You know, in some ways Star Wars: Battlefront is my favorite shooter of 2015. It's brisk, it's big, it's beautiful, and it's entirely faithful to its license. After the disappointing Battlefield 4, DICE has outdone themselves with Battlefront.
But after playing Battlefront almost non-stop for a solid week, it's hard to deny the basic fact that there's not enough game here. The bulk of Battlefront's content - modes, maps, and heroes - is to come in additional expansions, the first of which is the Battle of Jakku next month. It's an extremely cynical move by Electronic Arts, one no doubt calculated to turn Battlefront into a "platform" so that it can pay the price of obtaining the Star Wars license.
As of right now, $59.99 will net you roughly 12 maps spread across four planets, nine modes, and a handful of limited tutorial and single-player challenges. It hasn't taken long for its limitations to become clear - an intense weekend of play was enough to unlock almost all of the weapons, items, and customization options. And as much fun as I've been having, I can't shake the feeling that it's becoming repetitive rather quickly.
I've definitely had fun, though - a lot of it. The core of Battlefront is actually quite strong in the way that it rolls up the best elements of Battlefield and the original Star Wars Battlefront and mates it with an almost Call of Duty-like sense of pace. Even the big 40-player modes typically finish up in 25 minutes or less, which is a far cry from the hour-long sessions of the past. I had a serious case of "just one more match" syndrome this past weekend - a feeling aided by the minimal loading time and setup.
With all that said, let's dive a little bit deeper into what Battlefront has to offer.
Joining the Galactic Civil War
Structurally, Battlefront has much in common with other modern shooters. Before a match begins, you can choose from a mix of short-range and long-range weapons, as well as a handful of accessories like thermal detonators - basically grenades - and power-ups. As you play more matches and gain XP, you earn more weapons, some of which are quite powerful.
Pretty much all of the weapons come straight from the original films, from Han Solo's familiar sidearm to the standard Stormtrooper rifle. There are no classes to choose from, so you can mix and match them to your heart's desire, though it's unfortunate to see some of the interesting class dynamics from Battlefield get lost in the process. In all honesty, I wish there were more weapons. Battlefront covers the basics reasonably well, from automatic weapon-style blasters to weapons that are akin to sniper rifles, but the selection is currently limited. Not counting the accessories, there are a grand total of ten blasters in the launch version of Battlefront.
Thankfully, the accessories serve to vary things up a bit; and with only three slots to choose from, selecting them requires a bit of thought. In the tradition of Battlefield, you can go for a more anti-vehicle setup by choosing Ion Torpedoes, or you can go more anti-personnel by picking the equivalent of a sniper rifle. I ultimately settled on an Ion Torpedo/Thermal Detonator/Bio Scanner build, though I had to think hard about whether or not I wanted a Boba Fett-style jetpack. Oddly enough, power-ups like Focus Fire only have a limited number of charges, and they aren't replenished from match to match. It's not all that hard to replenish charges by finding power-ups in-game, but it still strikes me as an odd and unnecessary choice.
In the field, the action is impressive. Fans of the genre may end up decrying it for being too forgiving, particularly in terms of accuracy, but it hits all of the notes that I like in a shooter - it's fast, aiming is satisfying, and it's not overly focused on sniping. It's true that I did get taken out from across the map on at least a couple occasions, but there's more incentive to group up and take the initiative than there is to camp out and snipe. Adding to the variety in the field are power-ups like proximity bombs and mounted blasters that can change a battle in an instant if deployed correctly
The maps, though a tad repetitive in their own way, feature some of the most beautiful environments I've seen this generation. One image that still stands out in my head is that of an AT-AT tromping through puddles on Endor and sending the puddles splashing out, Ewoks skittering through the tree villages overhead. It strikes me that DICE has poured a ton of resources into the look and feel of Battlefront, and that effort seems to have paid off. Everything about this game looks and sounds just as it does in the movies.
That goes double for Battlefront's heroes - a holdover from the original Battlefront from LucasArts. Each side can gain the assistance of one of three heroes - Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine, and Boba Fett on the Imperial side, and Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo on the Rebel side. It's not the biggest selection, but the heroes nevertheless manage to work really well. The Jedi in particular are just a blast to play with, this being one of the few games where a lighsaber is treated as something more than a baseball bat. It's a treat to find one of the rare hero icons on the field, pick Luke Skywalker, and go to town slicing, dicing, and Force pushing hapless Imperial troopers.
I should emphasize that it's a rare treat, though. With the hero icons being randomly generated, I was only able to become a hero once every five or ten matches. It's probably a necessary evil to keep players from camping both the heroes and the vehicles, but it's an awkward solution at best, and also disappointingly immersion breaking. On those occasions that I managed to find one of the icons, though, I was on top of the world. Even the non-Jedi heroes can be fun in their own way, with Boba Fett employing his trademark jetpack and wrist launcher, and Leia able to summon powerful honor guard characters and put up squad shields. They add just the right amount of flavor and variety to the gameplay, further enhancing the feeling that you have been dropped straight into the world of Star Wars.