Star Wars Battlefront II Beta: Good looks but questionable gameplay
A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, EA took control of the beloved Star Wars: Battlefront franchise, producing a game that ripped apart a fan base between those that loved the multiplayer-focused gameplay and those that just wanted Galactic Conquest back.
Unfortunately, based off the multiplayer beta alone, Galactic Conquest is still far, far away. The multiplayer has seen a polishing hand that blends the satisfying class-based play from the original franchise with a visually stunning style and scale that EA has made their signature.
The result is Star Wars: Battlefront II, a game that for the first time feels like it nails the carefully strategic combat that made the original franchise so satisfying while still managing to feel like a Star Wars title that almost transcends the look and aesthetic of the movies.
That said, there are still plenty of issues that need to be ironed out before launch. Many of the best parts of the beta also come with a dark side. Although combat feels more satisfying and closer to the original franchise than ever before, there are a number of mechanics and design choices that make the game feel alien and disconnected from a modern shooter. Issues like these could severely affect Star Wars: Battlefront II’s lifespan.
As a huge fan of the original franchise, the multiplayer beta was satisfying in a way that I haven’t felt in years. These moments of satisfaction were offset by systems that made the gameplay occasionally feel repetitive, unguided, and lonely.
Troopers on the Ground
The SW BFII multiplayer beta did its best to offer a broad example of the future content to come. Offering two multiplayer modes on separate but unique maps, two small AI-based skirmish events, and a game mode called Starfighter Assault that gives you a chance to become one with the Force (and occasionally the wall of a space frigate) in large-scale space battles.
All four game modes looked fantastic. Laser bolts hum through the air with a satisfying impact, the music has a tendency to pick up and slow down at exactly the right moment, droids and clone troopers alike even move differently in a way that makes each faction feel distinct from the others. Even small distinctions like sprinting versus running, or jetpacks vs. jumping, all feel like they’re something taken right from exciting cinema action sequences.
In action, the game looks gorgeous. Running on a GTX 970 on my PC I didn’t experience any noticeable frame drops, lag, or stuttering throughout the time with the beta. Graphical settings were locked down throughout the event, so I can’t say whether it was playing on high, medium, or ultra with any level of confidence, but the game as a whole looked really good. As a result, the immersion factor of actually sprinting around the battlefield was through the roof. Playing with a quality headset makes for an experience that can give you chills.
This effect eventually wears off as you became desensitized to the wonder, but that initial sense of atmosphere was intense, and something that any fan of Star Wars should experience at least once.
As mentioned earlier, the combat feels satisfying and distinct. Blaster fire feels like blaster fire, and every gun follows the rules of blaster fire, rather than the rules of the larger shooter genre as a whole. If you want to hit someone at long range with a short or medium range blaster, you’ll need to lead your target by quite a distance.
Headshot damage is also given a heavy bonus. If you learn to aim high, you’ll find yourself winning more encounters than you lose. Combine that with the ability to use (and abuse) the third-person camera and there’s plenty of opportunity for careful strategic forethought to outweigh twitch reflexes.
Balancing the Force
Although my first instinct would be to call the gunplay balanced, there are quite a few issues with overall game balance that are hard to nail down, and that can make moment to moment gameplay feel less than satisfying.
Part of this is intentional. The new class system allows players to save up their points for getting kills and then use those points to purchase access to other, more advanced, classes on the fly. If you score 3000 points early on in the match as the droids, you can immediately purchase access to a super battle droid. Then you can use its increased health and weapons to try and bolster your team’s assault. As a result, if you have to go toe to toe with a super battle droid as a lonely officer, you’re probably going to die. As you would expect, this extends to the more expensive hero characters as well. The average trooper isn’t going to take out Boba Fett or Han Solo on his own.
This would all be fine if it didn’t feel like this same rule applied to several of the base classes as well. Troopers and heavies absolutely rinse through officers and recons. It’s rare that those lighter classes feel useful at all. It’s really hard to justify playing as them when it’s ikely to send you on a trip back to the respawn screen with few kills and even fewer points.
Alone in a Galaxy Far, Far Away
A huge part of this issue is the way SW BFII handles squads. This is to say, the way it hardly handles them at all. It makes team play and support classes extremely difficult to justify playing. Every time you die, you’re essentially thrown in a squad respawn pool. After a short timer, you’ll respawn with a group of random players that have also died that are thrown into your “squad”.
You’ll respawn a bit earlier if your squad fills up immediately. Aside from that initial spawn, which is in a random area that could be miles from the point you’re assaulting, you and your team might as well not be related. There’s no distinguishing marks on the mini map or your HUD to tell you that you’re with a squad, and no bonuses for actively working with them in terms of score, like you might see in Battlefield.
This also results in a nearly impossible system to manage with friends, at least during the beta. You might as well have been playing on separate teams, on separate servers, for all the game actively encourages playing with your buds.
The support classes fall largely to the side because of this. If you’re running one of these classes, you’re often left waiting on the cooldowns to refresh the buff on another group of players that barely notice and sprint off to whatever objective they last beat their brows against.
Exacerbating this issue, a number of the bonuses you might use to contribute to the overall team are accomplished for individuals by the Star Cards you can get for other classes. Troopers automatically start out with a device that could be used to track players on the mini map, similar to TUGS in Battlefield 3 and 4. You can also fire the tracker from a grenade launcher, similar to the flare in Battlefield 1. It’s an incredibly useful tool that basically negates any value recon can deliver to the team with their binoculars, only slightly offset by the star card that they can trigger to mark targets through walls.
Similarly, almost any class can get their hands on a Star Card to trigger healing on command, or give the player extra health for every kill. This serves almost as well, if not better than, the health boost an officer can deliver when he’s nearby.
Most of the skills and events in the beta felt like they were focused on solo play rather than encouraging players to actively work together towards a common goal. More often than not, you get the impression that you are playing against intelligent bots rather than against players working together to create a cohesive attack or defense plan.
Hopefully we’ll see many of these issues resolved by the time the full game releases. EA has been known to dramatically shift balance and other gameplay issues between the beta and release for their games. They often even change and tweak the game for months after release.
This would be good for SW BF II because with a number of these issues the longevity of the game could take a serious beating. In today’s community, the ability to easily hop in and play with friends contributes to a game’s lifespan on a much larger level than the game’s map variation (see PUBG for a huge example of this).
As far as Star Cards go, there’s bound to be quite a bit of controversy about these RNG-based drops when the game finally launches. During the beta these cards seemed relatively well distributed. There’s no doubt that they can tip the scales of battle one direction or the other, allowing players to survive longer, use their skills more often, and use rare skills that normally aren’t available.
The fact that these bonuses are based on luck-of-the-draw randomness is going to be frustrating for dedicated and casual players alike, but the fact that you can also purchase more crates with real world cash is bound to be viewed negatively by the community.
The effects themselves also open up a number of the balance issues we mentioned earlier in the game. We can only hope that many of these Star Cards, and some of the weapons and abilities they’re tied to, can also be unlocked in assignments and challenges. EA also needs to offer more effective skills to support classes that make them a positive choice. Otherwise the newly polished class system will likely become, “Why aren’t you playing trooper?” rather than “can someone play Officer so we can push in on the objective?”
Share your thoughts on the Star Wars Battlefront II beta in the comments below.