Drool, You Will - Hands-Off Star Wars Battlefront Preview
Post by nachosjustice @ 04:27am 18/04/15 | Comments
AusGamers was invited out to Star Wars Celebrations to get a hands-off look at DICE's Star Wars Battlefront. Read on for our full thoughts...
Watch the full Star Wars Battlefront trailer embedded above
Star Wars Battlefront is poised to be the ideal gaming complement to the film release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It’s well positioned not just because the world will be going Star Wars crazy at the end of the year in anticipation of Episode VII, it’s more because the gaming contract between Disney and EA gets one of the fundamental principles of how not to make a game based on a movie.
You can forget about straight film plot adaptations for any multiplatform Star Wars game, as Battlefront’s release marks the first title in a 10-year agreement between the film/gaming giants. In fact, you can forget about some of the preconceived notions about what a DICE-forged Battlefront game will consist of, too.
When its existence was first announced at E3 2013, I was concerned more about the prospect of a Battlefront campaign than anything else. Neither Battlefield 3 nor Battlefield 4 had particularly impressive storylines, and the prospect of DICE telling a story in the familiarity of the Star Wars space felt closer to the dread of George Lucas film prequels than the new hope of JJ Abrams-led sequels.
But no-one has to worry about this for Battlefront as DICE has assured us that multiplayer is the core focus. There’s no campaign and the only solo content is in the form of what’s called ‘missions’. DICE didn’t go into too much depth on the single-player stuff, except to say that they’re inspired by events of the film, they have difficulty levels and they can be played in online co-op or splitscreen (if you’re on Xbox One or PlayStation 4).
Speaking of PS4, that’s what the pre-recorded pre-alpha footage was being shown on. Given the level of impressive visual fidelity, it seems that DICE has cracked the usual first-party beauty barrier and forged a title that’s breathtaking, even on consoles. That’s not to say that the new-gen consoles are incapable of producing visually arresting games, it was just a shock to see what looked like proof-of-concept footage of Endor transition into first-person gameplay.
Of the five-odd minutes of gameplay we were shown, it all took place on the familiar forest moon from Return of the Jedi in a mode we later learnt was called Walker Assault. This appears to Battlefront what Conquest Large is to Battlefield: namely, the largest mode on offer in Battlefront, as far as my DICE developer Sigurlina Ingvarsdottie suggested. It caps out at 40 players, which is 24 players shy of Battlefield’s biggest mode, but this won’t necessarily prove to be a problem, depending on how DICE balances it.
For instance, the Endor map, which looked like a gamification of the Rebel assault on the shield generator towards the end of Return of the Jedi, looked less open than the bigger maps in the Battlefield franchise. This isn’t to say it looked like the players were being funnelled, but there were a variety of natural paths that cut through a whole lot of trees, and there was certainly no shortage of stormtroopers foes as the battle raged on… not that you’d expect that in a tightly produced five-minute snippet.
What was of particular interest was the key differences between DICE’s take on Battlefront and what could have been a reskinned experience of the Battlefield formula. First and foremost, DICE is foregoing its old faithful approach to team-based multiplayer with the abolition of classes. Despite the presence of scout trooper snipers, Rebel soldiers with jet packs and at least one type of rocket launcher, these are apparently not part of the usual class types that tend to translate to medic, support, sniper and engineer.
Instead, DICE is encouraging players to play Battlefront their own way by letting them choose weapons and equipment, albeit seemingly at least initially restricted by a progression system (there was a pop-up for a ‘missile launcher’ unlock). There are a few potential hurdles that spring to mind when dealing with a class-less team game that has a mix of vehicles and infantry.
The first is that it encourages people to play selfishly in a team game. The second is that if too many players kit out with certain weapons and/or equipment, it may drastically change how the game plays in a negative way. Say, if an entire team decides to select sniper rifles and camp at spawn. The third is that players who enter the game after the initial ranking influx of early adopters have the potential to be deterred because they have to work their way up to better kit.
This third point has been somewhat anticipated by DICE with the introduction of the ‘partner system’, whereby a player can buddy up with another and share unlocks. It means that if your new-to-Battlefront buddy gets the games two months after you, you can reportedly share your weapons and equipment with them to give them a head start. Similarly, another explicitly mentioned tactic is for higher-ranking players to focus on different unlocks and enjoy the perks of sharing the ones they haven’t focused on with the player that has.
Beyond this sharing, the partner system appears to be a toned-down version of the squad mechanics in the Battlefield series. Partnered players will be able to see each other more clearly (assumedly with a UI indicator) and can spawn on each other.
These new mechanics played second fiddle to the spectacle of the vehicular element of the Battlefront gameplay reveal. It started with a couple of Imperials zipping past on speeder bikes, escalated with the appearance of an AT-ST walker and culminated with a mammoth AT-AT stomping its way down a shallow creek.
Interestingly, the lighter vehicles such as the AT-ST appeared to take damage from the player’s regular blaster (albeit not a significant amount), while a single rocket made short work of the so-called chicken walker. The AT-AT, though, was a seemingly impenetrable beast, as the same rocket launcher that destroyed the AT-ST didn’t even appear to scratch the paint of the lumbering armoured beast.
To solve this dangerous riddle, the player ran over to a handy nearby Relay Station and activated it to call in a Y-wing bombing run that devastated the AT-AT from above. Given the name of the mode, Walker Assault, it’s possible that’s the thing that Imperial troops have to stop the Rebels from reaching to destroy the player-controlled AT-AT.
This didn’t mark the end of the gameplay, though, as two Rebel soldiers made short work of the remaining stormtroopers before rushing into a bunker. Once inside, they encountered Darth Vader who devastated them for a satisfying end to the gameplay footage. His appearance is one instance of the so-called ‘power-up system’ that takes different forms depending on the mode. For some modes, this means the ability to turn into villains such as Darth Vader or Boba Fett for a single-life opportunity at making life easier for your team and racking up a killstreak (something which points were allocated for). Heroes were also mentioned, but none were shown, assumedly because masked bad guys are easier to depict at a first-showing event more so than heroic visages based on real-life people.
In another mode, such as the briefly touched-on dogfight mode for aerial hijinks, this power-up came in the form of the Millennium Falcon. Design director Niklas Fegraeus also mentioned that these power-ups could take the form of other “vehicles, a huge shield [or] massive explosions”. The specifics of how these power-ups are earned or collected was not divulged, nor were any specifics of the aerial mode, which may not even be set in space (atmospheric battles were shown, but nothing in space).
Despite the PS4 presentation, DICE did mention a PC-exclusive feature in the form of Dolby Atmos. The new surround-sound technology that may be installed in a cinema near you, promises sound in a three dimensional space that was briefly demonstrated by way of a speaker configuration that included overhead speakers. Suffice it to say, it added a level of aural immersion that’s on par with what would be expected from DICE’s audio mastery.
The focus of the presentation revolved mostly around familiar locales from the original trilogy, but there was also mention of at least one Sullust-based map created in collaboration with Lucasfilm, alongside an Episode VII prologue of sorts set on Jakku. This is the newly announced planet for The Force Awakens, and was featured at the opening of the second The Force Awakens teaser.
DICE has created a map with the narrative context of explaining how the landscape came to be so battle scarred, which is a neat and organic nod to The Force Awakens film that releases a month after the game. The map itself, called Battle of Jakku, is slated to be available on the 1st of December for pre-ordering people, or on the 8th of December for anyone that buys Battlefront, free of charge.
As a Star Wars nerd, I would have been satisfied with a gameplay reveal that showed a game that looked like the love child of Battlefield and Star Wars. Instead of that, DICE has created a first-look at something that’s set to please both fans of the film and the Battlefront titles of yesteryear. It’s visually beautiful, pitch-perfect in terms of the iconic soundscape, and November can’t jump around fast enough.
Nathan Lawrence can be found fragging n00bs in a variety of digital battlefields, but most commonly the ones from the franchise with a capital ‘B’. He loves games with a strong narrative component, and believes in a gaming world where cutscenes are no longer necessary. In his lack of spare time, Nathan can be found working on a variety of wacky script ideas, and dreams of freeing cinemagoers from unnecessary sequels and pointless remakes by writing films with never-before-seen twists and turns. But mostly he’s all about the fragging of n00bs.