In 2015 Electronic Arts, the sole licensees for Star Wars video games, released a Star Wars game that was completely crippled by insultingly expensive loot box mechanics to unlock your favorite characters. As an example: unlocking Darth Vader, while theoretically possible in normal gameplay, would require an enormous investment of time, or alternatively you could buy a couple of loot boxes and hope he pops out. The game I’m referring to is, of course, Galaxy of Heroes, because Battlefront II 2017 was released in 2017.
Side note: Why couldn’t they just keep up the numbering on the Battlefront games? It’s not like there’s an evolving plot to stay on top of. Calling Battlefront 2015 just “Battlefront” (we had to append the year ourselves) rather than Battlefront III didn’t signal a reboot of the franchise or anything. There’s nothing to reboot. You’re either a rebel soldier or a storm trooper, you fight battles on different planets, go. Every release is going to cover the same plot in the same eras, with possibly the exception of newer games including Resistance vs. First Order in addition to Rebel Alliance vs. Empire and Republic vs. Confederacy. Maybe you add some new units or game modes, but there’s not an ongoing story to reboot. Every single one of the games is already its own retelling of the Star Wars octilogy (and counting).
Whining aside (note from ed: this is a filthy lie, whining will remain front and center for the duration of the post), Galaxy of Heroes bugs me because it seems like it might actually be a well made game with a reasonably fun (if blatantly pandering) premise, but then it does the usual mobile game thing where actually playing the game at a reasonable pace requires blatantly extortionate amounts of money.
I’m not opposed to paying money to play a video game, and I don’t mind using microtransactions as a sort of playable demo that can, if you’re super patient, slowly unlock the entire game. My issue isn’t that EA is using the model at all, it’s that they have the gall to charge (as part of a limited time offer that had five and a half days left on the clock as of January 4th) twenty dollars for a bundle that gives you three Jedi and a bunch of in-game resources. I would definitely pay $5 for a fully unlocked Galaxy of Heroes. I might possibly even be persuaded to pay $10. I would not even consider paying $20 for a fully unlocked Galaxy of Heroes. If EA tried to sell me every character in the game for this amount of money, I would not do it. They are offering me three. Specifically, they are offering me Ep. III Anakin, Mace Windu, and a generic Jedi Consular. The Jedi Consular is one of your starting units, actually, so really they’re offering me a star level upgrade on the Jedi Consular, which is honestly probably the most appealing part of the whole pack, in that the Jedi Consular is by far the best healer available in the early game and therefore a critical component to light side hero squads. Adding an extra star level to that guy makes him more durable, which means he can spit out more healing before going under, and that’s great (it also increases his attack, but he’s a healer, so you don’t care).
You can tell from those couple of sentences that this game actually has some amount of strategy to it. You can assemble a maximum of five heroes into a squad. Each hero has a standard attack, two special abilities (one of which must be unlocked), and a passive bonus, and different heroes are specced to do different things. They also have a couple of different tags. For example, that Jedi Consular is tagged as Light Side, Galactic Republic, Jedi, and Healer. The Light/Dark Side tags, so far as I can tell, only affect what PvE battles they can participate in, as PvE battles are split between Light Side battles against all-Dark squads, Dark Side battles against all-Light squads, and cantina battles where you can mix and match your squad as you like and fight against similarly mixed squads (so far as I can tell, all PvP is cantina battles, so it’s not an especially big deal if Light is stronger than Dark or vice-versa), and the combat role tags like Healer are mostly just a player aid to help you sort out what your units do, though some combat roles are restricted in certain challenge battles.
The point where things get interesting (…kind of) is with the faction tags like Jedi and Galactic Republic. Certain passive bonuses or (rarely) even active special abilities will affect only certain factions. For example, Asajj Ventress has a skill that heals only Nightsisters. This is a very brute force means of allowing for squad synergy, but there’s other methods as well. Farmboy Luke (who fights with a rifle, as opposed to Rebel Luke, who gets the lightsaber) has pretty much nothing but special abilities that just deal regular damage, but with a nice bonus effect if he gets a crit. So clearly you want to pair him with someone who can increase the odds of a crit.
I do not know who that is, because I am not paying EA $20 for 2800 crystals so that I can buy a datacard megapack that contains eight chromium data cards, at least one of which is guaranteed to have a character on it. The others very probably have things like credits or fairly common gear. I don’t know what the exact probabilities are, but I am very confident that you basically never get three characters out of a mega-pack, and rarely get even two. That’s for the pack that costs $20 worth of crystals (technically slightly less than, because of course there’s never 1:1 parity between the amount of crystals you can buy and the amount that anything actually costs). It’s a random character, of course, and if you get a character you already have, that just gives you a star level upgrade on them. Star level upgrades are a significant stat boost, but if you’re trying to get Darth Vader to pop out, you can’t even comfort yourself in the knowledge that eventually you will run out of other characters to buy and thus force Darth Vader to drop. You can damn well go on getting Teebo the ewok and generic stormtroopers forever. It all depends on how much the Random Number God loves you.
So what could have been a fun game about assembling squads of Star Wars characters to battle one another is instead completely crippled by insultingly steep prices on loot boxes that are all but mandatory to actually play the game as intended. After having sunk a couple of days into the game – days – I still don’t have enough Dark Side characters to make a full squad of five and I have only six Light Side characters, which means my tactical decision concerning them is to pick which one to leave behind. The obvious answer to that question is the ewok scout, because he is both fragile and weak, and would be good only in a party densely stacked with other ewoks who can all benefit from the ewok elder’s ability to heal ewoks for extra. I’m not super thrilled about the Resistance pilot who replaced him, but he’s at least slightly more durable. What I’d really like is an extra healer (in cantina battles I can have both the Jedi Consular and Talia, which makes me way more durable), but God only knows how long it’ll take me to get someone like Ahsoka Tano to drop, and there’s not even anything I can do to make her drop faster than anyone else.
And the problems go on. The game has credits. Credits are required for basically everything. You spend them to level your characters up, to craft gear for them, to activate newly unlocked characters, to add new star levels to characters who’ve been unlocked a second (or third, or fourth, or seventh) time, and probably for other things I don’t know about or have forgotten. You will not be surprised to learn that you accumulate credits much too slowly to keep up with even the regular leveling of your heroes to keep pace with the strength of enemy PvE squads. You can either grind already completed battles for the credits you need to level your heroes to match the new opposition or shell out some real world cash. I’ve gotten by so far by keeping all the crystals they give you to start in reserve for occasions such as this, but that’s going to run out sooner or later. You can, technically, get more crystals in gameplay rather than paying real money for them, in the same way that you can technically keep your characters appropriately leveled without spending money, i.e. by spending hours grinding.
The game itself even acknowledges how dull the grinding process is! One of its drops are sim cards, which can be used to simulate a battle. Instead of actually replaying a completed battle, you can spend a sim card to get the rewards for beating it again with the touch of a button. You start out with a decent stack of sim cards, but of course they don’t last. The thing that compelled me to exit the game and write this post was running out and realizing I’d have to start properly grinding for my gear and credits from now on, a prospect that may drive me to quit the game altogether.
The thing is, I’d have a lot of fun with this game if it didn’t cost literal hundreds of dollars to unlock everything. It might even have a lot of strategic depth. I don’t know, because I’m playing with a crippled party and catch only occasional glimpses of what other characters can do while shooting them in the face or sometimes as party allies (a means of adding a sixth character to your party from a random selection of other players’ strongest heroes, available only in PvE and a reasonably interesting way of getting players to avoid using the exact same party every time, except that my hero selection is so limited that I do that anyway because regardless of what allies are available to me I still have a total of six Light Side characters, one of which is clearly useless outside of a specialist build I’m nowhere near being able to run, and which seems like it would be kind of gimmicky even if I could).