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Apr 30

Star Wars Battlefront: Disappointing? Do We Expect Too Much?

Star Wars Battlefront: Disappointing? Do We Expect Too Much?

Great Expectations! Few games this year generated the kind of fascination and response — and sales — that Star Wars Battlefront created. I could call this “The best of times, the worst of times” — a Tale Of Two Cities, err, Of Two Games, both called Battlefront. The predecessor game from 2005, Star Wars Battlefront II. And 2015’s reboot of the game, called simply Star Wars Battlefront.

Despite solid sales, many active players and fans, and lots of positive reviews and videos, for many players and Star Wars fans, the game is called a disappointment. In fact, the Most Disappointing Game Of 2015. But why?

As the Man In Black says to Inigo in the Princess Bride, when asked for his identity, “Get used to disappointment.”

Are we missing something? Those of us who tried Battlefront and found it lacking, or still play it but somehow feel like something is missing, are we wrong? Do we just have to “get used to it”? Or will it get enough better over time that we will be won over by its ultimate greatness?

Or are those of us who feel disappointed, the players who reject this game, the ones who are missing the good — perhaps even great — qualities of this new reboot of the Star Wars Battlefront franchise?

What do gaming disappointments look like? How about when a game doesn’t even run on release, but crashes so often that it isn’t playable? Or if it runs, but with poor performance and glitches, especially bad things like features just not working, saves being lost or corrupted, or balance so bad that no one can enjoy a fair fight?

Battlefront has none of these problems. Let’s look at the positives.

First thing, this is a working, stable, playable game and pretty well balanced on release. For that matter, the Beta, and even Alpha, worked well, with the Beta both fun and popular, with record players. Unlike many new releases, everything in the game works as advertised.

Second, the game performance is amazing. We get great full 1080 HD video at 60 FPS on console, and very nice performance on PC as well.

Third, and perhaps most important from a quality point of view, the sound and graphics in the game are the best ever for a Star Wars game. In fact, many would call it the best looking game on console period. We get to play in a world which looks, feels, and sounds just like the movie universe it is based on. Certainly the best looking movie-based game ever. With so many games having high quality videos only in cut scenes, and far lower quality in actual game play, this definitely exceeds expectations. In fact, as a Star Wars game, it would be worth getting simply to enjoy the scenery — to move around within the worlds and places seen in the movies, and live out the dream of actually being in the Star Wars universe.

Fourth, the game play itself is also very true to the movie sources. The weapons and vehicles look and work like the do in the movies. We have game modes which let us play out battles based on the events in the movies, living and fighting as a Storm Trooper or Rebel Soldier. Or even one of the classic heroes or villians of the series. Other game modes are smaller in scope, but let us visit other iconic locations and scenes from the movies, and have fun times fighting and playing in them.

For content, the multiplayer side shipped with 13 game maps, with two more available after two to four weeks. While these two could be considered a teaser to get more people to preorder, it still brings the total to 15 maps. The latest patch adds one more multiplayer map — it is one from the single player, but it is still a good new map — which brings our total up to 16 maps. And there are going to be more free maps to come.

A lot of games come with far fewer maps on release. Battlefield 3 and Battlefield Hardline had 9 maps each on release, for example. If you look at most FPS games in recent years, very few came out with 15 or 16 maps to play on, without paying. We’ll get more maps that we must pay for, and the Season Pass does add to the cost of this game. But so many other games use paid DLC and Season Pass or its equivalent, so it isn’t like this is the only popular game which makes you pay extra for more game play.

The way the game maps are divided up is different from many other games. We have 5 big maps for the larger game modes, and 11 smaller maps for the other game modes. Not all game modes will work on all maps, so a given game mode can have a smaller selection for its rotation. The interesting thing is that lets the maps be tailored to the game modes they use, and allows more locations from the movies to be showcased in the game. The game uses a technology called photogrammetry, , to replicate locations and objects from the movie scenes — often taken from the real world locations where the movie was shot.

If you only play and like the smaller game modes (6v6 or 8v8), there are 11 maps, which is still a respectable number for a game on release. Many games have no large (40 or 64 player, 1000+ meters) maps or game modes at all. Star Wars Battlefront offers a wide variety of locations and game modes to play on, unlike some games.

EA Star Wars has given us information about the future of the game. We will get even more free maps and other content, Jabba’s Palace on Tatooine and the factory on Sullust in the Outer Rim DLC, and maps on Bespin (Cloud City), and the Death Star itself. The patches have done a great job of dealing with some of the frustrations and minor imbalances in the game, which is a great sign that DICE will keep up with supporting the playability of the game. EA and DICE’s support for Battlefield 4 has been amazing as well, another good sign for the future of this game. While many players — like me — would love to have all the new worlds available now, rather than later, and as part of the core game rather than a Season Pass for more money, it isn’t like we don’t pay for — and love — other games which use paid DLC to complete the game content.

So, exciting game play, amazingly awesome sound and graphics, marvelous recreations of movie scenes, and decent balance, as well as good game performance. What’s not to like about this game?

I find three or four areas of disappointment.

First, and simplest, is that for Star Wars fans, the decision to stick to strict Original Trilogy Canon makes a lot of the fun elements of the Prequel Trilogy and Clone Wars unavailable. There are be no Expanded Universe content either. All such possibilities are essentially killed by Canon (pun intended). Whether this is because Disney doesn’t want to see Jar-Jar Binks appear in a game (whether to be killed horribly or not), or other reasons to effectively delete the first three episodes from its history, or because it wants to allow a future game to be based entirely on the Clone Wars era, I can’t tell. But to me, this doesn’t seem to be a major issue as far as game play, and while it removes some potential content, the Original Trilogy and Canon have quite a lot of good material to use.

Second, it isn’t simply a reskin of Battlefield 4 with Star Wars elements. While people unfamiliar with Star Wars Battlefront II can be forgiven for not realizing that it was, in essence, an adaptation of Battlefield 2 to Star Wars itself, it diverged quite a bit from its source. From a game play standpoint, a sci-fi space based themed Battlefield game is rather attractive. But many of the elements of Battlefield don’t really translate well to a Canonical Star Wars game. The Storm Troopers are fairly interchangeable as soldiers, and for that matter, the rebels seem to be pretty flexible in roles as well. The obsession with weapon details and loadouts and stats and such which is a large part of the military-themed Battlefield world don’t fit into Star Wars. A game like this would appeal to Battlefield fans, but not do much to gather in all of the Star Wars fans who are less interested in the all-out warfare aspects of the game play.

Third, and the biggest one of all: it isn’t a sequel to Battlefront II. For fans of that game, this is the biggest negative of all. Never mind that EA and DICE never promised or even suggested that it was a sequel — its name without a number means it is a Reboot instead. If you were a Battlefront II fan, it is hard not to look on that 2005 game as an amazing addition to the Star Wars gaming universe. If you haven’t checked it out, and play on PC, why not? It is cheap on Steam or, and the single player elements work easily (multiplayer is harder since the original servers shut down, same with the XBOX version).

In terms of content, all I can say is wow! We get about 30 maps across all game modes, though some of the space maps are pretty similar to each other, and some are small fights rather than large. Most also get two eras — Clone Wars and Galactic Civil War — giving you two versions of battle for each map, although clones vs. droids works a lot like Stormtroopers vs. Rebels in many ways. There are only two primary game modes — Conquest and Capture The Flag — for all maps. Of the secondary game modes allowed on some maps, the Hunt modes are fun but, uh, I can’t see a mode where Stormtroopers go after Ewoks as being acceptable (both in rating and tone) for a lot of players and parents. The Hero Assault mode is cool, but was originally only on the Mos Eisley map, and only got a few others later, not all maps.

The bigger variety in maps did keep the limited game modes exciting. But remember, Battlefield 2 was essentially all about Conquest mode as well, and it is a classic modern warfare FPS.

But wait! We have three solid single player elements for this game, in addition to the massive (64 player servers) multiplayer. First, and a simple one, is that, as with Battlefield 2 and many other games of the era, you can start what is essentially a multiplayer game with only one player, as all other slots (63 players) are filled with AI run soldiers. While not the same kind of challenge as playing against other humans, it does offer the full spectacle of the game, and can be challenging.

We also get Galactic Conquest. This is a sort of campaign board game, where you move fleets to attack or defend planets. Each turn, the opposing forces in each contested location fight out a battle — pretty much like the single player ones above. You can earn bonuses to use to improve your odds in the battle (extra soldiers, health, etc.), but it still plays out as a regular battle game. Win, and you get control of the contested location. Lose, and you are forced back. Eventually, either the rebel base at Yavin-4 or the imperial capital at Coruscant will be attacked, and a victory will end the game of conquest.

Last, and rather cool and good, is the single player story campaign. It follows the career of a clone (later stormtrooper) unit, through the clone wars, the rise of the empire, right up to the Battle Of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back. While the clones are, as in the movies, at first on the light side with support of the Jedi, after Order 66, the whole tone of the campaign changes. It is a rare case in a Star Wars game, where the Canon story line follows the Empire as heroes, and looks at their victory on Hoth (although as in the movies, most of the rebels do escape) means an end to their war. The actual game play is a series of single player conquest battles, with some special rules and characters used to keep the storyline (Anakin’s attack on the Jedi Temple on Coruscant is particularly wrenching, as in the movies) going during the game. It isn’t an easy campaign, and the story is done well.

Ultimately, though, all the single player elements are at the heart just multiplayer games with AI running the soldiers on both teams, with the player taking a lead role. This works well, but can’t truly be compared to a true single player RPG shooter story, like Jedi Knight, Jedi Academy, or Knights Of The Old Republic. A game like those using this new Frostbite engine would be awesome though, woudn’t it?

The classes and control point/spawn location system are taken straight from Battlefield. The use of earned points to unlock the use of special characters — leaders, aliens, and eventually the one Hero or Villain available per side, adds a bit of an RPG element, and very strongly brings other elements of the movie universe to life within the game.

The use of the server system means you don’t need to find a lot of other players to start a game. The game can be set to fill in other soldiers with AI run units, which really helps for most maps and game modes, because you need enough to fill up the battlefield. This was true of Battlefield 2 as well.

But was it perfect? Not really. We tend to remember the best things about older games, and forget the issues which bothered us at the time.

One easy thing: by scoring enough kills (that is, playing a lot), you could unlock elite weapons. As they are better than the standard soldier weapons, there is little reason not to use them (the sniper weapon was a tradeoff, and not always superior). In essence, experienced players got a strong, permanent combat advantage over other players. While the new Battlefront does have a lot of unlocked items which do improve player power, it doesn’t take that long to reach the ranks to get them (rank 15 to 25 is enough, you can do that within a month).

The Engineer resupply capability was recursive. That is, in addition to dropping health and supplies for other players, the engineer could drop supplies for himself, to allow him to drop even more health and supplies. In the right circumstances, this could make the Engineer sort of like Wolverine of the X-Men — unlimited healing. Now, this is sort of like Battlefield’s Assault/Medic healing, and that works there, but in Battlefield 4 it was limited and slowed down. In Battlefront II, a good Engineer could keep going and going, as long as he wasn’t killed outright. His only limitation really was the short-ranged weapon he was saddled with, but in close combat battles that was just fine.

64 players sounds pretty good, right? Well, as Battlefield players can attest, on some maps, that is too many for the space available, especially with explosive weapons (the ever-popular thermal detonator grenade, for example) in wide use. Filling them in with AI makes the limitations of the AI behavior a bit more obvious (we can’t have the AI be too good, or they’ll destroy all players with their aimbot-like reflexes, and they aren’t actually thinking like humans). The standard conquest battle mode really needed a full team in order to fill in all the combat positions on the map. Even the boring ones, like guarding the rear area positions, vehicle bases, manning the weapon turrets even in areas with no enemies, repairing defenses, and so on. The AI was actually bad at repairing, which makes a player team able to beat them simply be keeping the fixed defenses and vehicles operating longer.

Space Battles made this issue even more obvious. While flying out of a big rebel starship to attack a Star Destroyer sounds (and is) very cool, the actual game play tended to focus on three elements, none of which really required a lot of classic starfighter dogfighting. Oh, the game did have dogfighting, very much like the Fighter Squadron mode in the new Battlefront. It is just that well over half the battle had nothing to do with it.

First, knock out the defenses. Classically, take the Y-Wings out and hit the defense Frigates (if present, most battles have them). Hammers the shields and defenses of the enemy capital ship, including its main guns (which will weaken your own ship’s shields if not taken out).

Second, disable the enemy ship, by bombing its key (now exposed as the shields are down) systems. The sensors, comms, engines, and weapons.

Third, board and disable the ship’s systems from the inside. This last part required getting a shuttle or fighter into the enemy bay, then getting out and fighting your way into the ship. A shuttle was best, because it established a new spawn point, so you and your team could return immediately there if you died. There were automated defenses which could shoot you, but as they were predictable AI, with good planning you could overcome them. Same goes to a degree for any AI-run troops defending the ship — real humans are smarter and less predictable, and much better at stopping intruders.

A lot of the important roles in the game would be filled by AI-controlled soldiers, in part because the positions were rather boring in many cases. The gun operators inside the ship, sitting at consoles? Not exactly an exciting way to play the game, waiting for an enemy to cross your zone and trying to shoot them. Repair techs to try and fix the ship systems if they get damaged? More like waiting for an enemy force to board and then die, although you might also get a chance to double as a defender. And standing guard on ship systems, while other players are out in space getting glory? An important job, but only really needed once the boarders arrive. Except of course, they always do in good games. While a human could be a much better defender than the AI, standing guard all game until the attack comes just isn’t exciting. While you could spawn in once boarders arrive, a determined, effective enemy could do a lot of damage before that happens. It is much easier to keep the enemy out, than to hunt them down once they get inside the defenses.

Star Wars Battlefront: Not Enough Content?

A common complaint is that the game has good elements, but not enough things to retain a player’s interest. So what is missing?

Let’s address some of these.

Not enough guns, or gun customization.

We have 11 Blasters, which fill specific roles and seem to do them well, while remaining balanced against each other. No gun is truly overpowered (the DL-44 had its power noticeably reduced in the last patch, but even so wasn’t nearly good enough to dominate all other weapons). The weapons added in the 1st DLC don’t change this.

Given that players can choose any gun at will, having and maintaining this balance is a good thing. The classic games like Star Wars Battlefront II, HALO, Unreal Tournament, etc., all had NO gun customization and limited choices for weapons, and players were pretty much happy with that. Colorful camos are probably not Star Wars Canon. More important, the guns in Battlefront are balanced with the optics and any other performance-enhancing options built into them. Allowing changes would risk messing with the balance. Games with more choices complicate the issue of balance, and make it harder for players to choose which gun — since it isn’t just the gun, but the accessories (which require effort to obtain too) which determine its effectiveness. For games based on modern, real world weapons, the additional variety can add veracity. But this is Star Wars, and we should want it to look and feel true to its movie sources.

Too hard to rank up, so dying to higher ranked players is frustrating. And conversely, not enough stuff to unlock, with rank 50 being easy to get and everything useful unlocked fast.

These are two sides to the same issue — the choice to make weapons and devices unlocked by game activity — a staple of modern games — while trying to keep it accessible and balanced for new and casual players.

You keep dying? Well, get better, noob! Seriously casual players — those who don’t have time to play daily, or play other games and only want to drop into Star Wars for a bit of fun from time to time — are part of the gaming community, and this game does try to support them. All games do have both a learning curve, and if gear is unlocked by playing, advantages for more experienced players beyond just more skill. Battlefront, though, tries to make life a little easier for new players, both in rank and in FPS skills.

The starting blasters are actually very good, accurate weapons, and will suffice for most combat situations. The early ranks unlock some very useful alternative weapons and devices, and it doesn’t take that long to reach them. Because most blasters are effective (if not optimal) at all ranges (the CA-87 and DH-17 are exceptions), you aren’t helplessly overpowered if you are up against someone with a higher ranked weapon.

Power Up pick ups work at any rank, and offer a way to level the playing field in combat. Heroes and vehicles are obtained equally by everyone, and they do not gain power with higher rank. These offer new players tools to be effective even before they get all the good Star Card gadgets.

The Partner Hand gives you access to another set of Star Cards. A higher rank Partner will let you use devices which you aren’t even close to unlocking, and this offers another way to be effective despite the lack of rank. While you can use the Charged Star Card from your partner, you’ll need to find your own charges unless you’ve actually unlocked that card yourself, but even a limited use of them can be a powerful advantage.

On the other side of things, players who do play often will have everything unlocked quickly. Three months after game release, a lot of players have every useful item unlocked, including all the Star Card upgrades. You can have all the items you really need (and rank 25 or 32) within a month of starting play. More items give you more options, but you will quickly pick out favorites and unlock them first, and use them the most. But is unlocking new content the actual goal (and pleasure) of playing the game?

Sure, there is some joy in ranking up and getting new toys to use in the game, but we all know there has to be some limit to the total number of useful weapons and items a game can offer. You will get everything in time. For this Star Wars themed game, is is very important for player enjoyment that all the cool, classic, iconic weapons and items be accessible without needing to spend months (or years) and a lot of special effort to get them. The rank system gives you a little time to try out new items before you go on to others, but doesn’t really restrict you from getting access to your choice of the best items for long. The classic Star Wars Battlefront II didn’t have regular unlocks as such (Award and Legendary status gave you one alternative weapons, but as it was pretty much an upgrade it effectively made an experienced Elite soldier more effective, sort of like a kill streak upgrade. In the new Battlefront, you can, after a relatively short time, have everything unlocked and thus be able to choose anything you feel is needed for your situation.

Not Enough Personalization

After Rank 50 or so, once you upgrade all the Star Cards you want and have unlocked your favorite looks and emotes, what do you use more credits for? You can collect all the other unlocks, or buy and use more Charges for your Star Cards, but you will easily hit a point where you don’t actually need anything, and more XP and credits do nothing for you.

Well, more “bling” can’t hurt, as the looks and emotes are just for fun, but they don’t affect game play. The game can’t stand to have too much new random, useful stuff added to it without risking the game balance, plus your also risk violating Star Wars Canon. DICE shouldn’t have a problem adding more custom looks and other cosmetic items, as long as they can find them in the Star Wars Canon.

That last is an issue, unfortunately, for those who’d like really colorful or exotic looks.  The guard troopers also must be distinctive in look, so you can’t have outfits which look like them either in the customization.  Still, I think there is enough source material to come up with a bunch of good cosmetic looks  to add to the “collect them all” fun of the game.

Is It Fun To Play?

That is the ultimate reason to play a game, and for a lot of people, that is enough.  There is something exciting about just playing in the Star Wars Universe, and a good run in a vehicle or as a hero — I find a good Luke Skywalker rush to be exhilarating — makes it even better.  For Star Wars fans, this a an amazing, ultra-special “ride” to experience, and worth playing even if you aren’t a serious FPS gamer.

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