I like being surprised. I mean, these days, with my advancing years and the general fact that 2015’s Star Wars: Battlefront was less than stellar, and certainly not fulfilling of its almost boundless promise, I wouldn’t blame you for being unenthused for EA’s sequel some 24 months later.
Now back to that bit about being surprised, because based on the evidence of the multiplayer beta for Star Wars Battlefront 2, I was surprised to discover not just that it was far more polished and refined than its predecessor, but also that just about every whinge I had with the previous Battlefront has been addressed (well except that one tiny whinge about the lack of a single-player campaign, but let’s not rush things eh?).
With the beta for Star Wars Battlefront 2 allowing players to experience all three cinematic eras of Star Wars across four different modes, I’ve broken down my experience with each and chucked in some footage along the way to give you guys an idea of what to expect when you either play the beta yourself, or, if you wait until the game fully releases in November.
Galactic Assault on Naboo: Theed
Returning from the original Star Wars Battlefront, Galactic Assault makes its presence felt in the beta, as it allows players to engage in 20 vs 20 warfare across a multi-stage environment, except that this time, the battle unfolds across the lush Gungan homeworld of Naboo made famous by Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Arguably the lynchpin of the previous Star Wars Battlefront, Galactic Assault unfolds in a broadly similar fashion to what we’re used to with the action moving through the different areas of Naboo until one side has been destroyed completely.
When you’re ducking and diving through the ornate and angular urban districts of Theed, it’s impossible not to be reminded just how great DICE are at creating fan-service because quite simply, the attention to detail is astounding. From the civilians that run to cover in the streets, to the almost Florentine esque design inspirations of Theed’s urban sprawl, this map proves that DICE still clearly know their stuff when it comes to replicating the Star Wars aesthetic.
Pitting the Separatists and their droid forces against the armies of the Republic, Galactic Assault in Theed is clearly at its best where the 20 vs 20 concept is given ample room to breathe. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the winding city streets and sprawling forums of Theed, where opportunity for cover and flanking statistics are myriad and paths to success are rarely prescribed by the strict layout of the environment. Likewise, being able to pick from one of four classes, Assault, Heavy, Specialist and Officer, adds further variety to Battlefront 2’s satisfying gunplay, as each class has cooldown driven special abilities (no more finite Star Card abilities!) that can be leveraged in battle for an advantage; the fast-firing grenade launcher of the Heavy class for example allows players to decimate large groups of enemy troops very quickly.
Somewhat disappointingly, when the action eventually reaches the Palace of Theed, things become far less interesting. With the majority of the action in Theed’s final act taking place within the aforementioned structure, combat is largely reduced to maintaining bottlenecks and chokepoints in tightly knit corridors and avenues where the options for tactical subversion become desperately limited, and all you can really do is either charge onward into a storm of laser fire, or, take mostly ineffective pot shots from around corners before ducking into the safety of cover again.
As was the case with the original game, players can step into the shoes of one of a number of Star Wars heroes in order to tip the balance of the battle, with the likes of Rey and Darth Maul both able to be selected in the Beta. In addition to their game-changing abilities, (Maul in particular is terrifyingly fast and can cover long distances in an instant, dealing out huge amounts of damage) heroes can now regain health, which makes them an even more difficult problem to contend with since they can nip in and out of range, doing damage, and then just recharge their health and jump right back into combat again.
Rather than having players collect tokens to spawn into these roles (such random drop tokens no longer appear in Star Wars Battlefront 2), these much more powerful characters must be bought and paid for using Battle Point currency which in turn is awarded for kills made and objective actions. As such, the Battle Point system succeeds in neatly incentivising players to do better in their chosen roles simply because taking control one of these stupendously powerful heroes is simply so much fun.
Starfighter Assault on Fondor
One of the more obvious ways in which EA’s sequel exceeds its predecessor is in how space combat is handled. A world away from the obvious afterthought that space combat appeared to be in the original game, Starfighter Assault would seem to do justice to the concept in a way that EA and DICE just hadn’t been able to do before. Depending on whether you find yourself fighting for the Empire or the rough and ready upstarts of the Rebellion, Starfighter Assault in the Star Wars Battlefront 2 Beta has you either defending or attempting to destroy a docked Imperial Star Destroyer.
Borrowing the class-based system glimpsed in the Galactic Assault game mode, Starfighter Assault lets players assume one of a trio of spacecraft bound roles. Whether you’re darting about destroying other attack craft as a nippy interceptor, dropping some serious ordnance on the reactor core of the Star Destroyer as a bomber class ship, or getting the best of both worlds as an all-rounder fighter craft, it’s great to discover that Starfighter Assault enables players a much more free-form approach to space combat. Again, similarly to Galactic Assault, accrued Battle Points can be splurged on legendary ships that span the three eras of Star Wars such as Poe Dameron’s custom X-Wing and everybody’s favourite rustbucket, the Millennium Falcon to name just a couple.
Arguably, the main reason Starfighter Assault succeeds in improving upon the offering of the original game is simply because there is much more to do. Rather than just flying about and blowing each other up or protecting/destroying an objective, the scenario of the docked Imperial Star Destroyer presents a multi-stage, multi-layered set of objectives where players have to destroy the shielding and turrets of the ship before flying into its interior to destroy its reactor core, and these staggered objectives make Starfighter Assault much more fun than it ever has been.
Of particular note, is just how beautiful Starfighter Assault looks, especially on PS4 Pro. With lush, detail-packed star fields that give way to sublimely rendered starships and visual effects that make each and every battle look like they could double up for the real thing on the silver screen, it’s difficult to dispute the fact that Starfighter Assault stands as just one more showcase of DICE’s slavish attention to detail.
Strike on Takodana
A much more streamlined take on Star Wars Battlefront 2’s Galactic Assault, the 8 vs 8 Strike mode in Star Wars Battlefront 2’s Beta is a class-based only affair where heroes are not allowed and players must instead rely upon the individual skills and abilities of the four classes in order to capture objectives.
Set around Takodana, the castle of The Force Awakens Maz Kanata, as either the Resistance or the First Order players are tasked with protecting or extracting a relic in order to win the game. What follows is a tense, and extremely lean take on the traditional, objective-based deathmatch game type where players can learn each of the classes quickly, as the tightly-knit, though somewhat open game map provides a fertile ground for mastery of that quartet of roles.
Again, the attention to detail here is impeccable, as fans will surely recognise the dungeon where Luke Skywalker’s lightsabre rested for so many years, before they make the climb up the winding staircase into the bar before entering into the lush forests and wooded zones that surround the area. As it is, Strike scenarios seem like a great way to get stuck into the meat of Star Wars Battlefront 2’s toweringly good gunplay without investing the relatively large amount of time needed to properly satisfy the Galactic Assault game mode.
Arcade on Naboo
The most limited of the four scenarios that you’ll have access to, the Arcade game mode is ostensibly the least fun I had with the Star Wars Battlefront 2 Beta. A rapid-fire series of rounds where one or two players must destroy a set number of foes, before a time-limit expires, each successful kill extends the timer for a little bit and so the focus quickly becomes on finding a balance between getting kills and getting out of danger for the least amount of time to regenerate your health.
Though the mode can be played in split-screen, the addition of a second player does little to freshen up what is otherwise a somewhat mundane and unexciting game mode. The fact that this scenario takes place exclusively in the suffocating corridors and restrictive layout of the Palace of Theed, also does little to make Arcade mode any sort of effective distraction from the much better Galactic Assault, Starfighter Assault and Strike modes that the beta provides elsewhere.
A bigger, better, deeper Star Wars Battlefront
In taking strides to become not just a better shooter, but a better Star Wars game it’s clear that EA DICE have taken on board many of the comments and criticisms that were directed towards the original Star Wars Battlefront. Feeling much more akin to the likes of Battlefield 1 than the previous game, the gunplay in Star Wars Battlefront 2 feels much more responsive, improved and satisfying than before.
It’s not just the quality of its gunplay that marks Battlefront 2 as being superior to its predecessor either, as the space battles now feel like a proper component of the game’s multiplayer offering, while the class-based system introduces the sort of tactical wrinkles to Star Wars Battlefront 2 that the series has long craved. As promising as the beta is however, there are a couple aspects of Star Wars Battlefront 2 whose caliber cannot be qualified quite yet. The most pressing of these is in how the loot crate and Star Card system mesh with one another over long-term play.
Pretty much the first thing that the Star Wars Battlefront 2 Beta presents to the player is the loot crate system, and how unlocking them can spit forth Star Cards that provide a range of upgrade and buffs to each of the classes and hero characters seen in the game in a fashion not unlike how similar upgrades function in Battlefield 1. Able to be purchased with in-game credits which you receive for winning battles, or, by digging deep into your real-life pockets, it seems that the new Star Card system is the price that we’ll be paying for Star Wars Battlefront 2 joining the likes of fellow EA shooter Titanfall 2 in offering DLC and expansion content to the player at no extra cost. As to how these cards affect the dynamic of competition in the longer-term where players with ample real-life funds might leapfrog their peers is unclear, but at this stage at least, the system is a welcome one and provides a real reason for players to keep on playing.
The other issue that demands further investigation, is the technical presentation of Star Wars Battlefront 2 as it exists in its Beta form. At the moment the visuals, though certainly not lacking in spectacle or a loving adherence to the Star Wars aesthetic, do have some shortcomings which make the game in its Beta form not look quite so attractive as the previous game. Although the frame-rate maintains an impressively liquid-smooth 60 frames per second throughout, the texture pop-in and demonstrably lower resolution that manifests itself as blurry or jagged edges on surfaces both combine to give the impression that Star Wars Battlefront 2 doesn’t quite look as good as it should do.
Obviously, as with anything with the ‘Beta’ label slapped on it, this is early days and visual optimisations are often the last thing to be done before a game gets released, so there remains ample hope that the final article will look as eye-poppingly good as it was always supposed to. As it is, though not visually perfect, this Beta provides great insight into EA’s second bite at the Star Wars Battlefront apple and more importantly, it shows that Star Wars Battlefront 2 could well be the Star Wars game that we’ve always wanted.
Look for our full review next month!