My weekend with the Battlefront Beta

Unless you’ve been wilfully ignoring much of the games media and gaming social media over the last few days, its likely you might have noticed over the last weekend the open beta for Star Wars Battlefront was unleashed upon the mass of gamers desperate to, ahem, feel the force of EA and DICE’s latest big money multiplayer behemoth. I spent a good chunk of the weekend giving it a go.

For starters, on my Windows 7, GTX 970-powered PC I didn’t have any technical issues with the game and happily ran everything at maximum. However there were many reports of people who couldn’t play due to driver issues, or because they were running Windows 10. Understandably the game was titled as a beta, but with a month until release you had to wonder why these issues weren’t ironed out ahead of time.

The beta itself has three maps which vary in size and structure : A co-op vs AI mission where you fight against waves of invading enemies, a king-of-the-hill style map where two teams fight to capture a series of drop pods dotted around the landscape, and of course the big one, the Battle of Hoth, which I’m pretty sure needs no introduction. I dived into the first map to get a feel for the game, basically a survival map against waves of Imperial Stormtroopers on Tatooine, before plunging into the multiplayer modes.

From the very first second of gameplay I found myself drawn back into the Star Wars universe, as the sights and sounds are spot on. The desert canyons and hills of the landscape, the satisfying ‘pew’ of the guns and the impacts of blaster fire against the rocks, the barks of the Stormtroopers trying to capture you, and the yells of Admiral Ackbar in your ear giving warnings for the next wave among. Just as I was getting into the swing of things, however, it abruptly stopped after the 6th wave, and informed me that the full version of this mode would be available on release. A little jarring as I was having so much fun at that point, but understandable for a demo mode.

Next up was the multiplayer, with the first of the two maps being a medium sized battle for supremacy for drop pods on the planet of Sullust. It’s basically a capture and hold gamemode, with the winning team the one who captures the most drop pods in the allotted time. It’s pretty standard multiplayer fare and its here where the comparisons with the Battlefield series of games starts, as you’ll need quick reflexes and good aim to do survive long in this game. Death and respawns come thick and fast, and while the weapons have no recoil and unlimited ammo, they do overheat, though you can get around that with a well timed tap of the reload button. The comparisons with Battlefield don’t stop there, while there’s no classes of soldier, you gain credits and ranks as you play, which you use to unlock items you can use in your loadouts, including a jetpack and a frankly ridiculous sniper rifle which is a one shot kill most of the time and has a ludicrous 7 second cooldown. There’ll also be the option to customise your characters appearance.

With some time on Sullust under my belt it was high time to give the real draw of the beta a go. The Battle of Hoth, though a decidedly non-canonical version of it. It’s a 40 man objective based battleground based around two hulking AT-AT walkers. The Imperials simply have to defend them long enough to get in range of the shield generator. The players on the side of the Rebel Alliance however, must take and hold uplink locations, calling in Y-wing bombers to weaken the AT-ATs, making them vulnerable to small arms fire. The mode is clearly skewed towards the Imperals, but that’s not a bad thing. It makes a Rebel win that much sweeter when you know you have overcome the odds, and it leans a little closer to the true feel of that scene from the movie, when an AT-AT supported by a mass of Stormtroopers blasts a hole in the Rebel defensive lines in seconds, you feel both the dominance of the Imperial force and the desperation of the Rebels just as you might remember. Indeed, there’s no doubt from the moment I first spawned in this map, everything about it set the Star Wars side of my brain going. It feels and looks fantastic to just be a part of.

Unfortunately, its in this icy warzone where the problems and worries for the full game also start coming out in full force. You can control special characters and vehicles, including the AT-ATs, fighters and vehicles, and of course Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. But the only way to control any of these, aside from the turrets already on the map, is by picking up powerups placed at specific locations on the map. Some of these powerups require you to be right among the enemy lines, and then your character has to survive calling them in before you gain control. Its a ridiculous system that would be far better replaced with either allowing players to choose to spawn either in a fighter or on the field, giving them as rewards for killstreaks, or a mix of both.

Just as ridiculous is the lack of a server browser, with the only option to play to select your mode and let EA’s matchmaking put you into a game instance. In addition, the game is definitely most fun with friends, but while you can queue for matchmaking in a party, you can only ‘partner’ with one other player, making the party system somewhat pointless once you get into your game. Sure the game has dedicated servers, but these are EA’s dedicated servers and there are very few game mode settings on them that can be changed, meaning you play their way or not at all. You cant save a server to your favourites and foster a community on it like you can in other online games.

Furthermore, if the leaked info about the other game modes is correct, it could be that EA have given us the most fun and interesting one in the beta in an attempt to drum up hype for the release. Predictably, there will be DLC after release that adds new maps and modes, but of course these come at a price. If you want to buy the game and the Season Pass to get it all as soon as it comes out, it will set you back an eye watering £90, if you buy direct from EA. It’s a game that almost feels like it was only made to tie in to the new films and sell as much as possible, without any vision of keeping its audience coming back to it for any decent length of time, except for when a new DLC pack is released.

There are plenty of moments where the love and reverence for the source material oozes from every texture and audio effect, but then something in the user interface or the gameplay lets it down. For every positive or awe inspiring moment, there was a little irritation to go with it. I certainly got a lot of fun out of the beta weekend, notching up a good 8 hours of play, and there’s no question that based on the gameplay of the beta the full game will most certainly be good, but by the end of that 8 hours I was wondering if its longevity was lacking, as I’d just about had my fill of it. It’s just I get the feeling if it wasn’t for EA’s restrictions on it, it could have been long lasting and amazing, and it feels like a board of directors made the decision that ‘good enough to sell is good enough’, and to not worry about much after that.

So, in closing, should you get Star Wars: Battlefront when it comes out? The answer to that lies in a few simple questions. Do you like Star Wars? Do you like the Battlefield series of games? Do you have 1-3 friends who you can play with at all times? Do you all mind paying a little extra for DLC to get what could be the most fun modes in the game? If the answer to all of the above is yes then you will certainly get your fun out of this game. If you’re looking for a single player experience or don’t enjoy how the Battlefield series plays, then move along, this is not the Star Wars game you’re looking for.

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