Star Wars: Battlefront is finally here, a full month ahead of the headline-dominating, record-breaking, money machine that will be Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. The game might be the best way for Star Wars fans to whet their appetites for the return of the film saga that began in 1977, kicking off the beloved original trilogy of space operas. And you just know that Battlefront will do its best to tie-in with the film (see: Battle of Jakku DLC).
And it needs to because Star Wars: Battlefront doesn’t quite live up to its name, and it’s unlikely players will be playing it for too long without new content. DICE’s first Star Wars game, and the first release under the 10-year exclusive deal publisher Electronic Arts signed with Disney-Lucasfilm, is not a bad game. It’s just not a complete one.
Battlefront released this week but subscribers to the Xbox One exclusive EA Access program were able to play several days early up to a maximum of 10 hours. For a lot of players, those 10 hours will be enough. Star Wars: Battlefront is the perfect rental game experience. But as a full retail game, it’s a bit of a ripoff that crosses a line in begging players at every step to invest even more money – nearly the full price of the game again – to purchase the season pass and pre-order upcoming DLC. In fact, “Season Pass” is built into the main menu of the game on the front page in two different places.
Similar to last year’s Titanfall, another EA game from developers with a strong shooter pedigree, Star Wars: Battlefront suffers from its lack of a story campaign. It’s almost a crime given that the last three Battlefield games all featured story-driven missions. If any of these games deserve to put players into epic and varied narrative-driven experiences, whether that be reliving sequences from the films or telling new stories, it’s the Star Wars one out of them all.
Instead, Star Wars: Battlefront is multiplayer focused with a little extra for training purposes. The two single-player modes the game does ship with can be played with a friend, solo, and offline. There’s Survival, a wave-based mode and Battle which pits the player and some optional AI allies vs. enemy AI and potentially an opposing player in a simple MOBA-inspired session where enemies spawn in until 100 points are earned. The latter requires a lot of running around aimlessly searching for enemies and the former is neat to test yourself once or twice. There’s little in these offerings to grab players. They’re basic and can be considered the tutorial. Again, the focus is on multiplayer.
There are nine multiplayer modes in Star Wars: Battlefront but there’s only one that stands out a great. The game doesn’t support the 64-player counts of its modern military predecessors but it does feature two 40-player modes in Supremacy and Walker Assault which are the flagship experiences the game offers and the main reason Star Wars: Battlefront is worth playing. The first few matches on each of the game’s four planets in these modes are simply awe-inspiring. Seeing massive AT-AT walkers trudge through a (predefined on-rails) path with player-controlled aircraft whizzing above and smaller player-controlled AT-ST walkers supporting troop movements is a sight to behold, especially since the game looks gorgeous.
DICE has always been an industry leading developer in sound design and graphical fidelity, and their Frostbite 3 engine shines through in Star Wars: Battlefront. It’s easy to see the work that went into getting the details right on vehicles, characters, and weapon designs. The evidence is right there that the team scanned in real-life props, costumes, and set pieces for a sense of authenticity.
That authenticity unfortunately doesn’t carry too much weight in general gameplay if you’re looking for a hardcore shooter experience with depth since Star Wars: Battlefront embraces an arcade game approach, simplifying every aspect of progression, combat, and vehicular gameplay in favor of appealing to the widest possible demographics. Players can play in first or third-person but cannot go prone, nor can they enter a vehicle on the map, and there are no sniper classes. Instead, in each mode there are glowing, hovering icons that represent usable power-ups (proximity mines, rocket launches, air strikes, etc.) or vehicles (walkers, TIEs, X-Wings, etc.), the latter of which spawn the player in the air in said vehicle when activated.
This system allows for any player, regardless of skill, to have a chance at grabbing a vehicle or playing as one of the game’s six hero or villain characters, but it also can make it difficult to do what you want to do. In 20 hours of play, I’ve never been able to fly the Millennium Falcon or control the weapons of an AT-AT walker for instance. It speaks to the greater problem of there really being little support for teamwork. The game doesn’t have squad and commander features, or the ability to give orders like in the Battlefield games so everyone is generally just playing for themselves, racing teammates for the nearest icon and spamming infinite recharging grenades. There is a partner system which lets players spawn or use the loadout of another randomly selected player but too frequently this doesn’t work because a partner wasn’t assigned or dropped out.
The over-simplification of the game extends to how loadouts in Star Wars: Battlefront function as well. Gone are classes of characters, replaced with Star Cards that are unlocked as players level up, and purchased with in-game credits. These items include various types of grenades and special weapons that operate on a cooldown. Players can pre-build loadouts that use two of these, with a third slot used for consumable power-ups (faster cooldown on weapons, temporary ion lasers, etc.). Like the amount of unlockable primary laser weapons and costumes, there aren’t enough things to unlock and no way to dig down and augment or upgrade weapons.
The limited player count of 40 for Battlefront’s two large-scale modes was a concern going into the game when compared to the Battlefield franchise but it absolutely works in these modes on these maps. The larger maps are wonderfully designed to support these modes and the game does a commendable job in how it handles player spawns so it always feels like you’re charging ahead as part of the Imperial or Rebel army as so much goes on around you. There are just not enough maps/planets and it does feel like a lot of it was left out to be charged for separately later.
The other modes that use smaller player counts mostly offer generic spins on FPS staples like Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag. The exception here is the game’s one air-focused mode dubbed Fighter Squadron, a 10 vs. 10 battle bolstered by AI units that pits recognizable Rebel starfighters (A-Wings and X-Wings) vs. Imperial craft (TIE Fighters and TIE Interceptors) where teams battle for the most points and get extra for taking down the occasional transport. The mode is another fun one for fans of the classic Rogue Squadron games and feature beautiful interior and exterior ship designs but the lack of any actual missions or iconic space battles relegate the mode – like most of the game – to serving as a proof of concept instead of a fleshed out video game experience.
The one key differentiator in some of the modes compared to other shooters is how heroes and villains factor in. We mentioned previously how icons show up the map in certain modes for players to become a legendary Star Wars character, and depending on their faction, players have a choice between one of three villains (Emperor Palpatine, Darth Vader, or Boba Fett) or three heroes (Leia Organa, Han Solo, or Luke Skywalker). These characters all feature their own set of special abilities and significantly alter the playing field, especially around objectives. Players looking to boost their stats will want to control these characters as much as possible.
Seeing Vader or Luke wielding a lightsaber is usually a cue to run the opposite direction since skilled players operating those elite combatants will deflect all of your blaster fire before using the force against you. Their arrivals and defeats are big moments in big battles, adding to the fun of the 40-player modes. There are a pair of small hero/villain-focused modes as well but these aren’t well-balanced, especially the Hero Hunt which pits 7 troopers again a hero or villain where whoever lands the final shot – regardless of damage dealt – becomes the next over-powered character. That mode is disappointing in how it scores players and selects characters but again, it’s a proof of concept.
The simplified gameplay mechanics of Star Wars: Battlefront help make the game accessible but the lack of depth in gameplay and progression, combined with uninspired modes, lack of a story, and limited co-op experiences ultimately leave the package unsatisfying as a big budget shooter carrying the Star Wars name in the Disney era. In its current form, Battlefront doesn’t seem to have the longevity for the simple fact that it’s a step backwards for the genre and developer in almost every level compared to DICE’s previous works. Star Wars: Battlefront at least functions as intended online and is absolutely worth checking out for its commendable Star Wars authenticity, its big flashy battles, and hours of fun. It’s just doesn’t justify its retail price, and the DLC that’ll make the game complete is priced outrageously on top of that. At least the Jakku DLC is free for all players. If it weren’t for the big brand and big budget production values, what Star Wars: Battlefront actually offers as a video game would qualify as a disappointing movie tie-in.
Star Wars: Battlefront is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.