When Electronic Arts announced that DICE would be handling Battlefront it seemed like a perfect fit. If you’re going to do large scale battles, attempt to capture the essence of this popular movie franchise and try to re-kindle the magic that made the original games from Pandemic so popular, who better to handle such an important franchise? They’ve proven time and time again that few do shooters as well, or better. After all, Battlefield is loved by the shooter community for its vehicular combat, sprawling fields of war, and class based gameplay. It’s a match made in heaven.
For the most part, DICE has made good on this. Star Wars: Battlefront is one of the best uses of an intellectual property in gaming that we’ve seen since Rocksteady released Batman: Arkham Asylum. It’s going to make a lot of Star Wars fans happy this year. Massive battles, playable hero characters, authentic sights and sounds to behold, DICE has absolutely nailed it on the presentation front for Star Wars fans. It looks the part of a contemporary first person shooter, the art direction is incredible and the fan service is unrivaled. Any Star Wars fan would be lying if they didn’t get excited the first time they control Vader or Skywalker on the battlefield. But that’s kind of the problem with Star Wars: Battlefront, its gimmicks wear off quickly, and what you’re left with is a rather uninspired first person shooter that doesn’t have any real depth to the gameplay. Nor does it have a set of maps or modes that can give it legs to keep it relevant past its initial launch and throughout the upcoming movie’s release.
DICE is banking heavily on the hope that people will be content with their competitive multiplayer offering and little more. While the game boasts single player missions and cooperative gameplay, this is little more than a sideshow in Star Wars: Battlefront. Ultimately these single player and cooperative elements are a little half-baked and turn out to be horde-style wave defense missions. While a tutorial section for the game offers a real tease at what might have been, having a player pilot numerous vehicles and storm a base as Darth Vader. It’s unclear whether DICE just didn’t have time for a single player campaign or whether this was something that they just didn’t want to do. The agreement between EA and Disney was inked back in 2013, so that really isn’t all that much time to put together a game in the first place . Nevertheless, Star Wars fans will get their single player fill from Visceral later down the line, but that certainly doesn’t help with the right now problem of Battlefront feeling a little short on content.
There’s only one reason to get Star Wars: Battlefront, and that’s for the competitive multiplayer. Big battle modes like Walker Assault and Supremacy are where Battlefront shines the brightest. 20 versus 20 battles where players defend and control bases, pilot air and land vehicles, fight it out on the ground in iconic locales, and take control of some of Star Wars’ most popular hero characters. While it’s hard to deny the sheer joy of the initial experience with Star Wars: Battlefront, it doesn’t take long in playing the game’s many modes to realize that there’s just not much to keep you around for the long haul.
If you’ve played Battlefield, DICE’s most popular shooter franchise, you’re aware of the class and squad systems of that game that make it so much different than any other shooter. Battlefront takes many pages from Battlefield, except the most important ones, like these specialized classes or the robust weapon and item set that those games feature. Instead what we have is something a bit more chaotic, with less options for the player, a game that focuses on objective-based gameplay that doesn’t give you that rewarding feeling of being part of a squad like in Battlefield. I’m not saying DICE should’ve made Battlefront an identical clone to that game, but so much of it feels similar to that series, it left me feeling like Battlefront was a watered down version of Battlefield with a very shiny coat of paint slapped on it.
Even Battlefront’s best mode, Walker Assault, gets a little tedious after playing a few rounds. A lack of distinct maps to play the mode on reinforces this quickly. Like we saw in the beta, many of the matches just end up feeling like a meat grinder, rather than a mode that requires any type of strategy. Two-person squads help in tackling objectives, but again this is a step backwards from what we’ve seen DICE do before. While other modes offer more maps to play on, they don’t hit the same high notes as Walker Assault and feel like filler rather than anything that you really want to sink your teeth into. A Team Deathmatch mode called Blast, Fighter Squadron which features aerial dogfighting exclusively, two modes that focus more on Hero gameplay, and a couple of other objective types that unfortunately do nothing better than anything that have come before them. Just about everything outside of Walker Assault feels like it was there to tick a box and pad out the game with something else to do.
All that said, Star Wars: Battlefront is incredibly enjoyable in small doses. The overall presentation is polished, and while the console version has obviously seen a sacrifice in resolution for smooth frame rates, the level design is a Star Wars fan’s dream come true. All the little details are here to suck you into these fights. Laser tracers firing back and forth across the battlefield, fighting side by side with AT-AT Walker Tanks, starships flying overhead, while the iconic Star Wars score thumps — Battlefront can be very, very fun for a match or two at a time. The problem comes into play that in the best modes for this game, there are only four maps. Four maps at launch for the game’s most popular modes is going to feel really thin, and in *my time with the game I couldn’t shake the feeling of boredom in playing the same map for a second or third time in a single session. For a game that’s built around competitive multiplayer as its main draw, having four playable maps at launch is the equivalent of offering a four hour campaign for a single player only title. Perhaps the Star Wars Battlefront community that forms around this release will flock to the other game modes. Maybe I’m wrong. If that’s the case, the other aforementioned modes do have more than four maps. Some have six, while others have seven in total. It’s just that straight-laced team deathmatch on a smaller map, with a smaller player count, didn’t give me the same enjoyment as the massive battles of Supremacy or Walker Assault.
Regardless of the mode you play, Battlefront relies on the player to pick a weapon and set of abilities. All of these are unlocked through progression and in-game currency. Again, Battlefront feels lacking in this regard. Maybe not so much in the power-ups department as there are 24 different unlockable power-ups, of which three can be used in the player’s “hand” so there are quite a few different combinations to try. As for weapons, there are only 11 primary weapons in total. They vary in different types of blasters, from pistols to automatic rifles, but there’s a real lack of variety here. They’re spaced out to trickle in during the progression system, but ultimately just reinforce the overall lack of variety in Star Wars: Battlefront. There is a soldier customization suite that allows you to customize both your Rebel and Imperial skins, as well as purchase emotes. These are fairly bland for the most part of the progression system, but as you head towards the end you get some cool options of different races and higher ranking Imperial soldier skins. If Star Wars: Battlefront does reel you in, I’m assuming it will for some people, there is a challenge system that spans across all of the game’s modes that lets you earn figures for a Star Wars: Battlefront Diorama by completing different objectives within the different competitive, single player, and cooperative aspects of the game.
Beautiful but lacking, Star Wars: Battlefront will most certainly please Star Wars fans with incredible fan service from DICE. While it stacks up in terms of presentation to other contemporary shooters, Battlefront is an extraordinarily thin offering when it comes to content, making it less enjoyable the more you play it.
***This review was conducted via early access to the game through EA Access for a total of 18 hours on Xbox One