Star Wars: Battlefront
November 17, 2015 (NA)
November 18, 2015 (AU)
November 19, 2015 (AU)
While available for multiple platforms, the game was played on PC for the purposes of this review.
Star Wars mania is in full swing, with the release of the exceptional The Force Awakens bringing the venerable film franchise back to its glory days. Naturally, a new Battlefront game is the perfect way to restore that glory to Star Wars gaming, and of course not come across as a cheap cash-in on the new movie, right?
Don’t get me wrong; at its best, DICE’s Battlefront delivers a Star Wars experience like no other. The environments are faithfully recreated in stunning detail, with some of the best graphics I’ve ever seen on any platform (and immensely scalable on PC, I might add). The production values are through the roof – everything from the sound of blasters firing to the lumbering movements of Imperial walkers and the fighters zooming overhead will make you feel like you’ve been placed right in the middle of a climactic battle from the franchise. In terms of production, Battlefront is most authentic Star Wars gaming experience in franchise history.
Unfortunately, that’s pretty much where the good news ends. Battlefront may be a good Star Wars simulator, but its shallow gameplay, balance and matchmaking issues, and lack of content, among other things, keep it from being anything other than a barely passable game.
It’s not that it doesn’t have a good selection of modes, because Battlefront has quite a variety indeed. There are several standard modes such as Blast and Cargo which serve as typical shooter team deathmatch and capture the flag modes. Drop Zone, which sees the teams competing to capture drop pods, as well as its counterpart Droid Run, are also based on fairly standard shooter modes, albeit with a Star Wars twist. I personally found Drop Zone to be one of the more enjoyable modes in Battlefront, especially if I didn’t want to spend a lot of time playing a round of one of the large-scale modes (more on those in a bit).
And then there are the three more unique of Battlefront‘s smaller modes. Fighter Squadron takes place entirely in the air, pitting rebel Starfighters against Imperial TIEs, with hero ships such as the Millennium Falcon and Slave I making regular appearances. It’s a fun mode, even if it can’t compare to the Rogue Squadron games of old. Less enjoyable are Hero Hunt and Heroes vs. Villains, which feature the game’s hero characters duking it out (or running the hell away from an entire team of enemies, in the case of Hero Hunt). Matches in these modes tend to go on far longer than they should, and the shtick gets old fairly quickly – especially considering there are only three heroes (Luke, Leia, and Han) and three villains (Vader, Palpatine, and Boba Fett).
The redeeming quality of the Hero modes is that they’re likely the only chance you’ll get to play as those characters. Battlefront spawns heroes and vehicles as random power-ups on the field, which means that any old player can pick them up if they’re fast enough. That’s a good thing in that it gives every player an opportunity to gain power-ups. It’s a bad thing in that, with 40 players on the field in some modes, your chances of actually getting a hero or vehicle are fairly slim.
Speaking of 40-player modes, the star of the show is Walker Assault, which sees Rebels defending against an Imperial walker attack while attempting to hold uplinks so Y-wing bombers can make the walkers vulnerable. It’s one of the three 40-player online modes in the game, along with Supremacy – a mode that has each team capturing a sequence of control points – and the added-after-launch Turning Point – a King of the Hill type mode. The massive scale of the battles in these 20 v. 20 modes allows for some truly intense gameplay and simply adds to the authenticity of the Star Wars experience offered here.
It’s just too bad that the game itself is as balanced as an elephant and a gnat on a playground see-saw.
For a particularly egregious example, Walker Assault on Endor gives the Imperials one walker (compared to the two they receive in other modes). It’s usually gunned down by the second of three sets of uplinks. Not only that, but Rebels on Endor wear camouflage and blend into the forest surroundings. Imperials? Shiny white Stormtrooper armor. But it gets better! The second set of uplinks are located up in the trees, so Imperials will have to make their way up from the ground to deactivate them, while the Rebels are free to rain down blasters, torpedoes, and all manner of hellfire from the foliage above.
I think I’ve seen the Imperials win once on Endor in over 20 hours of playing the game.
But it’s not just the one mode on the one map that’s a problem. There are so many balancing issues at play here. The A-wing fighter’s hitbox is ridiculously broken and makes it near-impossible to target. The DL-44 blaster was horribly overpowered up until the latest patch, delivering a one hit KO at all but the farthest of ranges. Rebel starfighters are much more maneuverable and have better shields and abilities than Imperial TIE fighters. And don’t even get me started about the damn Bowcaster. Add in the fact that weapons are unlocked by progressing up the ranks (except the aforementioned DL-44, which was an instant unlock for people who bought the deluxe edition of the game – everyone else has to wait until Level 25) and you also have to grind for credits to purchase weapons and cards (including traits and side weapons) for your loadouts, and the skill gap becomes quite huge indeed.
It’s exacerbated by the fact that matchmaking seems almost non-existent. Newbies get matched with players dozens of ranks higher than them, with all the game’s best loadouts, while they’re stuck with next to nothing. And even then, the game may load one team with veterans while the other gets loaded with Level 5s. To top it all off, the game does no team balancing in-between matches, choosing instead to simply make everyone that was an Imperial last time a Rebel, and vice versa.
However, there’s still fun to be had here. When the stars would align and everything actually came together, I had more fun with Battlefront than a lot of other games in 2015. Unfortunately, those instances were rare and often dotted randomly among the dozens of rage-inducing matches that were rank with plenty of BS on both sides. Truth be told, I probably liked it better as a Star Wars game than I did as a shooter. Yet I still get the urge to jump into a game or two of Walker Assault every now and then, and I find myself booting up Origin for some Star Wars guilty pleasure…
…and come up with an empty lobby. Since at least the beginning of 2016, I’ve been able to get into just a handful of matches. A quick glace at Player Stats Network’s Battlefront statistics should explain why – the game is absolutely dead on PC, with a peak of just over 7,000 players on the day of this review being published (and often dropping into the 1,000s at night). EA claims that these stats do not represent the actual player population of the game, and I’d be inclined to agree since I have no problem finding matches in the Xbox One version of Titanfall with its fairly low player count in a lot of modes. But that only leaves one other explanation – that Battlefront‘s matchmaking system is even more broken than I thought.
I’m seriously wondering how it’s going to fare when the season pass content comes out and DLC ownership divides the PC community even more. I would have bought the game on PS4 had I known the PC player base would dry up so fast, and it’s a shame that it’s a crapshoot whether or not you can even play the game at this point.
And let’s face it, if you can’t play multiplayer, you can’t play the game, since there’s no single player (other than tutorial missions and a wave-based Horde type mode that’s more fun in multi anyway). Even just stringing together recreations of some of the battles from the saga with AI-controlled teams would have been a nice touch, but as it is, the game is 99% online multiplayer-only.
Much has been made of Battlefront‘s lack of content in this regard and otherwise, and while I think the complaints have been overstated to some extent (its multiplayer modes are far more expansive than Halo 5‘s were at launch, for example), it’s still a justified concern – especially with a $50 season pass. Launch featured four planets – Hoth, Tatooine, Endor, and Sullust – with a fifth – Jakku – being added in December. Each planet has a large-scale and two smaller-scale maps (except Jakku, which only has two maps) that are dependent on which game mode you’re playing, for a total of 14 maps. That’s a fairly anemic selection, but it’d be easier to overlook if the game didn’t suffer from so many other issues.
The sad part is, with some balancing and fixes to the matchmaking system, Battlefront would be a good game. The core gameplay itself is solid, if a bit shallow, and when things actually come together, it’s a total blast to play. If DICE can build upon this foundation and flesh it out exponentially, fix the matchmaking system, and provide significant balance patches, they could turn things around for the game (although it may be too late for the PC version, if that player count is any indication), or, at the very least, knock it out of the park with the inevitable sequel. As it is now, though, Battlefront delivers a fantastic Star Wars spectacle but fails to deliver on the promise of being a great Star Wars game – or living up to the Battlefront series’ pedigree.
Incredible production values.
The most authentic Star Wars experience yet.
Good variety of modes.
Lots of fanservice.
In serious need of balancing in lots of aspects.
Matchmaking system needs an overhaul.
No single player campaign.
Anemic player count on PC.
Progression system is a grind.