If the story of DICE's Battlefront is a one of a young upstart torn between the forces of dark and light then this, coming after the series found itself corrupted and besieged late last year, should be the third act that offers some kind of redemption. Star Wars Battlefront 2's new update, which dropped last week, sees the game undergo the biggest overhaul seen in a big budget title since Diablo 3 excised its auction house - and it's a change that's come about in a fraction of the time. Even then, is it all too late for DICE's shooter?
You can't really fault the effort that's been made here, and each adjustment nudges Battlefront 2 firmly in the right direction. The loot boxes - those deeply problematic loot boxes, which used to carry upgrades and perks - have now been pushed to one side. All the hero characters are now available from the off. Progression is now linear, rather than the weird random sprawl that went before. Classes are now ranked up one by one, with new skill points that can be applied to perks unlocked upon reaching a new level, while the Star Cards that grant those perks are now level-gated with the more useful ones being available earlier.
It's a plain, simple and easy to parse system, and a quite remarkable feat of development to have it all up and running so seamlessly in such a short time, but it also serves as a reminder of how truly awful Battlefront 2's progression system was beforehand; not only was it deeply cynical, but it was also an absolute mess that held the player in complete disregard, putting them at the mercy of random drops. How could it have made it so close to launch without any intervention from anyone with half an ounce of sense? How short-sighted and plain dumb must EA and DICE have been to think they could ever get away with such a brazenly broken system?
Amidst the fire and fury that surrounded Star Wars Battlefront 2's microtransactions - such was the fallout it made national news - it's easy to lose sight of the fact that those microtransactions never made it into the final game, with EA at least being quick enough to pull the plug on them the day before release. The damage had been done, though, and Battlefront 2 is destined to be touched by the shadow of those dark early days for the remainder of its life.
A small shame, as it's certainly a much better game now it's been married up with a half-decent progression system - a progression system that's arguably the best seen in a DICE game to date, which is admittedly the faintest of praise given how lacklustre they've been in the past. With the muddle of those microtransactions removed (albeit temporarily - they're coming back with the all-new cosmetic upgrades that are being introduced in a future update), there's even an above-average shooter to be found in Star Wars Battlefront 2.
It can lay claim to being the prettiest, at the very least, and as a piece of Star Wars merchandise it's hard to find fault with Battlefront 2. In its mix of eras and battlegrounds it's an exquisitely realised toybox, and one that's been added to fairly generously since launch - The Last Jedi's represented via a Crait map, while several of the heroes have been given a makeover. If you just want shiny toys to smash around with, Battlefront 2 does more than enough to satisfy.
As a multiplayer shooter, Battlefront 2 still suffers from the same slightly confused mindset that allowed those microtransactions through to the near-final game, and I'm not sure any number of updates could get it out of its fundamental fug. After the bold simplicity of DICE's first Battlefront, the sequel has always felt torn between placating the hardcore and offering that same accessibility all over again, and predictably fails to ever really satisfy either camp. Its squad mechanics that never really come into focus, game modes that tend towards being overly fussy and map design that, quite frankly, just stinks. The new Bespin map that just dropped as part of the update is the perfect example of the mediocrity that eats away at so much of Battlefront 2 - it's a nondescript tangle of corridors and open spaces with no tangible flow that's only saved by its fancy dress.
New game modes that are currently slated as part of future updates may help Star Wars Battlefront 2 finally find its true identity, though that's still to come. For now we have this, a glimmer of hope, but not quite true redemption. For that, more fundamental change must come about for this era of Battlefront's third installment - if Disney allows it, that is.