I like Star Wars. A lot. I’ve seen the movies more times than I can count, read through scores of now defunct Expanded Universe comics and books, played through its library of video games, and still have a small, small soft spot for the Prequel Trilogy. I say this because my approach to Star Wars Battlefront comes from someone not fully invested in annualized multiplayer shooters but as a person who spent their childhood and better part of their adult life dreaming of flying an X-Wing and swinging a lightsaber. Like no other Star Wars game before it (not even Jedi Outcast), Battlefront lets me play out my fantasies. It brings playing with toys to life in a way that would make five year old me wet his pants. Star Wars Battlefront may be a toned down, simplified shooter when compared to more popular titles, in the eyes of a Star Wars nerd who can separate a Ysalamir from a Vornskr, this game delivers the best, most authentic Star Wars experiences in video game franchise history.
In truth, I could spend an entire article about how Battlefront perfectly captures the look and feel of George Lucas’ films. Before I get into the childish gushing, there is much to talk about the design of the game which might be enough to keep hardcore online gamers waiting by the bargain bin. DICE developed the game exclusively for online play which means the game lacks a substantial single player campaign. This is an unfortunate omission, especially in consideration of what stands in its place. The “offline” portion is split across three modes, of of which is merely a tutorial for basic combat and vehicle operation. Though good on DICE for adding it. One of my problems with Battlefield 3 was that there wasn’t a space to practice with vehicles. The remaining game types are little more than thematic variations on Gears of War’sHorde Mode. The single player content (which can be enjoyed co-op both online and split screen) is, unfortunately, a plate of empty calories. If there was a greater story or something that connected the training missions and battles, it might be worth spending the time. Right now, it feels like an afterthought (like most other marquee online shooter campaigns).
Battlefront’s online end is far more fleshed out. Out of the box, the game features nine unique game modes set across four planets, three of which are iconic Star wars settings. These modes have a Star Warsian flair but they too are gussied up versions of classic online game types like Team Deathmatch, King of the Hill, and Capture the Flag. Some games are better than others. For me, the winners are Supremacy, Walker Assault, Fighter Squadron, and Heroes versus Villains. Supremacy should be immediately familiar to Battlefield players as victory boils down to a tug of war match over a series of capture points. Walker Assault, which was prominently featured in the beta, involves fighting off an Imperial attack by AT-AT Walkers. For the Rebels to succeed, they’ll have to control and defend uplink stations to call Y-Wing bombers to make the machines vulnerable to weapons fire. The game type isn’t as fun for the Imperial side as the campaign boils down to a escort mission of sorts. Fighter Squadron sets the action in the sky as TIE Fighters and Interceptors do battle with X-Wings and A-Wings. It’s the closest we’ll ever get to another Rogue Squadron in the foreseeable future. There’s lots to see and do in Battlefront but in the end, people are going to gravitate toward certain game types while leaving the rest in the dust.
Battlefront is built on the foundations of Battlefield but the experience feels much more arcade-like and has an accessible approach. “Accessible” might be a dirty word for the genre but for this particular game, it’s the right direction to go. Where other shooters boast a veritable warehouse of unlockable weapons, accessories, modifications, and cosmetic gear, Battlefront is significantly lighter in comparison. Both the Rebels and Imperials pull from the same pool of weapons that have specific damage, accuracy, fire rate, and range values. Weapons cannot be modified and there is no way to change or influence weapon values. Almost all weapons have unlimited ammo and instead of reloading, an Active Reload mini-game is used to cool down weapons as they heat up. Environmental variables, gravity, and accuracy penalties featured heavily in Battlefield and Call of Duty don’t exist here.
A “trim the fat” approach to design extends to the game’s Star Card system and power ups. Star Cards function as primary and secondary weapon loadouts that can have slots for two weapons and a special ability. Star Card items operate on cooldown timers and charges. As you play through matches and earn points for killing other players and completing objectives, those points are transferred into credits to be spent on unlocking new cards and abilities. With about 30 or so cards locked behind Rank requirements, Battlefront falls into the familiar trap of offering too much. It’s easy to reasearch Star Cards to find out what works best for all types of engagements and leave the rest alone. It’s the same problem with the primary weapons--once you’ll find a gun you’re comfortable with, why bother using anything else? The same goes for the special ability Star Cards that can ionize blaster fire (making them more effective against vehicles) and detect nearby players. Abilities such as these are limited and require charges to use in play and can be easily accumulated in-game thus minimizing inconvenience.
Separate from Star Cards are powerups. Appearing as floating, light blue icons, these items offer a random, single use weapon such as the fire and forget Smart Rocket, anti-vehicle turrets, or my personal favorite, the Thermal Imploder. Pickups also let you pilot starships and take the skies to fill the role of air support. Ships can perform evasive maneuvers and make use of missiles and shields. In Walker Assault, the Rebels get a last ditch effort trump card that takes the form of the T-47 Speeder that can launch an instant kill attack against AT-ATs via the ship’s toe cable. Just like in the movie! Flying in Battlefront is easy enough to learn and feels much more intuitive than it did in Battlefield. Fighter Squadron is one of my favorite game types because of its focus on vehicle combat. It’s fun, thrilling, and I spent nearly half of my EA Access time with it.
Finally, there are Hero Pickups. Randomly generated on the map, these items let someone on both the Rebel and Imperial team to control a Hero character like Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Darth Vader, and even Emperor Palpatine, respectively. These characters are ridiculously overpowered and come with a moveset that can easily dominate the field. As such, it’s rare that they stay in play for long periods of time. Their arrival is heralded by theme music which is enough to alert your team to converge on the Hero’s position to take them out before they can tip the scales of battle. Playing as a Hero is a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Where the Heroes versus Villains game type gives everyone a chance to play as a hero, experiencing the thrill of blasting Stormtroopers as Han Solo or crushing throats as Darth Vader becomes a race against those who have put in the time to memorize where these pickups spawn. Heroes can be used in Fighter Squadron as well, though both sides are limited to the Millennium Falcon and Boba Fett’s Slave I.
All these pickups ultimately serve to do away with the Killstreak setup as imagined by Call of Duty. And I’m grateful for it. As I said, I’m getting older and my twitch reflexes aren’t what they used to be. I never knew the thrill of piloting the AC-130, flying a drone, or even causing a nuclear explosion. While I concede that earning Killstreaks is a measure of one’s skill, Battlefront is far less discouraging than the other games. And I like that. My time with Star Wars Battlefront has been so much fun, especially with my brother. I like its worry free design and the atmosphere is so easy to get sucked into for hours.
Where Battlefront doesn’t fall short is in its presentation. In short, oh sweet holy God if this isn’t the most perfect, screen accurate representation of Star Wars. The amount of detail shows that DICE got to spend some serious time digging around the LucasFilm archives. Everything in game, from TIE Fighters and Han’s DL-44 to Tatooine’s dry, barren desert and Endor’s lush forest moon, appear as they would in real life. Hoth, Tatooine, and the Forest Moon are absolutely gorgeous. Sullust, seen here for the first time in franchise history, is a beautiful in its volcanic ugliness. The air shimmers near flowing rivers of lava and your boots crunch the obsidian surface. Best of all, the game runs at a very smooth framerate; surprising considering the sheer chaos of large scale battles. Green and red blaster bolts litter the sky, AT-STs explode under the barrage of repeated turret fire, and X-Wings chase TIE Fighters in the sky. Stopping to take it all in is absolutely worth getting shot and killed by the other team. Matching the quality of the visuals is Ben Burtt’s sound library. DICE has always been really good when it comes to sound production and Battlefront is no different. The familiar “pew pew” of the blasters is enough to send chills down the spine of any Star Wars fan. The soundtrack adds so much to the thrill of the experience and it’s hard not to play with a big, dumb smile on my face.
Star Wars Battlefront isn’t as robust as its peers but it succeeds at scratching a nostalgic itch for Star Wars like no other game in the franchise. Those holding off from playing because of a lack of content can look to the future as DICE plans to launch five paid expansion packs. For those of us who have the game already, the Battle of Jakku DLC will be released for free as a tie-in to The Force Awakens. The commercial Sony released for the game featuring two brothers and their shared love for the franchise, perfectly encapsulates the audience Battlefront primarily serves. For every adult who grew up playing with toys and setting up battles between the heroic Rebels and the evil Galactic Empire, Battlefront offers a chance to live out these flights of imagination. Free from the stresses and complexities of modern multiplayer shooters, Star Wars Battlefront is an invitation to play in a galaxy far, far away.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.