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The most anticipated shooter of 2015 wasn’t Halo 5: Guardians. It wasn’t Call of Duty: Black Ops III. It was EA and DICE’s Star Wars Battlefront. When it was first announced at E3 2014, DICE and the Star Wars franchise sounded like a perfect match. Their experiences with the Battlefield series especially with the presentation would be great for Star Wars. However, don’t think that this reboot is a legal Battlefield with a Star Wars skin. Star Wars Battlefront looks and plays like Star Wars, but at it’s current state, there’s not enough of it to be beyond a “flavor of the month” shooter.
DICE’s take on Battlefront is multiplayer focused with nine modes along with co-op missions that also can be played solo. Nine modes is a lot for this game, but there’s not enough locales and maps to accompany them. Just from the original Star Wars trilogy, Tatooine, Hoth, Endor & Sullust are the only planets with one big and two small versions of maps for the modes. Hopefully we’ll see more locales in the future besides Jakku from the upcoming The Force Awakens movie next month, which I’ll talk more about later. All facets of Star Wars basically have their own mode minus space fights reminiscent of Pandemic’s Star Wars Battlefront II. Big scale battles take place in Supremacy, Walker Assault & the ship focused Fighter Squadron. The close quarters confrontations are seen more in the other six modes.
The 40-player big scale battles definitely live up to what we see in the movies. Everywhere you look, there’s something crazy happening and that is Star Wars at it’s finest. In the air there’s X-Wings and Tie Fighters dogfighting and on the ground, there’s regular soldiers on one area and all of sudden you get force pushed by Luke Skywalker or force choked by Darth Vader when you turn a corner. This is one area DICE shined in the Battlefield franchise capturing those moments right and Star Wars Battlefront is filled with them. Out of the three modes with big player counts, Supremacy is the closest to Battlefield with capturing sequential control points for the win. These games can go quick if a team isn’t watching their control points that well or go the full time being a tug of war. Walker Assault was seen in the beta despite it’s issues and DICE addressed them for the final game with the Rebels having a better chance of winning, but perhaps too much right now. Fighter Squadron is one of the modes that’s an okay diversion from the other popular ones.
The other modes that focus more on the in your face battles are your conventional takes on what we seen in the shooter genre. From Blast being just team deathmatch, Cargo being capture the flag, Droid Run and Drop Zone being domination, the Star Wars touch to these are fine despite their lack of originality. The Hero focused modes, Hero Hunt and the round-based Heroes vs. Villains are also interesting, but also exploit how some of the iconic Star Wars characters are too good in certain situations, which I’ll also talk more in a bit. Having these conventional modes is expected for a shooter this highly anticipated, but Walker Assault as the only unique mode is a bit of a bummer despite how satisfying it is to win as the Rebels taking down those AT-ATs.
While this year’s Halo and Call of Duty games are trying to chase more of the competitive e-sports crowd, Star Wars Battlefront is the perfect definition of a “casual” shooter. Now don’t twist this in the wrong way because the game being that accessible is for one of the intended demographics, which are Star Wars fans. Usually the cooler options are locked behind killstreaks in the Call of Duty games. In Battlefront, the cool stuff is just a pickup away on the map from a vehicle, rocket launcher and a hero character. The blasters that are conventionally feel like Star Wars from some guns having scopes with a Gears of War-like active reload if they’re overheated, but not the shooter centralized “aim down sights” mechanic. I wish I can say the same for the controls for the vehicles and hero characters, but they’re bare-bones to no surprise since it is a shooter first.
I expected a little more from the air vehicles and hero characters because of their specific modes. Tie Fighters and Interceptors have more speed options than X-Wings and A-Wings, but their shield abilities compensate that. Despite them being functional, the controls feel weird at first relying only on the right analog stick on consoles. Besides evasive maneuvers on the d-pad, there’s isn’t enough of them especially if someone is on your tail. There’s also the Millennium Falcon and Slave I in Fighter Squadron, but just like the hero characters, they’re a little overpowered in certain situations and that’s the problem with these in a game like this.
From the Rebel side, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia are selectable in the Hero-specific modes and finding the hero pickup in the bigger maps. Darth Vader, Boba Fett and Emperor Palpatine are the playable villains on the Empire side. It’s a beautiful sight seeing these guys change the momentum of a big scale battle to their respective team’s favor. You feel intimidated when you’re a normal soldier and then run into them with no backup at your side at times. While it’s fun slicing rebel soldiers and Stormtroopers as Lake and Vader respectively despite their sluggish controls, clashing against each other and other hero characters becomes chaos. Depending on the map, you can get cornered and staggered by lightsaber mashing which does suck if you’re on the receiving end of it. Palpatine and Leia are arguably the most useful characters of the bunch because of the ability to spawn bodyguards with unique abilities instead of their standard loadout along with being able to put out health pickups for themselves or teammates. Han Solo has his strengths with his special abilities, but Boba Fett is arguably the cheapest of the cast because of his jetpack alone. He can jet to hard to reach areas and just camp during matches picking off enemies with his blaster and homing rockets, which is especially frustrating for the rebels in the hero-specific modes.
The balancing issues continue on to the card-based loadout system. Again, another game with cards, but Battlefront’s take is different from Halo 5’s REQ system. The L1 and R1 (LB and RB on Xbox) buttons are assigned to these star cards with a cooldown period. These range from grenades, a jump pack, a long range pulse cannon, etc. Just like Boba Fett’s jetpack, players can having a jump pack can get to advantageous spots to camp and pick off opponents. Combine that with the homing shot card being the victim of that combo is not fun and cheap on their part. The triangle button (Y on Xbox) is another star card slot but requires charges for them be used. The charges can be found during matches at the maps to access an ion shot that damages vehicles more, increase accuracy for your primary weapon, a temporary shield, and more. Using the shield to your advantage is the easiest way to score melee kills and that’s one of many cheap tactics along with others I mentioned. You unlock all the stronger weapons (T-21B and DL-44 I’m looking at you) and star cards by level 32, so besides cosmetic character customization till the level 50 cap, the progression system isn’t deep enough to keep players going other than upgrading existing cards to shorten their cooldown.
Besides the multplayer modes, there’s co-op missions that can be played online, splitscreen or alone along with tutorials to get accustomed to the mechanics. From wave based survival at the locales to “kill confirmed” esque battles, playing these at harder difficulties are quite a challenge and something to play if you need a break from multiplayer along with collectables to find to complete the diorama. On normal difficulty, these missions are a breeze alone which also equates to not being as fun as what is offered elsewhere. Sure, a full fledged campaign would be nice since the Star Wars source material was there for DICE to use, but Star Wars Battlefront is multiplayer first and look what happened to Titanfall’s attempt of including a campaign to a multiplayer-focused game.
EA has been pushing Frostbite 3 pretty hard on all their games and Battlefront easily takes advantage of it the best not surprisingly by DICE. This is arguably the best looking shooter of the year as Star Wars never looked so good on the current generation of consoles and PCs running it at it’s maximum settings. It’s the graphical details in the maps from the small trenches at Hoth and the lush forests at Endor that make this game special on the graphics side of things. On the verge of beginning of the third year of these consoles, only a handful of games graphically make me feel like I validated my purchase and Battlefront is now one of them. On the audio side, the Star Wars soundtrack is icing on the cake along with the rest of the presentation that lives to the series.
Star Wars Battlefront definitely lives up to being the most anticipated shooter of 2015 despite it’s flaws. It’s accessibility to all levels of players makes the experience great being able to fulfill those Star Wars fantasies of participating in large scale battles in the Supremacy, Walker Assault and Fighter Squadron modes, taking down numbers of enemies as the iconic characters being a pickup away, and coming up with memorable moments of your own that the movies can’t replicate like raining down an orbital strike to kill all the villains in a Heroes vs. Villains match. The accessibility does come at a price for players that are more experienced in shooters with the lack of locales and not so deep progression system looking for this to not be another “flavor of the month” shooter. The legs of the game will depend on your tolerance of the cheap tactics being used now because DICE needs to address some balancing issues with certain characters and weapons in future updates. That’s when the honeymoon phase ended for me with Battlefront when those tactics are being used not making the game fun. Besides Jakku for free next month, the $50 season pass is indeed expensive especially the lack of content currently in the main game and not knowing what’s in the pass itself. Star Wars fans should not miss out on this and for those that love shooters, it’s still worth playing as a fun diversion from the more competitive ones.