I'd rather be playing Star Wars Battlefront 2 than poking through menus deciding which boosts and ability bonuses to craft, but there's no way around it. I feel underpowered compared to fully-kitted opponents, so I'm opening crates and crafting my way to parity as I play the 10-hour Origin Access trial.
With three currencies (one for sale) and boosts, weapons, abilities, and character unlocks to pick through, Battlefront 2 is quite a bazaar. Mercifully, I'm unlocking stuff at a decent clip without spending real money, so I'm hoping that after a few more hours I can stop worrying about who has bigger numbers and just shoot droids. Here's what I've learned so far, and how I feel about Battlefront 2's progression as a whole.
The main way to get stronger is with Star Cards, which can be slotted into Trooper classes, Hero characters, and vehicle classes to improve their stats.
Boost cards apply general improvements to a class or character, such as reduced damage from explosives or faster health regeneration. The same goes for armored vehicles and ships, where boosts can increase health or recharge weapons more quickly, as examples.
Ability cards improve or change abilities specific to a class, character, or vehicle. Improved Thermal Detonator, for instance, gives the Assault class' grenade a larger blast radius and shorter recharge time.
You can apply up to three Star Cards per class, character, or vehicle type, but only one at first. You have to level up each individual role to unlock its other two slots, with the second unlocking at rank five, and the third at rank ten. Confusingly, characters I haven't played as, even characters I haven't unlocked, are progressing in rank, so I'm not entirely sure how XP is distributed. It doesn't seem to take too long to rank up, though.
The primary way to get Star Cards is with loot boxes which give you randomized rewards. All three main loot box types will give you Crafting Parts (more on that later) and can possibly contain a Star Card for any class, character, or vehicle type. They may also contain a weapon, emote, or victory pose.
The three loot box types guarantee that you'll also get at least one, possibly two Star Cards that apply to a specific field of combat. Trooper Crates give you Star Cards for your main classes (eg, Assault and Heavy), Starfighter Crates contain Star Cards for your X-Wings and the like, which you can fly in the Starfighter Assault mode, and Hero Crates boost the hero characters you can spawn as during certain match types.
There are two ways to purchase loot crates: Credits, which you earn through playing, or the premium currency, Crystals. Without an Origin Access discount, 500 Crystals costs $5 (see the other prices in the image above). And here's how much you'll have to spend on the crates themselves:
Trooper Crate: 4,000 Credits or 200 Crystals
Starfighter Crate: 2,400 Credits or 120 Crystals
Hero Crate: 2,200 Credits or 110 Crystals
The good news is that I've been accruing in-game credits at a pretty decent clip. After a round of Galactic Assault in which I didn't play especially well, for example, I earned 360 Credits. Plus, you get one Daily Login Crate per day containing three items, and I started with a Founder's Crate for playing the beta. After a little over an hour of play, I had at least one card for all my main classes, and several for special classes, characters, and vehicles.
Something you may miss at first are the challenges, which are tucked away in the 'Career' menu. These are fairly generous: Something as simple as playing a mode for the first time can earn you 500 credits, and eliminating your first five opponents earns you 1,000. I've also earned a special, class-specific loot box through the challenges. Make sure you're claiming them.
The loot boxes award you some number of Crafting Parts, which can be used to create Star Cards at 40 Crafting Parts a piece. Parts can also be used to upgrade Star Cards later on, but I haven't ranked any classes up enough to buy an upgrade. I earned 200 Crafting Parts within a little over an hour of play, enough to craft five Star Cards.
The main weapon unlocks for each class require hitting milestones—50 kills, 200 kills, 500 kills with the class—rather than lucking out with loot boxes. However, some weapons do come in loot boxes. I haven't received any yet, so I don't know what specifically they may be, and will update when they've been cataloged.
Unlocking Heroes and Villains
As you rack up points in the big, objective-based Galactic Assault mode, you can spend them to spawn as special classes and characters—folks like Han Solo, Yoda, and Darth Vader. In the Heroes vs Villains mode, everyone spawns as a special character, and heroic ships can also be used in the Starfighter Assault dogfighting mode.
You begin with a few Heroes already unlocked, but several are locked away behind a Credit spend. To play as Luke Skywalker, for instance, you need to first unlock him by spending 60,000 Credits. The cheapest Hero is Iden Versio at 20,000 credits, and the most expensive is Darth Vader at 60,000 Credits. As far as I can tell, there is no way to buy Heroes directly with the premium Crystals. It'll take a good while to unlock them all.
(Update: These prices have been reduced.)
Without a premium currency, Battlefront 2's progression system could look like anything—everything unlocked from the start, or faster unlocks, or a totally different progression system, maybe something like the class-per-team limits and minor stat progression of the Red Orchestra series. But with a premium currency, there are a some givens: the game can't be moddable in such a way that progression can be bypassed, and spending money must be at least somewhat desirable.
I'm happy to find that Battlefront 2 isn't too stingy with its Credits, and I'm adding to my collection of Star Cards after every couple of rounds. I don't intend to buy any Crystals, and by the time I've put five or so hours in, I don't think I'll be wanting for too much as long as I pick a few favorite classes and focus on them, rather than trying to outfit the entire army.
I don't love the Star Card system in general, though. I like unlocks that feel like new toys to play with: a different scope, a bipod, a special grenade type. There's some of that in Battlefront 2. For instance, I've replaced the Heavy class' usual grenade with an anti-vehicle missile. It's a trade-off, because it's not as effective against infantry. Alternatively, though, I could just improve one of the default abilities, such as the Heavy's shield ability, making it stronger and quicker to recharge.
Simple stat-boosting cards are boring to equip, and make it harder to read the battlefield—am I up against a regular shield, or an upgraded one? It doesn't prevent skilled players from doing well, but it isn't fun, either. If I'm battling the same class, but they have all three Star Card slots unlocked, and have a better shield ability, and shorter ability recharge times, and reduced damage from explosives, I'm not too happy when they take me out. Maybe they just had better aim, but I can always wonder if it's because they were more powerful. Every time you die in Battlefront 2, it lets you know that your killer had more stuff than you—and it seems pretty clear why.
Some of that stuff, like extra Star Card slots, has to be unlocked through play, but spending $5 wouldn't hurt, even if it isn't necessary. And without a premium currency, would extra Star Card slots be locked behind experience barriers in the first place? The rule sensibly prevents new players from buying instant power by limiting the initial customization options for everyone. So it makes all new players feel underpowered to create the appearance of fairness. Games with premium currencies aren't the only ones that do this, but either way, I'd rather not grind out boring unlocks. If there were any Star Cards I was really excited about earning, I might feel differently, but I just want to get my recharge speed and health hacks out of the way so I can fully blame myself when I get dunked on.
As I keep playing and unlocking cards and weapons I hope I quickly reach a point where I no longer have to worry about Star Cards and Trooper Crates and Crafting Materials. I'm glad I don't feel compelled to spend real money, but I just want to play without thinking, 'But what if I had that?' Because otherwise, I am having fun.
We'll have a full review of the campaign and multiplayer early next week.