By Terry Randolph
Taking on the revival of a major franchise is daunting; from the already established fanbase, to the desire to bring more fans to the franchise by making things “more accessible”, to living up to standard set in days of yore, there’s already a lot of pressure just in announcing the project. During the development cycle, any detail revealed is instantly revered or criticized. From a developer’s perspective, I wonder if they’re constantly worrying they’ll produce something “worthy” of the franchise, however that can be measured. Especially with one as storied and revered as Star Wars, whose legacy spans almost 40 years of multimedia franchise properties from the first movie to a major part of Disneyland.
When DICE announced they were working on reviving Star Wars: Battlefront for the new generation of consoles, I was both trepid and excited. Honestly, the last few games of the Battlefield franchise hadn’t wowed me (Battlefield: Hardline, for example, made me feel like the franchise needed a break), and knowing that’s pretty much what DICE is always working on, I wondered if their take on Battlefront would be more like Battlefield and less like the the previous Battlefront iterations. Part of me also considered the possibility that change could be good, or it could be bad. If I was worried about that as a fan, I wondered if DICE felt the pressure twice as much.
After many months of development, the Beta dropped last weekend for public testing. Initially, I wanted to say this is what Battlefront needed to become relevant. The game feels familiarly fresh in a sense that it’s got the best of both Battlefield and Battlefront. Multiplayer modes feel distinct in the scope of scale of the battles, which creates a nice diversity that adds replayability. The leveling up system, unlockables, etc. scream Battlefield, but aesthetically scream Star Wars. Part of me feels like this is a perfect match made in heaven.
A week later, after giving it a lot of thought, I’m still in the camp of being excited for this game. However, that doesn’t come without caveats of hesitation or slight worry. While the beta for the most part was a smooth online experience, I’m afraid that the appetizer fans were given might be slightly misleading. Why? Because given the franchise’s penchant for setting the bar for high expectations and disappointing gameplay, I’m just not ready to say DICE has my worries abated.
Context aside, and looking at this from a objective viewpoint, the Beta was truly impressive and exciting. If this is how Star Wars: Battlefront is going to be, buckle up friends: it’s going to be one hell of a ride.
I sense Promise in the Product
Again, it’s a beta, but if it’s anything to go off of, Battlefront is going to look amazing. Visually speaking, everything feels faithfully recreated. The planet Hoth looks beautiful in its pristine white blankets of snow. The wreckage of ships, craters on the ground from grenades and blasts, and rock help to immerse players in a battle that’s already started. Seeing the AT-ATs carefully crafted in meticulous detail, and even the AT-STs, is fantastic. From the sound of their movements, to the jittery, awkward steps they take, it’s obvious DICE paid close attention to capturing the tiniest details Star Wars fans will love.
One major takeaway from the experience with the Beta is just how good Battlefront looks. Visually speaking, everything not only feels faithfully recreated, but lovingly detailed. Hoth is beautiful in its mixture of wreckage and white; the blankets of snow juxtaposed with the wreckage of broken ships and jagged rocks provide an perfect atmospheric blend of beautiful intensity. Seeing AT-ATs and AT-STs walking around me either as a rebel or imperial trooper left me awestruck like when I’d first seen The Empire Strikes Back as a kid with my dad. Their awkward looking walk, to the many lines along the hulls of these behemoths provide an immersive experience into the world of Star Wars. The same can be said of Sullust, with the war-torn landscape and brown, earthy level design complementing one another. It all comes together cohesively.
If that isn’t enough to get players excited, the sound design keeps up with the visuals. From the sound of the blasters, to the flying X and Y-wings, to the “whirr” of the lightsabers, it’s as if DICE is reassuringly telling fans they know what they’re doing. It’s easy to say that DICE definitely is doing everything it can to make this an authentic experience from a design perspective.
Familiar and New, Does Gameplay Feel
Gameplay-wise, Battlefront delivers so much on the multiplayer experience…but the single player is going to be the make-or-break. Here’s why:
The multiplayer game modes are each distinct, exciting, and fun. All of them provide a unique, different experience that’s boosted by excellent level designs. Each level feels uniquely designed to match the game mode they’re part of. For example, Hoth feels like the perfect balance between being very open and claustrophobic for the game mode Walker Assault. That’s because not only are there close combat fights between Rebel and Imperial soldiers, there are also giant AT-ATs and AT-STs to go to battle against. The matches, while much longer, provided battles that varied in scope but matched the intensity of each objective.
Whereas with Sullust in Drop Zone, the map is much smaller and creates a lot of more close-quarters, team fighting. Not to mention, the maps were made with little to no favoritism to any type of gameplay styles. Snipers had a few good spots, but could be easily picked off in blindspots. Full-on assaults often ended up leaving both teams badly beaten as a result. Overall, the maps do a good job of trying to reiterate the importance of teamwork and strategy; there doesn’t have to be a hero to win the game.
However, there was one thing that seemed to be noticeable to me that I’m not sure was intended or not; most matches were won by the Imperial Army. As a Rebel, I found my battles feeling like I had to overcome insurmountable hurdles to win. Some may find this frustrating, but for some reason I found this refreshing. To some extent, it made the experience more immersive; was this how the rebels felt when fighting on Hoth? Did it seem like there was reason to already hear the horns of defeat, only to eek out a victory through determination? I know that for the battles my fellow Rebels and I did win, there was a sense of accomplishment having won the battle.
Not to mention, the elements of Battlefield in the game blend well within Battlefront even if they’re pretty obvious. From how EXP is rewarded, to the leveling up system and how unlockables work, it’s every bit of what DICE has set as their standard. Even the ranking system, while different in terms of aesthetics, feels very familiar. The perks, just like the level design, are crafted carefully to create depth and strategy to gameplay style: each have a solid strength and damaging weakness to them. The long range blaster perk, for example, allows you to shoot at a far distance and dish out heavy damage. At the same time, the cool down time and distance are both limiting in how much players can use it. It forces players to pick their shots carefully.
Overall, it creates something I never thought I’d experience from a multiplayer game; balance. Compound this with the Star Wars: Battlefront aesthetic, and it comes together as a refreshingly different multiplayer experience. This contrasting dynamic gives a Battlefront experience I didn’t know I wanted.
In fact, that’s the amazing thing about Battlefront; it’s an experience I wasn’t expecting at all.
Uncertainty there is.
Admittedly, I am still remaining cautious. Just like Ubisoft, DICE has always been good at building up marketing and PR…but not able to deliver on the expectations. Battlefield 4 was supposed to be able to rival Call of Duty: Ghosts and fell short for many people (myself included). The very limited taste of multiplayer fans got to try through this beta seem promising, but in terms of the whole product there are still plenty of questions left.
The other issue I have with the game is the lack of a true single player experience and the longevity of the multiplayer. After all, the population of multiplayer games spike rapidly with new games coming out that provide new multiplayer experiences. There are also the well-established multiplayer behemoths that will be either coming out along side the game or within a year of its release: Halo 5: Guardians and Call of Duty: Black Ops 3. How big will the initial multiplayer population be and how long will it be sustained? Those are questions DICE can’t answer, but are hoping will be enough to sustain the game. Not having a single player campaign really puts the pressure on delivering a solid, addictive multiplayer experience that will keep people hooked. While I enjoyed the beta, I’m not sure how long the game will last.
Finally, even more frustrating is the Season Pass model this game is going with and the price for it. I’ve always had an issue with the DLC model because most of the time it leaves an impression that the game is missing content that should be on there to gain extra profit. Might be true, might not be true…either way, asking for $50 is a bit of a steep cut for a game that’s already going to cost $65 as is.
Depending on how players want to perceive it, the Beta left a promising impression on me. Gameplay feels fun, refreshing, and exciting. The look of the game looks not only painfully recreated faithfully to the Star Wars franchise, but done so out of love and respect for it. Excellent visual, audio and level design blend almost perfectly with the mixture of Battlefield/Battlefront gameplay. DICE looks to be on a good path as the game gets closer to going gold. Let’s just hope that the worries above won’t overpower what could be a much-needed resuscitation of the gaming part of this storied franchise.