Between Friday, October 6 and Sunday, October 12, fans were able to download and play an open beta for the upcoming EA title, Star Wars Battlefront II. While heavily limited in content, the beta allowed players to get a feel for the full game's gameplay and report to the developers regarding any bugs that are in need of resolution. I was able to play some of this beta, and it left me with a collection of thoughts - both good and bad.
The previous title, simply called Star Wars Battlefront, came out on November 17th of 2015. Initially, fans were enthusiastic that a Triple-A developer (with an established history of making quality multiplayer shooters) was making a shooter based in the Star Wars universe. Hearts quickly soured when the gameplay grew stale after little playtime. Players found themselves tired of the small number of maps, heroes, and vehicles, and they were frustrated with the total absence of a single-player campaign. Their anger only intensified when DLC released - players felt they needed to pay more than the standard $60 in order to experience the full game. To many, the game was "half-made"; in order to have that complete experience, you needed to purchase all of the DLC, which you could get cheapest as a season pass for $30 dollars. No one likes the idea of a $90 price tag slapped onto a game with content worth $60.
It wasn't until earlier this year did I give Star Wars Battlefront a chance; after all, I found it at a used game store for $15. I was aware of the criticism it received over the last couple of years, but I figured with this discount, paired with the DLC price of $30, I would only be paying $45 in the end. My experience wasn't much different from everyone else's. While I was initially dazzled by the beautiful graphics and the nostalgia-driven high of running on the snow-covered grounds of Hoth, I noticed a general lack of diversity in my games. I favored the large scale 20-on-20 battles, and even with DLC, I found myself playing the same four maps over and over again. It was only a month before I found myself no longer logging in to play out of lack of interest. I didn't regret my purchase, as the familiar sound of a TIE fighter shooting, blasters firing, and the sight of an AT-AT looming over me made for a rather enjoyable experience. But I paid $45. In no way would I have been content with spending $90.
When Star Wars Battlefront II was announced, I and many others were uneasy about its replayability. EA must have known this, not because it was impossible to avoid people complaining via the internet about it, but because the trailer seemed to address all of the players' previous complaints. The upcoming title appeared to have triple the amount of maps, vehicles, and heroes you could play. EA told us how it was going to incorporate the original trilogy as well as the prequels into their content, and that there will be a canonical single-player campaign that ties together the events between Episode 6 and The Force Awakens. This sounds amazing -- a little too amazing. My skepticism remains. EA has a reputation for being an uncaring and otherwise heartless corporation with the only goal of making as much of a profit as possible. If the company isn't going to starve us of content in order to sell it back to us as DLC, then what is its catch? The beta has helped shed some light on that.
The class selection screen.
Star Wars Battlefront II features a number of interesting gameplay changes compared to its predecessor. Now, instead of having two preset loadouts to choose between, there are four predetermined classes available to you: Assault, Heavy, Officer, and Specialist. The Assault is your standard soldier with a medium range weapon and grenade. The Heavy bears more damage-dealing weapons. The Officer is a more support-based role to assist your team. Specialist acts as the long-range shooter. Each class has its own degree of customization separate from the others and can be leveled up independently. I favored this method. I didn't have to worry about how to structure my loadouts for what role. In other words, this did it for me. When respawning, you would also be paired with three others who recently died to form an impromptu squad instead of the previous method of a single game-long companion. Special characters and vehicles changed as well. Instead of picking up objects to be able to fly an X-Wing or unlock an AT-ST, You would gradually accumulate Battle Points as you played that you could spend to respawn as a vehicle or Hero. The Battle Point reward system encouraged players to stay with their squad as well as play the objective. Overall, I found these changes to be preferable over the previous game.
In the beta, three of the five game modes were available for play: Galactic Assault, Starfighter Assault, and Strike.
Galactic Assault is the 20-against-20 game mode, with one team on an offense and the other on defense. In the beta, you played in the city sections of Naboo, the forest and swamp-filled planet that first appeared in The Phantom Menace. Here, you had clone troopers defending the throne room from an imperial droid army. The droids possessed a large siege vehicle that slowly approached the goal, while troopers were equipped special rockets that were used to immobilize the vehicle. I was first taken back by how amazing everything looked. The graphics were some of the best I've seen in a multiplayer game, and if I wasn't paying close attention, I'd mistake it for a movie. Gameplay felt as expected, running and shooting as needed. At no point did I truly feel like the game was off-balance, and any kills and deaths I suffered from felt justified. However, I noticed that the four-man spawn squad essentially meant nothing. If I wasn't planning to go the same direction as them, my teammates would be as "lone-wolf" as myself. This experience may differ when playing with friends, but I did not have that luxury. One new aspect that breathed tension into the war was the limited life count. Throughout certain stages of the game, one side would have a limited number of times a player of that team can die. If that count hits zero, the team loses. Successfully progressing in the game would reward a team with additional lives. It made the action all the more intense when there are only 14 deaths left and you finally push the objective. Overall, I was quite satisfied with Galactic Assault, and it will likely be my most commonly played game mode.
Starfighter Assault was a whole other experience. Now there are 4 options to choose from instead of 2, each with different handling, abilities, and card-based customization. I favored the standard assault ship, which would set me to play as either an X-Wing or a TIE Fighter, depending on my alignment. Immediately I was hit with an immense wave of nostalgic bliss. The sight of large-scale ships over the planet of Fondor while dashes of red and green lasers flew by in every direction was stunning. The familiar sound of the TIE Fighter's signature guns was as authentic as anything from Hollywood. How everything felt was equally exhilarating. The speed and handling of your ship varied based on what you were flying. Some new changes I noticed were the removal of aerial maneuvers players could perform using the D-pad, and that if you fly long enough without adjusting your rotation, your ship would auto orient itself to whichever way was "up". As a seasoned game pilot, I initially found the automatic adjustments to be a touch disorienting, but I quickly grew accustomed to it when Id trust in it to enable when I wanted it to. Chasing other ships was as challenging as trying to shake off the ones chasing me, and while it wasn't an easy task to deal a fatal amount of damage, it wasn't so hard that it never happened. You are rewarded with shield regeneration when you go long enough without taking damage, leaving for a satisfying pride for surviving whatever skirmish you were in. Like in the other modes, if you gathered enough Battle Points you could spawn in as hero ships. In this mode, you could be Slave I, Boba Fett's ship, or the ever famous Millennium Falcon, though my time with them was limited. Starfighter Assault was an undeniable blast to play, and one of my favorites.
Strike had me the least enthusiastic; I believed that fewer players were less fun. In this 8 versus 8 mode, things operated much like a one-sided game of capture the flag. One team defended an item, while the other tried to grab the item and return it to their side. This mode took place in lush lands of Takodana, a location from The Force Awakens. I quickly found that the smaller player size held no ill effects to the enjoyment of gameplay. The map design prevented the game from ever hitting a bottleneck; if too much defensive effort was given to one side, the assailants could approach from the other. Having one singular objective focus allowed the battles to travel as the goal traveled. The match would start with a fight for entrance to the base of operations, but as the item was taken and moved, it would carry the action with it to plant-covered forests, open beaches, or industrial pathways. For a period of time, I grew frustrated with the Battle Point purchasable role, the Rocket Trooper. Their superior health and damage output would be the bane of a large number of my lives. The frustration was easily brushed off on the hopes that this would be balanced out in the final game. Outside of that, I still found Strike enjoyable, just not my favorite.
I've mentioned a great deal about the things I liked, but what about the bad things?
My doubts don't rest in the gameplay but in the menu. Loot Boxes. I have never agreed with the idea of loot boxes, believing that they feed too strongly on classic gambling tactics that lead to unhealthy spending habits. Loot Boxes have been a popular center of controversy in gaming as of late as well. While I tolerated them in free to play games like Team Fortress 2, I never liked the idea of buying a game only to have to pay more money for the CHANCE of getting the item I want. Most games hide behind the claim that you can still get these items using the in-game currency you unlock from playing, but that leaves me with the choice of grinding out matches for 5 days or paying 5 dollars. People don't want to turn their game into a chore and will often opt for the monetary solution. While there's no statement about if you can buy the loot boxes in StarWars Battlefront II with real-world cash, the mere existence of them is one major red flag in my eyes, especially from an EA published game title. Will I have to play for hours just for the opportunity to hopefully get the item I'm wanting? Will I be stuck facing people with better equipment the whole time because I didn't want to shell out more money? If it was cosmetic items, I would feel much better about the future of this game, but these boxes primarily contain gameplay altering items.
If you asked me if I loved the Beta, I'd tell you that I did and that wish I could play it more. If you asked me if I look forward to the release of the game, I'd tell you that I am anxious about it. StarWars Battlefront II was a very satisfying gameplay experience that will potentially be sullied into being yet another attempt at a corporately driven try at squeezing every penny they can out of their consumers. As it currently stands, I will most likely be purchasing the game when it releases on November 17th (exactly 2 years after the previous game). I stand firmly in my decision to not engage in any microtransactions that will occur within, however. If you're on the fence about getting the game, I suggest not immediately making the purchase, but instead waiting a few days and seeing what the critics and community are both saying about it, and basing your decision off of that. It may save you from having Buyer's Remorse.