Star Wars: Battlefront Review
Posted by Dave Letcavage
A New Hope?
There's been an awakening. Have you felt it? From soup commercials to comic books, toys to movies, it's impossible to ignore the force that Star Wars has over the entertainment realm this holiday season. The hype even extends to the video game world, as the beloved Star Wars: Battlefront series is making a return after a 10-year snooze. With EA and DICE in the cockpit of this endeavor, it's safe to say that expectations are exceedingly high. Now that we've traveled to a galaxy far, far away, and bounced between the light and the dark side more times than we can count, we're ready to deliver our verdict on Star Wars: Battlefront.
With this new version of Battlefront, DICE has kept the essence of the series intact while building from the foundation of the Battlefield series. The battles are still massive, with vehicles and infantry units clogging up the skies and land. It's Rebels vs. Imperials in scenarios straight out of the original Star Wars trilogy – commonly known by many as "the good Star Wars trilogy." Forgoing a traditional single-player campaign and aiming for quantity over quality when it comes to multiplayer modes, the question is whether or not Battlefront possesses a force great enough to keep fans by its side for the long term.
If you consider yourself an ardent fan of the original Star Wars trilogy, the sights and sounds of Battlefront should be enough have you feeling like a five-year-old kid on Christmas morning. Witnessing towering AT-ATs advancing on a Rebel base through the densely packed forests of Endor or fighting below an aerial assault on the snow-plastered surface of Hoth are truly sights to behold. DICE's Frostbite engine allows for shiny surfaces, dynamic lighting effects, and chiseled environments that make these iconic locations look lifelike. Even though many of the settings are awash in limited color palettes, the striking blaster beams, explosions, and particle effects ensure the spectacle is always stimulating. It doesn't hurt that the framerate rarely budges from 60fps.
The sound is, without question, some of the best we've ever heard in a video game. With a decent pair of headphones or a surround sound system, the ambiance of blaster fire, ships flying overhead, and soldiers shouting to one another is consuming. It's crisp, impeccably mixed, and rich, planting you right in the middle of the action. The music is just as good, adding even more of an impact to those already impactful moments. DICE has always excelled in the audio department, but it's outdone itself with the sound design in Battlefront.
Strip away the gorgeous Star Wars veneer and you have a competent, if unspectacular, shooter. You won't find any of the modern mobility mechanics that have found their way into Call of Duty and Halo; instead, Battlefront keeps the on-foot gameplay fairly conservative. Sure, Luke jumps 3-4 times his height and Boba Fett can thrust into the air for limited periods of time, but standard infantry units are limited to sprinting and jumping realistically. It's probably the best choice for a game that's sure to attract a mainstream audience, as it is very accessible, but anyone coming off of Halo 5: Guardians or Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is going to suffer through a period of adjustment that might turn them off.
Even though there's not a huge impact on gameplay, Battlefront features a few mechanical nuances that distinguish it from its contemporaries. Being able to switch between first- and third-person perspectives during gameplay is nice, as each has its own strengths and weaknesses. The fact that weapons don't require ammo replenishment or need to be reloaded adds a different kind of strategy – you don't want to shoot carelessly or your weapon will overheat, leaving you vulnerable for a short period of time. Since blaster beams travel somewhat slower than traditional bullets, you have to take trajectory into consideration when shooting at a distance. Plus, Star Card loadouts, which allow you to equip secondary weapons and abilities, are a simple way to work in extra layers without overwhelming the player with an extensive loadout process like you'd find in the Call of Duty series. It's not a demanding game compared to the competition, but it does require that you adapt to its particular way of doing things.
Taking to the skies in an X-wing or TIE Fighter presents a greater learning curve, but it's about as accessible as dogfighting can be. Movements are swift and responsive, and, while aiming does call for a high degree of finesse, the lock-on feature ensures the challenge lies with how efficient you are at keeping up with your target instead of how precise you are at aiming. Shooting AI opponent after AI opponent out of the sky is satisfying enough on its own, but facing off against a formidable human opponent, and winning, is even better. The only aspect of flight that bothers us, and this sort of applies to ground combat as well, is waiting for your abilities – homing missiles, boosts, shields, evasive maneuvers – to go through a substantial cool-down period. It's not too lengthy, but it does feel like some of the waits could be a few seconds shorter.
Even though Battlefront features a few single-player options, this is essentially an online multiplayer package. There are nine multiplayer modes in all, offering a healthy amount of variation. They're all team-based, pitting Rebels against Imperials in matches that host anywhere from 8 to 40 players – some that even work AI bots into the mix. It can be utter chaos with so many moving pieces, and the lack of public voice chat means you can't coordinate attacks with your teammates unless you host a party session. Still, there's some really good stuff here that remains incredibly enjoyable despite the omission of public chat and the presence of a few minor balancing issues.
For us, the standout modes are Fighter Squadron, Hero vs. Villain, and Droid Run. Fighter Squadron is an aerial-only mode that's all about shooting down opponents and destroying enemy transport ships. It's a lot like Rogue Squadron, even though it doesn't entirely scratch the itch for the absence of that beloved series. Heroes vs. Villains allows players to fight as Luke, Leia, and Han Solo against Vader, Emperor Palpatine, and Boba Fett, while other players fill infantry roles to defend their leaders. Each hero and villain has unique traits and powers, adding some additional depth, surprise, and strategy to the proceedings. Our other preferred mode, Droid Run, finds teams battling to capture and defend three wandering droids.
Then we come to the modes that we consider good but not great. Walker Assault is first up. This 40-player mode is almost the premiere attraction, but it suffers greatly when teammates don't quite grasp the agenda and can't communicate properly. Supremacy is a similar undertaking, as it has teams fighting for control points to push the other team off the map. Again, it's another a fun mode that can sometimes be hampered by a clueless team and lack of voice chat. Blast is a straight-to-the-point team deathmatch comprised only of infantry units, and it's also solid.
Hero Hunt is easily the multiplayer mode that we found the least compelling. It's not entirely bad, but when a match devolves into a game of "tag" through narrow corridors and pathways, things become congested and sloppy. Then there's Cargo, which is basically your typical capture-the-flag mode. It's entirely serviceable if you're into this type of play, but being unable to coordinate your efforts can be extremely frustrating.
Surprisingly, even with so many modes, finding a match is extremely quick. Joining a room takes just a couple seconds, and it's not long before you're bouncing from match to match with just a 30-second wait in between. Servers have also been incredibly stable, and we've haven't experienced a dropped connection or any lag that lasted longer than one or two seconds.
There are 13 multiplayer maps in all, which take place across four planets – Tatooine, Hoth, Endor, and Sullust. With just four styles of environments, the map count feels smaller than it actually is – especially since certain maps only function in certain modes. If there's one complaint we have about the design of the maps, it's that it's effortless to get hung up on rocks and minor changes in elevation. Some hills or inclines look like they can be walked right over, but in reality they can't be. In these scenarios, jumping often feels pretty useless. Furthermore, maps have invisible boundaries, and discovering the limitations in the middle of an intense shootout can be annoying and even result in death.
When you first jump into your multiplayer career, you're limited to a very small selection of weapons and no Star Cards. As you gain XP and earn credits, you can unlock and purchase more. The game is a bit too slow to provide you with weapons and abilities that allow you to feel evenly matched with players that have a full arsenal. You should unlock a decent blaster rifle and a couple secondary weapons within a few hours, but it still feels like you're at a disadvantage longer than you should be.
In summary, we've had a pretty great time bouncing between Battlefront's various multiplayer modes. It does seem like DICE has went for quantity over quality in an effort to make this multiplayer package appear padded with options, but that doesn't mean there's not enough quality entertainment here to compensate for the fluff and minor missteps. Plus, there's a hefty amount of paid DLC – maps, modes, weapons, vehicles, and playable characters included – planned for the future, if that's something you're into. This definitely seems like one of those games that will blossom into a new beast as more content becomes available.
The single-player modes are fun diversions, but they don't amount to much more than filler. Battles mostly serve to emulate an offline version of Blast, but with bots and collectible coins from fallen opponents, while Survival is centered around surviving 15 waves of enemies. Each of these modes can be played split-screen with a friend, which certainly makes them more appealing. There are also a handful of training missions available. None of this makes up for the omission of a traditional single-player campaign, which would've went a long way to make Battlefront feel more well-rounded, and ultimately more valuable. Seeing how exceptional this game looks in action will make you wish you were experiencing a Battlefield-like campaign in this iconic world.
While it doesn't quite reach its full potential, Star Wars: Battlefront harnesses the power of the Force to make for a multiplayer experience that's more concerned with fun and authenticity than deep mechanics and impeccable balance. DICE has absolutely knocked the presentation out of the park, making you feel like you're smack dab in the middle of your favorite action scenes from the classic Star Wars film trilogy. For many Star Wars enthusiasts, that's going to be more than enough to justify the price of admission. For everyone else, however, a limited amount of content and a few missteps will potentially diminish long-term appeal. This is a strong return for the Battlefront moniker, but there's much room for improvement.