Electronic Arts released a public beta for Star Wars: Battlefront II this weekend, and I played it. There are some things about it that are nice. The gameplay, for example, seems solid, and the graphics—as much as you can tell with a very limited number of maps, anyway—seem nice. Sadly, other things seem not so nice, and one thing seems truly awful.
The user interface is cluttered and ugly. 2015's Battlefront had a very nice, clean, modern UI. Battlefront II's UI is packed with graphics and menus, and seems like a throwback to UI design from five years ago.
They've also added character classes to the game, which I don't like at all. Battlefront allowed you to (eventually) choose any weapon and add any character trait or secondary weapon. This enabled you to create a character that uniquely worked with your play style. Battlefront II's class-based setup means that you get secondary weapons and character traits that, in EA's opinion, are best suited to that class. What you might want is irrelevant. So character customization is, to a certain degree, limited.
Another issue the newly broken respawn system. In Battlefront, you could have a partner, upon whom you could instantly respawn after death, as long as your partner wasn't actively engaged in a firefight. If so, you could still respawn instantly at another map location. Now, you can only respawn with a "squad" of complete strangers, and have to wait for several seconds before your squad is filled, or the respawn timer counts down to 0. So, if you get killed a lot, you'll spend a large portion of your time simply waiting to respawn with a completely different "squad" of strangers each time. It's stupid and awful.
But the worst thing that EA has done is made the entire progression system based on random loot crates. It's one thing to do something like Overwatch does, where you can obtain or buy cosmetic upgrades, emotes, or other non-essential items via loot crates, but EA has based your ability to upgrade abilities or weapons almost entirely on what you find or—and here's the key bit—buy from EA.
Armor upgrades, character abilities, new weapons...all of them are only obtainable through "star cards" found in loot crates. These are necessary items to be competitive in the game, and you can't obtain them simply by leveling up. You can buy loot crates with in-game currency, but from what I've seen in the Beta, that currency system is broken too. Did you smash your opponents, and get 42 kills and 3 deaths? Well, you get 150 units of currency. Do you suck hard, and kill 3 other players in return for 42 deaths? You get 150 currency units, too. Yay, equality!
And the rewards you get in the loot crates are random. And I do mean random. "Oh, you like playing the assault class in ground combat? Great. Here's a shield upgrade for a TIE fighter." In other words, you could never play the starfighter assault mode, and have the baddest frickin' TIE fighter in the game. What this means is that your character doesn't progress by leveling up, or by beating challenges, but by entirely random chance. Skill, K/D ratio, time played? Who cares? You'll get the star cards EA randomly doles out to you, dammit, and you'll be grateful for it.
Crafting points to create new weapons are doled out in loot boxes at the rate of 20 points per crate (though I randomly got two crafting Star Cards for a total of 40 points once.) It takes a long time playing to get a loot crate, however, and you may or may not have any crafting points when your crate opens. How long, then, would it take to obtain enough crafting points to obtain every weapon in the game? YouTuber Angry Joe did some math and, assuming there are three weapons per class, with four classes, he estimates that unlocking all of the weapons in the game would take 3,600 hours of gameplay. So, if Battlefront II was a full-time job where you worked 40 hours a week, you would need 1 year and 8 months before you snagged that final blaster.
The star cards also dole out some extremely potent abilities. For example, there's a Star Card for Boba Fett that gives you 100% damage reduction when performing certain actions. Invulnerability in a multiplayer shooter is a pretty powerful ability, I'd say, and you have no idea when or if you'll ever get it.
So, there's the incentive to pay for more loot crates. Because the only way to increase your character's capability is by either obtaining loot crates, or by playing the game for 1.75 years, people who buy lots of loot will get better capabilities, better shields, and better weapons, and if you run into them on the map, they will, all other things being equal, kill you as dead as fried chicken. This skews the entire progression of the game. You can't choose what to upgrade; what class or weapon you prefer is irrelevant. Your progression in the game is entirely based on your ability to obtain random loot crates...and the quickest way to do that is to buy them, so you aren't the guy who gets 3 kills and 42 deaths.
We are used to seeing this sort of loot crate economy in free to play (F2P) games, but Batlefront II is a full-priced, AAA game that, as far as I can tell, is going all in on the loot crate economy. In other words, when you buy Battlefront II, what you are buying isn't really a game, but a platform that enables you to have the privilege of paying EA additional money to actually be competitive when playing it. The more money you give EA, the more loot crates you'll get, which means more character progression, abilities, and weapons. This is, quite simply, pay to win, which is unconscionable in a full-priced game. When you pay full price for a game, you have the right to expect a fair progression system with clearly-defined achievements, but that's a proposition with which EA apparently disagrees.
But, let's say you square your shoulders, set your jaw, and decide to grind away for the upgrades you want. Well, good luck with that. In Battlefront's Hutt Contracts, you grind for a specific weapon by meeting specific objectives (Kill 50 players with a heavy blaster, get 25 kills with a targeting rifles, get 25 kills as a Rebel, then take possession of your gun.) In Battlefront II, however, remember, the crates are random. You can't grind for that treasured blaster. Instead, you are grinding for the chance that, maybe, you'll eventually get that blaster. What do you have to do to get it? Who knows? It's random. How long with it take? Who knows? it's random. You might play 100 games, and get 50 kills per game, but who cares, because that has nothing to do with your progression or available upgrades.
I have never seen a AAA game with a progression system that is so fundamentally broken. Except that it isn't broken. Play to win is the model EA wants to implement, as far as I can tell. They want progression to be random, because that's how they incentivize you to keep buying loot crates until you get that weapon or ability you really want. And if you don't get it in this microtransaction purchase, maybe it'll be in the next one. Or maybe the next one will just be some new character emotes, and better X-Wing fighter shields. "Who knows, give us another dollar and see what that gets you!"
In an F2P game, you're getting the game for free. Paying the developer is sort of part and parcel of living in the F2P world. They have to make money somehow, so incentivizing you to pay them, you know, something, is the deal you make when you start playing the game for free. So, for example when I played Warframe, I has happy to shoot them ten bones or so to get an upgrade to my weapons or Warframe. They give me a good time, I throw them some extra cash here and there. But if you're charging me full price for the game, then I have a right to expect a whole game, with a fair progression system and reasonable rate of acquisition for upgrades. What I shouldn't have is a gambling platform where every dollar I put into microtransactions is just a lever pull on a high-tech slot machine.
Frankly, this puts the game's economy uncomfortably close to a gambling system, not a progression system. Maybe we should look at it like a gambling game and give it an adults-only "A" rating, instead of the "T" for teens. Teenagers are famously compulsive and lacking in self-control, after all. Maybe we shouldn't be introducing them to gambling at such a tender age.
Several months ago, EA told us that, unlike Battlefront, Battlefront II would free DLC content releases, and now I know how that "free" DLC is being paid for. If this is the cost for "free" DLC, then I'd rather have paid DLC and no loot crates.
Now, I do understand that the economics of game development are tight. The cost for a AAA game has been $60 for over a decade, the existence of $100 collector's editions notwithstanding. Maybe $60 shouldn't be the price for a AAA game any more. Maybe the real price should be $100 or $120. I'm fine with that. Over time, things get more expensive. That's life. I'd rather pay more upfront and get a fair, understandable progression system, than pay half-price to play in the loot-crate economy. Especially since EA's loot crate economy seems to be the most predatory and manipulative of the lot.
Maybe all this will be different in the actual game. Maybe we're just freaking out, and the Beta isn't representative, and the progression system will be fair and logical. But, based on what I've seen, I wouldn't bet on it. And I wouldn't advise anyone to spend a dime on pre-orders either.
Anyway, I made a Twitch stream about this, which you can see above.