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Dec 30

Star Wars Battlefront: Serious Casual Gaming Fun

Serious Casual Gaming Fun

That may seem somewhat contradictory, so let’s explain a little bit of what is going on in the world of Star Wars Battlefront (2015).

It has been just over a month since the game came out, and we have a lot of pleased players, and some extremely pleased, actively playing the game. EA has put the game on sale for the holiday, which should get even more new players into it. Contrariwise, there are many people who have given it negative reviews and ratings, on every major retail site which sells it or reviews it. There seems to be one common thread to the negative reviews: Great graphics and sound, but not enough content and depth for a great game. On sale for about $40 US, the price becomes a lot more attractive for what we get.

Now, even through these negatives, the game gets a lot of positives. The number one, absolute, universal success is the game’s visuals and sound. It scores a perfect 10 for recreating the images and sounds of the movies. One of the best looking shooters out there period, and especially for consoles, and probably the best looking Star Wars game ever. One of the reasons we play games is for an immersive experience, and Star Wars Battlefront gives us a chance to live out our dream of being in the Star Wars universe. Fighting a battle as one of the soldiers, or sometimes the heroes, is absolutely amazing.

So let’s get back to that. The game play that we have looks and feels great, is fun, and for Star Wars fans, is irresistible. The joy of playing a fun, easy to pick up, shooting game with perfect Star Wars scenes and action, with a true feel of being in, is not going to get old soon. Having all the classic vehicles in play, a staple of the Battlefront series, is also wonderful. The X-Wings, Speeder Bikes, Tie Fighters, AT-AT and AT-ST Walkers, even the Slave One and Millenium Falcon, all add to the feeling of being in a real battle in the movie universe.

Luke Skywalker vs Darth Vader and other fights involving the heroes and villains of the movie, add to that sense of being in the movie universe. The game modes which focus on the heroes specifically add to the enjoyment of living out the dream of being a powerful character fighting in a major battle, and dominating the lesser enemies.

What about the negatives? I’ve addressed some of them before, but the key complaint is that the game doesn’t have enough content. We get some great maps and game modes, but for some people, that isn’t enough variety to keep them interested in playing the game. It can be hard to get into the heads of those who feel this way precisely, but I’ll try to break down what the game does offer, to give you a feel for whether or not you are going to be one of those who isn’t going to be happy with this game. Or at least, what it has out right now for the price.

Fans of the predecessors of this game, of Star Wars Battlefront II, are disappointed that the new Battlefront doesn’t have some elements from that game, even though it never promised to deliver them, or even try to be just an HD remake of the 2005 title. Fans of the Battlefield series were hoping for a version of Battlefield set in a sci-fi universe (which in many ways, was what Battlefront II tried to do). DICE deliberately chose to make this new game its own take on a Star Wars battle game, rather than being a clone of anything else. For Star Wars fans, that is a bonus, because it includes more elements which are true to the movies than a Battlefield-based game could have delivered. Want Sci-fi Battlefield? An updated 2142 (2143?) would not only deliver on that experience, it could do so without needing to shoehorn in elements of a cinematic universe and be a better battle game as a result.

Now, I’ll address more of the missing elements later and elsewhere, but as this isn’t Battlefront III (a cancelled direct sequel to II), we shouldn’t be surprised that some things didn’t carry over to the new game. Battlefront II had stronger single player elements, but times have changed, and many players prefer — especially for long term play of a game — to focus on multiplayer gaming. Does the new Battlefront offer enough multiplayer content to keep players interested? Is there enough to do in this game to justify having it and playing it?

The number of worlds and maps the game offers can be confusing. There are only FOUR worlds at release (Endor, Hoth, Tatooine, and Suluust), with Jakku added for free for a total of FIVE. That is a small number of worlds to play on by any measure, and it absolutely limits the variety for the larger epic game modes which only get one map per world. There are also ten small maps, usable in the smaller game modes, with seven maps for two game modes (Drop Zone and Droid Run), three more for the smallest game modes.
That’s a total of fifteen maps, which is a pretty good map count by the standards of many games. Many don’t go above a dozen maps at release. We expect, now, that DLC will add many more maps for newly released games, and nowhere is that expectation more intense than for this game. Its predecessors offered a good dozen or more worlds more than we have, and while there is no reason not to expect them to appear in the new game, they aren’t available yet. For now, we must play with what DICE has ready for us.

Is there enough to do in the game? One thing that players want to do is rank up and unlock things. But for a game offered to Star Wars fans, if it was too hard or took too long to get all of the classic weapons and devices unlocked, the game would be frustrating. That is not the case here. About a month of play will give even casual players the time to reach the ranks needed for all the key unlockable items (rank 25 for the DL-44 Blaster Pistol, as carried by Han Solo, and rank 32 for the Bowcaster, carried by Chewbacca). There are many more cosmetic items to unlock, and achievements to do, as well as the challenges to perform for bonus points, so you aren’t going to run out of game reward goals soon. The upgrades for all the items will take a long time to get as well, though you really only need those which you use the most in order to get good use from them.

This essentially turns this into a sort of arena shooter, where players all have essentially the same choices for weapons and gadgets, and are free to make whatever selections they prefer. Playing time and rank do offer an advantage over completely new players, but it is actual game skill and experience, not unlocked gadgets, which offers the real edge. In short, skill matters here.

For casual players, though, it is important that while shooting and fighting skills do matter, the learning curve to use the starting guns isn’t extreme. It won’t take long to pick up how to use them, and the weapons you start with are good enough to use forever. The game’s Star Card devices give all players a chance to dominate encounters, and the objective game mode play gives every play a chance to play a useful role, even if they don’t have Jedi-like gaming reflexes.

This mix of skill and simplicity makes the game accessible and fun for both new gamers and experienced shooters. The bonus of playing in the Star Wars universe only makes that element better. The shooting offers chances to use your skills, exploit the various gadgets and tools provided in interesting combinations, and face exciting challenges in battle. The game mode’s focus on objectives makes raw killing skill less important than knowing how to go for the objectives successfully, and that makes the whole game more enjoyable.

The rush of getting new unlocks and rewards is always a factor in game enjoyment, but it isn’t the only thing. There will be enough things to unlock for this game to maintain that interest for a very long time, plus new things added to the game later. But it is the game play itself which is the core of the fun of the game. It has to be fun, to make the challenge of unlocking things a reward, rather than a grind.

One element of Battlefront that makes it fun and casual is the lack of respawn delay. There is little penalty for dying. You may have to fight to get back to the position you were at, but you won’t be stuck out of combat for very long. And if your Partner is still alive, you get to rejoin combat even faster. This game tries to keep you in action, without much reason for long pauses or delays. Unless you really want to just take in the scenery, which you can do. It does look very nice.

One thing I’ll mention as a negative is the limited amount of character customizations. It isn’t an essential part of game play, but we don’t have a huge number of cool options right now. Fortunately, I don’t see these as being hard things to add later, and I see a lot of players now rocking the coolest looks available, so I see that as a future goal — collecting all of the clever and movie-immersive custom looks to use in the game.

Positives: When you buy a game, you don’t buy it for what it DOESN’T have, but for what it does offer. Five big maps can be enough for fun, if they are good maps, and these are. How many times do you end up playing on the same favorite maps over and over in some other game? If you can enjoy a map in a 24/7 rotation, then surely you can enjoy five really awesome maps for quite a while. The ten smaller maps require you to play and enjoy the smaller game modes. But a lot of other games ONLY have small map sizes and game modes. Infantry-only combat can be a lot of fun. The shorter games are also good when you don’t want to spend as much time playing, but still want to have a good experience. The small maps aren’t reduced areas of the bigger one, but are instead their own location, set up specifically for their game modes.

The limited number of guns has an advantage in making them balanced. All fill a distinct role, where they are better than the other weapons, but they are also all blaster weapons, with similar characteristics. You choose which one best fits your current mission in the game, and can change them every time you respawn. The number of Star Card devices isn’t huge either, but it is quite good enough to give you a wide range of useful combinations of the two devices you can pick. Add in the choice of Charged Star Card benefits and your Trait, and you really do have decent, balanced choices to make for how to equip your character in the game. The selections aren’t complex either, so you aren’t bogged down in a lot of details. You can quickly swap out your choices between games, and be ready for whatever playstyle and goals you have set.

DL-44 Blaster Pistol overpowered? I agree that it is a little more powerful than others in close range, but not so good that it utterly dominates. The other close range weapons can compete against it. The feeling that it was too good was partly caused by it being unlocked with the Deluxe edition, and now that more players have it and the other weapons, it no longer seems to be quite so powerful. I still think it could use a bit more overheating, dropping the number of shots you get to take with it, so that a very good player won’t be quite as apt to rush a group of enemies with it and take them all out.

More is not always better. In this, Battlefront could be considered a throwback to the older era of games. The pick up Power-Up devices are a clear case of this. Rather than allowing you to have access to the more powerful weapons and devices as a character loadout, you must acquire them on the battlefield. All players, even new ones, have full access to these, and this does a lot to level the playing field for new players, and those with less skill. Not all the pick up devices are easy to use, but all are more powerful than the usual weapons and offer an advantage. As you can only carry one, there is a definite impulse to use it quickly, so you can get another and continue the fun.
What about the future? Yes, you’ll have to pay for Season Pass for the DLCs, but they will add more content to the game, and in game play terms, it is that content which is most missed. The Battlefield series has run with about 10 maps on release, and another 20 (or two-thirds of the content) in the DLCs. Will Battlefront do something like that? We have 13 (or 15 with Battle Of Jakku) maps to start, so would that mean 39 (I’d round up to 40, one extra makes a round number) or 45 maps? If that turns out to be the case, that is a LOT of maps for a multiplayer game. But how many will be big world maps?

That is harder to guess. At the low end of two worlds per DLC, and four DLC packs, that is only 8 more worlds. I’d guess that there would be at least another two worlds, for a total of 10 more, or 15. This means a minimum of 8 to 10 smaller maps as well, but more of those size are also definitely possible. At the really wimpy end, 16 maps total additional in paid DLC, for a total map count of 31, would be comparable — but I think they can do better. On the higher side, a total of 45 maps, with at least 20 worlds, would be very good, and entirely possible if the DLCs can pull off doing 15 good worlds, and there are that many worlds which are detailed in the Star Wars movies and universe. Not all worlds will need two small maps for each big map, while some worlds could stand to have more small maps to provide details from the movies and universe, which are available but not yet shown (such as Jabba’s Palace from Return Of The Jedi).

There are lots of possibilities, but one thing which should be expected: the quality of the maps is not going to drop. They will be amazing renditions of the worlds of Star Wars, and great for game play.

The price we pay for games now includes the cost of DLC content as part of the full game. We don’t know yet, because EA and DICE haven’t told us, exactly what the future expansions will bring. That makes paying up front for the Season Pass a hard choice. But I believe it is also the essential choice in the long run. You aren’t going to buy and enjoy the base game without also wanting the expansions when they come out, and the Season Pass is the way to get them.

Now, that is all about the positives, which are pretty good. But there are some problems.

The game’s matchmaking isn’t perfect, and that can become frustrating at times, both waiting to get into a game when there aren’t enough other free players to get a game to start, and imperfect balance and network connections (lag and latency) make game play frustrating. Fortunately, it usually isn’t so bad that you can’t play, and especially when in prime gaming hours for your region, it isn’t hard to find a game quickly. EA will have to keep on this, though, to make sure that it continues to work and works better in the future.

For new players, the fact that you will be facing maximum Rank 50 players who have all the weapons and Star Cards as well as good FPS skills can be frustrating. If the game matchmaking puts good players on both teams, that matters less, but when that doesn’t happen, the game play can be very unbalanced. It is possible to score 30:1 KDR or more for the best players, and new players don’t have the stuff unlocked to make that a lot easier (although still not easy, average players even with the same items won’t do so well consistently).

Do you like playing a few favorite maps over and over in your favorite games, or do you need more scenery in order to avoid boredom? While I’m quite willing to believe that DICE will give us enough great maps with the Season Pass to fill out the worlds and maps for enough variety, we only have five worlds and fifteen maps right now in the base game. They are great maps, though, and that can make a difference. Check out the videos and see if they look exciting for you.

I’m not bored at Rank 50, with all the good stuff unlocked. I still have cosmetic stuff to get, but can play much more now simply to enjoy play rather than seeking new upgrades. The game holds up well for me, and there are a lot of other players out there doing the same thing. The single player elements are light, but become more interesting when you play coop with a friend — nice when you want to go one on one or stand side by side in a fight, rather than being part of a bigger battle. The small game modes really work well for a group of friends playing together, able to coordinate a whole team and, hopefully, dominate their game. I’d love to see more stuff, and hope there will be more free goodies, but the Season Pass should validate the greatness of this game.

As long as EA (or DICE) doesn’t mess things up.

Let’s all wait.  Obi-wan, you’re our only hope!


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