Joaby went to Stockholm in Sweden to play the Star Wars Battlefront beta before it goes live this week. Read on to find out what he thought...
The Heroes are probably the reason you're playing a Star Wars game, right? I realise there are some people who love the idea of being a Stormtrooper -- hell, if you've ever seen the 501st Legion in action you can sort of even see the appeal -- but the Heroes are the main attraction. In the beta you'll have access to two heroes -- Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, and both of them absolutely shred.
By holding on the right mouse button you can block blaster fire, meaning everything from AT-ST fire to regular old pew pew pews will bounce back at the firer. Your other abilities are mapped to the number keys on a short cool down, and you can do things like dash forward, throw your lightsaber or force push an enemy down. You're a one hit kill machine while you're wielding a lightsaber, but that doesn't mean you're unstoppable. You lose health over time as you move through the battlefield, but you can regain health by killing enemies -- theoretically you can extend your life significantly by just straight slaying, but this is unlikely.
One of the key things about the heroes is that the powerups to attain them spawn randomly, which means there's an degree of luck involved in even becoming a hero. If you've noticed from the footage -- I only got to play as Darth Vader one time during my entire play session, and it was (of course) during one of the sessions I didn't record. Basically, if you see this icon -- beeline for it.
Another big deal in the beta is the cards system.Instead of classes, like in Battlefield games, Battlefront allows you to put together your own loadout by selecting a 'hand' of cards. The cards are unlocked through leveling up as well as spending in-game space bucks, boiling the system down to something vaguely reminiscent of Call of Duty's system. Certain cards only work in certain slots, but it boils down to three items you can choose from. You can see the options available right here -- the jump pack, a sniper rifle, a personal shield, a grenade, etc.
It's an odd system, to be honest. The ability to wield a sniper rifle and a blaster at the same time gives players the capacity to do significant damage through little skill -- the sniper rifle is an instakill headshot, but to the body it does a staggering 90% damage. This means you can ping someone in the body and then just spray and pray until they drop dead. Typically a player has to choose between the slow one shot weapon or the rapid fire medium damage gun, but thanks to the cycler rifle's existence as a card Battlefront removes that choice.
There's also no separation between the two side's loadouts -- both teams appear to get access to the same weapons and loadouts. It means the only differences between the teams exist either visually or in the asymmetry of the levels themselves.
Another big element you might notice in the game is the existence of matchmaking. Instead of a server browser, which has been in DICE games in some form since Codename Eagle, the only option for getting into a game in Star Wars Battlefront is matchmaking.
You can see it in action -- you select the mode you want to play and you immediately begin to find a server. It was simple enough in our play session, which was a deliberately controlled environment, and teaming up with friends (or at least people sitting nearby) didn't seem to be a hassle. But the simulated environment we played in might not reflect the real world situation -- naturally, that's what a stress test beta is designed to measure.
The beta itself is out in just a few days, and it's open to all comers -- there's no need to sign up for a key or anything, just download it via Origin or on the PSN or Xbox One Store when it's live.
Survival of the Fittest
Survival Mission is a co-op mode for you and a friend which features AI enemies, a disembodied Admiral Ackbar head and up to 50 waves for you to defeat. It's essentially a Horde mode -- you have a set number of lives and you need to kill as many waves of enemies as you can. As you progress through the waves they get more complicated, throwing powered up Stormtroopers at you as well as Chicken Walkers, and possibly more.
It's actually not a bad way to acclimatise yourself with the game -- you earn ranks and credits by completing the mode, which means you can get a few weapons and cards before you jump into the thick of things alongside a bunch of people who have been playing for longer than you.
Think of it more as a tutorial than anything -- you get hands on with a full hand of cards immediately, which you won't have access to for quite some time in the normal game modes. It also teaches you what power-ups look like, and the basic function of the drop pods -- many people didn't realise the drop pods in Drop Zone spit out power-ups, and I only made the connection because I saw it occur in Survival.
You can probably see it right now, but the AI is kinda dumb. Unfortunately the beta appears to lock the difficulty to Normal, which means I wasn't able to really test the limits of the mode -- it also ends at Wave 6, before things start to get really interesting.
One of the more interesting elements in the mode is the collection mechanic. The faint light blue circles you can see in the sky represent collectable items you can grab if you want to keep things interesting -- I'd like to say I'm not showing you their locations to keep it interesting for you, but I actually just couldn't find them all. How embarrassing.
In the beta, the Tatooine Survival Mission is just a taste of things to come. I'd wager they kept it short and sweet to get you into the real meat of the game -- it's a technical stress test, after all, so they probably want people playing the multiplayer modes Drop Zone and Walker Assault.
In the (Drop) Zone
Drop Zone is a twist on King of the Hill -- a Drop Pod full of powerups crashes into the earth, and each team competes to capture and then control the pod for 40 seconds to capture it. Upon capture the Drop Pod spits out powerups and another Pod falls to the ground elsewhere on the map.
I have a soft spot for team-based King of the Hill variants. It's not just that they organically create teamwork, though that is a huge part of it. They also give players an excuse to explore every part of a map, which gives level designers room to create interesting maps full of one way chokepoints, multi-level mini-arenas and long distance kill tunnels.
Sullust is exactly that sort of map, too. The channels of igneous rock create corridors for action while giving wily players the option to explore and find alternate routes to objectives. Dark black overhangs give players somewhere to hide while they recover health, but they only protect you if your enemy is attacking from a certain direction. Snipers can edge all the way around to find an angle on an unsuspecting enemy, but they need to go far out of their way to find such a spot.
The other thing about King of the Hill variants is that they encourage players to take risks, and Drop Zone is perfect for that. The Drop Pod needs to be 'activated' by holding down E for three seconds while you're looking at it, giving bold players the excuse they need to dive in for a cheeky cap at the last second.
Of course, these modes all have issues, and Drop Zone is no different. The art of a solid spawning system is extremely complex, and a series of ever changing objectives increases the complexity significantly. The game needs to balance all sorts of things -- it wants to put you near-ish the action, but not so near as to eliminate the advantage the other team earned by killing you. It wants to put you near teammates, but not so near as to give you a numbers advantage by default. Obviously it doesn't want to telefrag you or anyone else, it doesn't want to spawn you in amongst your enemies, and it needs to do all of this while the 'action' it's trying to put you near is moving every minute or so. So yeah, it does happen that you'll spawn behind people on occasion. I'm not making excuses for it, just giving you a heads up -- it's going to happen.
Power-ups give the successful team an advantage heading to the next drop point, but nothing so significant that their opponents can't come back from it. In fact, if you can force the capping team off their drop pod you can steal the power-ups for yourself -- provided you don't waste too much time getting to the next pod.
Sullust is a great environment for a battlezone, though in the beta it seems to favour the Rebel Alliance a little. It's not a distinct advantage, but the dirty whites of the Stormtroopers' iconic armour stands out against the black rock of the volcanic world. It's very pretty, but it does make them a little easier to find than the brown outfits the Rebels wear.
Overall Drop Zone on Sullust is a tight twist on the King of the Hill concept. The idea of the team score being linked to Drop Pods captured gives the low scoring matches a tense feeling that can be lost when chasing a 'first to 200,000 points' objective. If a Drop Pod is being captured when the 10 minute timer hits zero, the game keeps running, and there's overtime, which makes me think EA might try to pitch this to the eSports crowd. Whether it makes the connection or not remains to be seen.
Walker the Walk
For those of you expecting a Conquest type mode, be forewarned -- that's not Walker Assault. Walker Assault bears far more in common with Rush, the mode DICE introduced with Bad Company. It's an interesting twist on the concept, actually, flipping the dynamic on its head -- while the Imperial army is the team moving forwards, it's actually the Rebel forces who are the aggressors. The secret is in the name -- it's an assault on the two lumbering AT-AT Walkers, not an assault by them.
Because the concept is flipped, progress through the map is tied not to successful completion of the Rush objectives, but instead to time -- the Walkers move ever onwards, and at about 5 minutes each round they will pause while the Rebels get a chance to do as much damage as they can to them. Progress is defined by the two circles at the top of the screen -- the health of the Walkers themselves. If the Walkers are alive when the round ends, the Empire wins. If they both die, the Rebels are victorious. It's pretty simple, but it's interesting nonetheless.
In our time with the game, the Rebels only won once. And not through lack of trying either -- it just so happens that in the build we played, fortune heavily favoured the Empire. They get a buttload of vehicles, from AT-STs to Tie Fighters to the AT-AT itself, and all of them are capable of dealing heavy damage. The AT-AT has access to three weapons, in fact, including an Orbital Strike reminiscent in effectiveness of the old Arty barrages from BF2.
The Rebels, on the other hand, get a pair of X-Wings. It's a challenging first phase, and putting hurt on the AT-ATs can be difficult when you're being wiped out by a near invincible Chicken Walker.
The round we won as Rebels saw me spend nearly my entire round inside an X-Wing or A-Wing -- which the Rebels get access to in the second phase -- focused on killing the AT-STs when they were alive.
Hoth itself is an interesting map. It's quite open, and the natural incline to the mountainside hanger makes it oddly dangerous. The rebels have a slight disadvantage, as their beige overcoats contrast against the snow more than the white Stormtrooper armour.
As you learn the map more you can find cheeky attack avenues. Sneaking in behind the Rebel's spawnpoint and jumping into one of their turrets to kill them as they spawn in is a straight up dog act that I engaged in more than a few times. Hiding in the tunnels which lead to the base can get you an upper hand on the Empire, although you should probably be shooting the AT-AT when it's moving to the next phase and not lying in wait in snow tunnels.
These are all actions that are mitigated by experience -- once you know what to look for you shouldn't get caught out -- but they're fun nonetheless. One thing I found extremely compelling was the way the Walkers create a natural momentum to the match. Being essentially invincible except during specific moments, the AT-ATs provide the Empire with a slowly mobile platform of destruction that the Rebels can't do much about. I never got to try out my theory but I believe you're actually better off taking down one Walker completely and then focusing on the other -- the difference in firepower available to the Empire should be staggering.
Survival Mission and Drop Zone are both part of the Star Wars Battlefront beta, but I'd put heavy money on Walker Assault getting the majority of the play time. It's the only mode with heroes, it has vehicles you can pilot and, let's face it, Hoth is awesome.