Hands-On: Star Wars: Battlefront Has Potential, But Needs Serious Work
Star Wars: Battlefront is just about a month away from launching, and fan expectations are
sky space (does it still hurt?) high while at the same time there are lingering concerns over content and whether or not the game is just Battlefield with a Star Wars skin.
Fortunately we’ve just had a beta, which commenced on Thursday and will be ending tomorrow, to play the game and see for ourselves. After taking it for a spin we have quite a large number of thoughts to share.
Name: Star Wars: Battlefront
Genre: Not In Space
Multiplayer: Online co-op and competitive multiplayer modes
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Developer: EA Digital Illusions CE
Publishers: Electronic Arts
Release Date: 19 November 2015
Played on: PC
- You’ll Be Able To Play (Expensive) PS2 Games On Your PS4 Now | 2 months ago
- Jessica Jones Disempowers Its Male Characters And The Effect Is Refreshing | 2 months ago
- Hell Is 30 000 Deathclaws Tearing Through Boston And It’s Glorious | 2 months ago
- Sony Santa Monica Is Teasing Something Truly Strange | 2 months ago
The beta lets the Rebels meet the Imperials on Hoth in the game’s 20vs20 Walker Assault mode, as well as features new world Sullust in the smaller 8vs8 Drop Zone mode. Walker Assault is the bulk of the beta and is what we’ll spend the most time talking about. The only single player mode on offer was a wave-based survival co-op game which allowed you to fly solo or with a friend, and while it was an alright way to get some practice in it doesn’t make up for the lack of a traditional Battlefront campaign.
To briefly explain the modes Drop Zone is about tight, close-quarters combat that takes vehicles and large open space out of the equation. It’s infantry combat that is objective-based, with each team trying to activate and protect checkpoints that drop from the sky at set intervals. Walker Assault is a mode where the Imperials are trying to get their giant robot camels, also called AT-ATs, to the Rebel base to destroy it. The Rebels have to take down both AT-ATs before they reach their mark. It’s the opposite of Drop Zone with a huge map complete with vehicles, turrets and dogfights overhead.
First of all let’s address the elephant in the room: whether or not the game feels like a Battlefield reskin. I’m happy to say absolutely not. From the pew pew guns that sack ammo for overheating, to the third person camera, to the super arcadey feel of the game and its great power pick-ups, this is Battlefront like you remember it, and it’s Star Wars like you want it.
The game is incredibly atmospheric, and it’s an absolute blast to experience it if you’re a Star Wars fan. It feels ripped right out of the movies, complete with all the memorable sounds and spectacular visual quality that you’d have died for. It definitely helps as well that the game performs impeccably, and I don’t recall seeing a single frame drop despite playing on max settings on PC.
What’s even more impressive than how this game performs is how quickly and efficiently the matchmaking system is even with the absence of a server browser. It took me less than ten seconds to find games each time I searched, and my game loaded in extremely quickly. The minimal delay is also fantastic, and things only really bugged out and got stucky when using the jetpack to climb mountains, so the netcode is definitely great.
The game is easy to pick up and play, and there’s not much of a learning curve to be had. You’ll gear up your soldier for combat, selecting from a range of blaster rifles, cosmetic customisations that will only be available in the full game, and perks called cards. You can have three equipped at a time, including two gadgets and a buffer. These cards are bought using earned in-game credits, and you can swap them out at will to provide you with different bonuses and gadgets in games. For example you can get a Thermal Detonator, Jetpack or Sniper Rifle, and use your bonus buffer card to get Ion Bullets which are effective against shields and require pick-up charges to use. The gadget cards are governed by a cooldown, as all of your base weapons and gadgets are limitless in use.
Beyond your basic loadout most of the good stuff is found as pick-ups in the map. Pick ups can range from special gadgets like shield generators, mountable turrets, orbital strikes and proximity mines to iconic ships and even to Heroes and Villains. They’re all on a first-come-first-serve basis and spawn periodically, so it can be a bit of a rush to get to them, but everyone will get a turn eventually on your team. These are really nice because they encourage you to move around the map and are available to all players, so lesser skilled ones aren’t left out of the fun if they can’t rack up killstreaks.
While the basic gameplay is good there are some issues with it. Firstly the guns all feel samey. With them all being pew pew blasters with stat differences, there’s not much difference between them at least in the beta. Infantry movement is also not as smooth as it should be, especially when you’re trying to figure out what you can actually jump over without the use of a jetpack. Lastly the melee attack seems to be absolutely useless as it’s not an instant kill, so I question the point of it.
At the heart of it though Battlefront is a game all about fan thrills, and I couldn’t help but feel waves of nerdgasms each time I took control of an X-Wing, TIE Fighter and AT-ST or Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker themselves. Everything is easy to use but tricky to actually use well, and it’s that combination that makes for a good gameplay formula. It’s clear that the idea here is to give everyone an enjoyable time, and to a certain degree Battlefront achieves that, although with each success there’s a problem around the corner.
A good example of that is when you get a Hero pick up. The game will play a short cutscene as the iconic character enters the battlefield, and you’ll then get a brief info screen which details the characters moves. For instance Darth Vader has Force Choke and Saber Throw, while Luke has Force Push and Saber Dash. They’re powerhouses and plenty of fun to use, although I wouldn’t advise charging headfirst into an open zone and allowing everyone to target you. There’s only so many blasters you can deflect at once, and you don’t stand a chance against heavy vehicles. Still, it’s incredibly exhilarating to fight up close with infantry and see them panic as you descend upon them with your saber in hand.
Sounds cool right? But the problem that comes with Heroes and Villains is that the animations can be surprisingly bad and moving them can be really clunky, more so than standard infantry. It seems like a simple thing to fix in the full game, but it really shouldn’t have been an issue when these moments are meant to be highlights of the experience.
It may have ticked positive boxes in gameplay and atmosphere but Battlefront unfortunately has some massive problems that are holding it back. Besides the obvious omission of a single player campaign one of the game’s largest issues is balance in Walker Assault. Most of the time the Imperials dominate this mode because the instructions for the Rebels aren’t communicated clearly. Rebels need to deactivate the AT-AT shields first and then target them in the brief window of opportunity while all the Imperials have to do is pretty much advance and kill stuff. And they have plenty to do it with. I rarely saw Rebels win, and only saw them dominate twice. Considering that I got to grips with this game after a couple of maps it seems more like a communication and balance issue than a skill issue.
The other enormous problem I had with Battlefront is that it’s so damn easy to play cheaply on the Imperials side in Walker Assault. I would know. I discovered almost every single way as I topped the scoring charts on four separate occasions and have the screenshots to boast about it. There’s a ridiculous degree to which you can spawn camp the Rebels at set points as the Walkers advance, and you can repeatedly jump into AT-ATs and AT-STs if you know where the pick ups are and just get easy kills. The mode definitely needs some tweaks in this regard, possibly with more protection when spawning and some kind of counter measure for Rebels when getting overwhelmed.
Furthermore one of the most irritating ways to play cheaply is if you have air dominance. If your team has for instance four ships in the air, then it’s basically suicide for the other team to get into a ship, especially more so because the game screws you over. Even without allies in the air when a player enters the map with a ship they’re unable to move it for about five seconds as it gets into the field of play, which basically gives the enemy team’s ships all the time in the world to lock onto you and kill you as soon as you gain control. I would know, as I took down many enemies using this cheap-ass method and racked up a huge sum of points.
The last big problem I had with the Battlefront beta is an extremely tough one to call because it’s just a tease. I felt that too quickly the thrill ended and Walker Assault started to become pretty mundane, repetitive and even boring at times, and at this point I wasn’t even playing Drop Zone or the single player anymore. I know that there will be a bunch of modes and maps in the full game, and perhaps it’s also because there’s so little equipment available in the beta, but it surprised me how quick the novelty ended because each round just felt so similar. It just makes me more cautious about the full release, as the fun couldn’t really last a weekend. Even if it was nice to be able to jump in and play without a lengthy commitment.
Ultimately though the hallmark of a good beta for me is in the desire to at least want to play it until its closing minutes. Despite the Battlefront beta being extended by an extra day I’ve had no inclination to return since yesterday, and that’s not great. Yet at the same time I don’t regret the time I did spend with it, because there’s a lot to praise it for and as a Star Wars fan I do see the promise the game has, and the way it just nails aspects of the movies with its atmosphere, visuals and certain elements of gameplay. But as a whole package there’s still a long way to go.
Star Wars: Battlefront will surely divide a great many fans, and the reactions prove this as people seem to either love it to bits or hate it. I’m a big Star Wars fan, and I’m divided. There’s plenty to praise but plenty to criticise too, and perhaps DICE should have held a beta somewhat earlier. Battlefront can be fun, it has potential and it absolutely has some Star Wars magic, but it’s just not a great game yet. It needs serious work at the moment, which is worrying for a game that’s a month away from releasing. The evolving nature of the experience surely means that it can be great, especially once all the modes come in, but severe balance issues and a lack of diversity between each game present big challenges.
I wouldn’t call Battlefront a day one purchase yet as much as the Star Wars fan in me would have liked to, but at the same time it’s definitely not a game you should write off yet. Let’s see how it does at launch and in the weeks that follow, because it’s got all the ingredients to be a phenomenal hit – at least commercially. The Force is in your court now, DICE.