Surveying the battlefront
With all that said, one thing that's been nagging at the back of my mind about Star Wars: Battlefront is the feeling that there's no real primary mode. Instead, the action is served up buffet style, with the destination mode depending on your mood in that moment.
As of right now, the two biggest modes are Walker Assault and Supremacy. In the former, the Rebels try to stop AT-ATs from reaching their destination by repeatedly activating comm stations so that as many Y-wings as possible can come in and bomb them. The latter, meanwhile, is a kind of tug of war in which the Rebels and Imperials try to capture a designated point while simultaneously holding another. When a point is captured, the successful side pushes forward until they either reach the end, or time runs out.
Of the two, I found myself gravitating toward Supremacy due to its slightly more free-flowing nature, though it was a little more linear in structure than I would have liked. Walker Assault, while very faithful to the movies in its design, struggles with balance issues. In my experience, the Rebels almost never lose on Endor because it's so easy to dig in and hold the comm stations, and because they only have to focus on one walker. On other maps, the more open terrain favors AT-STs and concerted attacks, making it harder to hold the stations long enough to build up a decent number of Y-wings.
Worse than that, though, is the way in a battle starts to feel like a foregone conclusion by the midway point if the Rebels are able to do enough damage to the AT-ATs. Again, this is especially acute on Endor, where the Rebels can sometimes bring the Empire's single AT-AT down to around six percent health on their second bombing run, making victory all but inevitable. As much as I like the scope of Walker Assault, I tired of this feeling quickly; and while Supremacy is better, I actually started having a hard time finding a full game in the normally reliable random matchmaking.
It's unfortunate that the two biggest modes of the game are so flawed because I really love the sheer scope that they bring to the table. Both of them offer huge maps that almost manage to feel extremely active, and both offer the thrill of looking up in the sky and seeing X-wings dogfighting with TIE Fighters while Darth Vader bears down on you with an army of Stormtroopers. What Battlefront really needs is a more traditional Conquest mode along the lines of what's in Battlefield - a capture-and-control mode capable of escaping the overly-structured feel of the current modes. Unfortunately, the closest thing Battlefront has to such a mode is Droid Run, which features no weapons or heroes and is limited to only 12 players (but does star the awesome GNK Power Droids).
Here's a quick rundown of the rest of the modes:
Of the modes, I've spent the most time in Supremacy, Walker Assault, and Fighter Squadron, with the occasional Blast match getting thrown in as a change of pace. It's strange because I don't really feel like I have a primary mode like I do in other shooters, so I kind of shift around as my mood takes me.
I suppose I would be remiss if I didn't mention the single-player modes. If you are so inclined, you can jump into a Survival Mode where you fight through 15 increasingly difficult waves of enemies on one of four maps. You can play alone or with one friend, and while it's not particularly unique or special in the grand scheme of things, it can be fun to try and beat on the highest difficulty. I'll credit DICE with thinking to include splitscreen co-op, with it less of a given than it should be. Personally, I tired of the mode after a couple playthroughs because the enemies weren't especially interesting - just a steady wave of Stormtroopers, some of whom are stronger, and some of whom have jetpacks, with the occasional AT-ST being thrown in for the sake of variety. It didn't take long for it to become repetitive.
The other single-player mode puts you in the role of a hero in charge of an army of A.I. troops, the primary goal being to reach 100 points by defeating enemy soldiers. A friend can also take on the role of an opposing hero and race you to 100 points - a great idea in theory because a lightsaber duel is always fun. In practice, it's a pretty one-dimensional mode with only four maps, and playing against just the A.I. is honestly kind of boring. There are side objectives if you so desire, but there's no question that these modes are a sideshow. The meat of the game is in the multiplayer; and with that in mind, it's easy to wonder if Battlefront will last as long as it should.
The Star Wars game you've been looking for?
So this is where I admit that I'm already kind of done with Battlefront. I had a torrid affair with it over the week that I reviewed it, thoroughly enjoying modes like Fighter Squadron and marveling at the graphics. But it was hard not to notice the seams - the extremely narrow focus on the original trilogy, the fact that playing on the same four planets is kind of repetitive, the relative lack of weapons. The lack of a true single-player is especially painful because it only serves to further highlight the limitations of the multiplayer.
In my opinion, its secret biggest weakness is its lack of a traditional Conquest mode with vehicles, heroes, and everything else. Walker Assault and Supremacy are fun, but Walker Assault in particular is quite flawed, and neither mode feels as loose or as open as a multiple control point capture map where dozens of pitched battles are happening at once. Honestly, the mode that's most likely to keep me coming back is Fighter Squadron, assuming that people keep populating its servers. Its dogfights are fast, fun, and intense. Beyond that, I think Blast will end up being the most popular mode, though I think it's lack of maps will hurt it.
Ultimately, I think DICE and EA have done an otherwise tremendous shooter a disservice by seemingly holding so much content back for future expansions. There's a lot to love about the actual gameplay; and on the surface, there are plenty of modes, but Battlefront doesn't really stand up to extended scrutiny. It's a sugar rush of a shooter that fades more quickly than it should. In a year or so, Battlefront may have reached its true potential. For now, it's roughly one-third of a Game of the Year caliber shooter.
The menus are well-designed and loading times are at a minimum. Battlefront does a great job of getting you into games quickly. Shout-out to the nifty diorama that stands in for an in-game achievement system, with pieces that unlock as you hit various milestones.
Battlefront piles on the modes, but it's hurt by a lack of depth and variety, not to mention a true flagship mode. As much fun as I've had with it, it's only taken a week for it to start feeling kind of old.
DICE's audio design continues to be beyond reproach. Suffice to say that Battlefront sounds amazing.
Battlefront is one of the best-looking games of the current generation. It feels gigantic, it has a crisp framerate, and it's loaded with detail. I've been consistently impressed by how good it looks.
In some ways, Star Wars: Battlefront is a pleasant surprise. It feels so much more polished than it did at E3, and the effort that DICE has put into the visuals pays off in one of the best-looking games of the year. But every facet of the game is hurt by the lack of variety in the environments, vehicles, weapons, and even enemies. It's a startlingly limited package made more disappointing by the fact that the actual gameplay is really fun. It may reach its potential in a year; but for now, it's one more potentially great game sabotaged by what appears to be a cynical marketing plan.