This week, EA rolled out the first of what the company promises will be larger and more drastic changes to the in-game economy of Star Wars Battlefront II. It’s a game that has been plagued by fan outrage over loot boxes and progression systems since just before launch. When details about how microtransactions would work in Battlefront II emerged, it led to a series of late-minute changes that culminated in EA temporarily removing microtransactions entirely from the game the night before it hit stores.
I’ve been playing a fair amount of Battlefront II both before and after this week’s update. And while the increases in credits and crafting parts are certainly nice, it feels like EA is only addressing the symptoms of the game’s economy problems, not the cause. Battlefront II’s biggest problem might be the sheer disconnect between what you do in the game and how you progress. It’s a structure that ultimately robs players of feeling like they’ve accomplished something.
To explain what I mean, we’re going to have to dive into the needlessly complicated upgrade systems of Battlefront II’s multiplayer. In Battlefront II, every class and hero character has a variety of equippable “star cards,” which are modifiers and upgrades that players can choose to equip when they run into battle. Players can equip up to three star cards at a time, which grant abilities like alternate weapons, increased damage, or more durable starfighters. Star cards can also be upgraded. A common card, for instance, will confer only a small boost to your firepower or health regeneration, while an upgraded card will offer a much larger advantage.
The problem is, while other games (like, say, the original Titanfall) might award these kinds of multiplayer upgrades for playing the game or accomplishing different achievements — i.e., play as a particular class to unlock a new ability for it, or use a specific gun to unlock new modifications — Battlefront II buries the ability to unlock star cards behind loot boxes, crates of in-game items with randomized contents that players typically can earn through playing the game or with actual money.
I’ve been enjoying playing Battlefront II’s starfighter assault mode, which lets me fly around in an X-Wing and dogfight with enemy TIE fighters. I’ve earned a bunch of credits, and put them all into the “starfighter box” loot crates, which promise at least one starfighter-related card. But it’s still a pitifully slow rate. I can use crafting parts to manually unlock cards, but those are also only dispensed through loot boxes, purely at random, and are the only way to unlock the fourth and final level of a particular card.
Adding to the issue is the fact that the loot boxes are, by nature, randomized. That means that the rarity of your cards, what classes or heroes they drop for, and even the number of cards you get from a box are all subject to chance. So while my bomber class is still hurting for star cards, my officer infantry unit has unlocked plenty, not that I ever play it. Plus, duplicate cards can still drop, meaning that you’re not even guaranteed any progress at all when you buy a box.
The drop rates are incredibly frustrating as well. In the couple dozen crates I’ve managed to earn, I’ve only seen a handful of level two cards drop, and have yet to have a single third level card drop. That means that if I want to get level three cards, I’m forced to spend more crafting parts on upgrades there, too, leaving me less for the level four cards that can only be bought with crafting parts. Plus, the number of star cards you can use is limited by your current set of star cards. So even if you have three great cards for say, the heavy class, unless you’ve reached the proper milestones, you can’t use them unless you get lucky or manually unlock them.
To make things even more tedious, you have to go through this entire process for each and every hero character and vehicle class. This forces players to make decisions about whether they’d prefer to burn crafting parts to open up utility of a particular hero or save them for higher level upgrades on the more often played general classes. Adding insult to injury is the fact that characters like Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader are still locked behind a separate credit wall of thousands of credits each, but it forces players to make yet another decision about where to spend their hard-earned in-game currency.
The structure feels designed to funnel players toward buying as many boxes as they can, but since EA removed the ability to buy them with actual currency, you’re just left with a slow, random grind. Again, I’ve been really enjoying the gameplay of Battlefront II, but there’s nothing in it that has me saying “I’ll try one last round” to do better or work toward something, because it’s all so disconnected. Despite the update, it still feels like you earn credits based on how much you play, as opposed to your actual performance in the game. And even if I can buy loot boxes more frequently, pulling the lever on a digital slot machine just isn’t that much fun.
Whether or not star cards make a tangible difference in gameplay is tough to tell. I can say that I went from being an average pilot in the starfighter assault mode to placing in the top five on almost every game after unlocking a few upgraded cards. (Then again, that also may be because I’ve improved my skills after playing for awhile.) But at least from a purely numerical perspective, I had an advantage over my enemies. And if the only way to get that kind of advantage is to get ludicrously lucky, or sink hours upon hours to grind your way toward it, then Battlefront II likely won’t have a long-term lifespan.
The biggest shame is that there’s actually a decent Star Wars game buried underneath this tedious mess. I would much rather write a post about how much fun it is to swoop an X-Wing inside a massive spaceship, lighting up a passing TIE fighter that’s on the tail of one of my teammates, and firing off a proton torpedo at the reactor core before diving out just before the blast doors close. Instead, I’m questioning whether or not the in-game economy is taking advantage of players.
EA and developer DICE have already promised more changes in the future that may better address this. Right now, it’s clear that there’s a lot more work that needs to be done, if not a complete overhaul of the entire system. And the recent update isn’t leaving me with much hope for the future.