In recent years, the Star Wars franchise has been plagued by its share of uphill battles. The return of the live-action films after a decade-long absence was widely anticipated, yet met with varying fan reception and a criticism that the first entry, The Force Awakens, was too heavily derivative of the original trilogy. The direct follow-up to that film, The Last Jedi, also received mixed audience response in spite of its critical acclaim and impressive box office numbers. But in the realm of video games, Star Wars has also had some growing pains. Since the release of Star Wars Battlefront II last year, a sequel to 2015’s Star Wars Battlefront, developer EA DICE and publisher Electronic Arts have faced the difficult task of trying to make amends after some early missteps soured many players on the game right out of the gate.
Leading up to Battlefront II’s debut, the hype was real. Teasing a significant amount of content from the game via a full-length trailer at Star Wars Celebration in April 2017, the development team promised several new additions that had not previously been a part of the preceding Star Wars Battlefront. This included a separate story campaign mode designed by Motive Studios, which revolved around brand new character Iden Versio, leader of the Imperial special ops unit known as Inferno Squad. New planets, such as Iden’s homeworld of Vardos, were created especially for the game to expand the universe even further, and a tie-in novel written by Christie Golden about the beginnings of Inferno Squad was also advertised. Alongside the single-player campaign, the Battlefront II team showed off a multiplayer mode with a revised heroes system, giving players the opportunity to unlock and improve abilities for such classic Star Wars characters as Luke Skywalker, Yoda, and Darth Vader, as well as relative newcomers like Rey and Kylo Ren, who had not been available to play in the previous game.
Shortly before the full release of the game in November that same year, though, the fan backlash was swift, primarily revolving around the revealed decision of the company to make Battlefront II’s progression system exceptionally difficult and tedious — even for the most experienced gamer. Initially, players would only be able to unlock bonus content, such as heroes, after “grinding" (playing long enough to earn enough in-game credits) or actually coughing up physical dollars. “Loot crates” containing mystery items were also available, but only after paying to unlock the contents. Fans were disgruntled, to say the least, especially because Battlefront II’s price point — a somewhat steeper $80 — suggested that more characters should have been automatically available for play. EA’s choice to lock fan favorites such as Darth Vader behind a paywall was considered a greedy money grab by fans, a corporate excuse to incentivize spending right off the bat. The response was so virulent that Disney began receiving accusations that they were promoting gambling via the game’s loot crates, and EA’s reply to the complaints on Reddit became the most downvoted comment in the site’s history at the time. Several review journalists singled out the controversial aspects of Battlefront II that EA had already been taken to task for, including the progression system and microtransactions, while on Metacritic user reviews for the PlayStation 4 version were massively negative as a result of a review bombing campaign.
A day later, EA Games took action to address fans’ concerns, announcing the day prior to the game’s release that they would be temporarily disabling in-game purchases. Oskar Gabrielson, GM of DICE, issued a statement saying that the development team would “spend more time listening, adjusting, balancing and tuning.” As a result, all bonus content was only able to be unlocked via gameplay, and Gabrielson alluded to “more free content to come” with future updates. The groundswell of negativity temporarily subsided once the game was officially released, but EA hadn’t exactly endeared themselves to fans after that initial gaffe. The single-player story campaign was criticized for being too brief and muddled, and the follow-up DLC that was released in December to wrap up Iden’s arc and further connect her story to the new trilogy of films felt like a rushed rehashing of previous missions.
Yet for every stumble, there have also been gradual signs of advancement. In March of this year, EA announced that they would be unlocking every hero character and ship for players to access, with in-game credits or “crystals” (an alternative currency available for purchase) only used to unlock specialized “skins” (appearances) for characters rather than "star cards" (ability boosters), which players can only acquire and upgrade via gameplay. The developer also boosted users’ ability to earn more in-game rewards via the multiplayer mode and continued to add content in the vein of new heroes, like Finn and Captain Phasma, as well as the worlds of Crait, D’Qar, and Bespin’s Cloud City. April saw a “Night on Endor” update added to the game that introduced an entertaining survival horror mode and gave players the opportunity to wage war on unsuspecting Imperial stormtroopers as the Ewoks themselves. In May, a two-part Han Solo season was announced as a tie-in to Solo: A Star Wars Story, offering a new “Extraction” game mode, a Jabba’s Palace map, and new skins for characters such as Han, Leia, Lando, and Chewbacca. All of the additional content has been free for Battlefront II users.
Looking to the future, EA has announced that they’ll be expanding the world of Battlefront II even further. At this year’s E3, the studio revealed their plans to add long-awaited content revolving around the Clone Wars beginning this fall, including the planet of Geonosis and characters such as Obi-Wan Kenobi, General Grievous, Count Dooku, and prequel-era Anakin Skywalker. EA also posted a statement that acknowledged the game’s shortcomings when it was first launched and asserted their commitment to listening to the “passionate Battlefront community” in making much-desired changes. As far as that community is concerned, however, these significant game updates may not be enough to turn the tide of public perception just yet, and it’s understandable that some fans haven’t been able to set aside the ennui arising from delayed changes and a lack of communication from the developers. Ultimately, Battlefront II is still on the road to recovery, and only time will tell if it’ll be able to stay on target in terms of its steady improvement.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.