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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The Great and Powerful Blogging A to Z in April Theme Reveal . . . It’s a #GeekPastiche!

Aside

We have Diana to thank for this theme. I started planning in October for an A to Z Challenge with 12 contributors. It worked. The way we did it was I picked a few topics we write about often, invited some of my geeky friends to take those topics, and once we had enough of them nailed down to be sure we could do this, I invited the other contributors to take the letters that were left.

atoz-theme-reveal-2015Once the topics were in, I set about reverse-engineering a theme. Then I asked the group privately what they thought of it, and we had a conversation. The original theme I came up with was “Pop Culture Potpourri,” but my beautiful sister, who happens to be one of Stormy’s Sideckicks, dropped this line on the thread:

It’s a Geek Pastiche!

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Sophie Turner, Elle Fanning, and 2 Female-Centric Mary Shelley Biopics, Oh My!

Mary Shelley by Richard Rothwell, 1840

Mary Shelley by Richard Rothwell, 1840

My nerd-heart is absolutely leaping up and down right now. Mary Shelley has long been a favorite of mine—not least because she penned Frankenstein, one of the most enduring pieces of monster literature and a cornerstone of the Gothic horror genre. She’s also just a fascinating woman. And this year, we’ll get not one, but two Mary Shelley films, one that focuses on the writing and publication of Frankenstein and another on her relationship with husband Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Elle Fanning in Maleficent, 2014

Elle Fanning in Maleficent, 2014

The first of the Shelley films due out this year stars Elle Fanning and will be titled A Storm in the Stars. The biopic is intended to show the relationship between Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley, including its tempestuous beginning. Haiffa Al Mansour, (Wadja) the first female Saudi Arabian director, will direct a script written by Emma Jensen.

Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark, 2014

Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark, 2014

And just announced is Sophie Turner’s (HBO Game of Thrones, Sansa Stark) involvement in another Mary Shelley project. She has just been cast as writer Mary Shelley in Mary Shelley’s Monster. The film will be directed by Coky Giedroyc; her work includes American Horror Story and Penny Dreadful. (Yes, we’re getting one of our PD directors on this film—horray!) Mary Shelley’s Monster was written by Deborah Baxton. It tackles a Faustian tale of Mary’s monster alter-ego as she writes Frankenstein. Taissa Farmiga (American Horror Story) is set to play Claire alongside Jeremy Irvine (War Horse) as Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie, 1797

Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie, 1797

Mary Shelley is the daughter of feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, who penned A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, a pivotal early text of the feminist movement. But Mary Shelley didn’t know her mother—she died in 1797, less than 2 weeks after giving birth to Shelley. And the legacy that Wollstonecraft left behind was a complex one–she was both celebrated and condemned for her promiscuity, for her ideas about femininity, and for her genius.  Shelley’s father was William Godwin, a mostly-political writer with anarchist philosophies. Left to care for Shelley and her sister, Fanny Imlay (Wollstonecraft’s daughter from an affair), William began searching for a wife. In the meantime, he took great interest in Mary’s education, and so her early childhood education was well supervised. He remarried in 1801; Mary’s stepmother didn’t seem to like her much: her stepbrother, Charles, and stepsister, Jane (who later changed her name to Claire), were formally educated while Mary was left at home; Mary’s access to her father was limited; and Mary’s mail was often opened by the new Mrs. Godwin.

William Godwin by James Northcote, 1804

William Godwin by James Northcote, 1804

Despite her lack of formal education, Mary Shelley listened to such thinkers and writers as Charles Lamb, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and William Wordsworth, friends of her father’s, when they visited her home. They were often interested in her, the product of two such forward intellectuals. She also had access to her father’s rather extensive library. Mary grew up reading, and early on she turned to writing, too. At the age of 10, she had a children’s story published by her father’s company, a children’s book company that was the family’s livelihood when Godwin’s books didn’t sell well.

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Percy Bysshe Shelley by Alfred Clint (1819)

In 1812, Mary met Percy Bysshe Shelley and his then-wife, Harriet Westbrook Shelley. Over the course of many evenings dining with the Godwins and talking with Mary, Percy and Mary fell in love. It was only after his attempted suicide in 1814 that Mary was truly convinced of this, though, and she and Claire fled with him to France shortly after. In 1816, Claire had an affair with George Gordon, Lord Byron, and it was during a visit to his home that Mary Shelley came up with the inklings of what would become Frankenstein. One evening, the group was driven inside by rain, and they began reading ghost stories. That night, as a sort of game, they were all supposed to write their own horror tale. Mary’s was to be the beginning of her novel. She was 19. And the world was never to be quite the same.

frankenstein-2

Dunk and Egg Go Graphic

targaryanwallpaper

by Jeremy DeFatta

Here’s a quick treat for my fellow Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones fans.

Are you familiar with Martin’s Dunk and Egg novellas that are set a century before the beginning of A Game of Thrones? They’re good reads, and Amazon is releasing each of them in comic form. Whether or not you’re familiar with them, this could be a good way to expose (or re-expose) yourself to more stories set in Westeros.

The Hedge Knight (a re-release of an earlier version by Marvel) and The Sworn Sword are already available. The graphic versions of the other novellas will be forthcoming.

Now the controversy:

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