In 2005, I played a lot of multiplayer games on my Xbox over LAN thanks to the ease of setup my college dorm provided. The games we played most were undoubtedly Halo 2 and the first two Battlefront games. Halo 2 really set the bar for how multiplayer systems should work, and Battlefront provided the epic scope that games like Battlefield would expand on. Very few experiences match up to the times when my friends and I would experience the chaos of a Star Wars battle, and it would be over a decade before a true Star Wars experience would come our way again.
Now it is here. EA/DICE’s take on the Battlefront franchise has finally arrived after years of anticipation, and the question remains: Is this a sequel, or re-imagining? I’m here to try to figure that out. After hours of play, I’ve concluded that it is neither of these things. 2015’s Star Wars Battlefront is a thing that really doesn’t fit the mold from the past, but doesn’t differentiate itself enough to stand on it’s own either.
2015’s Battlefront is is not Battlefield: Star Wars (although that may be the closest thing you can describe it as) due to its simplified mechanics and more approachable controls. It is also not Battlefront 3 in any true sense. Instead, it feels more like a Star Wars simulator that happens to have the same name as a series that has been long dormant. That’s isn’t to say it’s a poor game – far from it. Battlefront is a triumph in design and scope, but if you were hoping for the freedom that past games gave players, you’re going to largely be disappointed.
Visually speaking, Battlefront is second to none. EA and DICE have taken the impressive Frostbite engine and used it to craft the most visually striking Star Wars game ever created. Everything from the weapons, character models, sounds, and environments have been given the utmost care and consideration, giving Battlefront the foundation it needs to really strike a chord with those with nostalgia for Star Wars and those looking for a full on assault of the senses. Every detail pops off the screen and is pleasing. Graphics are as near photo-realistic as one could ask for, while still capturing the essence of the original movie locations. You can almost feel the cold on Hoth, and sense the density of the forest moon of Endor, mostly because the environment artists did surveys of the original film locations when prepping for design. Every weapon and vehicle is instantly recognizable thanks to Lucasfilm’s props and assets being available to the development team from the outset of development. Of course, the high bar DICE has set for sound design was only enhanced by the endless supply of crafted sounds from the movie franchise. Because of these things the game not only looks like Star Wars, but sounds and feels like Star Wars. There simply is no other place you can experience the movies so authentically outside of a movie theater. This is an accomplishment that cannot be understated.
Game play wise, there is a lot to like, but players looking for a third Battlefront may not find to be much in the way of progress. The mechanics are carefully crafted to make it approachable, which is a departure from DICE’s other bombastic franchise, Battlefield. It is easy to see why so many have compared Battlefront to Battlefield. Developer name aside, both franchises are nearly identical in terms of goals: large environments, high player count, vehicles, and freedom to play around in the sandbox provided. Battlefront is, for lack of a better term, considerably simpler than Battlefield. Much of what makes Battlefield so iconic is the myriad of options available to players, most of which are stripped out of Battlefront. There are no classes to choose from, and weapon and equipment customization are not present. Instead, you can customize the look of your player model and mix and match load-outs from a trading card mechanic. It has a handful of choices at your disposal, but far fewer than Battlefield has. Most players will have the load-out they prefer after the first few unlock tiers, as the variance of weapon choices is not very robust. There are some interesting higher-level perks that are unlock-able, however, and dedicated players will find the process of unlocking them rewarding. The unlock system is simple, but still feels very effective of keeping players engaged over time.
Players need not worry about ammo, as instead there is cool down periods for just about everything. There is also no squad assist mechanics other than deploy-able power-ups. Things like turrets, shield areas, and orbital strikes replace Battlefield mechanics such as health packs, ammo refills, and repair tools. As a result, the traditional DICE approach to teamwork seems lacking here, and can detract from the experience a bit. Battlefront’s game modes are very much Battlefield modes, although modified slightly. Because of this, teamwork is still crucial to winning, but there is little incentive to actually coordinate this time around. To magnify this issue a bit, I should point out tat the PC version of the game lacks any sort of integrated voice chat. The game really does little to foster team work and I think it really suffers because of it. Thankfully, there are 3rd party alternatives that can be used for voice chat, but the PC environment is not really unified in this area quite like consoles are with their own built-in party chat. It’s not good, and I’m surprised this is something EA/DICE felt was acceptable.
Despite the high number of game modes, the game-play is much more limited than the concept of the game might suggest. Unlike past Battlefronts (and Battlefields, as it were) the sandbox is much less open to players than ever before. You will not be able to simply run to a vehicle and get in. Instead, you have to find the locations on the map that provide you with a trigger-able power up to place you in one. Additionally, there are a surprisingly few amount of vehicles open to players at all. There are star fighters, which use the games surprisingly enjoyable flight control experience, but only four can be in use at a time (two per team). On the ground, I can’t recall a single vehicle that can be used by the Rebel Alliance faction. The Empire gets the two-legged AT-ST Walkers and speeder bikes. That’s it. The larger 4-legged walkers are not controllable as you’d hope, and are instead regulated to being turrets on rails. You can fire the cannons, but not steer the thing.
The game also lacks much variety in map design. What they have is impressive though: Hoth feels like Hoth, and so on. There are four main planets with variants based on the game mode you choose to play, but it is easy to see how assets are reused between them. There are interiors that are clearly cut and paste between the stages, for example. That said, they all do a great job of showcasing familiar locations from the movies. Everything from Jabba’s palace on Tatooine to the Ewok Village on Endor are faithfully recreated environments to kill Stormtroopers in. Sadly, the game could have used more locations to provide a greater sense of variety. Most smaller game modes simply fence off sections of the larger maps as needed, rather than crafting smaller locations. This would normally seem ok, but when you discover that EA wants to sell a season pass that will add numerous more maps and modes for nearly the same price as the full retail game, it starts to leave a less-than-ideal feeling about the overall launch package.
I suppose it is also important to note that the game is entirely played online, save for a few training missions and small scenario modes. The game has no campaign what so ever, which is disappointing. With a game based on Star Wars, there should be no shortage of ideas for offline play.
All-in-all, Battlefront is a really great time, but leaves much to be desired. The game is clearly not taking cues from the first two games, evident by the sheer lack of map variety and pure sandbox options. Star Wars fans will love the game unconditionally, and most other gamers will find it satisfying. Fans of the past games may not, however, and I can’t imagine many being to happy about having to pay double the retail price of a game to get the whole experience. If you aren’t a die-hard, you may want to wait until the inevitable “ultimate edition” releases this summer. Otherwise, it is an enjoyable shooter that will delight the less-than-hardcore crowd. I can’t honestly say it is a must-play due to the scope of the game being lass than ideal, but it is still quite good and worth a look.