Star Wars: Battlefront Beta Review

The Star Wars: Battlefront beta is over, and I want to talk about it. I was sick the weekend it came out, so rather than escaping into the fresh air and golden sunshine, I cowered in blankets with soup and juice and played the game more or less non-stop. I’ll break up the different areas of the game that I think are relevant below, and give a recommendation at the end, so if you just want to know what a stranger thinks you should or shouldn’t spend your money on:

tl;dr – It’s pretty good.

Okay, great. Here we go!

Battles

This is the fun part, right? Where it really matters whether the game delivers. Cool weapons and abilities are good, but if the battles don’t feel right – don’t feel like Star Wars – there’s no point in buying this game. Thankfully, they do a pretty good job.

The smaller battle introduces the player to how the game works. The players fight to an objective, trigger it, and then defend it until a timer runs out. The other side fights back to recover the objective. Neither side has an inherent advantage. It’s basically Battlefield, with a nice coat of Star Wars, but a few differences:

Weapons

The player only gets one weapon. Rebels and Imperials start off with slightly different blasters, but can buy the other side’s and more. The weapons cost points and can only be bought in the pre-game lobby. I preferred the heavy blaster rifle: it has less damage and range than the basic rifles, but its fast rate of fire suits my scattershot aim. I’ve also seen snipers use this gun to pick people (me) off from halfway across the map, so “Range” is more like a polite suggestion than an accurate estimation of its abilities. I even managed the longshot sometimes.

Some more disparity between the weapons would be nice, but overall I don’t have anything to complain about (except that jerk sniping me with a frakkin pistol).

The level also feels organic. A space battle rages overhead, as a Stormtrooper stations himself on a nearby hill to pick off the approaching rebels, but the Rebel infantry uses a jetpack to jump across his field of vision and deliver a thermal detonator to the face. It provides a grander backdrop for the struggle for resources. The players who claim the objectives also get powerups, which make taking the next objective easier.

The powerups

There are two types: star cards and field powerups

Field powerups are more interesting and powerful than star cards (except for the jetpack; that thing is amazing) but also only one use. Some even include a timer, such as the vehicle drops on Hoth. If you don’t use it, you lose it. Scattered in amongst them, at random, are the Hero drops that let you play as Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker.

The player buys star cards like weapons, and equips them before the battle. Cards include thermal detonators, personal shields, jetpacks, and triggered abilities. The grenades and jetpacks are multi-use, and require a cooldown before being used again. The triggered ability (in the beta, just the “Ion Shot”) alter the player’s abilities. The Ion Shot allows your blaster to fire ion instead of laser, which is more effective against vehicles – a key ability on Hoth. Speaking of…

The big battle (20 vs. 20) is Hoth, Echo Base, or “Walker Assault.” If you’re not familiar, follow this link and check out the opening battle of The Empire Strikes Back.

Yeah. Did you feel like the Rebels might be a little desperate in that fight? Well, it translates to the game as well. The game is so slated in favor of the Imperials I thought the Rebels must have to play perfectly in order to win. And they do have to play well, but in my fever dream state I think I won as many games as Rebels as I lost. I certainly lost enough as Imperials.

The difference between this level and the smaller battle is immediately obviously. As the Imperials, you start in the mountains, close to an AT-AT “Walker”, while the other lumbers forward in the valley below. The snow stretches out in front of you, marred by the corpse of a fallen AT-AT. For a few moments everything is quiet as you and the other troopers hustle toward the objective. Then the first laser blasts hit: the Rebels are at the trenches first, and they’re using a turret to mow you down. You duck behind a pathetic ice-rock shelf and spot it: a glowing blue powerup, but this one looks like the Imperial AT-ST. You take it, call it in, and then you’re in the cockpit. Secure in your new power, you march forward, firing lasers and missiles into the Rebel trenches, clearing the way for the troopers to deactivate the Rebel uplink.

Sorry. That was my nerd moment. I’ll try to be objective going forward.

The objectives are deceptively simple: Rebels turn on uplinks to order bomber strikes and destroy the Walkers; Imperials stop the uplinks and protect the Walkers. When the bombers hit, the Rebels have a short window to damage the massive AT-ATs. If they fail to destroy both, Imperials destroy the shield generator and win. If they down both (quite a feat) the Rebels win. The work that goes into taking and holding the uplinks, and then damaging the AT-Ats, however, requires coordination and timing. Miss the chance to damage a Walker and Wisconsin is doomed (bam, topical!). Stop paying attention as an Imperial, and you’ll be picking up the shattered pieces of your metal monstrosity and trying to explain to the galaxy’s worst vice-principal what went wrong.

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He’s very disappointed in your life choices

While the battle feels very Imperial sided, a well-organized Rebel force (or a poorly-run Imperial side) can turn the battle around and make it feel like the Rebels just handed the Empire a whooping. Particularly crucial are the vehicles:

Vehicles

There are two kinds of vehicles: those I can use and those that explode immediately. I’m decent with the ground vehicles. The AT-ST can change a losing fight around quick, and while the AT-AT is sluggish and barely functional, it’s a lot of fun to be in the big beast, raining fire on the scum below.

The air vehicles, however… I tried and failed to learn. I think this highlights the biggest problem with the game. It needs a tutorial or practice mode so I don’t have to learn how to fly a TIE fighter in the middle of a pitched battle. This is true for heroes as well. While I am bad at it, however, some folks can fly like they were born to it, and some of the coolest videos online feature the air vehicles.

That’s a video of the Rebels pulling a last-second win by slamming an A-Wing into the near-crippled AT-AT. There are a ton more like that, and Reddit is full of stories of amazing wins and aerial acrobatics. Using the vehicles and other powerups correctly is the way to win on Walker Assault, and the Rebels have a bit of an advantage there in controlling the skies.

As the battle progresses the Imperials push the Rebels back from their (relatively secure) bunker to an open field that instantly becomes a brutal no-man’s-land. If you buy this game and play Walker Assault, listen: STAY IN THE TRENCHES. A direct assault across the blinding white snowfields will equal a quick trip to the respawn point. And while you sprint-and-die, someone else finds the Vader token, cashes it in, and mows people down with the red lightsaber as the few remaining aircraft crash and burn in the final moments.

Heroes

In the learning curve, heroes are somewhere between ground and air vehicles. I got to use both Luke and Vader, but I found the tokens completely by accident. When I used them, I didn’t really know what to do, and I never found them again. This is part of the mystique of these characters – powerful plays that can completely turn the tide – but if some doofus (me) gets Vader and has to spend a few minutes jogging awkwardly back to the battle, he (whoever he may be) feels less like the Dark Lord of the Sith and more like an unfortunate postman. It’s another reason to allow for practice. Even a bot mode that allows you to learn the layout of the battle as well as hardcore players, would make a big difference.

As it is, too many players spend their time searching for the powerups instead of fighting, or deploying otherwise useful abilities too soon or ineffectively to make room for Vader or Luke. Bot-mode or practice could take the edge off of this craving I’ve got to choke fools with my mind (I didn’t even get to choke anyone as Vader. How’s that for fair?).

Despite these problems, I really like the game. It felt like Star Wars, like an epic science-fiction battle. When a snowspeeder tries to wrap a tow cable around a vulnerable AT-AT and gets shot down, the flaming wreckage can kill you (mostly) –

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– and then stays where it landed for the rest of the battle. By the end, the pristine snow is scorched and littered with burned-out wrecks. That feeling, more than the battles themselves, makes the game great. It feels like I was briefly a part of this universe.

And if you do play the game and happen to see him, KILL Luke Skywalker. He’s killed more good Imperial troops than ten Wookies combined.

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Games I Used to Play: Sid Meier’s Civilization Series

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I thought I was done with gaming when my last desktop quit in 2011 and took away my Morrowind. Lol, little did I know. I’ve got a seven-year-old with an X-Box in my household now, and I’m the only other gamer in the house. Since he needs guidance and occasional help with boss fights, I’ve been spending some time with the video games lately.

Once a gamer, always a gamer, it seems.

I’ve thought for awhile that gaming is an area of pop culture that we aren’t tapping into properly with this blog. I mean really. Gaming ought to do well on any blog that lives primarily on comics, sci-fi, and zombies, right?

The problem up to this point with gaming posts has been the same problem I have with comics. All the games I am familiar with are so old, I can’t count on anyone caring about what I have to say about them. And comics contributors are WAY easier to find than gaming contributors.

I’m playing through some games right now that, if not exactly current, are things people will recognize. I’m not quite ready to start in on those today. Instead, I’ll tell you about some some antics I used to get up to with one of the Civilization games.

The Sid Meier’s Civilization series as a whole has consumed more of my free time than any other franchise in any media. It’s beat out Star Wars and Star Trek, and heck, even Tolkien, for my attention over the past 20 some-odd years. It’s arguably the series that got me hooked on gaming, so seems a good place to start.

The Civ games are turn-based strategy games that give you a high-level view of an entire civilization. You start with a settler, decide where to build your first city, then figure out how many military units and what improvements to build, etc. It’s the first fully-developed “god game” I ever encountered. The only thing that came close in the late 80s and early 90s was Populous, and Civ I made Populous look like computer checkers.

My overall favorite Civ game was Civilization 4, because I feel as though the creators finally got culture, religion, and forms of government right with that one. But the iteration of Civ that I played most (by far) was Civ II. Morrowind is the only game that’s ever even come close to touching the amount of time I’ve spent playing Civ II.

The feature of Civ II that gave it the ultimate replay value, even after I’d figured out how to win any game, on any difficulty, is this. It had a cheat mode which you could easily enable, and which allowed you to manipulate the Civ World in ponderous ways. And I never once used the cheat mode to win a game. I used it to do things to my games AFTER I’d won them. Here’s what I would do.

Set up a game on a pangaea map with as many civilizations as I could crowd in.

Conquer the world so that I ruled ALL the cities, except for one AI city on an island somewhere, which was surrounded by my navy so that I could see every ship coming in, and every ship going out of that city.

  1. Develop my cities and the land around them to the point of absurdity, so that by the 1940s or so, the world was filled with huge cites with solar plants and mass transits and stuff like that, surrounded by farmland and connected by railroads from one side of the world to the other.
  2. Dismantle all my nuclear weapons, collect my final score for the game, and save a copy for posterity, so I could go back later and see what the world looked like before I turned the cheat mode on.
  3. Turn the cheat mode on and take away the all the technologies from the glorious futuristic, world-spanning civilization I’d just built, reducing it to the stone age for the purposes of producing new units and city improvements.

Then I’d give ALL the technologies to the tiny one-city civilization I’d left standing on the island.

Give the one-city civilization a lot of military units, many of which were strategically placed to take the large civilization’s capital and several other cities in such a way as to cut that civilization in half.

Then force them into a state of war.

Of course, the small, well-armed civilization would take the capital of the large civilization and all the cities required to cut in in half. The large civilization’s capital would jump to the side of the line where it had the largest number cities. And then this would happen.

On the side of the line where the large civilization had the smallest number of cities, an ENTIRELY NEW civilization would spawn and break away from the big civ. It would enter the world as a neutral power. Its technology would be roughly halfway between the stone age and the space age, and it always had ten or 12 well-maintained cities, including a few ports.

Where once there was a monolithic hegemon and a one-city civ on an island, there were now three civilizations: A nuclear power with its capital on an island, a large military, and ten or twelve cities on a continent; a large, backward civ with 40 or more starving cities and just enough modern units to garrison them; and a civilization with 20 or so cities and early 20th Century technology.

From there, I’d let it run for days or weeks. I’d set it up so it didn’t pause at the end of the turn. Then switch the monitor off and let the computer run all day while I was at work, or all night while I was sleeping, and check it hours later. I referred to this activity as “ant farming.”

And without fail, this was the outcome.

I always ended up with a war-torn world of two or three powers perpetually at war, with the starvation that accompanies global warming and nuclear fallout reducing the population of the cities by a point or two per turn, until finally all the cities had a population of one, and no one had any units other than garrisons, and no way to produce new ones.

It would sometimes go through a phase where it looked like a 1984-type world for a day or two. But if I let it run long enough without intervening to refresh militaries and such, it always ended the same way.

Post-apocalyptic.

It was a little disturbing, but it was a whole lot of fun.

Weekend Music: Imagine

I was gonna wax eloquent about Queen and other things today. Thank your lucky stars I decided not to inflict that on you, and enjoy the video.

Have a good weekend, and rest assured there’s more to come.

Always more to come with this blog.

Deep thought: Before a thing that hasn’t existed ever before can become real, someone must imagine it. That’s the first step.

Now clap your hands if you believe in fairies.

Hand-clapping on the thread is an approved method of interaction today.

Also good: Finger-snapping, I’ll take finger-snaps all day long. You classroom-managers KNOW what I’m talking about. Mass finger-snapping is one of the most beautiful phenomena in all of creation. It’s quiet and busy at the same time. That is a killer combination.

Keep blogging, people. Just. Keep. Blogging.

Evil is Lurking in this Box!!!

This is flippin’ hilarious, and it has the advantage of only being one minute long. Stupid F’n Posts is the best homegrown YouTube project I’ve seen in a long time, and I’m hoping it catches on. You can find a few more of these videos on their channel.

The narrator-guy is played by my bro’-in-law, who some of you might recall is a filmmaker from New Orleans. He’s about to release a documentary, and I’m sure you’ll get to read all about it here.

Since that video is so short, here’s another!

I told you today’s post would be brief and strange, didn’t I?

Have a fabulous week.