edge graphics, newly recorded cutscenes, and on-rails gameplay to create a new type of Star Wars home console experience. The "Rebel Assault" games included third-person shooter elements, space combat, puzzle solving, and even racing gameplay in ways that individual games such as "Dark Forces" and "X-Wing" had already approached with greater depth. The aim was not to achieve excellence in any of the individual types of gameplay but to present a comprehensive Star Wars experience. What "Rebel Assault" achieved successfully was to immerse players in the worlds and environments of Star Wars in a way that even casual video game players could pick up a controller, play for a few hours, and experience a complete story.
With the release of "Battlefront II," it seems that EA's goal was to create a similar immersive Star Wars experience. The first-person campaign contains space combat, first-person shooter (or third-person, depending on your preference) gameplay, and even contains some puzzle-solving elements reminiscent of the old "Dark Forces" games. While none of these individual elements excels in comparison to games dedicated to the individual types of play, they are woven together to create a Star Wars experience that places the player in the middle of that galaxy "Far, Far Away" for adventures meant to stir the spirit and inspire nostalgia.
The models for the weaponry, ships, and costumes in this game are amazing. During one sequence in which the player takes control of Kylo Ren (the bad guy from the latest Star Wars trilogy of films), I could see the individual fibers in his black tunic. The voice acting and sound design support the immersive visuals with a surprising lack of the usual cardboard performances found in the shooter genre. The maps are large and detailed, and offer a plethora of secrets to discover and beautiful details to distract you from the impending hot laser death raining down from your enemies.
When the "pay to upgrade" progression system was announced, my primary concern came from being an adult with a full-time job. I realized that not being able to focus on the game until the weekend meant that thousands of players (most of them much younger than me) would have the hours to grind to higher ranks within the game and unlock the more powerful weapons and bonuses. Those without patience could overcome challenges by plunking down their allowance money for extra "crystals" (the in-game currency that could be bought with cash before EA cancelled it) and purchase "crates" containing random bonus upgrades. While no player could directly "buy" the best weapons or upgrades, they could certainly improve their chances with a little money rather than fighting for the "credits" (the in-game currency that comes from gameplay performance in single-player and multiplayer matches) with the rest of their peers. I envisioned a world where I would be crushed to a fine galactic dust beneath the bootheels of a few youngsters who had the faster reflexes and allowance money to make a mockery of my thirty-nine year obsession with Star Wars.
Fortunately for me, EA was shamed by social media and by negative press into shutting down (at least temporarily) the store where users could purchase the "crystal" currency. Also fortunately for me, Battlefront II uses a great matchmaking algorithm that drops me into games where the users are all relatively close to my rank and have a similar level of upgrades (which come in the form of "star cards") attached to their ships and soldiers. I have yet to run into a situation where an opponent was ridiculously overpowered by the upgrade system, and racking up an impossible number of kills on each level.
Players who dedicated time on the last Battlefront installment may remember the moment, nearly a year after the release of that game, when EA uploaded some major changes to in-game physics (at least in the starfighter modes) as well as some changes to the weapon balance and added the "bounties" system to unlock new upgrades. As exciting as those changes were, they took some getting used to, and momentarily leveled the playing field for veteran players and newcomers alike. I think it's safe to expect that over the next few months EA is going to make some substantial changes to Battlefront II that should have a similar effect. There's no other way they could respond to the reviews and the player feedback than to invest in gradual improvements to the gameplay and to the progression system.
Is this game worth the money? The answer lies truly in your expectations. If you're paying for a cutting-edge shooter produced by one of the world's leading game developers, I'd suggest waiting to see how EA handles the changes they're going to make in the coming months. There's no need to pay to be frustrated with the current state of the game.
However, if you want to pay for another trip to a distant galaxy filled with worn technology, retro-future costumes, and the sounds of laser blasts and wookiee roars that take you back to your childhood, Battlefront II is well worth your money. The experience is imperfect, but entertaining enough for a few dozen hours of wonder and excitement.