With Battlefront II EA has crafted one of the most addicting shooters I've ever played, which can make the arguable "pay to win" lootboxes even more potentially dangerous.
I played the open Battlefront II over the weekend (I'm still playing it because I'm hooked) and quickly found the game to be extremely addicting. Not just because it's fun, precisely, but because it's so engaging and chaotic. The 40-player Galactic Assault mode, in particular, is tremendously engaging and puts players in an insane all-out war between two sides. It's Star Wars fully realized. But the reason why it's so addicting to me is because I'm so bad at it. Bear with me here--things might get a little weird.
When I fired up Battlefront II for the first time I got my ass handed to me. I sucked really bad (and still kind of do). Coming from a game like Halo or Destiny 2, which all have set rules for their PVP action, Battlefront II is a jarring experience. Here we have a havoc-filled landscape that's decided drenched with lootboxes that directly sway the outcome of any battle. I felt like just fodder for the better players, or the ones who had spend enough time to accrue points to spend on packs and unlock more goodies--in short, when you start Battlefront II as a noob, you're already at a disadvantage (or at least that's how you feel). But that's also one of the main reasons why the game is so addicting.
When I die in Battlefront II, I typically shrug it off and want to get back into the action. I want another chance to do better, to be better, and to wreak serious havoc. Nothing makes you want this more than tasting it for a bit: having that unique moment where everything goes right and you just wipe out the other team. It's deliciously satisfying, and propels your desire to keep on playing, complimenting the desire to want to get better after getting killed so often.
In other shooters, death feels more meaningful. I feel like I messed up and it hits me harder, I get more frustrated and wonder what I did wrong. In Battlefront II it's just part of the game. Wholesale death is a part of this game; no matter how good you are you're going to die by getting shot in the back, or ganged up on by 2 or more enemies. It's just how the game is, and honestly, most of the time it's okay. Hey, I died. So what, let me back into the game so I can have a chance to kick more ass.
This formula is extremely addictive and keeps players engaged on a strong level. I realize that most shooters have this kind of focus, especially the ones that are built on online-based engagement, but the Force is exceptionally strong here with Battlefront II. There's a distinct thrill to this game, an excitement that sprouts from the ultimate chaos that unfolds on your screen. There's explosions, lasers flying around, vehicles roaming by, enemies raining down gunfire from above, and above all else, this sense of being locked in a true war among the stars.
But the real dangerous aspect of Battlefront II's addiction is that it's specifically aligned with the game's microtransactions. EA has absolutely drenched Battlefront II in a randomized loot-box monetization path that it uses for its billion dollar FIFA franchises. But here it's much more dynamic, and keenly tied in with an age-old moneymaking property and such explosively engaging and immersing gameplay that I can see people pumping digital dollars into this game like crazy.
Is it exploitative? A little bit, yes. I've long thought that people with compulsive gambling problems shouldn't play online-based video games--at least those with monetization paths--because they'd end up being tempted at every turn.
And make no mistake: Battlefront II tempts you every time you die. That temptation to spend a little bit extra to unlock a booster or a Star Card that makes you more powerful is there. "If I only I were better...If only I had better gear or better weapons, if only I had that perfect Star Card I wouldn't have died."
Then again, as I said above, dying is part of the game. And I can shrug it off for the most part. But that temptation is still there, always there, the specter of wanting to become better without having to actually grind 20-30 hours for that particular Star Card.
As for the space battles in the Starfighter Assault mode, they're equally chaotic and enjoyable...but death is all but guaranteed in certain situations.
For example, if an enemy was on my tail and shooting me in the back, I almost always died unless a buddy came to help me out, or the poor sop crashed his ship. Conversely, I typically racked up kills by shooting enemies unawares; it feels like a constant game of who can catch who off guard first.
The space battles are just as engaging because of their immersion and chaos, but the fantasy becomes disrupted once you die too much. Dying while flying the ship is much more frustrating than dying as a grunt--especially when you're so close to fulfilling your objective, or you simply messed up and crashed.
Here the temptation to get Star Cards feels even stronger. The Bomber class vehicles, which are already excellent enough, have amazing Star Cards that boost max health by up to 40%, as well as reduced timing on torpedo lock-ons. The other ships also have similar cards for their classes that can really change the outcome of any battle.
On the same note, however, you can get all of these boosts and upgrades simply by playing the game. I do have to say the game isn't very generous about the dissemination of loot box packs. Sure EA gives you a free box every day, but you need to seriously grind and play and do well in games to accrue Credits to buy packs.
But at its core, Battlefront II is an extremely engaging and strongly addictive experience, and as a result I predict it'll be the biggest shooter of 2017.
EA is going to make tons of money here from full game sales and loot box monetization, but I have to question whether or not the company is okay with constantly tempting its fan base, especially when some of those gamers might be recovering (or active) gambling addicts.
At the same time this is the name of the game for service-based online titles. GaaS is predicated on long-term engagement, and EA and DICE will roll out a steady stream of updates and free content to keep players not only playing, but spending money in-game. Battlefront II's life cycle will probably span two years or so, especially if the publisher can keep actively hooking its playerbase with new temptations and content to tide them over.