The stiff permafrost of the ice planet Hoth glistens as my squad of rebels ascend the forward hill. We breach the horizon and I ready my blaster pistol, ready to defe–
Crap. A sniper put me down with a head shot. Let’s try that again.
My allies scramble through the narrow corridors of Echo Base, attempting to reach the uplinks before Imperial troops can halt our progress. I step outside and am met with blinding daylight reflecting off miles of ice a–
Dead again. A snow trooper lobbed a thermal detonator into the doorway. Alright, one more time.
The AT-AT approaches as my team scurries through the trenches th–
Darth Vader choked me to death. Maybe I should reassess my strategy.
The Star Wars Battlefront beta test wrapped up this past Tuesday, with a staggering 9 million unique players having taken part in the six day stress test.
Going into the beta, I wasn’t too sure what game Battlefront was going to be. The biggest fear was that it would simply be a first-person shooter with a Star Wars skin slapped on top. To be fair, the Star Wars faithful have been starving for a new console experience set in a galaxy far, far away, so they probably wouldn’t care if that’s all Star Wars Battlefront really ended up being.
If the beta test is any indication, Battlefront is far more than a fresh coat of paint over an old fence.
The beta gave access to three modes of play: An eight on eight objective capturing mode called ‘drop zone’, a 20 on 20 objective-based game set on planet Hoth called ‘walker assault’, and a six wave horde mode that could be played alone or with a friend (split-screen and online co-op was available).
The weapons and equip-able items were also limited, giving players access to four different blasters and around ten items that were locked behind player level and purchasable with in-game credits. These items ranged from a standard thermal detonator and jet pack to more interesting items, like a single use sniper rifle that goes on a short cooldown.
The majority of my time in Battlefront was spent in drop zone mode, which I found to be the more finely tuned of the three modes available. Set on the Outer Rim territory of Sullust, this mode pits rebels and storm troopers against each other in a race to claim and defend pods that land on various parts of this rocky, hill laden map.
Upon dropping into a game for the first time, I was overcome with a sense of sheer anxiety, the rush of battle battering my senses as I could hear individual blaster bolts slash the air around my character. The game does an amazing job of creating a sense of urgency and pressure, with much of the credit going towards the outstanding sound design. The first announcements for Battlefront consisted of DICE talking about how excited they were about working with ILM and Lucas Arts, and it shows in how flawless the recreation of the sounds of Star Wars is during a match.
Running to and cresting a hill, you can hear enemies and team mates yelling, explosions in the background, and the sound of a fierce space battle going on overhead. More so than any other online shooter I’ve played, Battlefront has created a real sense of war that allows the player to feel like you’re entrenched in the battle.
Drop zone is a well-tuned mode and Sullust allows the shooting and attack mechanics to shine. Players will have to adjust to using weapons with zero recoil and (sorta) unlimited ammunition, as the blasters have their own unique feel. The blaster pistol is a great weapon to shoot from the hip, thanks to the rate of fire and fast cool off. Meanwhile, heavier armament like the heavy blaster can be used to pin down large groups or focus-fire on a moving opponent.
DICE has confirmed that the amount of weapons in the beta are a small taste of the number and style of weapons to come. My biggest complaint from the beta was that, at times, the weapons felt too similar. I’m glad to hear that more variety will be introduced in the main game.
What really makes the Battlefront gameplay work is the rapid fire nature of each match. You won’t find any lengthy respawn timers here, with players dying and rejoining the fray in an instant. Likewise, I can count on one hand the number of times I experienced match lag, even during the 20 on 20 battles. Credit to DICE for making a game that feels snappy in regards to getting up, running and into the battle.
It reminded me greatly of the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games and their ability to keep play moving, eliminating unnecessary load and wait times.
The relatively low waiting times are impressive, given just how beautiful Battlefront is in motion. Sullust and Hoth both show off what the Frostbite game engine can do, with snow glistening and sparkling in a way that I’ve never seen a video game replicate. The game does a wonderful job of creating a game world that feels true to life. Running through Echo Base and approaching an open hanger that was bathed in light and blaster fire was a breath-taking moment, and I’m sure only the first of many experiences that will force my jaw to drop to the floor.
The success of Star Wars Battlefront will completely depend on player retention and post-launch support. It appears a bevy of modes and customization options are going to be available upon release, with more content coming in the form of a $50 season pass, covering multiple expansion packs.
If DICE and EA can continue to support the game in the way that Nintendo has supported Splatoon, it’s very likely that Star Wars Battlefront could be the game that longtime fans have been waiting an eternity for.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must go make plans for getting revenge upon Lord Vader.
Will Harrison is a freelance games journalist and the video game critic for the Toledo Blade, a daily newspaper in Toledo, Ohio. Find him on Twitter @DoubleUHarrison.