It’s a hell of a spectacle, the kind of Star Wars battle scene any fan would’ve dreamed up with childhood action figures (although the Ewoks are, so far, nowhere to be seen). But it’s also far too tidy a narrative sequence to truly represent the mayhem of a 40-player match of Battlefront. And it raises more questions than it answers. The Y-Wings were called in as an AI airstrike, but could players be piloting those bombers, taking out AT-ATs from above? Will players on the Empire side be controlling the AT-ATs? How will each side win in Walker Assault? And how will spawning work? Unless you’re the star of a tightly controlled demo, you’re probably going to die a few times per round.
DICE is staying tight-lipped for now. “It’s very important for us to create a true Star Wars environment,” says Craig Mcleod, another producer on Battlefront. “We want it to feel real. There are so many different aspects to this. It goes from the ground up. So when you think about that initial layer of infantry combat on the ground, then you add ground vehicles and the walker combat on top of that, then you go into another layer of dogfighting between X-Wings and TIE Fighters... [Walker Assault is] where we’re looking to put all our components in there.”
Other modes, says Mcleod, will be suited to different numbers of players, all the way down to intimate eight player battles. DICE isn’t talking about what those modes are, but we do know what we won’t be seeing in this iteration of Battlefront. The prequel trilogy? It’s out. No clone troopers or buffoonish battle droids. Space battles? Those have been nixed, too. “We’re focusing on epic planetary battles for this game,” Mcleod says.
The list of planets has also been cut down. There are only four this time around: Tatooine, Hoth, Endor, and newcomer Sullust, a planet of snowy blue and jutting black rock and erupting orange lava. DICE’s developers talked excitedly about the amount of work that went into bringing those planets to life in Battlefield. The teams travelled to redwood forests in northern California to capture photo references for Endor. They went to Iceland for Hoth and Sullust. And early in production, they travelled to Lucasfilm’s Skywalker ranch to mine the archives for precious materials: Ralph McQuarrie’s original concept artwork, stormtrooper costumes used in the films, Darth Vader’s helmet, the models of X-Wings and TIE Fighters and the Millennium Falcon.
Some of Battlefront’s 3D models were created with a process called photogrammetry: DICE’s artists took hundreds of photos of stormtrooper armour and the various ship models to bring them to life in the game, scuff marks and all. DICE convinced me that Battlefront will be the best-looking Star Wars game ever made, and the most slavishly faithful to the original trilogy. The question is, will it be, you know... fun? Will it feel like the often-goofy Battlefront games of old, or will it feel like a carbon copy of the Battlefield experience?
It’s still impossible to say at this point, and DICE’s linear demo of Walker Assault didn’t help much. But we did get a few details that help dial-in Battlefront’s combat. A minute into the demo, the starring Rebel trooper switches from firstperson to third-person, hip-firing a blaster rifle with a fairly minimalist reticule on screen for aiming. There are seemingly no iron sights to be found, though at one point he scopes in with a sniper rifle. Still, DICE seems to have kept the feel classic Battlefront’s aiming more or less intact.
“This is one of the most requested things that we’ve seen when we read forums or tweets,” Mcleod says. “It was really important for us that we include both first- and third-person. And that’s something you’ll be able to swap at any time. Trying to get the balance between first-person and third-person right is something we’re incredibly dedicated to doing. We have our animators working incredibly hard to make sure both options are equally viable and that neither one of them gives a particular advantage over the other.”
Also returning: hero units. The demo climaxes with the Rebel trooper entering an Imperial bunker, only to watch a comrade levitate off the ground, choking, before being tossed to the side like a doll. There’s some familiar breathing. Mechanical. Ominous. Of course it’s Darth Vader. Of course he bats aside blaster bolts with his lightsaber as he walks towards the camera. And then... well, cut to black. DICE confirmed that Vader and Boba Fett are both playable in Battlefront, but didn’t specify how you’ll take control of them. The Millennium Falcon also showed up in Battlefront’s trailer, so the Rebels will no doubt have their iconic heroes, too.
Given DICE’s history, it’s hard to watch Battlefront in action without seeing shades of its most famous franchise. And there are features in Battlefront that have been adapted from Battlefield. There’s the Partner system, for example, that works similarly to Battlefield’s squads. You’ll always be able to see and spawn on your partner. You also share unlocks, so depending on how far you are through Battlefront’s progression system, you’ll be able to help your partner out with more weapon choices.
“We approached the creation and conceptualisation of Battlefront in a way where we said: of course we are DICE, we are a Battlefield studio, so of course there’s incredible heritage from that,” says Sigurlína Ingvarsdottir. “But we were so mindful of the fact that we wanted to make this franchise our own. We wanted to give it its own identity. We wanted it to feel like Star Wars and not be directly comparable to something else... We’re a studio that’s very identified with Battlefield, and of course we’re taking Battlefront which is an existing franchise, and both of these things inspire what we’re doing, but we’re making our own thing.”
Case in point: there’s no Battlefieldesque class system in Battlefront, although there will be progression and unlocks. “We allow you to create your own loadout,” Mcleod says. “If you want to be one of those players that’s a frontline run and gun, you’ll be able to create a loadout that allows you to do this. If you’re more defence or more of a team player, we’ll allow you to do that as well.”
Like Battlefield, Star Wars Battlefront will be focused on online multiplayer. But unlike Battlefield and the classic Battlefront games, there won’t be a campaign this time around. Instead, DICE is offering up some bite-size missions that recreate iconic moments from the original trilogy, to be played singleplayer or co-op (the consoles get splitscreen, but PC gamers will be limited to online co-op). A special multiplayer DLC pack called The Battle of Jakku, which bridges the gap between Star Wars Episode VI and Episode VII, will also be freely available to everyone who owns Battlefront a month after release. The desert planet of Jakku, featured prominently in The Force Awakens’ teaser trailers, plays host to a climactic battle between the Empire and the Rebellion, one year after the Battle of Endor.
With little to go on but its name, The Battle of Jakku is still more exciting than the narrow slice of perfectly arranged action DICE has been willing to show so far. We’ve all been to the galaxy far, far away hundreds of times. We’ve towcabled AT-ATs and fought on the surfaces of Endor and Tatooine. Sure, they’ve never looked as good as they do in Frostbite. And hopefully DICE’s shooter pedigree will make those activities just as fun as they were the first hundred times. But Sullust and The Battle of Jakku are, at least, a taste of something new.
As Star Wars goes through its most promising and exciting revival in decades, EA’s flagship Star Wars game should be channelling that energy. Respect the classics, but give us something new we’ve never seen or played. And is mod support too much to ask for? I know, I know. Don’t tell me the odds.
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