Cosmetics and upgrades in the same loot box could be frustrating.
I’ve been playing the Star Wars: Battlefront 2 beta for the last couple of days, and while I’m enjoying shooting blasters and dogfighting in TIE Fighters, its progression and upgrade card system seriously rub me the wrong way.
Like so many other games nowadays, Battlefront 2 has loot boxes called ‘crates’ that contain digital goodies like new weapons, ability upgrades, weapon mods, and passive stat bonuses that give you an edge, along with a range of cosmetic options like hero skins and victory poses. You get crates either by earning in-game credits to buy them, or by spending real money to purchase them outright.
So this begs the obvious question: Is Star Wars: Battlefront 2 pay-to-win?
Well, it’s a plain and simple fact that spending money in this game can give you an immediate advantage in actual matches, especially in the early days before people who aren’t spending have had time to earn in-game currency. It’s true that you might luck into good items in your first earned crates, but buying more chances means your odds of striking gold go up.
Battlefront 2 at least has pay-to-win elements.
So if I spend $200 on crates, open or craft all the best cards I can, then face an equally skilled opponent at the same level as me who didn’t spend money, I will likely win because I have better tools available. That’s indisputable, which means Battlefront 2 at least has pay-to-win elements. Frankly, that sucks, and would potentially be the kiss of death for any competitive shooter that wasn’t wielding the Star Wars license.
To be fair, you can’t buy your way to maximum capacity, at least: Leveling up a class through playing matches will unlock more card slots for it, so investing time can also give you a leg up. But those level ups seem to be coming much faster than the crates, at least in the beta.
Also, the new weapons and ability replacements you unlock aren’t strictly “better” than the default stuff in pure power, often giving you varied options instead of straight power. The issue is that if I prefer to play a certain style, such as sniping with a high-powered, low rate-of-fire rifle, and I don’t have the option but my opponent has a gun that suits his style, I’m at a disadvantage because I’m out of my element. That’s a question of player skill, though, but the buff cards are objectively purchased power, granting passive skills like healing after kills or lowering ability cooldowns.
Players who purchase crates have more chances to find rarer (and objectively stronger) cards.
Even worse, those buffs have four levels of quality, which increase in power and rarity as they improve. There’s a TIE Fighter/X-wing card that just flat-out makes your primary fire stronger, and while its base level is only a 2% increase, the fourth is a much more significant 10%. One of Boba Fett’s cards makes him totally immune to damage while firing his rockets midair, but only at fourth level. Effects like this aren’t uncommon, with other passive stat increases prevalent throughout the cards EA has shown so far.
And you can spend a crafting resource (also found in crates) to upgrade weaker versions of those cards, the crafting cost going up as the quality does. This means that players who purchase crates not only have more chances to find the rarer (and objectively stronger) cards, they also get more resources to upgrade the weaker cards they find into the powerful versions.
What makes this even stranger to me is that this is the only major competitive game I can think of that has mixed cosmetic and stat-boosting items in the same crate to this extent. Unless there are systems behind the scenes that guarantee you’ll get a certain amount of upgrade cards, you could potentially feel cheated out of the good stuff by a slew of uninteresting cosmetics like victory poses.
The truth of the matter is that we don’t know what the balance of all these things will look like yet. The beta is very clear to say the current drop rates aren’t representative of what they will look like at launch, and there is a world where crates and high-quality cards come so easily that spending money really isn’t necessary.
But that’ll be difficult to pull off. Put frankly, this is a PvP game where power is locked behind a randomized progression system that can be sped up by spending real money. That’s not going to be balanced under almost any circumstance – and if it’s done poorly in the final game, it could be disastrous.
Tom Marks is an Associate Editor focusing on PC gaming at IGN. You can follow him on Twitter.