When the Star Wars Battlefront 2 multiplayer beta kicked off last week, it had one question to answer: Could it make a fresh first impression following the disappointment of the original Star Wars Battlefront?
EA has talked a good game to this point. They've promised many more items and abilities; more nuanced gameplay in general, and of course, a single-player campaign.
But what ultimately killed Battlefront was that the shooting simply wasn't that interesting. It was pretty, it felt like Star Wars, but too many people compared it to an arcade game. As a result, Battlefront had a hard time sticking long-term.
So how is Battlefront 2 looking? Well...
Positive: Star Wars Battlefront II's Starfighter Assault Looks Great
God, I love Starfighter Assault so much. As an old-school Rogue Leader fan, I simply adore hopping into a TIE Fighter or an A-wing and wrecking things. I loved it back in the original Star Wars Battlefront, and I like it even more here.
Now, instead of a straight-up dogfight, you have multiple objectives. The map featured in the beta is an attack and defend scenario: The Rebels try to destroy Imperial ships at Fondor, while the Empire defends. If the Rebels are successful in the first phase, then they move on to trying to destroy a Star Destroyer.
The introduction of objectives immediately makes Starfigher Assault more interesting, as it becomes about much more than simply destroying enemy fighters. Bombers become prime targets, introducing a dynamic wherein interceptors try to punch through their heavy armor before being shot down. The result is sheer chaos as you weave through explosions and dogfights while trying not to run into whatever structure you're trying to destroy (or defend).
I'll say it: I think Starfighter Assault is Battlefront 2's best mode. It's the area that most clearly differentiates it from other shooters, aside from the fact that it's a Star Wars game. If I were to buy Battlefront 2, it would be because of Starfighter Assault (and maybe the single-player campaign).
Negative: Star Wars Battlefront 2 Still Feels Kind of Arcadey
The Battlefront 2 beta's other mode is set on Naboo, where you side with either the Separatists or the Clone Army in an attack on Theed Palace.
Playing as the Separatist droids, your job is to escort a heavy vehicle to the gates of the palace, then break into the palace and try to capture the throne room. Like Battlefront 2's other modes, it features a handful of discrete phases, with a strong emphasis on attack on defense.
So a couple thoughts on this. First, I'm not much of a fan of how rigid Battlefront's modes are. DICE leans heavily on gameplay concepts where you are defending a vehicle—Walker Assault is a good example of this from the original game—or some other objective. It works in Starfighter Assault, where more structure is welcome, but it makes the battles on the ground feel a little too samey.
You might ask, "But wait, Kat, what about Overwatch?" I would contend that Overwatch works because it's so tight; because it emphasizes intense teamwork, and because the games end so quickly. Battlefront, by contrast, thrives on scale, where a sense of openness and chaos is beneficial. Battlefront could use a little more of both.
Battlefront 2 also continues to feel shallow. The classes are welcome, but the shooting still feels far too forgiving. It should be a lot more satisfying than it currently is to fry a stormtrooper at range. I'm not sure what it is about this series, to be honest. The shooting just doesn't feel quite right.
What it feels to me is that DICE is piling a whole bunch of new features on the existing Battlefront framework, but that they aren't addressing some of the fundamental points that held it back in the first place. In my review of the first game, I wrote that it's a fun sugar rush of a shooter, but not much else. The fans mostly seemed to agree with me.
So while Battlefront 2 will be bigger than before, I don't see much reason to believe that it will be better.
I came away from my time with the Star Wars Battlefront 2 beta feeling distinctly... whelmed. I wasn't amazed, but neither was I extremely disappointed. Mostly, it felt like a competent follow-up to the first game that was nevertheless hampered by some of the same flaws. This is a concern for me.
And sadly, Battlefront 2 may have some very real problems of its own. In the wake of the beta, all anyone has been able to talk about has been the loot boxes, with some contending that it's "pay to win." Eurogamer went so far as to call it an "exploitative and greedy system."
Honestly, it's not a great look for a series that's trying to build some momentum for itself.
We're still more than a month out from full release, so there's plenty of time for EA to tune Battlefront 2 and fix some of its problems. But as far as improving on the first game, it's still very much a work in progress.
Star Wars: Battlefront 2 will be out November 17 on the PC, Xbox One, and PS4.