When Dice announced the Night on Endor update for Star Wars: Battlefront 2 last week, you didn't have to look far online to see would-be stormtrooper players proudly declaring their intent to mow down a thousand fuzzy little bear-folk. Today, their bravado puts them at the top of the teddy bears' picnic menu. In the new (and sadly time-limited) Ewok Hunt multiplayer mode, it's the Ewoks doing the hunting, and they're frighteningly good at it.
Weird as it sounds, the Ewok Hunt mode takes the popular Infection/Zombie format and reworks it into a genuine Star Wars survival horror experience for Battlefront 2. Up to 19 stormtroopers need to hold out until an evacuation shuttle arrives, although when and where it'll appear isn't indicated on the HUD until the final moments of the mission. All you know for sure is that you need to survive, and there's something out there hunting you.
It's very dark (and just to keep it that way, the brightness slider is locked) and stormtrooper players are locked to first-person view. Their only real way to see what's going on is a too-narrow flashlight that will not only blind fellow troopers but has a very limited self-charging battery. You'd think when you're only being stalked by a single Ewok, there's not much to worry about, but between its ability to scatter your squad with a sack-full of Wisties (little flaming fairy-things) and then pick off stragglers, it quickly becomes nerve-wracking.
Once you've lost one squad member - and it'll probably happen sooner than later - you're suddenly up against two Ewoks, then three, and they keep on respawning while you don't. Before long you find yourself increasingly helpless to protect your fellow troopers from dying around you, firing wildly into the darkness at what you think looked like a shadow against something glowing in the background. You think you hit something, and then thud. Oh, that's a spear in the back of your head. The chance to then play as an Ewok suddenly feels empowering.
Terrifying Ewoks aside, Battlefront 2 really does seem to have found its footing as of its last major update. Dice made good on their word, and while loot crates technically still exist in the game as a means by which to be rewarded random cosmetic goodies, they've been decoupled entirely from both the progression mechanics and the premium storefront. As of the Night on Endor update, you can now buy Gems (a secondary, premium currency) with real money once more, but they can only be spent on direct purchases of alternate character skins.
It's not perfect (the campaign is a bit repetitive, and the hero/vehicle spawn system rubs some players up the wrong way), but this is the Star Wars: Battlefront 2 that should have launched back in November of last year. Considering that I've never had to wait more than about two seconds for a 40-player match, I consider the improvements neither little, nor too late and Dice have reconfirmed they're in for the long-haul, too. A second season of free new maps, modes, characters and so on is due to be unveiled soon, most likely based around next month's Young Han Solo film.