The original Star Wars: Battlefront, released in 2004, was a godsend to Star Wars fans. For so many years we had dreamed of playing out large-scale battles between the Empire and the Rebellion, and with this, we could finally take our place on the front line. The even better sequel, imaginatively named Star Wars Battlefront II, was released in 2005 and took this a step further. With the introduction of playable Jedi and space battles, we had almost everything we could want. Following this game and its canceled sequel was a ten-year break before another entry into this series by another developer. So how did this new entry stack up, and why is there so much controversy surrounding it and its own direct sequel
2015’s Star Wars Battlefront
After the first two Battlefront games, the license shifted from Pandemic Studios to EA DICE. While this meant that the games suddenly had far more support money for development than ever before, it also meant that they were under control of the quite controversial Electronic Arts. For those who don’t follow the video game industry closely, Electronic Arts is criticized by many gamers and critics for following a specific pattern when it comes to their practices. The general idea is that they purchase a license or studio, pressure new development to go in a way which fans and developers are not happy with, and then punish the developers when the inevitable product is not what the original fans wanted, or not as financially successful as EA desires. This has been the case with the now defunct Origin Systems, Bullfrog Productions, Westwood Studios, Mythic Entertainment, Maxis, Pandemic Studios, and most recently Visceral Studios, just to name a few, so it was only natural that gamers met this with some hesitation.
We saw this effect with Battlefront I, which was fantastic in some ways. The graphics and sounds were and still are some of the best in the business, but the selection of what you could do was far less impressive than Battlefront II ten years before. 12 maps down from 33, a maximum of 20v20 down from 32v32, no space battles, no campaign, and vastly limited character and vehicle selections were just a few of these downgrades. Nevertheless, this was still seen as a jumping off point for the next game.
Star Wars Battlefront II
Early on, it looked like the sequel was planning to tick many of the boxes which EA’s first game did not. More maps, more characters, space battles, and improved quality, were enough to get many of us interested in the installment. However, the problem which eventually emerged was tied to the issue of microtransactions and loot boxes. These have been controversial for players for a reason, primarily in that they cost extra money on top of an already expensive base game plus expansion content price. Even worse in this instance, the Battlefront II loot boxes arguably acted as a sort of pay-to-win slot machine, where people who paid extra gained an actual and sometimes considerable advantage over regular already paying customers.
Since then, the backlash against this game and EA has been severe, and while the title performed well commercially it has been critically savaged by many industry enthusiasts as well as professional reviewers.
The Future of the Series
It’s promising that EA seems to have tried to learn their lesson, or at least have given an indication that they have done so. Their initial attempt to smooth things over was through a Reddit post which has now become – and five months later, remains – the most downvoted comment in Reddit history. EA painted their loot box strategy as having to do with maximizing player “pride and accomplishment”, though the community regarded this as little more than corporate handling and damage control. While there were some who took EA’s side, they were ultimately in the minority, as even EA themselves admitted in their following backstepping into a much more acceptable traditional microtransaction system, earning a little bit of goodwill back in the process.
The question is, where do they go from here? In terms of fidelity, there is still no better way to experience taking part in a Star Wars experience on the battlefront, and the popularity of the franchise and game series are enough to guarantee a sequel. The question becomes how much EA will learn from the failures of this game, and what they might try to get away with in the next installment. Whatever the next game brings, we at least know the gameplay itself will be nothing short of beautiful and engaging, just like the films themselves.