Looking back on 2015's Star Wars: Battlefront, it successfully achieved the fantasy of taking part in many of the iconic battles from the original trilogy, but still fell short when it came to offering a robust multiplayer experience. With Battlefront II, the scope has been largely expanded, making for a more varied and involved experience that incorporates a little bit of everything Star Wars--from the smaller conflicts on Jakku, to the massive, civilization-defining battles on Endor.
During a hands-on event prior to the game's release on EA Access, we spent two days diving into Battlefront II's familiar online offerings, while getting a feel for the new systems and modes in place--which assuredly take some getting used to.
One thing that's clear from the outset is the expanded scale of Battlefront II. Now featuring 14 maps, taking place across all three eras of the Star Wars saga, there's something for fans of all types. From taking part in the Battle of Naboo from the prequel trilogy, to the conflict on Endor from Return of the Jedi, to even the skirmish on Takodonna in The Force Awakens, each era of Star Wars is present and accounted for. While multiple maps from a particular era have a number of stylistic similarities, each setting has a particular tone to it that feels distinct--such the lush and pristine palaces of the prequel era, to the more rundown and lived-in areas of the original trilogy.
Like its predecessor, Battlefront II brings you to the frontlines across a variety of different game modes--even allowing you to play as the Empire and change the course of Star Wars history. As you build your own career in multiplayer or in offline modes, you'll unlock weapons, Star Cards, and access to the more recognizable faces in Star Wars. While there's certainly a conscious effort to improve the size of the game, there's still plenty of smaller scale infantry battles that make for a decent break from the bombast of the 40-player Galactic Assault.
With the Blast and Strike gametypes, smaller teams of up to 20 players focus on wiping out opposing players or capturing enemy territory, making for some bite-sized matches to dive into. But of course, Battlefront II also brings back the favorite Heroes vs. Villains mode, which pits two teams of classic and new Star Wars characters duking it out in-over-the-top fashion. These battles offer up some of the most bizarre, yet fun moments in the game with Jedi, Smugglers, and Bounty Hunters pulling out all the stops to take down the other team. While these modes are intense in their own right, the smaller multiplayer offerings are a solid respite from the time-consuming game-types like Galactic or Starfighter Assault.
With the return of the Star Card system, there's also some notable changes that come with the increased scope of the sequel. In addition to modifying your classes and heroes--such as ditching the Heavy's energy shield for a grenade launcher--the Star Cards of Battlefront II can now be upgraded with crafting components or can be found in higher tier categories. This in turn requires you to invest more time in a particular class' growth, as upgrading certain cards requires a specific class rank--which then requires you to stay up to date with ongoing challenges and weapon unlocks to facilitate the advancement. There's a lot to keep up with when it comes to the system's newfound intricacies, especially when you're seldom given any useful Star Cards at the start, which can make learning the ins and outs feel like a chore.
With the number of classes, cards, heroes, and challenges available in-game, there's certainly much to keep track of. This unfortunately makes apparent how cumbersome the menu system can be, which come off as needlessly complicated to navigate--even requiring you to exit multiplayer matches to collect rewards from the challenges you've unlocked, and even to open up the loot crates.
Speaking of which, the loot boxes of Battlefront II have undergone some changes since the beta. While you can earn Star Cards from the single player campaign, loot boxes are the most reliable and efficient way to earn increase your decks for the many classes and acquire crafting components to upgrade said cards. Incorporating player feedback from the beta, epic level gear will no longer drop from loot boxes, resulting in a system that should feel more friendly for natural play. Though you can comfortably purchase boxes with in-game credits accumulated over the course of several games, this system can feel like a bottleneck, as long-term progression is dependant on the luck of the draw from loot crates--which sometimes results in minimal rewards.
By far, the most exciting addition to Battlefront II is Starfighter Assault. Focusing entirely on space and aerial dogfights between opposing teams, you can pick three different classes of starships and take part in offensive or defensive missions. While similar to the Rush gametype--with the attacking force gaining momentum by completing key objectives--Starfighter Assault focuses on full 360 degree flying with the dodging of debris and enemy fighters, and offers some of the most intense and pulse-pounding moments in the game. Vehicle controls have been significantly improved compared to the previous game, with maneuverability and dodging enemy fire feeling like a breeze in comparison. While it initially can be overwhelming, especially on the incredibly dense Death Star II map with the wreckage of the space station leaving many obstacles to weave past, the gametype creates many different opportunities to pull off slick maneuvers and strafing runs that make you feel like you're taking part in movie.
While there's some notable frustrations with the game, such as the looming presence of the loot boxes and complicated progression system, the first few hours spent with Battlefront II were incredibly fun where it mattered most. There's still much to dive into for the multiplayer, and it'll be interesting to see how it pans out once more players have gotten into the game.
Stay tuned to GameSpot for more info about Star Wars: Battlefront II, along with our full review as it comes. We'll dive into the many new maps, and show off interesting Star Card combos for the different classes, and put the the new single-player campaign through its paces.