I grew up in a strange time as a player of video games. I was born in the early 90’s when it was not unusual for games to be sold for upwards of $80 US, especially cartridge titles which were inherently more expensive than their CD counterparts. At the same time, I came of age during the early 2000’s where basically every game on the market was $50 and anything deviating from that were either handheld games, which were almost always priced around $35, or PC games like The Sims or the early Warcraft and Starcraft games with multiple expansion packs included in the box. And now we as a society are in an age where $60 hardly gets you much at all for a modern “premium” game. While most base games are priced at $60, anyone with half a brain cell knows that in order to get the full experience for a game, with a decent number of maps/guns/characters/whatever the case may be, one has to be willing to pay far more than the initial asking price. Whether it’s shelling out more than a third of the cost of the base game for a season pass with to be determined content (because publishers and developers don’t even announce what will be included in most season passes), or throwing down extra money for “digital deluxe editions,” or simply shelling out for microtransactions, full games — complete finished products — cost far more than the industry wants us to believe.
Why do I bring all this up as a preface to an early impressions article about a demo for a game that isn’t even out yet? Because the misleading nature of the “cost” of modern video games can be easily experienced just within the Star Wars Battlefront II open beta.
On the surface, the game itself is a fun, fast-paced, objective-based multiplayer first person shooter set in the Star Wars universe. It has fun mechanics and the soldiers you play as feel good to control, with weapons that are satisfying to fire, and featuring small in-game rewards like the ability to play as a “hero” character — iconic characters from the Star Wars universe like Han Solo or Darth Maul— or to pilot a starfighter and pick off enemies from the skies. That’s on the surface, however. Underneath all of that is an insidious in-game economy that while not implemented now during the beta, will prove to be detrimental to any enjoyment many gamers could have while playing the game.
Battlefront II’s developers, DICE, have felt the need to, like other developers this generation, add in lootboxes into its games core as a means of providing rewards to players. That in itself is a damnable offense on its own as free-to-play game style lootboxes in a premium game that costs $60 at the gate is a gamer-hostile act that locks away untold amounts of content behind microtransactions. Unlike a game such as Overwatch, however, whose lootboxes contained at the worst, rare skins that couldn’t otherwise be obtained, Battlefront II takes things a step further by hiding away in-game character boosts and weapons behind paywalls.
Inside every lootbox in the demo are three items, these items range from post-game character poses to crafting materials, to weapons and weapon modifications, to what DICE and publisher Electronic Arts refer to as “Star Cards.” These cards provide both active equipment (such as alternate grenades for the assault class soldier) and passive buffs which range anywhere to weapon and item cooldown reduction, to damage mitigation, to passive healing, to even invulnerability during certain actions. The cards come in four tiers — bronze, silver, gold, and platinum — with each tier of a card providing a more powerful version of the effect in question. This means one could potentially unlock a very powerful buff for a class immediately after purchase.
And it STILL gets worse.
Every class has three card slots to place the different unlocked cards. But in order to unlock the second and third slots, a class has to be played and leveled up. Alternatively, unlocking cards for a certain class raises the level of the particular class. The more cards you have, the higher your level and, therefore, the more cards you can use. This means that one wouldn’t even have to play the game to get the highest leveled assault class, for example, as long as that player is willing to shell out for more lootboxes. Theoretically, two players with the same amount of time invested playing a certain class at the same skill level could have wildly different per-game outcomes, as one player could spend as much money as needed to get the best cards for that class, granting that player more powerful weapons and armor. This can’t even be called pay-to-win, it’s more akin to pay-to-stand-a-chance.
So what is the other player to do? The player who refuses to pay into a glorified gambling scheme conjured by EA to prey on those with addictive personalities? Sadly, the only alternative is to craft the cards and weapons themselves, but even then, the ability to craft is wholly reliant on the lootbox system. In order to craft equipment, players have to you use crafting materials. So far, these materials are ONLY FOUND IN LOOTBOXES. And the amount of material given away in the boxes compared to the cost of some weapons, weapon mods, and cards is minuscule, with boxes dropping typically 20–30 points of material, when guns and cards can cost hundreds — sometimes thousands — of crafting material to create. It’s unavoidable, players MUST pay more in order to get better at the game or log hundreds of hours into the game to afford lootboxes with the in-game currency and hope they are lucky enough to get what they need to remain competitive.
The only alternative I can see (and one that is quite likely) is in the coming months, enough fan outcry will cause EA/DICE to roll out more microtransactions, allowing for the direct purchase of crafting materials. EA gets to look like the good guys for allowing an alternative to the lootbox system, while laughing all the way to the bank as they just made a premium currency in a $60 game look like a positive addition to a game after the fact.
The worst part of it all isn’t even the fact that these business practices are a poison, a blight upon the games industry, nor is it the fact that EA will get away with it because they have to much money and influence on the industry it likely won’t matter what the fan outcry is or how negative anyone in games media may be. The worst part is that the game itself is still fun. As previously stated before, the game mechanics are great, the action is fast and fluid and I never found myself saying “this game plays awful.” It’s mechanically miles ahead of what Battlefront I accomplished in 2015. For that reason alone, I can see a large portion of the inevitable millions of people who will buy this game indulging in EA’s money-making schemes, in turn normalizing such horrid business practices. Either due to naivety or apathy towards the scummy in-game economy, EA will get more than their money’s worth selling lootboxes like death sticks in a shady Coruscant night club (might as well put one reference in here). EA knows they can get away with this, all they had to do was say “no more season passes” and many gamers on the fence about Battlefront II acquiesced and dropped their pre-orders, regardless of whatever scheme was put in its place.
In short, the game is one of the most fun experiences I’ve had with a multiplayer shooter in years, but I can’t in good conscience recommend it based off the beta.