Star Wars Battlefront (PC) review: Tons of sizzle, not much steak – ExtremeTech
Star Wars: Battlefront dropped earlier this week after months of anticipation, incredible previews, and what EA claims was the largest, most popular beta in the companyâ€™s history. While itâ€™s technically the third Battlefront title, we havenâ€™t seen a new release in the series for a decade, and relaunching the series with a new first chapter (EA has already announced it will make sequels) makes good sense â€” at least in theory.
EA expects to sell 13 million copies of Star Wars: Battlefront. Based on what Iâ€™ve seen of the game in the past few days and in the beta, it probably will. Whether or not it deserves to is an entirely different question. While I normally cover and review hardware, not games, Iâ€™ve been a gamer for nearly 30 years â€” and Iâ€™ve rarely had such a divided opinion on a game.
What Battlefront gets right
Letâ€™s get the big question out of the way first: Star Wars: Battlefront does a better job of capturing the look, feel, and spectacle of battles in the Star Wars universe than any title ever has. Classic RPGs like Knights of the Old Republic and its sequel do a far better job of storytelling in the SWU, but if your childhood dreams involved more Death Star trench runs and fewer hours running through a swamp with Master Yoda, no previous game can match the eye-and-ear candy that Battlefront delivers.
If youâ€™ve been a Star Wars fan since childhood, itâ€™s hard to move past the initial rush of seeing huge walkers lumber across the surface of Hoth or racing through Endorâ€™s forests on a landspeeder. Much has been said about the strategic disadvantage the Rebels suffer on Hoth; comparatively little has been written about the pounding the Empire takes on Endor. It turns out that being restricted to various flavors of bone-white armor creates a strategic disadvantage when battling Rebel troops in forest camo. Serves them right.
EA and Dice have built a variety of game modes, from standard death match (40-man Supremacy) to starfighter dogfights. Thereâ€™s a control point battle mode, a capture-the-flag clone (cargo hunt), and a point capture node that focuses on seizing droids rather than static points on the battlefield. Thereâ€™s even a Heroes vs. Villains mode that pitches two teams against each other, each with three â€œHeroâ€ characters. The game rotates who plays as a hero in any given match, and non-heroes have the option to spawn as â€œHonor Guardsâ€ â€” infantry-type classes with special abilities and more staying power compared to the heroes themselves. Finally, of course, thereâ€™s the climatic, asymmetrical battle of Hoth, which needs no introduction. Walker Assault is clearly the game mode that received the most polish, and it shows â€” big time.
Initially, the various game modes seem like an embarrassment of riches, particularly if you stick to Walker Assault. The visceral thrill of being in the Star Wars universe, or actually running around as Darth Vader is amazingâ€¦ for a while.
Keeping it simple
Once the joy of playing in the ultimate Star Wars sandbox starts to wear off, youâ€™ll start to notice that the environments around you have all the dynamism of a matte painting. The X-Wing parked in Echo Base wonâ€™t explode and the frozen tunnels that honeycomb the structure are impervious to thermal detonators. The total lack of terrain deformation or collapsible structures limits how players interact with the environment, especially when compared to Battlefield 3 or 4.
Diceâ€™s decision not to use classes make it easy to jump right into the action, but they also contribute to a nagging feeling of â€œsameness.â€ There are a number of different blaster rifles and pistols to unlock, but they all tend to use similar sound effects and lack recoil. Battlefield 4 allows players to swap attachments between up to five hardpoints on various weapons. Battlefront has none of this.
The game does include a variety of unlockable gadgets and weapons (referred to as cards), but all of these require cooldown timers. In most shooters, choosing to play as a sniper means trading short-range survivability and limited situational awareness for the ability to kill people with a single bullet from halfway across the map. Battlefront equalizes this situation by giving anyone the ability to fire a sniper rifle once every 10-18 seconds depending on your level and upgrade state.
Unless you honed your sniping under Floyd Lawton (aka Deadshot), you probably arenâ€™t going to dominate a match firing one round every ten seconds, especially in a game as hectic as SWB. Your primary weapon, therefore, is a blaster pistol or a blaster rifle. While the game does offer â€œclassâ€ star cards of a sort that provide you with very specific benefits, like reduced explosion damage, these are only unlocked late in the game, require even more investment to unlock additional levels, and take up one of your three star card slots. Theyâ€™re not game changers, and theyâ€™re clearly not intended to be.
The six hero units (three per side) are clearly meant to spice up gameplay, but unless youâ€™re playing one of the specific hero modes, the power-ups are scattered randomly. Each hero gets just three powers, and thereâ€™s no way to customize your Darth Vader or Emperor to your own particular play style. On the one hand, this makes sense; Dice has to be very careful not to allow a Vader or Skywalker to overpower a 40-person match. Itâ€™s still one more potential avenue for character customization, lost.
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