So we have a new Star Wars trailer and many, many people have tickets to an early showing of The Force Awakens. Exactly a month before the earliest showings of Episode VII, the next chapter in the Star Wars video game franchise will hit shelves.
Both the announcement of J.J. Abrams as director of Episode VII and the appointment of Electronic Arts as the publisher of Star Wars games were met with excitement. While EA did cause a bit of trepidation, the appointment of DICE, BioWare and Visceral, three of EA’s top guns, to develop the games got gamers excited. First up for EA and LucasFilm is DICE with their take on Battlefront. The early results aren’t exactly awe-inspiring.
Let’s start with the positives. This game looks and sounds absolutely spectacular. I ran on a mix of medium and high settings (hooray for NVIDIA optimization) but it still looked really good. There is enough dust and smoke in the air that it looks like a proper futuristic battlefield. I don’t remember this many sparks in the original trilogy. Well, in space battles but not in ground battles. Anyway, I think this looked far better than what I remember Battlefield 4 looking like.
In terms of the sounds, it’s a Star Wars game. All the work on the audio has been done by Ben Burtt (the movies’ sound designer) and John Williams (the movies’ composer). It’s nearly impossible to screw up the sound or music if you’re just reusing assets that those two have developed.
There were three game modes being shown off in the beta. There was the single player and duo Survival mode. On the multiplayer front, you could play the 8v8 Drop Pod or 20v20 Walker Assault.
Survival is horde mode. You’re outnumbered by an increasing number and increasingly difficult opposing AI force. The demo had a six level experience while there will be more waves in the full release that will reportedly include TIE Fighters and Star Destroyers as enemies. It’s a generic horde mode so there isn’t too much to really say about it.
Drop Pod was the game mode I spent the most time in. Two teams of eight battle to capture escape pods that drop to the planet below. What’s in those pods? Three power-ups that players can pick up after the pod is captured. The first team to five pods or the team with the most points scored when time expires (which is when the last pod on the field at the 10-minute mark is captured) wins the round.
The final mode is Walker Assault. The only map available with this is Hoth though I’d imagine we’d see a few more either at release or with the DLC (though the $50 Season Pass price tag scares me). In this mode, the Rebels are tasked with destroying two AT-ATs by capturing two points to call in Y-Wings to disable the AT-ATs shields so the Rebels can damage the walkers. The Imperials have to stop this from happening to win.
There’s one common link between the three modes. They all lean heavily on the capture the point mechanic. Two of the six waves of Survival have a capture the pod objective along with killing all the enemies. Drop Pod is solely capture the point to win. And Walker Assault requires the Rebels to capture the point (and hold it) in order to drop the shields of the AT-ATs.
I know that we aren’t going to get a full taste of the game in an open beta but you’d think that DICE and EA would consider showing us more than just what is effectively one game mode in three different ways. I know that you can’t completely reinvent the wheel with every game but it felt like every game mode of Battlefront was the same. If I want to play capture the point, I can always play Titanfall.
Maybe I’m being a bit unfair to Walker Assault because there is a lot more to work on there than point capturing. The mode is very unbalanced. The Rebels get three tries to down a walker. By the end of the weekend, people on the Rebel side figured out that they need snowspeeders and fighters to do any proper damage to an AT-AT. Even then, I spawned into a game that saw one walker go down and the other take two-thirds damage and the last walker was only barely destroyed in the last kill zone. That was the only time I saw the Rebels win all weekend.
In general, the spawns are terrible. Either you’re spawning way in the middle of nowhere to keep you from getting killed upon spawning which means you have to take your time to orient yourself to the objective or you’re spawning right in the middle of the action. There doesn’t seem to be a happy medium. Unless you’re spawning on your partner, you’re likely not going to be happy with where you start.
Unusually for a beta, I didn’t have too many instances of bad lag. My cousin was in the Xbox One beta and was complaining about a lot of lag on his end. I don’t know what his network setup is so it could either be him or the servers so I won’t draw a conclusion. Granted, a ping of zero wouldn’t have helped him.
Team balancing needs some work but that could just be down to the fact that the game is in beta and there is a limited player base. As a result, I could get a feel for how short matches would be within the first few minutes. It wasn’t unusual for Drop Pod to be a drubbing for one team while I’ve already mentioned the balance issues with Walker Assault.
I found the objective markers to be a pain. Every time an objective became active or had a change in status, the game would alert you by moving the marker to the middle of the screen, telling you there was a change and moving it back to guide you to it. Basically, for three seconds, the game would basically actively prevent you from participating in the objective because you can’t find it. There’s a whole big screen and empty space and audio cues that can be used to achieve the same effect.
The major problem I had was in the end of match menu and scoreboard. I found that this would absolutely cripple my rig. I was running a fairly smooth 60 FPS on high settings but the scoreboard and menus would drop me to a lovely 0 FPS for an extended period of time while all the fans in my PC spun so fast that I thought the tower would take flight. A little optimization work is still needed, obviously.
And fans of DICE’s Battlefield games are going to be quite miffed that there aren’t dedicated community servers available for Battlefront. All the multiplayer servers will be run by EA which shouldn’t be a problem now. In a few years, who says that EA will still have active servers for you to play on?
As expected for a beta, there are a lot of modes that aren’t being shown off as part of testing.
From a single-player perspective, there is a much-needed training mode that isn’t available until launch. I’m not sure what it is but you can play the PVP or versus AI Battles mode. And the beta had Survival on Tatooine but it will also be on Sullust, Endor and Hoth. On the multiplayer side, missing from the beta were Supremacy, Fighter Squadron, Blast, Cargo and Droid Run. I have no idea what those could be but maybe they aren’t capture the point.
I think the biggest strength of Battlefront is that it isn’t what LucasArts was pushing out at the end. It isn’t repetitive hack-and-slashers or crappy motion-controlled games or simple mobile games. If Star Wars: 1313 had actually been released, maybe things would be different in the world of Star Wars games. Instead, Battlefront’s biggest strength is that it’s the closest thing that Star Wars has had to a triple-A gaming experience since Jedi Academy.
I know that it’s only a beta but it’s like we’ve seen a vertical slice of a vertical slice. We know the point capture mechanics work. Guns shoot and kill people just like you remember in the movies. Sure, there are plenty of gamified elements but it is a video game. What game elements there are beyond just capture the point, we’ll find out in November. Until then, I think I’m waiting for an Origin sale.
Star Wars: Battlefront’s open beta was reviewed on Windows PC but was also available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The game’s full release is scheduled for November 17th. The impressions of this game do not necessarily represent the state of the game at release. Your impressions of the game may differ based on platform played on, PC specs, and what you consider the definitive Star Wars gaming experience.