Update: EA has now responded to the concerns surrounding Battlefront 2, reducing the cost of the game's locked heroes. Read more here.
Original Story: Star Wars Battlefront 2's microtransactions are overshadowing just about every other facet of the game's upcoming launch, and it's hardly surprising. We're at the apex of the loot box tipping point, with players now cottoning on that randomized boxes of purchasable in-game items were never going to remain cosmetic, and that eventually publishers would complement the emotes and new skins with content that had a measurable affect on gameplay. As such, not only are such loot boxes an off-putting method of getting us to spend more cash on games, but in cases such as Battlefront 2 they represent a terminal flaw from a game design standpoint, too.
Battlefront 2 is currently playable prior to its launch on November 17th by way of EA Access, with players having therefore been offered an insight into how its microtransaction system functions. It transpires that in a thinly-veiled effort to encourage players to buy more loot boxes (or "supply crates," as the game calls them, to make them a little more Star Wars-y), heroes and villains such as Darth Vader are locked behind huge amounts of credits.
Estimations have revealed that it's expected it'll take around 40 hours to obtain the 60,000 credits needed to play as Vader or Luke Skywalker, a number that reduces if you instead opt to spend real money on loot boxes in order to earn more credits. Characters such as Emperor Palpatine, Chewbacca and Leia Organa require 40,000 credits, while the game's protagonist Iden Versio requires 20,000.
If this is the way the game remains at launch — and EA hasn't said they're looking to change the system at the time of this writing — then this is a completely unreasonable attempt at squeezing more money out of what is already a $60 retail release. But not only is this loot box system currently one of the more pernicious examples of microtransactions in a triple-A game, it also sullies elements of the game it's shoved into, making it both an ill-advised decision from a game design perspective along with it arguably being both anti-consumer and predatory.
When you buy Battlefront 2, you expect to be able to play as Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker et al. They're the most iconic faces (and helmet) of the franchise, and you therefore anticipate that when you boot up the game, you'll get the chance to swing their respective lightsabers across the game's maps. However, by having to spend an inexplicable amount of time grinding to earn enough credits to buy them, in its current state EA has ensured that the majority of players won't actually be able to put in the time or throw up the cash to unlock every hero. That the likes of Darth Vader are only attainable via excessive amounts of grinding is just as much as a design flaw as a poor frame rate or a shoddy camera.
I've seen some debate over how much the insertion of microtransactions should be factored into reviews, or how much they should impact upon a final score, but I feel that Star Wars Battlefront 2 answers that question. As reported by Forbes, critics who attended the Battlefront 2 event were playing a build of the game in which the prices for hero unlocks had been lowered. "During the review event EA had lowered the prices to allow reviewers the chance to play with most of the heroes," a video from the event notes. "The in-game cost is not representative of the final game cost."
Now, this isn't exactly a first for the industry. I've played more than my fair share of review copies in which certain elements of the game are made available to me from the outset, and while I typically ignore these additions in favor of playing a game as close to the average consumer's experience as possible, sometimes you'll be given a few thousand more in-game credits and you can't do that much about it. You factor it into your review, weigh up how much of an impact it had on the game for you, and then move on.
But in the case of Battlefront 2, allowing reviewers to unlock these heroes early ensures that their experience of the most divisive facet of the game isn't representative of what the average player will endure, with them not being forced to embark upon a lengthy grind in order to play as their favorite characters.
At the time of this writing, Battlefront 2's microtransactions and their impact upon progression in the game are a major flaw. While I've enjoyed what I've played thus far in EA Access, the looming presence of its loot boxes blemish the overall presentation, and it currently serves as a reminder that at their worst microtransactions aren't just unappetizing side dishes in a three-course meal — sometimes they spill out onto your dessert and make that taste a bit terrible, too. If loot boxes are to be an industry standard from here on out, then their impact upon games should be treated as just as much of a design flaw as anything else.