After the controversial release of EA’s Star Wars Battlefront II in late 2017, the game has recently seen a revival thanks to the release of several free expansions. However, with EA being mired with complaints about the microtransaction system, the short campaign and the poorly designed level progression system, there are clearly still fans out there that are not happy with the newest installment in the Battlefront series. In fact, there is a significant portion of the Star Wars fan community that staunchly prefers the original Star Wars: Battlefront II that released in 2005 over the EA-branded remake. But are the two games in any way comparable?
When it was released in 2005, the sequel to 2003’s Star Wars: Battlefront aimed to improve on just about everything that had featured in the original by adding in space combat, more classes, a better rewards system and countless other gameplay, aesthetic and layout changes that helped to firmly establish Star Wars: Battlefront II as one of the most popular Star Wars video games out there. In the eyes of many fans, the game takes its place alongside other Star Wars classics like Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic as one of the best video games of its era, and thanks to a dedicated community that has seemingly only strengthened in the wake of the release of the EA Battlefront series the game continues to be one of the most popular Star Wars releases to date.
Following the decision by EA to use the name ‘Battlefront’ for their new series of Star Wars first-person shooters, EA’s Star Wars Battlefront II had a lot to live up to. Fans were cautious of the game when it was first announced due to the disappointment many had felt following the release of EA’s first Star Wars Battlefront, which promised much and yet delivered little in terms of maps and content. Early signs for Battlefront II seemed more promising, with the inclusion of the prequel and sequel eras as well as more customization, heroes, space battles and the single player campaign mode. In many ways, EA’s Battlefront II did deliver on what was promised, at least in terms of content – but the controversy surrounding microtransactions coupled with the vast amounts of playtime needed to progress through the levelling system led to many players writing off the new Battlefront game early on, particularly since EA had already failed once.
One of the most glaring weaknesses in the new Battlefront games compared to the Battlefronts of the 2000s is the significant reduction in the number of maps and modes, and the lack of customization options compared to older releases. For many players these features helped define the Battlefront games and for some the use of the Battlefront name on EA’s new games is little more than brand association.
However, the biggest and most controversial issue surrounding EA’s Battlefront II was the inclusion of its microtransaction system. Having started as a means for free mobile games to generate revenue through in-app purchases, microtransactions have gradually seeped into the mainstream console gaming market and the increasing numbers of publishers that have turned to this system has been criticized by children and parents alike. Those against the system argue that it comes across as an attempt by publishers to squeeze as much money out of the consumer as possible, and when the system is paired with randomized loot-boxes that have also become popular in the first-person shooter genre of games the result is something akin to child gambling, as children can spend real money on a random selection of in-game content without knowing what content they will actually receive.
This was particularly controversial in the case of EA’s Battlefront II as it was proven that, without using real money to purchase randomized loot-boxes, it would take hours and hours of playtime to earn enough in-game currency to unlock heroes like Darth Vader despite the inclusion of the heroes being one of the game’s main selling points. Ultimately, the controversy surrounding microtransactions in EA’s Battlefront II contributed to a growing movement against the system led by activists and politicians that particularly target the randomized loot-box system. Progress has already been made in some parts of the world, most notably the Belgium Gambling Commission that has made the inclusion of randomized loot-boxes that can be bought with real money illegal.
Despite the assertion from many Star Wars fans that microtransactions ruined the new EA Battlefront, the game has seen a small rise in popularity following the suspension of the loot-box system and the release of several free sets of downloadable content. Whilst there is no way to know for certain exactly how many active players there are in the game, the release of content related to Disney’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi and the Clone Wars era has been met with positive response from what players the game has, so it could be that with the removal of the microtransaction system the game stands a chance of turning over a new leaf and winning back the disappointed fans that are flocking to Star Wars’ rival brands in their droves.