The highly anticipated Star Wars Battlefront II promises to be one of the most robust and gorgeously-detailed online competitive experiences this fall. After all, who wouldn’t want to spend some time in their favourite galaxy far, far away fighting back the forces of some of cinema’s most recognisable sci-fi foes. The game finally looks to be the well-rounded package its 2015 predecessor promised, but couldn’t quite live up to. It even rocks a single-player campaign this time around. Sadly, with the release of its beta just under a week ago, fans were left worried. Not due to any indication of the game being awful, but rather due to the all too common addition: Loot boxes.
Back in the days of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, competitive online shooters set a very simple but sensible message. Skill = reward. In Infinity Ward’s magnum opus, they developed it to teach players that the better they played – and therefore learned the game – the quicker and easier they would earn (perks) upgrades to further improve their chances at becoming the best. The key point here was that all players started on a level playing field, with no temptation to boost their progression unfairly. Nowadays however, in a bid for major publishers to squeeze more profit from players, this purity is becoming challenged by the advent of mishandled loot boxes that present players with a chance to “pay-to-win”.
As alluded to earlier, these pesky little critters have now ushered their way into DICE’s Star Wars Battlefront II, and instead of implementing it to merely offer players aesthetic upgrades, there’s a clear indication that the more we buy, the less we’ll die. This is a fundamentally wrong in an online multiplayer shooter so primarily focussed on competition with others, and always gives each match the risk of feeling cheap. Rather than judging your skill against other players’, it comes into question just if they paid their way to prematurely get there.
In many ways, we shouldn’t be surprised that more and more publishers are keen to incentivise players in this manner. Given the high critical and commercial success of Overwatch (a game which implemented loot boxes correctly), it makes sense that many others wish to jump on the band wagon. Yes, games in 2017 are more expensive than they have ever been to make, but this should never come to so detrimentally affect the fundamental cycle of a game’s loop. Now instead of DICE being praised for their amazing attention to detail to Star Wars lore, or the ways in which they’ve iterated upon the mechanics of the last game, the overpowering story coming out of the beta, is that Star Wars Battlefront II is doomed to fail before it’s even got off the ground.
Already this year we’ve seen loot box controversy stories from the likes of Forza 7 and even Shadow of War (a single player game!), and this current mishap is just the latest mishap which proves that loot box infestation is reaching its breaking point. They’re grating with gamers and rightly so. Much like the term “micro-transactions” before it, loot boxes have gone on to become a dirty phrase in the industry, and one that will now immediately harm a game even prior to release.
Star Wars Battlefront II’s loot box debacle is the worst example yet in a long line of offenders, and while the likes of Overwatch and HearthStone seems to have perfected this balance, EA and DICE have left a little wanting. Of course, there’s still time to resolve this issue between now and release, but in the words of a wise old sand wizard: “I have a bad feeling about this!”