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!
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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) –
– 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.