Touring the simple, spectacular battlefields of Star Wars Battlefront

Battlefront 1

I’ve played through a lot of Battle of Hoths in my lifetime, but Battlefront has the best one. Forget Shadows of the Empire, Rogue Squadron and 2005’s Battlefront II—EA’s version has a Battle of Hoth that blows all previous efforts clean out of the snowscape. It’s the varied geography, the movie-accurate colour palette and the obvious fact that it’s had a ton of money thrown at it. This is what I always hoped Star Wars games would someday look like when I was a kid: battles taking place on land and in the sky, with star destroyers looming in the planet’s atmosphere. There’s so much Star Wars going on at any one time. If you’re excited about Episode VII this year and you want a game that captures the bright, fast and fun nature of a Star Wars set piece, then this is absolutely a game that does that.

Battlefield fans hoping this will function like the newest entry in that series might find themselves a bit disappointed, however. I think it’s younger people, or those more invested in Star Wars than in hardcore shooters, who will really love Battlefront. There are no classes or squads, for example. Sniper rifles are an unlockable ability with several seconds of cooldown after each shot. So are grenades. Your primary weapon can be upgraded to have different values for range or damage, but it’ll still be a variation on a blaster rifle. This weapon can kill stormtroopers or rebels, but it can also damage an AT-ST or a turret—it seems to be a one-size-fits-all gun. This might not please gamers who like a more complicated synergy between players.

I’m increasingly OK with this direction. Wes noted in his preview a few months ago that Battlefront was worryingly simple—I felt that too when I played the Hoth level at E3. But after multiple hours with this week’s beta at a recent press event in Stockholm, I’ve come around to the idea that simplicity might also be a strength.

I sampled the three modes of the beta in those hours: the Tatooine-set Survival (Battlefront’s variant on horde mode revealed at E3); Walker Assault (the Hoth battle); and a new mode called Dropzone, which takes place on Sullust. There are numerous maps across the game’s four planets (Endor being the fourth) depending on the mode; Survival and Dropzone feature maps that are a little smaller than Walker Assault’s 40vs40 Hoth battle.

In Survival, I faced six waves of imperial troops out of the 15 that will spawn in the final game. They alternated between long-range types, heavy blaster-wielders and AT-ST walkers, and sometimes a mix of these. To beat them, I had three of the game’s Star Cards (bonus abilities, seen in the bottom right-hand side of the HUD): a grenade launcher, a brief buff on gun precision, and a jetpack. The jetpack and grenades are one-shot deals, and make scrapping with an AT-ST feel particularly cool, especially if you manage to jet off into the air and damage it at the same time.

I found Survival initially enjoyable but it held up quite badly on repeat playthroughs—there didn’t seem to be much of an effort to rejig enemy positions or tactics, so it became a pigeon shoot. With no option to play Walker Assault with bots, I’m not entirely won over to Survival as an alternative to a more expansive singleplayer option. Part of the joy of old Battlefront is leaping into Instant Action to do large-scale Battle of Hoth or Endor with some admittedly stupid bots—it seems a shame that’s not an option any more.

I asked design director Niklas Fegraeus about the thinking behind approaching single and co-op modes like this. “What we have done is to try to design singleplayer experiences you can play alone or cooperatively... You can play the survival mission we showed in the open beta, for example, where you can take on waves of enemies and you finish them as fast as you can. But there are other types of engagements as well: the battles, training missions. The goal of the missions is to provide a very interesting palette of different player experiences that you can also play cooperatively with a friend.”

There’s a generous selection of other modes in the main menu, and you can select what planet you want to play them on. I asked Fegraeus if there was a map variant per planet for every mode. “If you look at Hoth, you have very large snow surfaces, then on Endor there’s trees and rocks all over the place. So they cater to very different types of gameplay. Lots of cover versus not so much cover, distance versus close quarters and so on. But in general we’ve made it so there’s a map design available on each planet for the modes.”

Samuel Roberts
Former PC Gamer EIC Samuel has been writing about games since he was 18. He's a generalist, because life is surely about playing as many games as possible before you're put in the cold ground.