Star Wars Battlefront Beta Impressions: The Force is Strong with this One
When Star Wars Battlefront was first announced at E3 and it was made abundantly clear that DICE was making it, my mind immediately imagined Star Wars-flavored Battlefield – which for me, as a huge Star Wars and Battlefield fan, sounded amazing. I spent some time with the Battlefront Beta over the past few days and what I experienced wasn’t quite what I had imagined. Keep in mind that this was a beta and the following may not be what we see in the final product, so keep an eye out for the review of the game when it is released.
First and foremost, this isn’t exactly the same ol’ Battlefield with a tacked-on Star Wars skin, though you wouldn’t know by looking at it. The game feels more like a blend of 1 part classic Star Wars Battlefront and 2 parts Battlefield 3/4. In broad terms, you’ve got the huge multiplayer maps, meta-game advancements, unlock system and combat of the Battlefield games mixed with the gameplay of the classic Star Wars Battlefront games.
The beta included only two game modes, each with their own map: Walker Assault, set on Hoth and Drop Zone taking place on Tatooine. Drop Zone was an 8v8 infantry-only skirmish where the goal was to capture and defend escape pods that fell from the sky. The team that captured the most escape pods within a certain time limit wins. The mode seemed somewhat dull at first and really highlighted the limitations of the new movement scheme (more on that shortly) as I constantly found myself trying to climb up rocky outcrops and ledges that seemed scalable but weren’t. However as I unlocked more weapons and abilities, this became less of an issue and the game mode provided some great matches.
Walker Assault on the other hand, was where the real Battlefront/Battlefield philosophy came to light. The game mode replicated the battle on Hoth from Empire Strikes Back, with one team playing as the Empire assaulting the rebel base and the other team playing as the rebels trying to take down the four-legged, lumbering AT-AT’s before they could destroy the rebel shield generators. This mode featured 20v20 gameplay on a gigantic map and most importantly, had plenty of vehicles to goof around with.
In terms of objectives, the rebels were tasked with capturing radio stations, which if defended for a period of time, would call in a Y-Wing to bomb the AT-AT’s, dropping their shields and making them susceptible to weapon fire for a short time. If the rebels were close to being defeated, the Snow Speeder vehicle would become available and the tow cable could be used to trip up the AT-AT’s, sending them crashing into the ground. Playing as an infantry unit running through the snow trenches with the gigantic AT-AT’s looming ever closer and just trying to stay alive as lasers whizzed passed and ships crashed all around was exhilarating.
The goal of the Empire was simply to destroy the rebels and to stop the Y-wings from being called in. AT-ST’s could be deployed to lay waste to rebel infantry and turrets, Tie-Fighters could be used to take down rebel A-Wings or crashed straight into enemies if you so desired and infantry stormed the trenches to do whatever the hell they wanted.
Playing on both sides was a ton of fun and provided unique gameplay opportunities. The interesting and original objective-based game mode was a fun experience that felt fresh compared to the tiresome ticket system of Battlefield. However, I did note that the Empire seemed to win a lot more than the rebels, which could make this game mode a bit dry in the long run.
Just like Battlefield, all your actions reward XP, which goes towards your overall meta-game rank. Ranking up unlocks equipment and perks that can be purchased with credits, which are rewarded for finishing matches etc. You have three slots to equip whatever perks/equipment you so desire. Important to note is that side-arms and grenades take up an equipment slot, which means you can disregard these for something else like a jetpack or electric bullets, but overall just makes you feel a lot more limited and restricted in terms of combat potential.
After playing for a brief time, the most notable difference between this game and the Battlefield series is the feel of the infantry control, which is most likely where you will be spending the majority of your time. In particular, the movement feels like a slower, less agile version of Battlefield. There’s no prone, no diving, no parachutes and no mantling. You can still sprint and crouch, but even that feels a bit more sluggish than the standard that Battlefield has set. Eventually jet-packs (and I would assume other mobility devices) can be unlocked which offset some of this sluggish-ness, but as a long-time Battlefield player, it was quite pervasive. Couple this with the aforementioned limited load-out potential and playing as infantry ends up feeling a lot more limited than it should be.
On the plus side, controlling the few vehicles and turrets that I encountered felt great. Tie-Fighters and other ships control like jets from Battlefield with their own unique feel and abilities. Tie-fighters had a missile and a boost equipped by default, however I didn’t get a sense of whether these abilities were something that could be upgraded or swapped-out with unlocks, but I imagine that they would be.
On the other hand, the way you get into these vehicles is somewhat baffling. As an infantry unit, you must search around your spawn point for a token representing an available vehicle, which actually might not be anywhere near your spawn point and may be 100m away. You must then equip and activate this token, which takes about two seconds and makes you vulnerable in the process. You then relinquish control of your character, the screen wipes to a vehicle making it’s way to the battlefield and you are eventually given control over the vehicle.
I can’t think of a good reason to use a system like this for selecting available vehicles instead of the system established in the Battlefield games of picking a vehicle from the same screen you pick your spawn point from. Perhaps it’s because there is no spawn point selection screen in this game - you just spawn in the middle of the fray willy-nilly. Which also begs the question of why this design choice was decided upon too.
One player from the Rebels and Empire could also play as Luke and Darth Vader respectively at certain periods during the match. I didn’t get a chance to try either of these out, but they looked unimpressive. They didn’t seem to be exceptionally strong or powerful, but they are very distinctive on the battlefield and seemed to soak up a lot of damage.
Visually, the game looks great. The developers really nailed the ‘classic’ Star Wars look in a way that I really dig. Vehicles, characters and weapons all look just like they did in the movies and the environments have been well designed and detailed to give an authentic look.
The sound design in the game is also really top-notch. The tie-fighters have that distinct horrifying, high-pitched roar, the many different lasers all have their own sound effects and the explosions of the orbital strikes in particular have distinct, bassy impacts that go a long way in adding to the immersion of the game.
A few more quick things worth noting: You can’t change your load out mid-match, which is frustrating to say the least. There are active challenges to complete a la Battlefield Battlelog challenges, such as ‘get 15 Tie-Fighter kills’, which reward XP and credits. But the most noteworthy detail is that my experience with this beta was shockingly stable and bug-free, which should be a very good sign for those of us that were around to remember the last few DICE game launches.
Overall, I think I was expecting a lot more Battlefield than classic Battlefront from DICE’s Star Wars Battlefront, yet my experience was still wholly positive. I am still excited for the full release, as Battlefront appears to have the potential to be a great online experience, yet from the issues I’ve noticed I’m uncertain if the overall gameplay design is something that will keep me and other players interested in the long run.