Star Wars Battlefront Beta Impressions
The Star Wars Battlefront Beta has just concluded and reportedly over 9 million people took part. Taylor Jeffrey and yours truly sunk a fair few hours in and decided to give you our impressions on the game, as well as slip in a few tasty gameplay clips. We’ll cover the main aspects but of course if you’ve got questions go ahead and fire away in the comments section…
Walker Assault. So, good or no good?
Taylor: With its big maps and large player counts The Walker Assault mode is being widely compared to the Battlefield games (Battlefield with a Star wars skin is a common accusation). To be honest I had similar thoughts the first few times I played it, and you’ll certainly get a bit of a Conquest vibe initially. By the end though it definitely felt distinct from DICE’s classic shooter franchise and manages to carve out an identity of its own.
So in this 20 vs 20 game mode you play as either the Imperials or the Rebels, with the Imperial side trying to keep the giant mechanical AT-ATs alive until they reach and destroy the Rebels’ base. This is done by stopping the Rebels from activating Uplink spots where they can call in Y-Wing bombers which render the AT-ATs vulnerable to attack (otherwise their armour is impenetrable). Of course, as the Rebels your main focus will be trying to take these beasts down.
Like many I imagine, I initially felt lost and confused while running around playing in the snow whilst spaceships fly above and AT-STs and AT-ATs stomp around blowing up shit. Not to mention the occasional appearance of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. All this takes place on the sprawling, icy surface of the planet Hoth and as you can expect there’s a fair degree of mayhem having thirty-nine other real human players in this playground. Given the size and complexity of the action, I was really impressed with the quality of the connection. The matchmaking was fantastic and I never waited long to find a game and all the lobbies had a healthy amount of players on both sides. If you stayed in the same lobby the game would alternate what side you played on to mix things up. As it stands currently, being on the Imperial side is much easier than the Rebel side so it was probably a good idea to switch these up every match. The Imperials can control powerful AT-ATs and AT-STs that reign lasery death on the Rebels and their objectives are a little easier and in general the Rebels have to fight a bit harder to win.
It was frustrating and exciting all at the same time, but once I had figured out the vehicle/powerup system things started to open up and make sense. You can pick up special weapons and vehicles such as X-Wings, TIE Fighters, AT-STs and AT-ATs on the battlefield and learning the spawns of the more powerful weapons/vehicles becomes important. Wreaking havoc in with the vehicles in particular is awesome fun. Towards the end I definitely got a kick out of controlling the skies in the various fighter planes.
Unfortunately, most of the time other players are simply content to jump in vehicles or find a nice sniping/camping spot and get as many kills as they can without bothering with the objectives. With no in-game chat you’re going to have to get a party together to strategise if you’re interested in actually coordinating an attack or defence. I started off hating the way you had to find the powerups on the battlefield and that you don’t get rewarded for “honest” hard work, but it certainly grew on me. It allows newbies to actually get a go at controlling more powerful weapons and vehicles (even if it is for a very short time) and at the end of the day these still require a bit of skill to fully utilise. All in all it felt fairly balanced, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Walker Assault will play out over different geographies.
Drop Zone. Hot or not?
Kieran: I really didn’t care for the Walker Assault mode as in my opinion it lacked cohesion and made me feel like an insignificant ant in a large-scale battle. However, I had an absolute blast with the Drop Zone mode, and it is currently my favourite part of the Beta by a long shot with a cycler rifle. The premise is simple: Drop pods land in the map and it is up to your team to capture them and defend them while they are being secured. At any point the enemy team can reclaim the pod so it’s never a good idea to rest on your laurels. When the round finishes the team with the most drop pods wins, or the round ends automatically if one team captures five drop pods. Captured drop pods will open and spew powerups like Orbital Strikes (bombards a designated area with deadly laser rain) and Thermal Imploders (big-ass area of effect greandes).
The reason I liked this mode so much is that it has much tighter 8 vs 8 combat that allows individuals to shine, while still encouraging team work. It’s a pity that there is no in-game chat, as it would have been nice to be able to call out enemies or strategies (or trashtalk, it’s psychological warfare too you know). I played a bunch of matches with friends in a party and this definitely enhanced the experience. The pace of the matches can go from calm to frantic in an instant. The only available map in the Beta was a medium-sized volcanic area on Sullust. There are numerous high vantage points and winding ravines to wage war in, and the location of the pods is clever in the defensive and offensive opportunities they provide. My favourite combo was the heavy blaster pistol and jetpack, which allows you to flank or get in close and annihilate the other team at short to medium range. The cycler rifle was also essential for those sweet, sweet long-distance headshots. Unlike Walker Assault, I found that everyone was always playing the objective, and some of the tug-of-war style exchanges at the drop pods were pure adrenaline-fuelled awesome. It’s strange that a game like Battlefront with a developer like DICE ends up tantalising me more with some of its more close-quarters action, but the heart wants what the heart wants.
Dem graphics and dat sound design?
Kieran: The character models are nice but where the game truly shines is in its environments. Star Wars Battlefront features hands-down some of the best environmental rendering I have ever witnessed, approaching a near photorealistic feel in some instances. At a preview event at EB Games Expo recently we were informed that the developers use a 3D high definition photomapping technique to achieve their eerily real textures, but it could also be black magic. The team apparently spent months travelling to exotic locales to take detailed 3D photographs of environments and textures, and the end result in-game is nothing short of stunning. From the glittering ice of Hoth to the rocky canyons of Tatooine the environments pop with eye-melting beauty.
Taylor: Pew Pew Pew! The sounds and visuals make this game and in many ways you truly feel like you are in the actual films. Everything from the classic orchestral score to the frantic dogfights in Tie Fighters and X-Wings all have an unmistakably authentic Star Wars feel to them. The flashy, noisy laser exchanges as the Stormtroopers and Rebels clash is incredible. My hunger for Star Wars is satisfied with just the pew pew pew alone.
Final impressions. What do you want to see more/less of?
Taylor: The beta was just a taste of what’s to come but we were given only a tantalisingly small portion to play. It would have been nice to have a bit more to play around with and the way they had other game modes that said ‘not available in the beta’ was a bit cruel. I’m keen to see more maps and hear more pew pew pew!
I like the buddy system, but considering the size of the game and amount of players there are, they should incorporate a system where you can have more than one buddy at a time. The lack of in-game chat is an incredibly strange decision on EA’s behalf, but the party system is fairly well integrated. It would be better if your party were able to be located on the map and not just your designated buddy. Being able to choose who you want to spawn on in your party would be a nice addition and save some of the running you have to do to find the fight.
Kieran: I want to see just how many environments we get to play around with in the retail version of the game and some more smaller-type modes like Drop Zone. Also, what will the weapon variety be like and how deep is the character customisation? I’m keen to see what the other cards and powerups are and how they affect the battles too because to be honest some of the ones on show were a bit weak sauce. I can see this multiplayer shooter being very addictive, and it will no doubt do quite well when it clashes with the big guns like Call of Duty and Halo.
What I want to see a lot less of is abhorrent DLC practices that lock content behind a paywall. With EA being akin to the Sith Lords themselves my hope is most likely in vain, however maybe they’ll surprise me. Come the November 19th release date Taylor and I will be reviewing the game based solely on the merits of the base game, not on promised locked away content. As it is a multiplayer-only game EA would be unwise to make it too barebones, or risk going the way of Titanfall and Evolve…