EA provided AusGamers with flights and accommodation for the Star Wars Battlefront review event
It seems that DICE was destined to create a Star Wars Battlefront game. If you know the history, you should be able to appreciate the relationship that DICE has had, indirectly, with the Battlefront franchise. Before Pandemic Studios created the original Star Wars Battlefront in 2004, there was the Star Wars themed Galactic Conquest mod for DICE’s first foray into its ongoing franchise, Battlefield 1942.
One could speculate that this mod was the proving grounds for a Star Wars game that closely followed the Battlefield formula, but what’s certain is the original Battlefront game played a lot like Battlefield: Star Wars. Fast-forward to today and DICE is releasing a Star Wars Battlefront reboot, just in time for the fervent countdown to the rebirth of the Star Wars franchise on the big screen with The Force Awakens.
It’s ironic, really. Not just because the original champions of the epic-scale vehicles + infantry formula are now the custodians of the Battlefront franchise, but because there’s been an outcry from certain circles of fans as to what DICE’s Battlefront should be. Before playing it, some fans dismissed it as Star Wars Battlefield; after having a taste of the recent beta, others criticised the accessibility and wished it was more like Battlefield in space.
Nerf herder if you do; nerf herder if you don’t.
If you’re one of those people seeking a Battlefield game set in the Star Wars universe, this is not the game you’re looking for. Battlefront is absolutely more accessible than DICE’s Battlefield series, but the developer hasn’t tried to shy away from this reality at any point of the game’s development. For me, it wouldn’t be fair to judge Battlefront in comparison to Battlefield, because while it is a DICE game, it’s definitely not a Battlefield game, unless you’re oversimplifying to the point of mootness.
Battlefield Hardline was hamstrung by its need to hit certain beats to justify the first part of its title, but DICE has been careful to differentiate its design intentions for Star Wars Battlefront away from the expectations of the Battlefield fan base. And that’s coming from someone who’s sunk thousands of hours into the Battlefield franchise.
In fact, the easiest comparison to make between Battlefront and Battlefield is that both titles really shouldn’t be purchased for their single-player components. This is a tad trickier with a Star Wars title, as I imagine there are more than a handful of fans of the iconic IP who will want to play DICE’s faithfully recreated title that’s inspired by the original trilogy, but won’t necessarily want to jump online.
In terms of solo content, there are six rudimentary training missions, four Survival Missions (one on each of the four planets), and two types of Battles: as regular infantry or as a hero/villain. On new-gen consoles, all of these can be played in splitscreen mode, with training and Survival dedicated co-op spaces, while Battles are adversarial. There’s also online play, with the same two-player limit, available on PS4, XBO and PC.
This is the first loose introduction to Battlefront’s Partner system in that you can only select one other player as a partner. This is the easiest way to join each other for the co-op content, but it’s also the way to follow a single friend into multiplayer. Considering there’s no in-game VOIP, new-gen players are reliant on their respective party chat systems to communicate, while PC players will have to coordinate on pre-organised VOIP software.
I’m of two minds about this. On one hand, the lack of VOIP has forced DICE to take a more proactive approach to UI notifications, and it’s certainly a whole lot clearer as to what you have to do when compared to the beta. On the other hand, while I’m not a player who’s overly vocal on public VOIP, I do appreciate being able to offer feedback, or being told when I might have missed something in a team mode.
For those who find this to be a particularly significant con, let DICE know: I chatted with design director Niklas Fegraeus at the review event, and he mentioned that DICE would consider including it if there was enough demand from the community.
All of the multiplayer modes in Star Wars Battlefront are relatively straightforward, though. What surprised me, is how much I enjoyed playing the smaller modes. As a Battlefield fan who initially balked at the ‘limited’ 40-player cap in Battlefront (compared to Battlefield’s 64), I honestly wasn’t expecting to enjoy the smaller-player modes outside of the 40-player Supremacy, and Walker Assault.
In fact, the smaller modes are a great place to start earning credits, ranking up and getting a feel for the core infantry combat. DICE has changed the weapon balancing since the beta, to the point where it’s even included recoil on weapons. The recoil isn’t anything like you’d expect from Battlefield weapons, but it’s enough to ensure that simply holding down fire doesn’t guarantee a kill.
That said, the emphasis here is very much on forward momentum, with no visible punishment to accuracy for running and gunning, no need to aim down sights, and crouching isn’t required for decent longer-range accuracy. If you’re an aggressive player like me, your run-and-gun tactics will feel incredibly rewarded in Battlefront. That said, the 11-strong primary blasters still have enough diversity to offer something for different play styles.
Snipers are mostly relegated to being reliant on unlockable Star Cards, albeit the deadly Cycler Rifle from the beta can’t be unlocked until rank 28. Even the jetpack isn’t immediately accessible, sitting instead as a rank 13 unlock but, thankfully, the anti-weapon items come much earlier in the progression.
This is essential because of the asymmetrical nature of the bigger modes, wherein Imperials enjoy vehicular dominance and Rebels are reliant on anti-vehicle Cards, as the outgunned insurgents have access to no ground vehicles. This means that adept Rebel pilots play a crucial role in the 40-player modes, but considering the Imperial forces also have access to starfighter options on these maps, they’ll have to split their time between aerial threats and clearing up walkers for their allies.
While there’s no twist on Battlefront’s team deathmatch mode, Blast, other multiplayer modes fare better in terms of offering something slightly different on tried and proved formulas. Droid Run, for instance, is multi-point control, except that the ‘control points’ are GNK Power Droids that patrol an area, which makes protecting them a tad trickier than immobile zones.
Similarly, Cargo buys into the capture-the-flag idea, but cargo can be lifted from the enemy base at any point, regardless of whether an enemy runner is out in the wild with your team’s cargo. Caps take a tug-of-war format, in that successfully capping cargo adds one point to your team and deducts one from the opposing team. With well-balanced sides, this mode is particularly intense.
Heroes vs Villains mode pits Battlefront’s three hero choices and three villain choices against each other, with a handful of underpowered regular soldiers. Who plays which hero/villain is randomly determined at the start of each round, and the first side to eliminate all other heroes/villains wins. This is a great place to learn the ropes of playing as a hero/villain character, as they all have distinct strengths and susceptibilities.
I was expecting Han Solo and Leia Organa to feel quite weak next to the obvious power of Luke Skywalker, and the villainous counterparts found in Boba Fett, Darth Vader, and Emperor Palpatine. Leia is the only hero who has more of a support role, but is still satisfying to play on your lonesome, while Palpatine was probably my favourite, with his ability to cover great distances, recharge health (for him or friendly villains) and string together lightning strikes.
I used him effectively in Hero Hunt mode, where seven regular troops have to take on a single hero or villain character. This mode is a lot of fun on paper, but it falls short for a couple of reasons. First, the hero/villain player is randomly selected, which can give one player a huge lead early on if they know how to use their hero/villain properly. It’d be much better if the players had to fight it out as regular soldiers first to determine who got to play the overpowered character.
Second, the player who scores the last hit on the hero/villain character becomes the hero/villain. In my opinion, it’d be fairer to have the player who did the most damage to the hero/villain become them, instead of the one who gets in the last shot.
This is uncharacteristically at ends with how DICE usually handles points in its games, which generally rewards players who play objective (in this instance, dishing out the most damage on a hero/villain) more so than the player who scores the final shot and is rewarded.
The main other smaller mode of interest in Battlefront is Fighter Squadron, purely because it’s the only mode that guarantees aerial hijinks without having to rely on being the first to nab a pick-up. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s also a bit odd. DICE has elected to make it 10v10, but to stop the skies from feeling bare, it’s also added 10 AI starfighters per side.
The addition of the AI pilots does help to make it feel like a target-rich environment, but they’re also a frustrating distraction from dogfighting with enemy pilots. It doesn’t help that the AI isn’t particularly bright -- a theme that persists in solo play, even on higher difficulties -- which is a particularly frustrating thing considering that the idea of 40 players duking it out in the skies is my idea of fulfilling Battlefront’s oft-touted marketing phrase: “Star Wars battle fantasy”.
On top of this, there are only two pre-configured fighters per side, with one hero/villain ship pick-up apiece, to boot. The asymmetrical motif continues here, with Rebels favouring shields and heavier armaments over the Imperial preference for faster movement and greater manoeuvrability. Despite simplistic controls, the fighters are a hell of a lot of fun to fly, while Slave I (for Imperials) and the Millennium Falcon (for Rebels) are both incredibly powerful ships that wreak havoc with the right pilot. Jump into first-person perspective for examples of DICE’s attention to digital recreation but, practically speaking, third-person is the best way to fly.
The chances are good, though, that most of your time will be spent in the 40-player Supremacy and/or Walker Assault modes. Supremacy is clearly inspired by Battlefield’s Conquest mode, but the tug-of-war notion carries over from Cargo mode in that points have to be capped or defending in a particular order. Cap a point from the middle onwards, and the map extends into the enemy’s defensive lines.
On top of the regular infantry shooutouts, there’s also hero/villain pick-ups, walkers, turrets and starfighters, which makes for hectic battles and heaps of fun. Walker Assault is really where Battlefront shines brightest, though. By design, the Rebels are on the back foot, forced to capture and hold specific points and then attack AT-AT walkers when they’re vulnerable, as the Empire seemingly enjoys an unfair advantage.
Yet, despite the vehicular dominance of the Empire and its rolling-defensive advantage (those AT-AT walkers’ weapons can be controlled by players), it still feels incredibly well balanced, even more so after DICE has clearly applied timely feedback from the recent beta. The biggest disappointment of Walker Assault, though, is that the best map (on Endor) -- which ditches air support in lieu of a frantic ground battle (with speeder bikes) -- is less fun to play as the Empire, specifically because you spawn so far away from the action.
This isn’t a noticeable problem in the three other maps, but fingers crossed DICE makes it a little less running-without-gunning for Imperial troops, particularly given how easy it is for Rebel soldiers to hide (and partially camouflage) in the shrubbery of Endor. Outside of this gripe, Walker Assault truly is the mode that makes you feel as though you’re involved in an epic battle between the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire.
While Return of the Jedi had to rely on (admittedly fantastic) editing transitions between dogfights, ground combat and a spine-chilling lightsaber duel, Supremacy and Walker Assault modes let you have the best of all of that epic Star Wars action in a single round. Visually, Battlefront looks like you’re playing the original trilogy, while the soundscape combines faithfully transitioned Star Wars audio with iconic John Williams soundtrack for the pitch-perfect ocular and aural union in an undeniably faithful digitisation.
Star Wars Battlefront might not be terribly considerate of solo players and its by-design accessibility might deter DICE’s hardcore Battlefield fans, but there’s no denying the multiplayer is a hell of a lot of fun, and as far as creating the feeling of being part of a Star Wars movie, it doesn’t get any better than this.