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Star Wars Battlefront 2’s Starfighter Assault is outstanding, but cards are killing the fun

A long weekend in space, without much to show for it

DICE/Electronic Arts
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

For Star Wars Battlefront 2, Criterion Games spent a lot of time and energy to make the game’s spaceships fun to fly. That effort paid off, but the game’s card-based progression system is killing the fun.

When the original Star Wars Battlefront arrived, one of the things I was most looking forward to were the starfighters, which got scattered around the map as pickups. That meant I wasn’t able to spend a lot of time in the cockpit and, when I did, the experience wasn’t great. Ships felt like they were stuck on the end of a stick held out in front of the camera. That made banking and turning feel jerky and imprecise. Whether strafing ground targets or going after other ships, landing shots was a challenge.

Nearly everything has changed with Battlefront 2.

I spent the weekend playing nothing but the game’s Starfighter Assault mode and found it to be outstanding. That’s because the ship-on-a-stick model has changed completely.

DICE/Electronic Arts

Imagine you’re running around your house trying to carefully balance a marble on a dish. If you were to quickly turn left, you would have to compensate for the momentum of the marble by turning the plate on its side, effectively pulling the marble into the room with you. Then, as your path straightened out, you’d need to slowly lower the plate back to level to keep the marble from falling off.

That’s very much what it feels like to pilot ships in Battlefront 2. As you bank left, the ship wants to go to the right. But it’s the camera that compensates for that motion, catching the ship and pulling it back into the frame. All the while, your attention is focused on the aiming reticle floating out in front of you.

DICE/Electronic Arts

It’s almost as if you’re not really flying the ship at all. Instead, you’re flying the aiming reticle. The model of the ship is just along for the ride, dramatically illustrating your inputs with graceful, believable movements within the frame. It’s a brilliant abstraction, and a fantastically complex feat of camera work to pull off. Developer Criterion Games absolutely nailed it.

Each of the maps in Starfighter Assault also has it’s own complex objectives. My favorite so far is Ryloth, set in the prequel universe. In the final phase, players on the attacking side must dive inside the enemy’s capital ship, knocking out the central reactor. It’s a clear nod to the daring assault on the second Death Star from Return of the Jedi, and it’s an absolute blast to play. Again, the camera work here is masterful. The field of view is narrow enough to make it feel tense and claustrophobic, when in reality there’s actually quite a bit of room to maneuver once you’re inside.

The ships are such a joy to fly, and the game modes themselves are so successful that I wish it had been blown out into its own game.

But what’s killing me right now is the progression system.

DICE/Electronic Arts

There are three classes of starfighters in the game: fighter, interceptor and bomber. Each of those three classes has three card slots, each of which can be filled with unique power-ups available through the game’s Star Cards.

But, when you start the game, only one of those card slots is open. In order to unlock the additional two slots you have to increase the level of your Star Cards. Not the level of your main account, mind you, but the level of the random cards you get from the game’s loot crates.

You’ve got two options for leveling your Star Cards: either buy more loot crates or craft higher level cards. But you can’t craft higher level cards until you reach level 10 on your main profile!

It’s an unnecessarily convoluted system, hard-locked to the game’s controversial loot crates. I’ve not been lucky enough to get any high-level cards so far, so I’m stuck with a single, low-level ability in each ship type. I have a paltry 1.5 percent boost to my interceptor’s guns, for instance, and a similarly awful boost to the hull strength of my fighter.

Meanwhile, those with more time on their hands are flying around with two or more higher-level cards that provide much more substantial benefits, making them hit harder and harder to hit.

There’s an easy solution, of course, and that’s to play the game a whole lot more. But I’m already getting stomped by players who are higher level than I am, and stay perched at the top of the leaderboards game after game.

This simply has nothing to do with the game’s loot crates. I have enough crafting materials to make the cards that I want. The game just won’t let me do it until I’ve paid the price, serving as cannon fodder for the game’s higher level players.

It’s frustrating and an absolute shame. I’m going to press on and grind my way to where I need to be, but if I wasn’t doing it for work I’m not sure I’d bother to spend the time.

The next level of puzzles.

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