Publisher: Electronic Arts
Format: PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One, PC
Released: November 17, 2015
Star Wars Battlefront is stunning, gorgeous, and even magical at times. DICE, the developers behind the Battlefield series, deserve recognition for creating such an accessible love letter to the Star Wars universe (well, at least Episodes IV-VI) that is also a blast to play. Unfortunately, this modern take on the franchise that Pandemic Studios (RIP) created over a decade ago is also a modern video game published by a major publisher, meaning it’s a trojan horse aimed at mining your Star Wars nostalgia for every last dollar. How much you’re going to enjoy what this game has to offer depends a lot on your affinity for Star Wars because for all it gets right, Battlefront is in many ways a shakedown in a galaxy far, far away.
The important thing to make note of right off the top is that this is not a Battlefield game with a Star Wars skin, so those hoping for that will be heavily disappointed. The game has been designed with a mass market audience in mind and fans of deeper, more complex shooters need to come to terms with that before jumping in. Aiming is much more generous than in other shooters; your blaster’s accuracy doesn’t improve when zoomed in, for starts, and there are is no longer a class system like there was in previous Battlefronts. Instead, players have “Star Cards,” which take the form of various tools and power-ups such as thermal detonators and temporary weapon upgrades. Like most modern shooters, there’s also an experience point system tied to unlocking new weapons, equipment, and character skins, but it’s much more limited than something like Call of Duty or even Battlefield. Still, Battlefront might have one of the most elegant menu systems I’ve ever seen, which makes it incredibly easy to navigate the through the loadout screen and jump into a multiplayer match. It may not be the most important design choice, but many games could learn something from Battlefront‘s uncluttered user interface.
Battlefront is almost entirely centered around online multiplayer, with a smattering of single player and co-op modes tossed in for good measure. These “offline” modes are divided into Missions and Survival. The Missions are a mixed bag, largely just recycling things you’ll be doing in the online modes on a much grander scale, but it’s still nice that they’re there. Survival is the standout, pitting one or two players against waves of increasingly difficult enemies. While it has nowhere near the depth or variety of something like Gears of War‘s Horde mode, Survival makes for great fun with a friend in tow, particularly in split-screen, and with so few new games even attempting to do any form of offline multiplayer these days, it’s refreshing to see a big release like Battlefront include it. That being said, the lack of a proper campaign mode is a huge oversight, especially given how well the earlier Battlefront games handled it (the lack of a new Galactic Conquest is criminal). Anyone looking to just play offline is going to exhaust their options pretty quickly.
The multiplayer side fairs much better and is where the meat of Star Wars Battlefront lies. On offer are 9 game modes across 13 maps based on four different planets from the Star Wars universe — Hoth, Endor, Sullust, and Tatooine (with a fifth planet, Jakku, being added in early December). ‘Walker Assault’ is the best of the bunch and the one I expect most players will gravitate toward. Those who played the beta in October will already be familiar with the formula: the Rebel Alliance has to coordinate their efforts to destroy the Empire’s behemoth AT-AT Walkers before they destroy their base of operations. ‘Walker Assault’ is the Star Wars Battlefront experience, as it mixes together everything you would expect from a giant Star Wars battle — ground troops, land and air vehicles, iconic heroes like Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader popping up to wreak havoc — and throws them all together into an large scale, chaotic experience.
The other multiplayer offerings are a big of a mixed bag, as they mostly all just take specific parts from ‘Walker Assault’ and convert them into a standalone mode. For instance, ‘Fighter Squadron’ is exclusively centered around aerial ship combat, pitting Rebel X-Wings against Imperial TIE Fighters. The arcade-style ship combat is fun and the occasional appearance of “Hero” ships like the Millennium Falcon or Slave One are a nice touch, but it’s not a deep enough experience to want to keep coming back to. Besides ‘Walker Assault,’ the other standout modes include ‘Supremacy’ — a variation on ‘Walker Assault’ that plays a lot like Battlefield‘s ‘Rush’ mode, ‘Drop Zone’ — a smaller scale objective game in which teams try to capture and hold random orbital drops, and ‘Heroes vs. Villains’ — an amusing romp that, like the title implies, pits Rebel heroes (Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia) against Imperial villains (Darth Vader, Boba Fett, and Emperor Palpatine) with a smattering of regular grunts soldiers thrown into the mix. The other four modes are mediocre to just plain bad, but they’re all worth testing out as personal favorites will vary from person-to-person.
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Unfortunately, there’s no getting around the elephant in the room and that is the absolutely despicable business model that EA has dreamed up for this game. The launch version of Battlefront is too light on content, of this there is no doubt, and EA should have included more maps and game modes out of the box. Although the game itself is well-designed and enjoyable, it’s a tough sell at $60 when all it’s really peddling are a handful of compelling modes with no real campaign to speak of, and should have been sold as a $40 game.
Instead, EA not only had the gall to make this a full-priced retail release, but is actually peddling a $50(!) season pass on top of it. Essentially, this makes the price of the full game (because let’s be real here; the season pass content is part of what should have been the full game) a staggering $110 ($150 if you’re an unfortunate Canadian like me). There’s just something so repugnant about spending money on a game you think is the “full” experience, only to see a multi-billion dollar corporation already trying to shake you down for even more (seriously, advertisements for the season pass are built right into the game’s main menu). In the end, this is a review of the game being offered right now, but it’s hard to ignore that EA is almost surely holding back content behind a pay wall and that sours the entire experience. Of course, this is a Star Wars game, so they know they can get away with it, which might be the most disheartening part of this whole issue.
As a lifelong Star Wars fan, there is simply little else out there to rival the experience of being knee-deep in the frozen trenches of Hoth as Tie Fighters and X-Wings battle it out overhead while Darth Vader is Force-choking Rebel scum around you. If nothing else, Star Wars Battlefront absolutely nails the moment-to-moment wonder of feeling like you’re in a Star Wars movie and it’s a feeling it delivers again and again as you battle it out across the game’s various modes and environments. Unfortunately, this feeling can only take the game so far and it’s hard to tell how much longevity this game will have once that initial wonder wears off. While Star Wars Battlefront has the makings of a great experience worthy of continuing Pandemic’s legacy, it falls well short of its potential thanks to its shallow, limited structure and a truly offensive business model. This holiday season in particular is crowded with amazing games, which makes Star Wars Battlefront a tough game to recommend in terms of value. If you’re a diehard Star Wars fan and are willing to look past the game’s lack of depth, you’ll probably have a great time with Star Wars Battlefront. Otherwise, you may be better off waiting for the inevitable sequel.
- One of the best looking and sounding games of the current generation
- Appeals to a wide audience thanks to accessible, fun gameplay
- Scratches that Star Wars itch
- Not enough content
- High asking price for future content
- No campaign mode