Star Wars Battlefront II Lets You Pay Real Money For Multiplayer Advantages

Star Wars Battlefront II has everything you love from the movies: lightsabers, starfighters, and loot crates. These crates are crucial to the game’s multiplayer structure but even after being tweaked in response to widespread criticisms during the beta, they’re a mess that affects balance in negative ways.

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Battlefront II’s progression system is tied to equippable items called Star Cards. These cards grant special bonuses, such as increased health and faster ability cooldowns. Some cards have highly specific bonuses: for instance, you can equip the Tactical Jammer card to your starfighter and it will increase the length of time it takes for enemies to lock onto you. Each star card also has a rarity level. This means a rare “blue” star card will grant a bigger bonus than the lower “green” card. After widespread negative responses to the game’s beta and accusations that the game would be “pay to win,” the developers removed the most powerful tier of cards from crates. You can now only get those cards from crafting them or completing in game achievements.

The main way you get the non-epic cards is through loot crates. There are three kinds of crates: one for soldier abilities, one for ship abilities, and one for hero abilities. These crates will randomly grant star cards when you open them. To get crates, you can either play matches to earn a generic currency called “credits” you can spend real world money for a premium currency called crystals.

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Prices for loot boxes as of yesterday. It takes far less crystals than credits to open a new new box.
Prices for loot boxes as of yesterday. It takes far less crystals than credits to open a new new box.

It is also possible to craft new cards and upgrade any you already own with crafting parts, which are also found in loot crates. In order to limit players from immediately crafting epic cards, each upgrade has two requirements: you must be at a certain player rank and the class must be at a certain card level.

This is where is all really starts to break down. A class’s card level is based on the number of cards you have; the more cards you own, the higher your level will be. So it’s possible to boost your levels simply through purchasing crates. If you do that, the only thing that will prevent you from crafting the best cards is your player rank, which is increased by playing multiplayer matches and rises at a brisk pace.

But you don’t even have to play that many matches to use the best stuff. If you manage to find a card of a rarity higher than what you can craft, you can still equip it. Rank and card level requirements only prevent players from upgrading their cards. They do not stop players from equipping rare cards. For instance, I received a blue card for my rocket trooper that granted increased health regeneration. I could equip it right away even though my player rank was too low to craft blue cards

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A rare card I received from loot boxes. While I can’t craft blue cards, I could still equip this one.
A rare card I received from loot boxes. While I can’t craft blue cards, I could still equip this one.

Let’s say someone spends $99.99 for a ton of crystals and opens all of their crates. By the end of that process, they will likely have acquired a few rare cards that grant noticeable bonuses and give them a competitive edge at launch. They will also increase their card levels for their classes, removing one barrier for crafting upgrades. Throughout that process, they will also get countless crafting parts to stockpile. The only thing that prevents them from crafting the best cards is their player rank. They will spend a handful of hours in multiplayer matches, already equipped with better cards than other players, and quickly increase their rank. If they’ve planned ahead and have enough crafting parts, they will immediately be able to craft the best cards in the game.

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In other words, you can quite literally pay money for statistical advantages in Star Wars Battlefront II.

Given an infinite amount of time to grind credits and purchase loot boxes, everyone could have epic cards and Battlefront II could be perfectly balanced. Unfortunately, players are not ageless orbs with nothing to do but play Battlefront. (Well, most players.) When you only have so much time to play and other players can get an advantage from buying crates, the temptation to spend money and get some of your own will be high.

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Loot crates are already predatory in design. They strictly manage probabilities and reward schedules in order to trick players into buying “just one more.” Animators and sound designers work meticulously to make the process of opening loot crates pleasurable and exciting. Loot crates are made to dazzle, delight, and encourage repeat purchases. Publishers are coming up with some silly new ways to describe these microtransactions and have explored various tactics, like special matchmaking algorithms, to tantalize players and squeeze them for every penny.

Here’s the kicker: Battlefront II is fun. The multiplayer reworked how hero characters work and made things a little bit faster. The loot crates add an unnecessary layer of complication, upset the game’s balance, and exist entirely to screw you over. To quote famed senator Padmé Amidala: “So this is how multiplayer dies. With thunderous loot crates.”

Former Senior Writer and Critic at Kotaku.

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DISCUSSION

heatheralexandra
Heather Alexandra

Okay, some further editorial.

Loot crates have always been a moral issue that the industry (publishers, devs, journalists, influencers, and whoever else) has mostly ignore or dismissed and that’s incredibly screwed up. Even cosmetic focused crates, which don’t affect gameplay, use specific audio/visual cues and psychological tricks to get people to buy them.

The ESRB won’t call them gambling but the ESRB was also founded by the ESA, a trade organization dedicated to publisher interests. Executives and suits are thinking up colorful euphemisms for microtransactions and players. It’s not about gamers or players; it’s about “recurrent consumer spending opportunities.”

It is baffling (but not necessarily surprising) that this progression system exists. Battlefront II plays well. The multiplayer battles are cool and while I have some reservations about the story, it’s had some pretty impressive moments. It’s a Star Wars game that hits Star Wars beats with Star Wars production quality. People were always going to buy and play it. These boxes are a transparent reminder that companies, particularly at the higher levels, want to exploit players. And I think we all need to wrestle with how to approach and speak about these systems.

I do intend to write about this game and hope to focus on whatever the community around it manages to do. I think that players make games colorful in ways developers never intend and in spite of systems like this. I also hope I can look at the story and talk about themes and design.

But please, please take note of this system and be informed of what it does. Use your best judgement about whether or not you are comfortable with the way it is tangled into the multiplayer, especially if you’ve struggled with impulse issues or gambling in the past. And use that judgement to decide what to do next.