|Platform Win, PS4, Xbox One|
|Publisher Electronic Arts|
|Developer Digital Illusions CE|
|Release Date Nov 17, 2015|
Editor's note: As explained last week, Polygon chose to review Star Wars Battlefront based on time spent with the title via EA Access, which provided 10 full hours of the full game to subscribers starting last week. To get a broader range of input with a game aimed at a massive audience, we tapped Polygon editors Justin McElroy and Dave Tach, who exhausted their "Access" periods and then some.
Star Wars Battlefront is a game of surprising variety and anachronistic constraints.
For 20 hours, we fought Stormtroopers on the Tatooine hardpan. We've soared through its skies in X-wings and TIE fighters, too. We've role-played as Luke Skywalker and Boba Fett, captured Rebel bases, won riches for protecting drop pods. We've shepherded stubby, little GNK droids to safe harbor. We've toppled Imperial walkers with thermal detonators.
And still, after all of the planet hopping, after all of the single-player, multiplayer and couch co-op, it's difficult to place in the shooter pantheon. It's not first-person or third-person. It's both. It's not Battlefield, but it does feel like a distant cousin. Instead, Star Wars Battlefront walks a middle path between hardcore and casual, to varying degrees of success. Many of Star Wars Battlefront's multitude of modes are fun in ways that feel new and old simultaneously. A handful feel surprisingly dull.
Battlefront just isn't balanced for hero-versus-hero combat
Star Wars Battlefront has two halves. Depending on the mode, Multiplayer supports between eight- and 40-player online battles. A single-player/co-op hybrid called Missions contains wave-based incursions and large-scale battles against friends or AI. You can play Missions online with a friend or in a split-screen mode that, while playable, halves the normal 60 fps frame rate. Both halves include an abundance of maps in various sizes, and DICE repurposes them for multiple modes. No matter what corner of the galaxy you're fighting in, Imperials and the Rebel Alliance blast away at each other to rack up kill counts or complete objectives.
Star Wars Battlefront's amount of variety is a real blessing for someone like myself who doesn't typically invest enough time in multiplayer shooters to reach the highest levels of expertise. When I would get frustrated by getting mutilated in the meat grinder of 20-vs.-20-player Supremacy, I really welcomed slower-paced modes like Drop Zone, which tasks players with capturing escape pods that crash-land on their planet's surface, or Droid Run, a sort of King of the Hill where the hills are mobile droids.
I have the most mixed feelings about Heroes vs. Villains, in which Luke, Leia and Han are pitted against Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine and Boba Fett. It's good practice for the rare occasions you'll take over a hero in the big multiplayer modes, and it's a good chance for someone without top-tier shooter skills to feel impactful in a game.
But Battlefront just isn't balanced for hero-versus-hero combat, so battles that should be epic between Vader and Luke, for example, end up with two masters of the Force blindly swinging at each other, missing and then getting shot by a no-name trooper from behind. It just feels silly.
The loadout system is another boon to the more casual shooter fans among us. The player has two item slots that include everything from single-shot sniper rifles to jetpacks, and being able to bring two grenades into battle was a good way for me to compensate for my aiming abilities. There's also a third blaster-centric slot that can improve the accuracy of guns briefly or let them fire longer without overheating.
Curiously, this third slot runs on charges (the number of which is persistent between games) that you must replenish during play by finding glowing blue items on the battlefield or buying with accrued credits. I'm not sure of the logic behind the choice, but I became so wary of using the charges when I didn't desperately need them that I ended up largely ignoring the third slot.
Speaking of not wanting to spend currency: It's baffling that aesthetic add-ons like costumes and hairstyles have to be purchased with the same credits used to buy weapons and items. Who would buy a beard before they have every jetpack, blaster and grenade available?
As a massive Star Wars fan, I'm predisposed to liking Battlefront. What surprised me, though, was how little I care about playing as almost anyone of note. Like Justin, I'm unmoved by the Heroes and Villains mode. With the notable exception of Boba Fett (and even he has a bizarre and unwieldy control scheme), I have much more fun as an anonymous Rebel or Stormtrooper. Their modes are much more interesting than the movie hero power trip.
That wasn't the only surprise. I have fond memories of playing large-scale battles in the original Battlefront games. But fights like those are now commonplace, and DICE's resurrection felt a lot like other contemporary multiplayer shooters.
I despise the die, respawn, run for 30 seconds, die, respawn loop in other games, and I don't like it in Star Wars Battlefront. It feels like business as usual, and no galaxy far, far away can make that fun.
Instead, at least in these early stages, I'm much more interested in playing Star Wars Battlefront's Missions. These wave-based challenges work well alone and with friends, with the latter freeing me up to experiment and explore maps I'd fought on alone before. I even played split-screen co-op for the first time in years and enjoyed it.
EA DICE was smart to pepper the Missions' 15 rounds with objectives like capturing and securing drop pods, a structure that keeps the 20- to 30-minute battles from feeling stale. They're also full of collectibles (yet another anachronism) that gave me new things to do after multiple visits. And they let you play with weapons that you haven't unlocked in multiplayer. It's a nice dry run before spending actual credits on them, though it makes their absence in multiplayer more painful. Most importantly, though, these missions highlight my favorite part of Star Wars Battlefront: the level design.
Star Wars Battlefront maps feel distinct, both within the game and the genre. Locations borrow heavily from the original trilogy and the upcoming The Force Awakens (while notably skipping the prequels entirely). There's fan service there, and the game does look beautiful, but they're more than a refreshing change of scenery. The large redwood forests of Endor and the canyon-scarred wasteland of Tatooine upend a lot of modern level design sensibilities in favor of creative geography. In practical terms, there aren't many lines of sight in Star Wars Battlefront, which means that snipers are less of a problem. Canyons and sequoias also offer natural cover and a way to focus more on your immediate surroundings, and the game feels more welcoming because of it.
Justin: DICE seemingly put a lot of energy into making Star Wars Battlefront as broadly appealing as possible. The compromises along the way could draw in some players like myself who normally wouldn't sink dozens of hours into a multiplayer-focused shooter, but I initially found myself worrying they may also limit the game's staying power.
For example: New weapons and items unlock at what feels like a glacially slow pace, but that forced me to focus on becoming competent with the items I had on hand and genuinely improving. Compare that to Call of Duty, where I tend to flit between the shiny objects I seem to unlock after every round and never really live with one long enough to become deadly. For a casual fan like myself, that's a big plus.
Admittedly, that slow pace (along with the lack of weapon customization) left me without the compulsive burning desire to play "just one more game" only to see what new trinket was right around the corner. It's an impulse that games like Call of Duty and Destiny have down to a science, but science isn't always a great substitute for fun.
I want to play more Battlefront because it's just that: It's fun.
Battlefront trades complexity for accessibility
In a sea of multiplayer-focused shooters, Star Wars Battlefront distinguishes itself as much by what it does as what it doesn't, and that comes at a price. Its old-school simplicity doesn't always mesh with its attempts to bring those ideas into 2015, and it lacks some of those back-of-the-box bullet points that most modern AAA shooters wouldn't be caught dead without.
That said: This is a game where you crest a frozen ridge on the surface of Hoth and see a thousand lasers turn the sky into a disco and an AT-AT into scrap metal. If a little of the fat has to be trimmed for more people to have that experience, then blaster holes for bullet points seems like a fair trade.
Star Wars Battlefront was reviewed using the full version of the game provided to EA Access subscribers on Xbox One across multiple accounts. Give developer DICE's past difficulties with online launches, this review will remain provisional until such time as we are certain of the game's launch state. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.About Polygon's Reviews