Electronic Arts and Dice have faced equal shares of disdain and excitement after acquiring the rights to the Star Wars Battlefront series, and devs admitted themselves that taking on Battlefront was “scary”. Revive a darling gaming franchise long stuck in purgatory? Do so while prefacing the return of the most loved science fiction universe in history, upon which said game is based? No pressure, right?
Immediately apparent from boot up, Battlefront is a gorgeous game. Still shots are beautiful and, when in motion, the diverse scenery is even more striking. The included maps cover a range of environments including snow, green fields, sun-beaten desert, and even volcanic rock as the foundation for these laser-riddled playgrounds. On top of the visuals, Battlefront continues DICE’s pedigree for sound design. The score from Star Wars is in place and ramps up at just the right time during matches, but the sound effects are the true feat here: rhythmic laser fire hypnotizes, the muted thud of the special imploder grenade mesmerizes, and subtle touches like debris careening off the hull when flying a ship through the disintegrated remains of another ship is pleasantly distracting. Sonically and visually, the Star Wars franchise is well represented.
There are no specific classes to choose or customize, but Battlefront gives players a good bit of freedom to shape their loadouts. Though there are only 11 blasters to use, they are the meat and potatoes of the gameplay. Additional guns are equipped cards that are only used every few seconds or one-off heavy weapons that you get by picking up tokens around the maps. Unlocking all the primary blasters is nowhere near as important as getting comfortable with one and building around it. Once you choose a primary gun, you’re allowed to fill three slots with “cards”. Two of them are for additional weapons that operate on a cooldown, like sniper rifles or different types of grenades. The third slot is a special card that influences different gameplay mechanics like weapon venting (basically, a reload mechanic that has been incorporated into Star Wars lore), sensing enemies on the radar, jump packs, and more. Once you reach rank 15, you also access Trait cards. Traits influence things like the damage you take, how you appear on the radar, how fast you heal, etc. There are a 3 levels to tap into with the trait cards well and this is where your traditional kill streak rewards come into play. With each kill you go up in rank, boosting whatever effect your chosen trait card allows. Each death drops you to your previous tier.
The map layout is very old-school. Players can find power ups like rocket launchers, support droids, and Hero characters by sprinting to pick up randomized tokens– as opposed to hiding these boosts behind “kill streaks,” the way other popular FPSes do. This makes for a very user friendly experience that doesn’t tip the scale in any player’s favor too heavily. Even the vehicles are tied to tokens, which can be off-putting initially, but plays into the ease-of-use Battlefront adopts overall. The gameplay is generally much simpler than most games in the genre, but it should be welcoming for the casual fans it’s sure to attract.
That same simplicity translates to the shooting mechanics. Considering you’re firing lasers, there aren’t any atmospheric elements to consider like in other FPS. There’s no bullet drop (when a fired projectile loses momentum over long distances) but damage is lessened the farther away your target is. Rapid fire lowers accuracy per usual and mastering burst fire will give you an edge, but even the most casual player can contribute positively to a team. Even In air to air combat, a lock on button makes the high speed firefights very accessible.
Battlefront is a first-person shooter built to survive in the always-connected world of today, with a heavy focus on online multiplayer modes. The usual formulas for competitive engagement, such as Team Deathmatch, Domination (holding control points), and Search & Destroy, are shaped by the Star Wars theme. Some of the larger modes allow players to use vehicles of all types and, while ground and air combat is balanced well individually, air to ground fighting is a chaotic mess.
On the ground, the bipedal AT-STs and quick T-47 airspeeder bring a good bit of mechanical firepower. Both efficiently attack air and ground troops, but in the Walker Assault mode their roles change a bit. The AT-STs are the primary escorts for the larger AT-ATs to reach the goal for the Imperial Troops while the T-47 is the main means of taking down the AT-ATs with a towing cable as you fly around them. While those vehicles are important, the Heroes are the true tanks. Heroes such as Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Boba Fett can tip the scales with high firepower, or supply extra health and resources to strengthen a team. The heroes themselves have high health, but they’re quickly targeted, since the entire enemy team is alerted to their presence when their tokens are used.
The speed of the X-Wings, Tie Fighters, and other airborne vehicles make targeting ground troops a hassle even when throttled to the minimum, unless you’re going for the larger walkers. On the flipside, air to air combat is very exciting. Ease of targeting with a lock on button and the addition of AI controlled ships that are easier to take down than player-controlled ships keep the engagements fast paced and fun. Unfortunately, airships aren’t afforded the same depth of customization as ground troops. You can’t improve weapons or equip any cards and you can’t change the appearance of the ships in any way. As a result, rank and points have zero influence on airborne vehicles. There are also only two hero ships you can fly: The Millenium Falcon and Boba Fett’s Slave One. These omissions and limitations strangely handicap the most fun part of the game.
The single player content, which can be co-oped online and via couch, leans on survival gameplay against waves of enemies on foot and/or in the air. You can tool with different combinations of settings in order to get a feel for the different modes, and you can play with Heroes while not having to worry about the luck of the draw in online multiplayer. But there’s also a very frustrating conclusion you’ll draw from the single player tutorial missions. The Endor speeder bike mission and air combat training exercise both are molded as if they’re part of a larger, narrative-driven event that does not exist outside those modes. The air sequence even brings a flavor reminiscent of the beloved Star Wars: Rogue Squadron games. They both even have short cutscenes that seem to scream “This is what a campaign could have involved”. It’s a mystery if these particular modes will be fleshed out in additional expansions, but they serve as the largest missed opportunities in the retail launch.
With a game that leans so heavily on its multi-player, progression is very important and Battlefront doesn’t execute fittingly in this area. Unlocking blasters, weapon cards, and gear to customize your avatar takes a combination of rank plus points. You rank up via experience to unlock things that you then must purchase with points, which ends up feeling a little redundant. With only 187 things to unlock, players will upgrade everything pretty quickly and be left with points to spare. There’s an additional Diorama where different feats like “Finish 10 matches” or maximizing the performances in the single player missions unlock figures for you to admire in the menu screen, but there’s no abundance of those either.
Dice set expectations many months before release by declaring there would be no story campaign, space battles, or character classes in the initial launch. Hot takes painted Battlefront as another $60 multi-player driven title that would inevitably gather dust on a shelf, and the vanilla package doesn’t do much to sway that mindset. The Season Pass, instead of creating excitement for additional content, serves as a stark reminder that there isn’t much to do in the first place. This DLC pass comes off as a required purchase rather than a supplementary one. There’s not quite the depth of content to keep more hardcore FPS players playing, but the easygoing gameplay is sure to keep casual gamers coming back. Star Wars Battlefront has positive elements to build upon, but to not even make the already meager upgrades and unlocks available across all modes is a reminder that this is no full experience.
Charles Singletary Jr. scribbles frivolously in San Antonio, TX with aims to become a legitimate voice in gaming culture, the seed from which his writing inspiration grows.