Before I even played one round of multiplayer, I dumped $90 into Star Wars Battlefront 2, to try to understand its system of loot crates and currencies and whether I could actually pick up Luke Skywalker for real money before I even began the game.
Then, about two hours into all that unpacking, Electronic Arts dropped the unlock prices on its hero players, the thing that had caused so much antagonism over the weekend.
Well, here is what I learned anyway: The $90 I spent (it’s $100 if you don’t have an EA Access subscription) isn’t enough to unlock everything in the game — not that I expected it would be. And to answer the more pertinent question on everyone’s mind, no, you cannot directly buy any of the six unlockable heroes with a straight cash exchange. Though loot crates occasionally return credits, it takes time and money to see it happen frequently.
What’s more interesting is how the game’s complicated economy and prerequisites work together, which is something really only seen at scale — like buying up 12,000 “Crystals,” the in-game currency bought for real money. The most expensive loot crate in this game costs 200 Crystals.
With that much money applied to an optimized crate-unlocking strategy, I was able to give every character class and vehicle every “Star Card” applicable to it and still bank about 27,000 in Credits, the other in-game currency that you can’t buy outright. That was plenty to buy more loot boxes, or multiple hero characters under the new pricing structure.
The point of this is there is no straight line for either path: paying to win, or playing to advance. A big spender is still going to hit a dead end against the multiple gameplay requirements to get at the better stuff (higher ranks of the Star Cards, and especially the weapons arsenal, all of which is gated by an in-game milestone).
And a pure grinder is still forced to use the game’s loot crate system, which spits out bonuses entirely at random, to advance their characters and improve their loadouts. Loot crates are the only means through which one either acquires “Star Cards,” at random, to outfit fighters, spaceships or heroes with new abilities, or the “Crafting Parts” that allows them to unlock a specific Star Card of their choice.
(Players do get a “Daily Unlock Crate” every time they log in, but its payout is nowhere close to what even a Hero Crate, the least costly of the three, delivers. It’s usually two to three items, and of these 75 to 150 Credits and five Crafting Parts.)
The first Battlefront (under EA, in 2015) was much more straightforward: Players still had to play a lot of multiplayer to earn credits that unlocked weapons, Star Cards, cosmetic changes and such. Some items were gated by in-game performance milestones. But everything was available, by player choice, provided they had enough of that currency. Players who desired as many different weapons as possible, forsaking their character’s appearance, were just as accommodated as those who had settled on a preferred weapon and card loadout and now wanted to bling out their looks.
Battlefront 2 launched, notably, without cosmetic customization options. The creators hinted, in a Reddit AMA on Wednesday, that this is on the way later. For now, players may only spend for performance. And the loot crate system introduced in Battlefront 2 means the bulk of that is acquired at random.
As I sat there unlocking my $90 worth of loot crates over more than two hours, I realized what’s really bothering Battlefront 2 players: It’s the feeling that you lack control, even when you pony up a stupid amount of real money.
Here’s a primer on Star Wars Battlefront 2’s economy. It comprises three currencies:
- Credits: Awarded for in-game performance. Commonly earned for performance in multiplayer, it’s also splashed out for completing goals in the single-player campaign or beating assignments in the new arcade mode. (However, arcade mode limits its payouts to just 500 credits per 24 hours, something that has rankled players even more than the loot crate system). Some milestones deliver 1,000 Credits, others just 100. Credits cannot be bought.
- Crystals: There are some gameplay milestones that award this in paltry amounts. Crystals are primarily acquired for real cash. Loot crates have two prices, one for Credits and one for Crystals, so Crystals allow users to bypass the time needed to acquire credits to unlock the crates.
- Crafting Parts: This is an overlooked component of Battlefront 2’s economy but still an important one. Crafting Parts can be exchanged for a Star Card of the player’s choosing (assuming the player has met other prerequisites). Crafting Parts deliver the option of picking the Star Card a user really wants, keeping Battlefront 2’s upgrade system from being purely random. But they’re only found in loot crates.
Loot crates do not return Credits except in two cases: When a crate opening delivers a card or cards that the player already has (and can’t advance in rank further) or, more rarely, when the system has run out of items it can deliver the user. If it’s a duplicate card, it is converted to Credits immediately (depending on the value of the card already in the collection). If Battlefront 2’s slot machine has run out of things to give you, as I found very late in my spending spree, it just awards 50 credits in place of a regular item.
Realizing this I sought to build out my card collection first, to increase the chance the successive crate openings would return duplicate cards and therefore exchange them for Credits, the most liquid of the three currencies, which could give me whatever I wanted. Each time I had more than 40 Crafting Parts, I used that to unlock another Star Card in the collection, which is partly why this effort took so long (and ate three hours off my preview time with the game).
As I suspected, the latter half of my unlock-a-thon started returning crates that paid out like this:
That’s pure liquid currency.
I started out buying Trooper Crates at 200 Crystals a pop (whose 4,000 Credits pricetag equals about three hours of multiplayer gameplay time) because those return the most cards (four to five) and the most Crafting Parts (at least 45, sometimes 60). The Starfighter and Hero Crates dispense fewer cards, and the Crafting Parts come in smaller amounts.
After buying dozens of Trooper Crates, with half of my Crystals balance left, all five classes of fighters had every card available to them and all three card slots filled. Battlefront 2starts by giving each class one available Star Card slot to modify their abilities or give them an additional weapon. As better cards are acquired for that class, they unlock more slots. Every character class had the maximum three card slots unlocked by this point.
Then I turned my attention to the less costly Starfighter Crates, to apply those goods to my vehicle fleet. By the time I had maxed out all the cards I could acquire for my characters and my vehicles, I had banked 27,000 Credits, which I could have applied to any of the six unlockable heroes or to more loot crates. I chose the latter, pouring those proceeds into the crates that upgrade heroes, even if I was unable to use one.
What I learned, without playing a minute of multiplayer, is that the incentive to pay money isn’t to acquire an exotic hero or rare weapon — neither can be claimed for real money. The incentive to pay money is to build out fighters’ ordinary skills and attributes, so the in-game currency a player earns with that goes into a kind of savings account used for the big stuff later.
Put more simply: You could work single-mindedly toward unlocking Darth Vader and, with skill, get him in a day (under his new cost) — you’ll just be forsaking the breadth and depth of Battlefront 2’s multiplayer, with all of its upgrades, buffs and weapons, in the meantime.
This is probably why the prices on Skywalker, Chewie, Leia and Palpatine were so easily slashed on Monday, but the loot crate costs remain the same. It’s not just the fact those heroes can’t be directly acquired for cash on the barrelhead. Even if they could, it would still be more efficient to put real money to the ordinary Star Card upgrades, which improve performance in multiplayer, so that every free credit earned in multiplayer can be saved and later applied to the exotic items.
EA shoved three DICE developers into a Reddit AMA today, where all of them more or less said that they’re paying attention to the unlock costs and the rate at which players are getting at new content, and this can all be adjusted in the future. And that would be fine if it was following the Battlefront 1 model, where a player saving up credits for improvements could buy the one they want, instead of saving up to buy a crate that might return three things they don’t, plus “Crafting Parts” that may not be enough to get their preferred upgrade, either. So as it is, DICE can look at how much crates cost all they want; if upgrading a character class is still left to luck of the draw, people will still be unhappy.
Star Wars Battlefront 2 may hold a fig leaf over all its indiscreet parts so that it can’t be directly accused of imposing a pay-to-win model. But it does something just as bad by tying multiplayer advancement to the random chance of opening a loot crate: It strips players of a sense of control over their long-term gameplay, and it clouds their broader understanding of how the game should be efficiently played, and what winning and success really means in it.
People naturally become angry when they feel they have no power or control. Especially if that involves something they’ve already put $60 toward. That’s what you’re hearing in so many indignant reactions to Battlefront 2’s economy.