I managed to play a few hours of the Star Wars Battlefront 2 (SWBF2) beta this past weekend. I had not actually played any of the prior titles in the series, nor does the Star Wars IP hold any particular cachet with me. I have played and been a fan of the Battlefield series for over a decade though, so my impressions are based more around that.
In short: it’s decent fun.
One of the first things that should be addressed is the Star Wars-ness. I mentioned that the series holds no particular cachet with me, but that does not mean I am unable to appreciate cool sci-fi battles when I see them. In this regard, SWBF2 hits some seriously good notes. Being a part of a Stormtrooper charge through a wooded area, blaster fire going every which way, is exactly as cool as you can imagine it being. I am also incredibly impressed by how the other map can cast the player as a Droid. I think the hitboxes are the same as the more common human ones, but it remains an interesting experience seeing your Droid teammates scurrying about.
The space battle map is whatever. I’m not a huge fan of flying vehicles in this or any Battlefield game, entirely because I lack whatever faculties are necessary to shake someone off my tail. I have fun shooting people, launching missiles, etc, then someone gets behind me and I inevitably die. I know that it’s possible to lose someone, because I have been “lost,” but I cannot do it.
On a mechanics level, the game has a pretty interesting approach. There are four base classes in the game, and each class has three abilities (in addition to different weapons). Abilities are all cooldown-based, with the exception of the Specialist’s Thermal Goggles, so there is always a tension between using it ASAP to eek out every possible advantage, or “saving it” for when you might really need it. Do you chuck a grenade in the off-chance someone is in that hallway, so that you can chuck a second one later? Or do you wait for a specific situation? Beyond that, the four classes themselves seem relatively balanced – Officers are pretty bad solo, but shine in groups – and each organically play out quite differently due to said abilities.
Where things falter quite a bit is in the teamplay department – the only teamplay is accidental.
Again, I come from a Battlefield background, and I also recognize that EA might not want to copy all (or any, apparently) of its systems. But the lack of squads, the regenerating health, infinite ammo, infinite abilities (after a cooldown), no spawnpoint choice, no revives, no Spotting… in every way, SWBF2 is an arcade shooter. I can appreciate the fact that some things wouldn’t make sense in the Star Wars universe – shock paddles bringing Storm Troopers back to life, etc – but there is so very little connecting you to the rest of your team unless you’re playing an Officer, who in every other way is worse than any other class you could have chosen.
The hero system sort of wraps this all up in a big bow. As you complete objectives and get kills, you earn battle points, which you can spend to respawn into battle as special characters, vehicles, etc. The money-shot heroes cost 5,000 points, which take a rather significant amount of time to accumulate, and thereafter lock your team out of choosing said hero until you die. From my few hours playing, I can say that the ones using Lightsabers are OP as shit, as they dance around one-shotting everyone, then dancing away to regenerate a health pool five times larger than normal. There are still some “more powerful than normal” options for the rest of us plebs, but there are still limited slots.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the current Star Cards P2W fiasco.
At the end of each match, you gain a number of Credits which can be spent in increments of 1000-1100 to purchase crates, which then hold three random “cards.” These cards can be improved abilities for any of the classes – including the heroes – or even alternative abilities that replace other ones. Or they can be cosmetic things, emotes, etc. Cards have different levels, with higher levels corresponding to better bonuses. At the beginning, you can only equip one Star Card, but as you gain more cards for a particular class/hero, that class/hero “levels up” and can equip up to three.
The fiasco part of this is that the entire system right now is pretty much naked Pay-2-Win. These crates can be unlocked during normal play, or you can unlock as many as dollar bills you have. Since character levels appear to be derived by how many Star Cards one has – as opposed to, you know, how long you have been playing said class/hero – not only will buying a ton of crates give you more options, they will specifically allow you to equip all of them. And these are direct power increases. Lower cooldowns, damage reduction, regenerating health, more “ammo” per clip, etc. It might not be impossible to take out a fully-decked out player as a brand new player – unless we’re talking about the Star Card that gives Boba Fett 100% damage reduction during Rocket Barrage – but in a FPS the margins between winning and losing are measured in milliseconds. Every percentage bonus counts. Especially when your target survives with 1 HP and regenerates to full a few seconds later.
As if that was not bad enough, the real problem here is that this is SWBF2’s entire progression system. While you can eventually earn a crafting currency to construct exactly the Star Card you desire, there is otherwise zero means to acquire better (or any) cards of a particular class. In the Battlefield series, playing as Assault will let you unlock more/better Assault abilities, using the same gun will unlock components for said gun, and so on. In SWBF2, it’s all lockbox RNG. I can appreciate the occasional incentive to try out a different class based on a good loot drop, but as the primary progression mechanism? That’s dumb.
The whole Star Cards thing probably deserves its own post, assuming you haven’t already read 37 variations by then. But, yeah, it’s basically as bad as it looks.
Unsurprisingly, the jury is still out.
As mentioned before, the game is decent fun. If you are looking for an arcade shooter and like Star Wars, then it is probably a no-brainer. If I were eventually purchase SWBF2, I expect it to follow the same trajectory as TitanFall 1 & 2, for the same reasons. Just something to play around with for a few hours here and there, to kill time. As opposed to the trajectories of Battlefield 2, 3, and 4, which remain mentally compelling and engaging to this day.
It is amazing how just a few tweaks can completely ruin a game for me.
First, the good: Titanfall 2 has a single-player campaign. The lack of one was a common criticism for the original, and one that I shared. Actually, I think the original technically had a weird sort of “multiplayer match with a vague voiceover” story mode, but that hardly counts. This one is legit, and it is decently fun. A lot of game sites are gushing over the Effect and Cause mission for some reason, but it’s not ground-breaking or anything. Perhaps higher brow from a technical standpoint than typical arcade shooter FPS fare, but I’ve played a lot of inventive FPS games, and this one was okay.
Having said that… where it matters, Titanfall 2 fails hard. Specifically: Titans.
A big part of the original game was the interplay between the Pilots and the Titans. Titans could basically one-shot Pilots in a number of ways, but clever usage of the jump jets and such from a Pilot could all but spell doom for the Titan. “Rodeoing” was when a Pilot jumped on a Titan, peeled off an exterior armor panel, and blasted the Titan’s internal circuitry with whatever weapon they had. Pretty much the only recourse the Titan had was Electric Smoke, which had a cooldown/limited uses. Otherwise you’d either need a friendly player to shoot the Pilot off, or disembark to do it yourself, if you were currently piloting the Titan.
For some utterly bizarre reason, the designers changed all that. Now? A Pilot jumps on a Titan and… removes a battery. This deals about 30% damage to the Titan, and immediately highlights the offending Pilot to everyone with a big battery symbol. The battery’s function is to recharge shields/empower a friendly Titan, either by re-entering your own or jumping on the back of someone else’s and jamming it inside. Not that that ever fucking happens though, because the FIRST and ONLY thing that occurs is the enemy Titan looks around and instantly blasts the giant green battery icon that is attempting to get away. Then the enemy Pilot disembarks, grabs their own battery, and re-enters the Titan, charging their shields.
Folks, I can’t even.
There was a crazy amount of elegance to the original design. Different weapons dealt a different amount of damage to the Titan hull once you pulled off the armor panel. If all you had was a grenade launcher, guess what? You took splash damage. I often went with a harder-hitting pistol secondary expressly because it dealt more Titan damage when Rodeo’d, even though it was tougher to hit a Pilot with it. Then there was the fact that a Pilot attached to your Titan was a (slow) death sentence unless you specifically dealt with him/her. The Titanfall 2 system is basically a free Pilot kill.
Also, if I recall correctly, the original Titanfall had Titans with regenerating shields. It really only protected the Titan from 1-2 shots, but the current system is zero shields (unless you get a battery). This subtle change makes Titans much less durable, which actively counters the apparent “steal enemy Titan batteries for your own Titan” design, because yours will be dead before you get back. Assuming you get further than 10 feet away with a battery in the first place.
Then there is the changed Attrition mode. The core part of the map type is the same: kill either AI units or enemy Pilots to get points. In the original, the AI bots were total cannon fodder. In this game, the AI… is still mostly cannon fodder, but can kill you rather surprisingly easy. If you try to melee Grunts, they will melee you back, and basically get you to 50% HP. Stalker/Spectres are bullet sponges that can definitely give you away. Then you have Reapers, which as basically mini-Titans that will chase you around rooftops and basically unkillable outside of Titans.
In principle, the new bots are fine. The problem is actually finding any. In the original Titanfall, you could actually select a gadget that would show all bot location on your minimap (at the expense of more useful anti-Pilot measures). That doesn’t really exist here, and you can often run around for 1-2 minutes without encountering a single bot anywhere. Given how matches are only 10 minutes long, that’s fairly significant. It also means that if your team falls behind, there is no way to make it back.
The bottom line is really this: Titanfall 2 is just not as fun as the original game. This is Respawn’s Signs follow-up to their Sixth Sense. It’s really a shame because there wasn’t much they needed to improve upon in the original game. Instead, they have weaker Titans, weaker anti-Titan moves, worse maps with less wall-running opportunities, and… well, just less all the things that made the first game cool. If they continue on this trajectory, the third one is going to be The Village.