I played about two or three hours of the Battlefront 2 beta a couple of weekends ago. I'll reserve full judgement for the game's release, but I thought I'd enjoy it more than I did. The shooting feels better than the first one, but I wasn't entirely sure about the new point system for acquiring heroes and starfighters, especially as I spent a bunch of mine on a Naboo starfighter then was shot down the second I took control of it. The starfighter assault mode has promise, though, and the game is lavish as hell as expected. Battlefront 2 is undoubtedly the most amazing visual representation of Star Wars I've seen in a game. And yet, it mostly made me miss old Battlefront.
The reason for that is not Battlefront 2's loot crates, although I found that system confusing and hope it doesn't spoil the finished game. Pandemic's Star Wars Battlefront games were far less refined shooters than DICE's games, are ugly by today's standards and weren't even best-in-class competitive games back then. But they had something that EA's Battlefront games do not—not in the beta or the first game, anyway. They let you climb in the bloody spaceships.
It's a small thing, but I wish the beta let you hop into those shiny Naboo fighters and take off from a hangar. Somehow that one interaction makes the world feel a bit more real, rather than spending some points and being thrust straight into a dogfight (even if that's a better system than the tokens in 2015's Battlefront). Oddly, even playing the indie game Bomber Crew this week, I found that taking off and landing in one of those aircraft was a really exciting moment. If that was taken out of the game and you started each mission in battle, I'm not sure it would be as appealing.
The old Battlefronts had a lovely disposable quality that I don't think you'd get from a modern Star Wars game. I felt that the problem with EA's 2015 Battlefront is that it had too many people to please, and that it decided Star Wars fans and shooter players were on opposite ends of a scale. It wasn't arcade-y enough to lean into the same roughshod appeal as old Battlefront, but wasn't a good enough shooter to compete with the best of that genre. I wonder if Battlefront 2 might again find itself trapped in between those two extremes, in a space where people will struggle to love it.
I don't mind a slightly transient Star Wars experience that I walk away from after 20 hours, which is what I did with the last Battlefront, but somehow old Battlefront is something I still keep coming back to, even if it's just for a quick match against the bots. It's a brilliant hit of Star Wars on a scale that's still impressive. About 600-800 people have been playing Battlefront 2 per day since the servers were switched back on earlier this month according to Steam Charts (not counting GOG players), and even in 2014 I could find low double figures of people playing online. There's some affection for old Battlefront, clearly.
Some of the creative decisions made by Pandemic were so ludicrous that they should've broken the feeling of being in the Star Wars universe, yet somehow they didn't. Take the ludicrous Mos Eisley hero assault mode, where icons from across every era (and Anakin Skywalker) will collide in a hail of bad soundalikes, hissing Force lightning and dying Chewbaccas. Multiple Palpatines will crash into some ill-fated Han Solos, and one lucky bastard will walk away alive, probably. It's about as far away from canon as an SNL sketch, but who cares as long as it's fun?
Pleasingly, the new Battlefront 2 is bringing its own version of this, which I look forward to trying. It's a 4v4 deal, so it's not quite the same thing as 16 people frantically hitting each other in the streets of Mos Eisley, but they do promise that different heroes from across the eras will clash. It's among the modes I'm most interested in, assuming I don't have to open a crate to unlock Yoda doing a backflip with his lightsaber, or anything.
Old Battlefront benefitted from having all of its multiplayer modes working offline, too, with some limited-but-not-unthreatening bots to scrap with. Eventually, 2015's Battlefront got skirmish mode, which offered something similar, but I'm a little less convinced by Battlefront 2's offering outside of the campaign. The arcade mode, a couple of missions of which were in the beta, just felt like a score attack affair with little of the scale that makes Battlefront appealing. It looked like there were a lot of scenarios blanked out for the finished game, though, so I won't judge this one yet. Having significant offline functionality was one of the major strengths of the original Battlefronts.
I don't think EA's efforts need to be beholden to Pandemic's games, really—DICE clearly has its own strengths that they're playing to, present in the new squad system in Battlefront 2, and I think the campaign's hook of letting you play as the bad guy is cool. But the old games captured the warmth of the Star Wars universe in a way that still has real merit. Maybe there's something to take away from that.