Star Wars Battlefront Beta: First Impressions

Star Wars Battlefront has always been a beloved series, with a new instalment in the series taking the top spot in many gamers’ most wanted lists. Like a lot of people, I’ve been cautiously optimistic as great-looking clips were marred by news of lacklustre single player, leading to fears that Battlefront might stagnate similar to the likes of Titanfall and Evolve soon after release. With the game’s 27th November release date looming, the game’s Beta has been released to the masses on Xbox One, PS4 and PC for a few days. I’ve played a few hours, and had some time to think about my first impressions.

The Beta comes with two competitive multiplayer game modes, Drop Zone and Walker Assault, which take place on Salust and Hoth maps respectively. Drop Zone has Rebel and Imperial forces fighting it out for control of Pods which drop in varied locations to gain points for victory. Sadly, due to the mode only taking place on one map, it’s a bit repetitive to play over and over and should really act as a platform to learn the game and level up a bit before moving on to Walker Assault on the much more expansive Hoth.

Walker Assault has the Rebel Forces fighting to turn on Uplinks to trigger Y-Wing bombing runs which then make the Imperial AT-ATs vulnerable to fire, while the Imperial forces try to stop them. At first, especially with inexperienced or simply under-levelled Rebel teams, this game mode can feel extremely unbalanced, with Imperial forces simply needing to be roughly competent in order to succeed.

This is indicative of one of the main issues in the Beta- the unbalanced upgrade system. Players with a few levels and upgrades up their belt come packing personal shields and jetpacks, which are very difficult to deal with if it’s one of your first few games, simply because you won’t have unlocked the upgrades necessary to counter them. The game’s upgrade and level up system is largely similar to that of modern Battlefield games. As you play games, the XP you earn both levels up your character to unlock new blasters and upgrades, and is directly linked to the amount of credits you earn- for instance, if your earned XP in a game, including performance and match bonuses, adds up to 3500 XP, you’ll also earn 350 credits. You spend your credits on blasters and “cards” (read: non-blaster equipment), of which you can equip 3 at a time. Cards include thermal grenades, jetpacks, “Ion shot” (powers up your weapon to deal extra damage to vehicles, droids and shields), and more. While personal progression occurs at a nice pace, it is a bit unfair for new players who have to deal with players who have advanced to gain gear like the personal shield.

With well-balanced teams, though, Walker Assault really opens up, and it’s a great sandbox of a multiplayer mode. The mode supports 40 players (20 vs 20), and it really does feel like you’re taking part in a massive battle at times. Several times I felt almost overwhelmed as I and the majority of my team scattered ourselves along a ridge, raining fire upon our enemies. It’s maybe the most impressive large battle scenario I’ve yet played.

Bolstering foot soldier gameplay, pick-up tokens are scattered throughout the battlefield. While some of these carry energy for certain personal items like the aforementioned personal shield, these tokens can also put you in an X-Wing, A-Wing or Tie fighter to provide air support and dogfight with enemy craft, an AT-ST walker making you a formidable tank, and most rarely, a Hero token which gives you control of either Darth Vader of Luke Skywaker for a limited time. In the right hands, these characters are downright deadly with the ability to deflect blaster fire and deal death close of from afar. It’s one of the few games to really make lightsabers feel powerful, since a single swing can dispatch an opponent. It’s great fun to watch several players scramble before your might. These pickups lend just the right amount of variety to the core gameplay, although if you don’t know what to look out for, you might easily miss them which can be frustrating in your first few games.

On a surface level, both maps look really good, especially Hoth which is extremely evocative of Empire Strikes Back. On more than one occasion I had to stop and admire the view, looking down on a laser-riddled battlefield from a snowy ledge. Character design and animation are on point, and the weapons, while lacking a little bit in punch, look and sound perfect. This excellent visual design really puts you in the mood for Star Wars battling.

I think that with some fiddling to balance the upgrade system a bit, as well as making pick-ups more obvious on the battlefield, Star Wars: Battlefront would be a lot more welcoming to new players. The gameplay is fun and well balanced, the matchmaking by and large does a great job of finding you a game, and I only experienced lag in one of the many games I played. The Survival mode is an entertaining distraction, made better with friends, but it’s clear that multiplayer is the clear main attraction here.

Star Wars Battlefront managed to sustain my attention over several days with only a couple of maps and modes. When the game comes out and features character customisation as well as the full compliment of maps and modes, I’m sure there’ll be enough variety for a while. One feature I’d love to see some of is the destructible environments that I know the Frostbite 3 engine is well capable of. Perhaps if some of the maps feature more buildings and indoor environments that can be demolished to some extent, it’d give the game more of a sense of “place” that make modern Battlefield such a compelling experience. Not that I’ll be really disappointed if there isn’t any destruction in the final game, but it really would add to the experience.

All in all, Battlefront seems like it’s shaping up to be a pretty slick release. The gameplay and online features are structurally solid and the game’s visual and sound design are spot-on. Hopefully the game’s modes will hold players’ attention sufficiently that it’s not dead come a few months like the other multiplayer-dominant games this generation. The variety anticipated in the final game will surely help, but only time will tell.

Image credits: starwars.ea.com

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