A gorgeous new “Star Wars” game launches on Friday on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. It’s called “Star Wars Battlefront 2.” Perhaps you’ve heard about it?
In it, you can play as over a dozen iconic “Star Wars” characters, in major “Star Wars” locations, doing “Star Wars” things like using the Force and piloting the Millennium Falcon. It even has an original story, bridging the events of “Return of the Jedi” and “The Force Awakens.”
Unfortunately, all fans are talking about is why you shouldn’t buy it. One of the top posts on the game’s Reddit page on Friday morning said: “Target Employee here. We haven’t sold a single copy of Battlefront II. Keep it up!”
The situation is complicated and messy – here’s what’s going on.
Problems started long before the game’s release.
Though “Battlefront 2” launched on Friday, fans had several opportunities to play the game before. A beta of the game was available in October, enabling anyone to try the game’s multiplayer section.
Overshadowing the game itself, which consists of first-person shooting and spaceship dogfighting, was the way “Battlefront 2” implemented so-called loot boxes.
Players were able to buy in-game currency (“crystals”) to use for in-game loot boxes. These boxes contain a random smattering of items for use in the game, from character enhancements to other forms of in-game currency.
What people took issue with were the character enhancements. By putting items in the loot boxes that affected gameplay, the game’s developers tipped the scales in favor of people willing to spend more money, known among gaming fans as “pay to win.”
The game’s loot-box system was altered in response to complaints from the beta — but not enough.
- EA DICE
When the beta ended, the game’s maker, EA, told fans it would address complaints with the loot-crate system before the game’s soft launch in mid-November.
But when the game arrived through EA’s “early access” system on the Xbox One, the loot system hadn’t changed much at all. You could still pay real money for access to enhancements that would otherwise take dozens of hours to unlock by playing the game.
Meanwhile, you were playing against people who could easily defeat you with stronger weapons, faster movement, and more health – people who were willing to pay more money on top of the $60 for the game.
On top of that, several major “Star Wars” characters — including Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, and Darth Vader — weren’t unlocked from the start of the game.
- EA DICE
Characters like Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, and Princess Leia – so-called hero characters in the game’s multiplayer mode – require in-game credits to be unlocked.
Redditors discovered it would take dozens of hours to unlock just a single hero character. Alternatively, you could pay real money for loot crates that might contain the currency to unlock the hero characters.
One Reddit user summarized the situation concisely: “Many believe that this ridiculous grind is a way to encourage microtransaction purchases.”
To be clear, the main selling point of the “Battlefront” series is offering “Star Wars” fans a greatest-hits version of the beloved sci-fi universe. Play as your favorite characters! Explore famous locales from the “Star Wars” universe!
You could spend dozens of hours playing the game to unlock these characters, but for many people, the whole point of buying the game is to play as these characters.
An EA representative issued a statement on Reddit that made fans way angrier. It is now the most downvoted comment of all time on Reddit, by far.
This was the comment:
“The intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes.
“As for cost, we selected initial values based upon data from the Open Beta and other adjustments made to milestone rewards before launch. Among other things, we’re looking at average per-player credit earn rates on a daily basis, and we’ll be making constant adjustments to ensure that players have challenges that are compelling, rewarding, and of course attainable via gameplay.
“We appreciate the candid feedback, and the passion the community has put forth around the current topics here on Reddit, our forums and across numerous social media outlets.
“Our team will continue to make changes and monitor community feedback and update everyone as soon and as often as we can.”
People latched on to the first line.
The response was extremely unfavorable, to the point that it became the most downvoted Reddit comment of all time. It’s ahead of the competition by hundreds of thousands of downvotes.
“That’s rich,” a popular response reads. “Just be honest. The truth is you know very few people are going to sink a full work week into this game and you’re hoping that somebody is desperate enough to buy credits to unlock the character. It has nothing to do with providing a ‘sense of pride and accomplishment.’ This is a flat-out lie and you know it. How naive do you think your player base is?”
The game’s publisher, EA, responded by dropping the in-game cost of the hero characters by 75%.
- EA DICE
Let’s pause for a moment here to mention that, at this point in the story, “Battlefront 2” has not fully launched yet.
There was a beta in October, and some folks on Xbox One got early access to the game through an EA subscription program. (Members of the press also had access at this point, myself included.) But the game only officially launched for everyone on Friday.
All that said, on Monday, EA dropped the price of all hero characters by 75%.
Keep in mind that we’re talking about the virtual price, which translates to hours spent earning currency by playing the game or currency earned from loot boxes purchased with real money. Thus EA’s dropping the in-game price for those characters means it takes players less time – or less money – to unlock them.
But the backlash persisted, partially because of another change implemented alongside the price reduction.
Though the price for each hero dropped by 75%, so did the amount of currency earned from completing the game’s single-player campaign. So heroes cost less to unlock, but players would still have to push through hours of multiplayer – at a disadvantage against players who were willing to pay microtransaction fees – to unlock main characters like Luke Skywalker.
The game’s main Reddit filled with organized efforts to cancel preorders and discourage purchases in general.
And on Thursday, the night before the game launched, EA dropped microtransactions from “Battlefront 2” altogether. It appears that even that is not enough.
In a letter published Thursday evening, Oskar Gabrielson, the general manager of EA’s Dice studio – the studio responsible for the game – wrote, “We’re turning off all in-game purchases.”
Though the button prompt still shows up in the game, it leads to an error screen.
That’s from my PlayStation 4 on Friday morning – the game’s official launch day, when “Star Wars Battlefront 2” becomes widely available at retail and on digital storefronts on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.
But the controversy isn’t over. Reddit users have latched onto another line from an EA statement.
“The ability to purchase crystals in-game will become available at a later date,” Gabrielson wrote in the letter, “only after we’ve made changes to the game.”
It’s unclear when those microtransactions might come back to “Battlefront 2,” but the mere specter is keeping fans away.
“Don’t fall for EA’s tricks, this isn’t over yet,” says one Reddit thread.
“Don’t give EA an inch,” says another.
So how’s the game? It’s OK.
We’ll have a full review of “Battlefront 2” shortly.
If you’re on the fence after hearing about all this controversy, you could certainly wait a moment or two to buy it. It’s not going anywhere, and there are a ton of other great games to play right now.
That said, the game’s campaign is at times fun, at times bland, and mostly average. The multiplayer is similarly middle of the road, and you could do better on both fronts with many other games this holiday.
In one respect, however, it’s better than most: “Battlefront 2” is an outrageously pretty game. If you’re looking to show off your new 4K gaming console on your new 4K TV, it’s a great way to do that.
All controversy and criticism aside, “Battlefront 2” is available now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.