It's been nearly four years since the release of Star Wars: The Old Republic, the most recent major Star Wars video game. That's a long time. No wonder then that the crowds stood and cheered when Star Wars Battlefront was first teased at E3 2013, or during the first "in-engine" reveal at Star Wars Celebration earlier this year. At this year's E3 it was time to show the game in playable form - both the massive multiplayer battles of Walker Assault on Hoth, and the first taste of missions (survival mode) on Tatooine.
Walker Assault is the marquee multiplayer mode (at least as far as we know), and the intense battles for up to 40 players proved full of classic Star Wars moments. At times it's enough to close your eyes and take in the sounds of blaster fire, speeders and the occasional light sabre to transport you to a galaxy far, far away.
Since the last game in the franchise a lot of first person shooter design has been spearheaded by Call of Duty, more specifically by Modern Warfare and its brethren. At its core these highly competitive shooters create positive reward loops for the best players. It's something that appeals to the hardcore and while things like killstreaks and scorestreaks make for overpowered scenarios, it's never unfair. All players have the same shot. It's fair and it makes for great eSport.
Star Wars Battlefront has been designed with a very different mindset. Instead of rewarding the best players with vehicles and heroes (Boba Fett, Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker have been confirmed thus far) - this will be randomly occurring pick-ups spread out across the map. These heroes are naturally extremely powerful and have been designed to allow them to turn the tide of a battle. This typically results in the entire opposing team focusing their fire on the hero to take him out before he does too much damage. There is only ever one hero on each team. The randomness of who lands the hero pick-up on your team means that it's not really ideal for competitive multiplayer or eSports, but it also opens the game up for players of all skills to enjoy the most epic moments of multiplayer.
We were not given the chance to create our own load out when jumping into missions with a pair of rebels. However, our special skills included a limited use jetpack and a force field that absorbs blaster fire for a short period of time. The wave based Survival was limited to six waves, so while we didn't get to see the later levels (fifteen in total from what we gathered) things escalated rather quickly. Missions will offer other modes as well, including a duel mode where two players each take the role of a hero to battle it out.
Is it just a Star Wars mod of Battlefield 4 then? Some media went there and said that's just what it was. But that sort of statement could take us into a never-ending chicken and egg argument given that the original Battlefront pretty blatantly borrowed from Battlefield back in the day. Add the option of switching between third and first-person as well as a more "arcadey" (for lack of a better word) feeling as far as mechanics go, and we can't say we agree with that assessment. You're more mobile and with the lighter guns it has a different feel.
One concern we have is the amount of content available at launch. EA and Lucasarts announced their partnership two years ago. Pre-production no doubt started straight away, but from our understanding it wasn't until after Battlefield 4 shipped that production scaled up, perhaps even a little later than that given the problems Battlefield 4 suffered. That likely means full production will have to wrap up well before the two year mark ahead of the November release. During E3 DICE didn't comment on number of maps at launch, only going as far as saying there will be four environments (Hoth, Endor, Tatooine, Sullust), but an FAQ puts the official count down as twelve maps (presumably these will be recycled across multiplayer and mission modes), plus an extra two maps that will drop via the free Battle of Jakku DLC due out in December.
Playing on Hoth and Tatooine certainly feels as authentic as any location in any Star Wars game ever has felt. DICE have made use of photogrammetry on the original movie locations (Redwood trees in California for Endor, Norway for Hoth, Tunisia for Tatooine), and the result is strikingly close to the scenery found in the films. Add to that brilliant sound and prop design that mimics those in the original trilogy to a tee, and the overall experience in Star Wars Battlefront is as true to the original as anyone could have hoped for.
While Hoth, Endor and Tatooine are firm parts of the original trilogy, Sullust is a planet that has mainly been part of the expanded universe. Thus, this is where DICE gets to be a bit creative. It's going to be interesting to see how they portray the home planet of Nien Nunb (a Sullustan who teamed up with Lando Calrissian for the Battle of Endor in Episode VI).
For many the nostalgia and attention to detail will be enough. We enjoyed our brief hands-on, and we appreciate the fact that instead of replaying parts of the original trilogy as part of a campaign we're getting missions, that with the addition of splitscreen co-op, is something that will add plenty of replayability for Star Wars fans who develop a longterm addiction to the next major video game based in the much loved sci-fi universe.