As a longtime fan of both the Battlefield and Battlefront series and a lifetime fan of Star Wars, it should come as no surprise to anyone that I pre-ordered EA’s Star Wars Battlefront as soon as pre-orders went live. I know, I know, pre-ordering is bad, but who am I kidding? There’s no way I’m not going to own Battlefront, so I rode the excitement wave and jumped in head first. I’m not coming here to today to give you a cautionary tale on why I now regret my pre-order (I don’t); but I do feel like the more I learn about Star Wars Battlefront, the more I realize it’s still going to disappoint me greatly.
There is a subset of gamers down on Battlefront for all the myriad features its “missing,” such as Space Battles or Galactic Conquest, but I’m not one of them. For me, some of these features don’t matter, and others can come later in DLC or the inevitable sequels. What really irks me though is that that DICE appears to have made a decision to focus heavily on accessibility with Battlefront. Even if we assume Battlefront isn’t a technical mess like some of the more recent Battlefield games were at launch, the information coming out of E3 paints a pretty bleak picture for the game’s longevity and depth.
A focus on accessibility isn’t new for Star Wars games. You’ve got an IP with incredibly broad appeal, so you’re going to try to capture as many customers as possible, which makes sense. But for people who are both avid gamers and rabid fans of the IP, we’re often left wanting. Star Wars games rarely satisfy on a level beyond simply looking the part. With E3 2015 now wrapped, the information out there makes it all too clear that DICE is likely to leave me wanting with Battlefront as well. Given the above, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, but with the game’s hyper-realistic aesthetic and DICE’s combined arms shooter pedigree in Battlefield, I got the idea that they were aiming to give us more than the lighter gameplay found in the original Battlefront series.
Fans of a long dormant game series often worry when it stirs back to life in a new team’s hands that it will miss the mark and deliver an experience that doesn’t capture the spirit of the original game(s). It’s natural, because those fears often turn out to be justified, at least on some level. Combine those fears with Battlefield’s rise in prominence over the years and you’ve got a bunch of Battlefront series fans worrying that the new game will be a simple Battlefield reskin. The reality is that missing features aside, it’s clear that Battlefront is actually quite faithful to the gameplay of the original series in many ways and that design choice is not really to its benefit. If anything, I’m wishing more and more for that Battlefield reskin right about now.
Aiming Down Sights
The original Battlefront games were developed in an era when aiming down sights (ADS) wasn’t all the rage just yet. While ADS was around in more serious FPS titles, it wasn’t until Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare popularized it in 2007 that this mechanic became ubiquitous in shooters going forward. For many games, Battlefront included, running around hipfiring with an optional zoom button was all you really needed. I don’t know about you, but this is one area I just expected to be completely different from the original games simply due to the evolution of the modern shooter. Instead, it looks like we’re getting a throwback to 2004 with the lack of ADS. I’m nostalgic, but I’m not that nostalgic. To make matters worse, the omission of ADS ensures playing Battlefront in third person perspective is the clear superior choice. Instead of the already shaky trade-off of additional accuracy for a massive expansion in field of view, playing in third person affords you all of the benefits with none of the negatives. The first person perspective seems like more of a novelty than anything else right now.
The game's maps may feature objectives, but playing as a team is going to be unnecessarily harder in Star Wars Battlefront. DICE has apparently decided not to leverage all of the improvements made to teamplay in the Battlefield games over the years with Battlefront. For example, you won’t find squads or spotting (3D or otherwise) in this game. Instead, the best you can hope for is to team up with one other friend.
Oh, and forget about revives and ammunition. You won’t need to rely on your teammates for either since respawns are instant and guns operate on an overheat mechanic. The latter isn’t terrible, but instant respawns completely ruin the flow of battle. Winning a fight over an objective is meaningless if players can rush right back in.
DICE’s approach towards vehicles in Battlefront is probably the most confusing change of all. The system is a complete departure for both Battlefront and the Battlefield games. All vehicles are random powerups scattered throughout the map. If you’ve got the idea that you’re going to be able to be a dedicated pilot (transport or otherwise) in Battlefront, you’ll want to dash those hopes right now. Your only chance of hopping into a vehicle is to find the right powerup. Vehicles are treated like heroes (also playable via powerup) as a sort of bonus mode separated away from the main experience. Even the original Battlefront games didn’t get it wrong here, so I’m honestly just left scratching my head.
I’m not going to completely write Battlefront’s approach to classes just yet, but I’m not all too encouraged by this particular departure for the series. Classes make gameplay easier to balance and create a more authentic Star Wars experience, which seems to be a huge focus for DICE with this game. In EA’s Battlefront, you’ll get to create your own loadouts by selecting a couple of “Star Cards” that determine your weapons and gadgetry. This may sound like you’re getting more options, but like any game with a free-form system, the “best” couple of loadouts will quickly emerge and you’re likely to be stuck playing with them. Sure, with classes there may be best loadouts per class, but that still affords you more options than the illusion of choice free form systems promise.
You can see an example of this issue in the trailers themselves. Equipping your character with a jetpack is a Star Card choice you’ll have to make as it takes up one of your slots. Notice everyone in the trailers has a jetpack? The mobility the jetpack provides ensures that it’s really not much of a choice, but a requirement. This also ties back into my earlier comments about classes and authenticity. With Battlefront, DICE is aiming for a super authentic Star Wars experience, but jetpacks weren’t prevalent in Star Wars or even the original Battlefront games. Specialized classes such as Boba Fett (hero) or the Dark Trooper had access to jetpacks, sure, but most players had to run around. Now, we have standard Rebel grunts and Imperial Stormtroopers leaping around everywhere.
Despite all of the above, I still think Battlefront will be fun in a casual sort of way. But even then, how long will that last? DICE has made a number of regressive moves to up the game’s accessibility and keep close to standards set by the original series’ dated mechanics, but in doing so will likely limit the game’s longevity. Simplified shooting, teamplay, class mechanics, and vehicles make for a very shallow overall experience even casting aside the “missing” features many fans of the series are upset about.
Sure, it looks and sounds like a Star Wars masterpiece, but once you’ve gotten over the novelty of the game’s gorgeous aesthetic, all you’re going to be left with is a shooter that is woefully deficient in just about every area of gameplay unless all you’re looking for in Battlefront is to don a Stormtrooper helmet and run around in third person hipfiring at dudes. For anyone else, I’m unfortunately expecting the experience to last as long as Titanfall or Battlefield: Hardline. There’s just not enough meat in the basic gameplay to keep “core gamers” interested. We know DICE can make a better combined arms shooter than this. When I initially learned DICE was making a Battlefront game I was excited to play a Star Wars game that would surely benefit from all of the studio’s expertise in developing the Battlefield series over the years. At this point, I’m finding it hard to pin down how any of that expertise has benefited Battlefront at all.