Star Wars Battlefront 2 is winding down, so let's pour one out (blue milk, of course) for the best Star Wars game that we've had in years.
It's been a rough decade in the galaxy far far away, at least in terms of game adaptations. EA has thoroughly wasted the licence since it snatched it up in 2012, despite the fact that there's never been more for developers to draw from. A new trilogy, multiple spin-off movies, a live action TV show and loads of cartoons—we've been spoiled. So where are the games?
There were attempts to turn the resurgence in Star Wars' popularity—though it never really wanes—into new games, but most of them ended up cancelled. EA sure managed to churn out a lot of half-hearted mobile games bloated with microtransactions, but the good stuff never really materialised.
When Respawn's Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order appeared last year, a lot of folk praised the Force for this long awaited return to a singleplayer adventure. True, it's definitely a singleplayer game, but it's not a very good Star Wars game. It's an OK soulslike and it's nice to see a ginger getting a starring role, I guess, but I doubt it would have made a splash if everyone wasn't desperate for the series to once again start spawning quality romps. And that never sat well with me, because Battlefront 2 fucking rules.
OK, sure, it wasn't great at launch. In classic EA style, the publisher screwed the pooch with its shitty business model, but that version of the game no longer really exists. Thanks to the torrent of criticism, EA and DICE made dramatic changes, and they echoed throughout the publisher's catalogue. I still don't trust EA as far as I can throw it (it's very big and I'm not very strong) but it's made big strides in transparency, while double dipping a lot less frequently.
Since then, Battlefront 2 has grown into a behemoth that's fat with maps, modes and characters that have kept the wars between Separatists and Republic, Rebellion and Empire, and whatever the ones in the new movies are called going for a good few years, all without having to spend a penny more.
It's been a genuine treat watching the game grow. Every map and character model has been lavished with attention, and four years on it's still one of the best looking shooters out there; more importantly, it looks and sounds utterly authentic. This was Pandemic's dream back in 2004, but it really wasn't until DICE and the Frostbite Engine that it was really able to match the films. I still get goosebumps as lasers whizz past my head and TIE-Fighters swoop down with murderous intent, because holy shit it's almost indistinguishable from its inspiration. The only indication that you're not in fact taking part in a movie battle is DarthPaul420 jumping everywhere and then walking into a wall.
DICE already nailed a lot of this with the first Battlefront reboot, but it built on the foundation over and over again with the sequel, throwing in plenty of improvements both practical and thematic. The gunplay has given a lot more attention this time around, resulting in deeper, satisfying combat with nuances that reward practice, and while there have been endless arguments about the TTK, I appreciate the opportunity to get into actual gunfights rather than everyone just dropping like flies straight away. It's more approachable than the Battlefield series, but more skill-based than Battlefront 1.
I get worse at shooters as every year passes, though, so I'm not really in it for the skill ceiling, even if I approve of the fact that it's fairly high. What's really kept me returning is that it just feels like DICE really, really loves Star Wars. Probably more than I do. The recent Celebration Edition has a cheesy name conjured up by a marketing team, but Battlefront 2 really is a celebration of this wonderful, silly galaxy.
Sure, this means you get Kylo Ren fighting a young Luke Skywalker while clone troopers charge across the battlefield, which isn't exactly canon, but if you didn't know any better it wouldn't be remotely obvious that these elements don't fit together perfectly. The amount of heroes and the ease with which players can swap their regular classes for a more specialised, tougher reinforcement or some legendary Jedi has ruffled some feathers, but that's just killjoys for you. In a new player's hands, these characters can be a bit of a pest but still pretty easily dispatched, but with an experienced player they really live up to their namesakes.
Being a lowly soldier trapped in a corridor with an angry Darth Vader is no joke. Terrible sense of humour, that one. BB-8, on the other hand, loves to laugh as he rolls across the battlefield, kneecapping everyone. Yeah, they even added that wee droid (and his evil counterpart) and that brings me endless pleasure. And frustration when I become one of their victims.
This roster has just kept on growing, spread across the three trilogies and their spin-offs. If you've got a fave, they're probably playable. If there's someone that you think sucks, you'll probably be able to unload a blaster into them. There's even a Republic commando, from the underappreciated but brilliant game of the same name. As I said: celebration.
DICE has also taken much better care with how it lets you play. There's the singleplayer campaign—admittedly not great, but the story's at least as good as Fallen Order's—massive battles, tight deathmatches, heroes-only affairs, co-op, space battles and multi-phase fights that take you from a planet all the way up to a capital ship.
In the latter, you're in it for the long haul. These battles almost evoke the promise of Battlefront 3, which sadly never saw the light of day. Free Radical's bold plan for the third game in the original series included seamless space and ground battles, letting you duke it out on a planet, hop into a fighter, blast enemies out of the skies and then slide on board a capital ship. The tech died with the studio, and even now, years later, DICE hasn't tried to replicate it, but the Capital Supremacy mode does try to capture its essence.
You start on a planet and go through a full battle before one team retreats to their capital ship, at which point the battle switches to the interior of the flying fortress. It's not quite the same, but it still creates this sense that the battles aren't taking place in a vacuum. And the scale! Oof. It's brilliant stuff, but undeniably intimidating. Unfortunately, they can last for an uncomfortably long time. If the attackers can't defeat their enemy on the capital ship, both armies return to the planet and start it all over again. It can be gruelling, but it's also been the source of some of my favourite scraps.
Similarly, the space combat—a separate mode, even though some of the ships can participate in ground battles by fighting over the skies—feels like a nod to another classic: Rogue Squadron. The visual flair does a lot of the heavy lifting, but piloting the ships still feels great, with each blessed distinct handling and quirks. The Millennium Falcon is the Millennium Falcon: a lumbering, burly boy that feels nothing like the spry fighters it's chasing, while still capable of extremely aerobatic manoeuvres. It's ultimately a pretty straightforward mode that doesn't offer a whole lot beyond fun and spectacle, but it also doesn't need to do more than that. It's not a new Rogue Squadron; it's not even the same genre. Yet we still get to enjoy cinematic, arcade-like battles that have been plucked right out of the movies.
It's a toy. It's me sitting on my bedroom floor creating mock battles with all my action figures, devoid of cynicism. That's how I know Han Solo could definitely beat up Darth Vader—it happened under my bunk bed. I don't have a cool bunk bed now, and all my Star Wars toys have been 'borrowed' by my nephew, but I've got Battlefront 2 instead and I'm very cool with that.
So yeah, I guess I'm pretty sad that DICE is wrapping things up. It was bound to happen, and it's kept the game going for quite a bit longer than Battlefield 5, which is also coming to a close soon. It's not like it's suddenly going to die, either. DICE will continue to support it with events and challenges, but the new stuff stops after today.
Battlefront 3 doesn't appear to be on the cards, lamentably. It makes sense—where do you go after making something so massive and definitive? Instead DICE is putting all its effort into Battlefield 6, which also frankly seems a bit unnecessary. Here's to hoping that one day someone makes those seamless space and grounds battles a reality, though. That's at least one very good reason for the series to return. And in the meantime, I'll see you on Scarif.