It was a good December for Star Wars: Battlefront 2. Not the new one, released in mid-November to widespread controversy and criticism about its loot boxes and leveling systems. The old one, originally released in 2005. It's a goofy, manic shooter that we keep going back to, and we're not alone. Since 2012, according to Steamcharts, Battlefront 2 has never dipped below an average 100+ playercount, even after its Gamespy servers shut down. Lately, that player count has cracked four digits thanks to GOG, which restored online functionality in October and is still working on updates (a new patch just landed last week). Amazingly, this 12-year-old game is poised for a comeback.
Best as I can tell, these aren't just old players trying out the game for the first time in years, either. Battlefront 2 was $3.39 during a sale in December, and while Steamspy's numbers aren't precise, it looks like it picked up tens of thousands of new owners. That's a drop in the bucket compared to its total of more than three million, but still not too shabby. Unfortunately, it looks like a lot of those players are discovering Battlefront 2's online support is in rough shape, if they can get it to work at all.
Posts on the Steam and GOG forums show similar problems. "They fixed the issue of joining for most but still the lag is killing any chance of playing seriously," writes one user on GOG. "Want to love this so much but the lag makes it unplayable," writes another. The most common complaint seems to be especially high ping on the existing online servers—which isn't surprising, because currently Battlefront 2's online servers are all player-hosted. Of course, some enterprising fans are already working on the problem.
I chatted with AsLan, who's been hosting Battlefront 2 servers for years and provided GOG with the server package code the community had been using, which was released by LucasArts years ago. "Myself and others have basically been working to find a way to host a server on rental machines (machines with top quality internet speeds and stability rented out from server providers)," AsLan wrote. "These are what all good BF2 servers have been hosted on in the past, as the games design necessitates the host having excellent internet speeds. This is rather tricky, as all but the most expensive rentals don't have a GPU, and GoG removed the code in the exe that allowed us to run the game without rendering it (and as they removed the dedicated server mode which means we have to effectively use a self-host server format on the rental machine).
"Myself and a small team of players who have been with the game since the beginning have made pretty good progress so far, we're able to get servers up on rental machines and we're able to accommodate for map changes using a program I wrote, but there are still issues, some of which will only be fixed when GOG release a new official dedicated server package based on the source code."
AsLan has already had some success running a dedicated server, despite those complications, and says GOG's latest patch made some big improvements to server stability. There are a lot of issues to work on, still: Without a working dedicated server mode, full servers don't show up in the lobby, passwords don't work if you launch the game with a batch file, and servers inaccurately show zero ping. But if GOG follows through with full dedicated server support, Battlefront 2's player count will probably climb even higher.
And even if they don't, there will still be people playing. Currently, the community is split between GOG's new baked-in online support and a couple fan-made alternatives: GameRanger and SWBFSpy.
"In terms of performance, SWBFSpy is unquestionably the strongest candidate out there right now, I know the Spy team and they are hardworking and very competent," AsLan writes. "The real problem Spy has at the moment is lack of players and a somewhat exclusive community—the vast majority of players are EU players (though they do have US servers) that have been playing for a long time and enjoy the game in a certain way. Were Spy to have a significantly larger playerbase I would recommend it as the best place to play without a second thought, but it doesn't. I actually wished GoG had contacted us before releasing their initial server patch, if they had simply patched Spy into the Steam and GOG versions of the game, everything would be perfect right now."
GOG's new infrastructure initially broke support with SWBFSpy, but the players quickly found a workaround. It's the best option for stable servers if you don't mind installing some extra files and joining a Discord community to organize games. But the simplicity of GOG's built-in support makes it the best way to go for most players—the playerbase is just that much bigger, AsLan says: "The game hasn't had 64 player conquest servers in a long time, but for the last week our servers player limits have capped regularly."
If you want to give Battlefront 2 a try, keep an eye out for AsLan's server, General4726. If you don't see it listed, chances are—against all odds for a game more than a decade old—that's because it's full.