Star Wars: Battlefront II Beta
The Good, The Bad, The Sarlacc
The early access beta for Battlefront II just ended yesterday (after EA somewhat surreptitiously extended it by two more days) and after pouring a number of hours into it, I return from a galaxy far far away to give my initial impressions and thoughts on what was teased.
Before I begin, just a note about Star Wars in general: As may be gathered from our handful of previous film reviews, I personally was never and remain not the hugest fan, or perhaps not the most invested in this particular property. I do enjoy it well enough, but never delved into it as deeply so as to be able to debate the nuances of midichlorians, the sex lives of Wookies or whatever else “real/hardcore” fans talk about. What I can tell you about is game design and integration, so strap into your X-wing or TIE fighter, here we go:
I must also admit up front that I never played the first Battlefront, so I’ll be unable to say exactly how the changes and updates compare within the versions, just how they worked here. The beta offered 4 modes with one stage/scenario each (although this is fairly standard in betas.) These were: Strike-- smaller squad objective-based matches; Starfighter Assault-- 24 player matches in pitched space battles; Galactic Assault-- 20 v. 20 ground matches with multiple win/loss conditions; and finally a solo/co-op Arcade mode featuring wave battles to earn points based on time completion and performance.
Among these, the standout for me was Galactic Assault. Being part of a massive force of either clone storm troopers or the separatist droid army to alternately assault a palace or defend it was a highly enjoyable experience. With so many players running around, the ability to respawn and choose a different class if desired fairly quickly upon death, it was a chaotic and intense affair that made for some quite fun times and memorable moments. The downside was that, once familiarized with the objectives, I felt one side had a clear advantage. If the Empire team could take down the Rebel droid transport in the first leg of the match, victory was achieved and the entire round ended without going into the second and third portions. While it was satisfying to pull off here and there, it meant that one could feel cheated out of getting to play an actual full match.
On the Starfighter Assault side, things are even more hectic, as ships zip around a docked star destroyer to either take out or defend (what else?) its shield generators and core. The pace is absolutely frantic, with NPC support ships showing up to aid or hinder each side, which double as bonus objectives to earn battle points towards (more on that soon.) But alongside all the lasers flying around and fighters exploding spectacularly, because so much is happening on screen and the nature of space combat, more than a few players including myself found ourselves smashing into the side of the destroyer or other ancillary installation, halting the flow and making one feel more like having Harrison Ford’s real life piloting skills rather than Han Solo’s.
I didn’t play as much Strike, but a few rounds of it were enough for me to gauge that it’s the online mode I’d likely play the least. While smaller in scale and thus more manageable, it just didn’t have the epic feel of either the above to make for interesting or surprising matches. Fought on obviously a smaller map as well, it was easy to get pinned down and feel like one wasn’t making much progress or contributing to the team very much.
Finally, I dabbled in the Arcade mode just to try it out, and it’s basically what it says on the tin. Fight as a hero character (Darth Maul, Rey, etc.) against increasing waves of enemies and get graded according to how well and how fast you cleared out enemies, which can be done solo or with a partner. It seems like a fun side excursion, but as I said that’s all there is to it.
Speaking of heroes, the system for earning ‘battle points’ in matches and then cashing them in upon respawn once enough are acquired to start as a special unit (both hero ships and famous characters such as Poe’s X-wing and Han Solo in addition to the above mentioned ones) is solid at its core. The possible issue is that while it makes sense that only so many are allotted on screen each time, if a team member is using one, and you do manage to build up enough points, it’s possible that you won’t get to redeem them, thus your great performance has gone to waste and again you probably feel cheated out of doing something awesome simply because someone else was able to get it first. From what I understand though, this is a vast improvement over Battlefront 1, making it more skill based, but it still feels a little uneven from what was in place here.
Online connectivity was stable for the most part, although I did have a few isolated instances of infamous lag and enemy player pop-in/out. Party capability also seemed to function fine. I was joined by friend of The Lost Signals, Rich Perry, for a number of games, and the matchmaking kept us together without interruption, bringing back some old-school memories for me of playing with a trusted ally and owning the enemy team together.
The Jabba in the room is of course the loot box/microtransaction system and here is where things have the potential to get nasty. The most egregious flaw is that progression is tied almost if not entirely to the randomized reward crates. So for example, since sniper/specialist was my preferred class in Galactic Assault, while Interceptor was my go-to ship, naturally I was looking to get upgrades specifically for both. However, I ended up with my officer loadout being three whole levels above my specialist regardless of the amount of time I played as each, purely because the crates happened to spit out more rewards that applied to that class. Luckily I did manage to get some decent upgrades for the Interceptor so it was a lot more effective than the other two ship types available, which because I hardly got any for them, I thus largely neglected to use in matches. But again, that was basically random luck and it could’ve easily gone the other way. The sticking point is that no matter how well or much time you play as any given class, the random numbers gods determine their effectiveness to a degree.
The game does dole out points/in-game currency after each match, but the amount seemed on the lower end, so that it took more and more matches to scrape together enough to buy another crate. After finally getting enough crafting parts, which are also tied to loot crates and upgrading extras (like a double-zoom scope or extended ability times) I was able to create specific desired attachments and the like for a few of the classes I used the most. This is all without the possibility of spending real money to receive a whole bunch of loot at once, increasing the chance that you’ll get a sought-after upgrade, and thus a tangible advantage over others who don’t pony up. It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out at launch, but it’s not a good sign overall for now. The issue of loot crates et al. I realize is a current industry hot-button topic, and this example is just one of a few recently that highlights the root problem and keeping in mind this was the Beta, it’s possible and even likely some tweaks will be made before full launch in November. Nevertheless, it’s a shall we say… DICE-y proposition at the moment.
Overall though, the Beta did get me more excited than I originally thought I’d be for Battlefront II, especially with the prospect of having a solo campaign as well to play through. (Similar to Titanfall 2 vs. 1 that lacked a single-player option.) I’m likely to get it now at launch and hopefully join up with some other friends to destroy/save the galaxy and be heavily entertained doing so. It will also be a great case study to see how the above mentioned lootbox quagmire shakes down in what is certainly going to be a huge game in terms of both polarizing the issue and general popularity due to its association with one of the most recognizable franchises on this planet. For now, I’m going to go back to hiding in my gutted bantha, or was it a tauntaun? Whatever, until next time my friends.